By Michael Lewis
It could have been maudlin, sad and tearful, a radio host saying goodbye to his audience on his final show after 25 years.
But SoccerSam Fantauzzo wouldn’t have any of that. Instead, he turned his final show into a celebration of the man who replaced him – Bob Matthews.
Yes, SoccerSam — that’s how he spells the name — was critical of some soccer leagues and association, including the one his beloved Rochester Lancers participate in, and he explained his reasons for leaving.
At the top of the hour at 11 a.m. ET, the familiar upbeat introduction was played
“And now, three, two one!
Then it was showtime for the showman of soccer in Rochester, N.Y., SoccerSam.
“Live from the Fox 1280 studios in downtown Rochester, This is Kick This!”
Then it was showtime for the showman of soccer in Rochester, N.Y., SoccerSam, who used his well-known introduction.
“Good morning soccer fans, good morning the world of soccer. SoccerSam Fantauzzo in the studio, Fox Sports 1280. Richie [Jones, his producer] our last time together, doing it baby, Since 1995. If you’ve got your mask on, I’ve got my mask on! Buddy, it’s been fun, but the world’s changed. MLS doesn’t respond. U.S. national teams don’t respond. Recently the MASL, the league that I’m a part of, they basically blackballed a player to come on the show. Dude, I said, ‘What am I doing this for? So I’m not going to do it.”
After 25 years of Kick This!, SoccerSam Fantauzzo said farewell to his followers on his weekly radio show Saturday.
Posted by Michael Apple Lewis on Saturday, June 13, 2020
In general, SoccerSam was complaining about how difficult it has been to get guests from the American soccer universe outside of Western New York on his show. Specifically, the Rochester Lancers owner was referring to a player he wanted to interview from another Major Arena Soccer League team. That team refused to let the player go on the show.
Kick This! has had its zany moments, whether it has been on cable TV, radio or on radio/Facebook these days.
For example, when he was interview Bob Matthews Saturday, Jones noticed that Fantauzzo was still wearing his mask.
Jones: “Sam, you take the mask off. You guys are not within six feet of each other. You’re fine.”
SoccerSam: “You can hear it? It sounds bad?”
Jones: “It sounds like your muffled a little bit.”
SoccerSam: “It looks better? My wife says I look better with a mask. She makes me sleep with it.”
Jones: “You’re a different man, right?”
The radio show also can be very serious. SoccerSam has the ability to get the best out of his guests, whether they are in studio, on the phone or talking via Zoom in the age of COVID-19.
SoccerSam explained how he decided to have Bob Matthews, who retired from WHAM 1180 about five weeks ago during the pandemic. He and his wife Linda had been a avid listen to that sports program, which was on for two hours a night weekdays for some 35 years.
“All Bob’s friends are reaching out to me, Sam, don’t let him retire,” he said. “You’ve got to get him back, you’ve got to get him back. So, I decided, you know what, there is no soccer right now and there’s no more [Rochester] Rhinos. The Lancers, I don’t feel comfortable promoting. It’s my own team, it’s weird. Honestly, it’s talking about yourself. So, for the last two months, may three months, I’ve been doing a different type of show.”
During the pandemic, it was more about the Rochester area, non-profit organizations, fundraising with a dash of soccer — indoors and out — thrown in when appropriate. He featured a friend he got a kidney transplant, another friend who is running a place for batter women and a divorce attorney, among many others.
“I thought that was going to be the direction of the show,” he said. “All of a sudden, the world got crazier. I’ve got to walk on eggshells on every little thing I say. You know Richie, I make fun of you, you make fun of me. We’ve been doing this forever. Now I’ve got to walk on eggshells. I can’t jeopardize my company to walk on eggshells. It’s not their fault. There are 30 owners who work their tails off at 30 locations. It’s easier for me not to do the show.”
Fantauzzo owns Salvatore’s Old Fashioned Pizzeria, which has 30 restaurants in the Rochester area.
With Jeff DiVeronica’s Saturday noon high school on hiatus for two or three months, Fantauzzo talk to his long-time friend about getting Matthews on the air for two hours every Saturday, at least through the summer.
“Jeff says he’s never going to come on. He’s retired. I said, ‘Look, Rochester needs this guy. He’s an icon. He’s part of our culture. He’s part of Rochester,” Fantauzzo said. “He’s left the D&C [Democrat and Chronicle] and nobody buys the paper anymore. They buy it to read Mary Chao and that’s just about it. So, we’ve got to get this guy back. The bottom line, right here today, in the studio you can’t see because he’s got this thing with his agent, he can’t be on Facebook, please welcome the legend, Bob Matthews on Fox Sports 1280. Bob, welcome to our show.”
A humble Matthews then explained his process of retiring and then unretiring.
“I don’t want to be the cry who cried wolf about retiring, but I really was burned and it’s really tough to do a two-hour sports show, which I didn’t have any trouble for 34 years. Ever since the Coronavirus hit, it really knocked me out. Not physically. I’m in the group that is supposedly the most susceptible. I was feeling fine. I was just burned out. I couldn’t talk about sports because there weren’t many sports.”
So, Matthews tried to add some other bells and whistles in an attempt to spice up his show. He played some music, which he called a change of pace. But some of his fans griped.
“Why are you playing music for?” he said about some of the complaints. “I don’t blame the people. They tune in to hear sports. If I’m ticking them off and I’m getting tired, I guess it was about time. Forty-two years at the paper, 35 years at the radio station. Basically, it’s my life. I said maybe retirement isn’t too bad. So I tried it. It’s been five weeks since I retired, and it’s been the longest five weeks of my life. I really miss talking to people on the air about sports, but about other things. We throw in other things quite a bit. It was a lot of fun.”
Soon, it was time for Fantauzzo to go.
Instead of staying for the full hour, SoccerSam left at around 11:30 a.m., letting Matthews do some sports talk for an hour and a half.
As for Fantauzzo, he still has and loves his family and his Lancers, indoors and outdoors (men’s and women’s team). He’ll probably still have his soccer fix. But at least for the time being, he just won’t be on the radio.