We interrupt regular programming for … sadness

Thanks to the great Steve Conjar for this photo.

Sometimes one word so perfectly describes a person you think immediately of one guy when you hear it.

Every time I heard the word raconteur I thought of John Belli.

And I smiled. He was the best raconteur I ever knew or will ever know.

No one fit that definition more than John, at least among the real people I’ve met in my lifetime:

I thought of John this morning and I was incredibly sad when I heard he passed away.

This post today was supposed to be about something much less important so we interrupt this regular programming to talk about something much more important.

The wonderful gift God gave to all of us we call John Belli.

The last I saw him–the morning of the Boston College game–he seemed to be the healthiest of our regular tailgating group. He was in much better shape than almost all of us and his mind was as sharp as always.

For most of the last 20 years, I used to see and talk to John before and after every Temple football game.

That’s why I had to take a step back away from the computer and shake my head. Not ashamed to say a few tears rolled down both my cheeks and had to reach up with my shirt to wipe them away.

This was the last person of my age group I expected to leave us so soon. It does not compute but it goes to show that you never know and should never take any day for granted.

Someday, we will find out why he passed so early but that is so unimportant now.

He was not only a friend who shared the same love for Temple football I had but a frequent poster to this site. He was THE most frequent poster.

The ONLY thing we disagreed about was politics. Football, we were Sympatico. At some point, we both agreed to not mention politics.

John followed me when I talked to Geoff Collins about Nick Sharga at the season-ticket holders party and urged him to watch the film and how Sharga led the Owls to the championship. Collins agreed with me and swore on a stack of bibles to use him more than even Matt did but, in reality, he made Sharga disappear the next season. Probably the difference between 7-6 and 10-3 but that’s on Collins and not me and John.

In the first two years of the Matt Rhule regime, we were both frequent critics of Matt (sorry, Matt) but always thought that Rhule could be a good coach if he ditched the spread and went to a fullback-oriented, play-action offense.

Low and behold, Matt did exactly that in Year Three–using a run game established by the blocking of Nick Sharga and the running of Jahad Thomas and Ryquell Armstrong to set up a dynamic play-action downfield passing game behind Temple all-time leading quarterback P.J. Walker.

Since Matt told me personally on the day he was hired the only way he followed Temple football the year he was at the Giants was by reading Temple Football Forever, I somehow feel Matt got the message then, too.

“Mike, Matt owes us $7.4 million bucks,” John said.

He was only slightly exaggerating because, without Sharga, Rhule doesn’t get the Baylor job.

After Temple beat Penn State, Belli whispered in Rhule’s ear: “Hey, Matt, see what the fullback can do for you?” Matt nodded and laughed.

Then Rhule leaned over and kissed 90-year-old Wayne Hardin on the cheek and gave him the game ball, telling him, “Coach this is for all the times you came so close to doing what we did today.”

John played for coach Hardin at Temple so we had come full circle.

We had a party in Lot K that night. When the cops came around and tried to kick us out at 9–almost four hours after the game ended–a police captain came by on his motorcycle and said to his underlings: “Let them be. They waited 74 years for this.”

John never got to 74, like most of us do, and that means a lot of great stories only he can tell in the manner only he can tell them will never be heard again.

Those of us who heard his stories and the wonderful way he communicated them will be sad from this day forward. The tailgates will never be the same without him.

Monday: What we had planned for today


18 thoughts on “We interrupt regular programming for … sadness

  1. Mike, this is John’s son Andy. Thanks so much for your kind words. There is nowhere my father would rather be than on or near a football field.

    All are welcome on to join us for a visitation Wednesday Evening (3/2/22) beginning at 6 PM, with a Remembrance to be held at 8:30 PM, Koller Funeral Home, 6835 Ridge Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19128

  2. Wow, what a shock. John could be a putz on this board but he was always good to me in person and I always looked for him at the tailgate. He was a Temple stalwart and I always looked forward to his posts. I agreed with his football comments almost always. Mike, how old was he? He was always fit.

  3. Mike I think John would appreciate this tribute. You are spot on with this piece. RIP John Belli.

  4. Just got this news last night….a shocker. Saw John at the BC game as well, looked great as always….a sad day.

  5. John Belli was fun to be around and certainly, always the one with a great story and opinion. In recent years, myself and my fiance Michelle regularly would meet with John near his home in Andorra to hand over my football season tickets for the tailgate gang. After Michelle’s first meeting with Johnny, sharing a beverage and conversation in Chestnut Hill, she said “what a nice guy” afterward. In only 30 minutes of conversation, ranging from Temple Football to politics, she felt she knew him for a long time. Johnny’s openness and ability to embrace the person he is with, is a testimony to his character and warmth. He always spoke from his heart. Johnny loves his kids and the grandkids, always sharing baby sitting stories or the events of a family get together. I will miss his terrific facebook posts everyday. God bless Johnny, and may his family have pleasant memories in their grief, and God’s peace knowing he is in the Lord’s hands.

    • Don, I’m guessing he was also a teammate of yours as well or, if he wasn’t, you only missed him by a year or two. One of my favorite stories was him representing Wes Sornisky in court. I laughed so hard that day I cried. Now I’m just crying.

  6. I always enjoyed and looked forward to John’s assessment of the TU football program and game analysis. Just seemed so very knowledgeable and forthright about actual ins and outs of what went on. If he said it, I assumed it was true.

  7. very sad news here, very sad. Turn out I saw and spoke with Mike, John B and Don B a few times at his corner spot on K lot. Very sad as I was ‘ ‘symaptico ‘ with Don B and Don B o many issues. John was very generous, yes. So sad, for sure….

    • Mike great read, and you are right the tailgates will never be the same. Hope you are well my friend

      • Thanks, Steve. We should have an empty chair for John at the tailgate next year. As far as the well part, my knee is killing me. I’m getting old. Hard to put on socks or get in the car. I have an MRI scheduled next week.

  8. Stunning…., I left the hotel one Saturday morning with two bags of Hawaiian Coffee to share. I left the subway train with only one. Did I drop one or did I get pinched?

    So sorry John, will always have regret.

    • All three of us had a great conversation before the game. I will always cherish that. John mentioned to me the next week what a great guy you were. I agreed.

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