Remembering an AFL Leader: Not the Game, Nor the Victories – But the Smiles
Played in AFL: Albany 1993, Massachusetts 1994, St. Louis 1995-96, Nashville 1997. All-AFL First Team 1995.
Coached in AFL: Orlando (head coach) 2002-03, 19-11 regular-season record, 3-2 playoff record.
It will be easy for the AFL fans of the future to recall those facts. They will always be accessible and as clear in the future as they are now. As long as the Arena Football League is turning specialized linemen into diversified two-way standouts, those numbers will remain etched in the league`s register.
He wasn’t merely a winner, but he was proud of the past events that helped make him into a successful coach. Proud of his Massachusetts roots -- he played and coached from one coast to another in the Arena Football League, but he never lost that chowder-thick New England brogue. Proud of the fact that he made his living in the AFL, rising from the days of playing for scant paychecks in scads of different cities to the era of national television, burgeoning legitimacy and respect from the highest levels of American sport.
But what John Kaleo and Dave Ewart will remember and carry with them into ArenaBowl XVII is far greater. The duo – the quarterback and assistant head coach for the Tampa Bay Storm – shared a locker room with Papasedero for two years with the long-forgotten St. Louis Stampede nearly a decade ago, with Kaleo lining up behind the burly lineman, while Ewart served as assistant coach, and later head coach.
What they recall is not the Papasedero of game-night focus, bearing the intense, intimidating scowl that seemed as if it could melt metal -- but the one who shared perhaps the purest thing one can pass to others -- a smile.
“Anybody that knew Fran Papasedero had a smile on their face,” Kaleo said, his voice quivering with emotion. “The guy could make you laugh, and we just had good times with him.
“His antics in the locker room were one of a kind. I`ve never seen anybody like him in the locker room. I`m going to miss him. He was a very, very dear friend of mine. It`s just crushing, to be honest with you.”
“He always had a joke. He always could mimic somebody, all the time,” Ewart said. “You can`t write enough good words about him.”
As Kaleo and Ewart recalled their friend, the two struggled for words. For the past 11 days, the coming Sunday has loomed as the most significant day of their professional lives, the chance for each to earn an elusive championship after years of striving in their current positions on the field and sidelines, respectively.
“It was crushing this morning, to be honest with you,” Kaleo said. “I`m still having a tough time getting over it, because Fran was a very, very dear friend of mine and a good teammate of mine for three years. It was a blow to me as a friend and a blow to the community of the Arena Football League to lose a good coach and just a good guy.”
Added Ewart: “It`s a bad day when I heard the news today. It was kind of a somber mood that me and Kaleo were in, because he was a part of us, and part of our family here in the Arena Football League.”
There is a living legacy to the man and his impact -- a collection of friends and others he`d touched that could have filled the St. Pete Times Forum to the last row and beyond. There`s his two-year-old daughter, who will surely someday hear tales of her daddy -- the bellwether lineman, the locker-room cutup and eventually, the, intense and successful sideline commander of one of the league`s flagship franchises.
But maybe there`s another way to remember the burly boss of the sidelines – that connection to his home that he never lost, no matter where he went.
"Someday we`ll have a team in Boston, and I will regret that Fran Papasedero will not be there to coach it,” Commissioner David Baker said. “Because every game I saw him, he was a guy who wanted to go home and coach in Boston.
"Somewhere today, I believe that Fran Papasedero is home, and he`s coaching, and he`s probably complaining about the officiating, too."
And without a doubt, somewhere today, he’s also making someone smile.
Andrew Mason was at the Tampa Bay Storm`s first home game on June 1, 1991 and has followed the game ever since. While in college, he served as content editor and co-founder of The Storm Shelter, a Web site which covered the Tampa Bay Storm on the Internet from 1996-99. He also volunteered with the team`s media relations department in 1998 and currently contributes to ColoradoCrush.com. He's covered the NFL for various on-line outlets since 1999.