By Michael Lewis
As I have said many times before, the worst part of being a writer is writing obituaries.
Now, magnify that several times if you knew the person.
I had the privilege of knowing Wayne Fuller and it is with a heavy heart to announce that the former play-by-play man of the original Rochester Lancers has passed away at the age of 70.
I got to know Wayne from just about the outset of my pro writing career as we both “covered” the Lancers in our own unique ways from 1975 to 1980. He did it live, I had the luxury of gathering my thoughts for a story after the game.
Wayne was a consummate pro, had a classic radio voice, did his homework on the Lancers and their opposition, knew his soccer and always had a question or two on controversial subjects.
He also had a few intriguing moments on the air for which he will be remembered.
On June 11, 1977, the Lancers broke a league-record tying 14-game road losing streak via a 3-1 victory over the host San Jose Earthquakes as substitute Craig Reynolds tallied twice. It was their first road win in 14 months as Rochester vaulted from fourth to first-place in the Northern Division with a 5-6 record and 45 points.
Wayne was so ecstatic after Reynolds scored the insurance goal with 35 seconds remaining in the game that he accidentally ripped his telephone line out of the wall. Transmission back to Rochester was lost for 15 minutes. “We didn’t know about it until the station [WSAY] called us back,” he said. “It was the excitement on my part.”
Lancers public relations director Jerry Epstein, who remained in Rochester and listened to the broadcast, was worrying about the worst scenario. “I was thinking of picking up the paper and finding out we lost, 4-3.”
In August of that year, Fuller described the Lancers’ remarkable 1-0 playoff win over the host Toronto Metros-Croatia, despite playing two men down for almost half the game. Mike Stojanovic found “an open Ibrahim Silva in the box and he scored one of the biggest goals in Lancers’ history, so big that Wayne Fuller lost his voice calling the goal!” Andrew Battisti, co-host of the Rochester soccer radio show, “Soccer is a Kick in the Grass” told the National Premier Soccer League website in 2017.
And Wayne had a sense of humor.
In a rough and tumble affair that sometimes reminded spectators of pro wrestling rather than the beautiful game at the Toronto Blizzard July 18, 1979, Peter Lorimer booted a free kick off the rear end of Silva, who was standing too close to the play. “Now, that is soccer!” Fuller sarcastically bellowed into his microphone, not unlike what the Charleston Chiefs announcer said about hockey during a fight scene in that legendary movie, Slap Shot! Yours truly doesn’t remember much more of the game except that the Blizzard prevailed in a shootout.
But he took his job seriously.
In 1980, Wayne took on further responsibilities as he was named Lancers public relations director in the team’s most tumultuous season as owners battled for control of the team. The Rochester owners controlled the votes (they fired head coach Ray Klivecka, who was backed by the downstate group), the New York owners had the fresh money (and they decided not to pump much, if any, into the team). The club went downhill quickly on and off the field during that summer.
On many occasions, the owners wouldn’t answer some tough questions from the media. So, we had to go through Fuller on many occasions. He admitted that he did not want to know all the goings on behind the scenes and wind up lie to the media, which would destroy his credibility. So, he did so on a need-to-know basis on his part.
Like I said, a consummate professional.
And a good friend, as well.