Columnist looks back as he turns 60

As I prepare to gather enough air to blow out 60 candles on my birthday cake Thursday, I’m reminded that “they” say 60 is the new 40.

I’m kidding about the candles. Sixty candles could qualify as weapons of mass destruction, and I wouldn’t want to harm someone with one mighty blow.

As for the new-40 thing, I’d like to know who “they” are. My guess is that “they” are thirtysomething people that don’t need to come up for air when they bend down to tie their shoes.

Sixty is sixty, no matter how you count. In the chronological perspective of life it’s a number that some say is middle age, assuming the plan is to live to 120.

By 60 you should have this life thing figured out – or at least be on the edge of the fairway. It’s fine to be young at heart, but never forget to lean on the wisdom all those years have provided. You can only hope that the trials and tribulations you have been dealt have strengthened your resolve to live a life filled with as much promise as you had when you were handed a high school diploma.

The older we get, the more we enjoy reminiscing about days gone by. We remember trips to sporting events with fondness and are saddened because they’ve lost the childlike joy that once made them as special as a birthday morning. The awe we had for athletes when we were wide-eyed children has given way to the realization that they are humans, often afflicted by the same weaknesses as many of us.

One of the great experiences of my youth was when my parents took me to my first Browns game at Municipal Stadium. It’s hard to explain what I felt as I walked up a ramp leading to the upper deck and laid eyes on all that beautiful green grass. As a friend said when he was taken to his first baseball game at the same stadium: “I can’t believe three guys can cover all that ground.”

Autographs were always important then. On a trip to Hiram College for Browns’ training camp many years ago, I ran into a brick wall and almost knocked myself cold chasing after a player.

During a family visit to New Orleans in the 1970s my cousin took me to The Fontainebleau Hotel to watch the Alabama football team arrive in town for the Sugar Bowl. When legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant entered the lobby he stopped for a moment and stood next to me. I recall looking up at his hounds tooth hat and staring in amazement as if I was looking at a statue.

Today, I don’t understand the infatuation people have for autographs. I can understand it for a 10-year-old child, but to see a grown man yelling for a player to walk across the field to sign a piece of paper doesn’t make much sense.

Then again, to each his own. Maybe that’s the man’s way of being young at heart.

One of the best things about 36 years of working at “The Tribune Chronicle” is the contact I’ve had with young people. When I started in 1977 I was barely older than the seniors in high school. Now I’m almost old enough to be the grandfather of a senior.

From time to time I see a name of a player on a program and think I might have covered his dad back in the 1980s. That’s about the time I notice another gray hair has fallen on my lap.

Watching high school sports has become more routine over the years, but it never gets old. The football players seem almost as tough as they did in my era (I’m not giving up in saying the 1970s was our golden era of football). I now watch girls play volleyball and fastpitch softball and ask myself, “How do they do that?”

There are some good things about growing older. I can look at young fans cherry-picking their favorite teams because of the lack of a winner in Cleveland and tell them I saw the 1964 Browns win the NFL championship.

There was a day when Mollenkopf Stadium used to sell out for football games and I was among those in attendance. There was never a better time to be living in Warren.

Probably the best way to approach 60 is with a sense of humor. If you give it too much thought every ache and pain will be enhanced.

I can’t run fast anymore because of an artificial hip, but I wasn’t all that fast to begin with. My bathroom stops are faster than a NASCAR pitstop, which is always a good thing, and the fact I can remember the ’64 Browns means my memory is still strong.

“They” say life can be good at 60. Now that’s a saying I can believe.