"Terry Reardon is the toughest guy I ever knew," said Frank Mathers.
That's quite a statement coming from Mathers, who has spent most of his 68 years in professional hockey, a sport that is known to have had a few tough guys.
Reardon, who died of heart failure here this week at 73, was the general manager of the American Hockey League Baltimore Clippers from 1962 until the team was disbanded in 1975. At times, he also coached.
And for most of that time Terry's chief adversary was Frank Mathers, who did in Hershey, Pa., what Reardon did here. Beneath the surface, though, Reardon and Mathers were dear friends.
Mathers, who had played in the National Hockey League, just as Reardon had, went to Chocolate Town in 1956 as player-coach. Then he became just plain coach and finally general manager.
It was during the Reardon-Mathers years that the Baltimore-Hershey rivalry was born, and not by accident. Terry knew it was a natural. He and Mathers built it up to be as good a rivalry as there is in minor-league sports.
"It's still a great rivalry today," says Mathers, who is retired from the Hershey Bears but remains a governor of the 56-year-old AHL and adviser to its president, Jack Butterfield.
Butterfield and Mathers were here today for the funeral of their old friend. Their presence -- Butterfield came down from Springfield, Mass. -- is a tribute to Reardon. It has, after all, been a long time since Terry roamed the Civic Center -- now called the Arena -- watching his Baltimore hockey club.
"Terry made a tremendous contribution to the American Hockey League," says Butterfield, league president for 26 years. "He played in Hershey. He was player-coach in Providence. Then he ended up in Baltimore."
Young fans can't imagine what a role Reardon played here. They can't even imagine what a role the Clippers played. Reardon's years here were, indeed, the Golden Age of Baltimore sports.
The Colts, led by John Unitas, were the best in pro football. The Orioles, with Brooks and Frank Robinson and Jim Palmer -- all Hall of Famers now -- were in four World Series. The Bullets, with Earl Monroe and Wes Unseld, went to the NBA Finals.
And Reardon's Clippers were a far cry from the struggling Skipjacks of the present.
When the Civic Center opened here and the Clippers christened it, the National Hockey League had only six teams. The AHL champions were considered the seventh best team in North America. Today the NHL has 24 teams.
The Clippers in those days outdrew the Bullets, averaging between 7,000 and 9,000 per game. The Skipjacks this year are averaging just under 3,000.
"What players we had here in Terry's time," former Clippers fanatic Bobby Watson recalled yesterday at the Ruck Funeral Home in Towson. "Gump Worsley. Jacques Plante. We saw great players on their way up to the NHL and on their way down."
Reardon was the symbol of hockey in Baltimore then, much as Kenny Cooper is the symbol of indoor soccer today.
"Terry is one of my all-time favorite people," said Frank Mathers. "His players loved him."
"We did," says Kent Douglas, who played five years under Reardon. "Terry understood hockey players. He was honest with us.
"He'd come in the locker room between periods and kick the garbage can over when we were having a bad night. But then he'd leave the room. From where I sat, I could see him sitting in the room across the hall, alone, smoking a cigar, smiling.
"He never embarrassed a player in front of the team. If he had something critical to say to an individual, he'd do it one-on-one."
And this was the toughest guy Frank Mathers ever knew?
"Terry was tough physically," Mathers said, "but he was even tougher mentally. Things happened to him that never should happen to anybody.
"The World Hockey League came into Baltimore and Terry had a job with that team, and lost it a couple weeks later. Terrible things happened to him, but he survived them all. He'd never complain, though. He kept it all inside."
The worst thing that ever happened to Reardon occurred on New Year's Eve in 1986. A drunk driver broadsided the Reardons' car in front of Calvert Hall and Terry's wife, Viv, was killed.
Terry was a man's man all the way, but he was devoted to Viv -- and she to him. She was at every game. She knew everybody in the AHL. Hockey was her life, too.
I could never figure out why Reardon didn't move up to run an NHL club as that league quadrupled its size. Kent Douglas, who settled here and remained close to Reardon, even visiting him in the hospital recently, believes he knows the answer.
"Terry was completely honest," Douglas said. "He didn't have any b.s. with him. If he didn't like something, he'd say so. Sometimes people in authority don't want to hear the truth."
Pinned inside the top of Terry's casket is the hockey truth he cared about. One cloth patch says: "Boston Bruins, NHL Champions, Stanley Cup Winners, 1941." He was on that team. An orange patch says: "Baltimore Clippers." A third: "Baltimore Clipper Fan Club."
Terry built something good here. He deserved better than he got.