Dick Howard waves to the crowd at the 2010 Rochester Lancers reunion. (Joy Rubenstein/FrontRowSoccer.com)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

It was sometime in late June 1986 and I was sitting at a computer at the press center in Mexico City, which was provided by the Organizing Committee at the World Cup.

This was well before we had personal computers that could get on the internet and surf the web.

I was doing some deep research on the World Cup, in general, and about Mexico 86, in particular.

I wound up striking up a conversation with a gentleman sitting to my left about soccer. Eventually we introduced ourselves to each other.

The man in question was Dick Howard.

Yes, that Dick Howard.

A former Canadian international goalkeeper.

A former Rochester Lancers great who also played for the Toronto Metros and Detroit Cougars back in the day.

I had heard and read about Mr. Zero’s many exploits through the years.

What an honor!

Needless to say, our discussion lasted a long time as it went in several directions.

If you looked up the word class in the dictionary, there probably was a good chance that Dick’s picture would be with the definition.

He has always talked with great knowledge and wisdom and grace.

Unfortunately, on Monday night, Howard announced that he was forced to step down from his Canadian correspondent’s role with the Soccer is a Kick in the Grass radio show due to health problems. Dick has Parkinson’s disease and he felt this was the best time to slow down. He had been in that role for just about every Monday night for 17 years.

Howard has always been a joy to listen to, whether it has been talking about Canadian soccer, domestic and international, Juventus with show co-host Joe Sirianni and lamenting about his favorite English side, Everton.

It has been a privilege to get to know Dick over the years. I consider him a good friend, even though we have been separated by several hundred miles and a great lake.

I got an opportunity to see him over the years, many times at Lancers reunions. I interviewed Dick over the phone for my book ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. Heck, he even wrote a great blurb about the book on the back cover.

I remember three times I had an opportunity visit with Dick in his hometown of Toronto over the past 13 years.

While my wife and Joy were up in my favorite Canadian city for the 2010 MLS Cup, Dick stopped by our hotel to have breakfast with us. I interviewed him for my book. As we left the the restaurant, we deserved via an email that former Lancers striker Mike Stojanovic had passed away.

Very, very sad news.

The three of us went to Stollie’s wake that night.

There were two other times when Dick and I met up in Toronto, and they were much happier times during two other MLS Cups.

Dick and his wife invited me over to dinner twice. Loved the conversation, which not always was about soccer, although that was our No. 1 love in sports.

If you look at Dick Howard’s resume, you would have thought it was made up.

But it wasn’t.

He did it all – literally and figuratively.

Dick was technical director of the Canadian Soccer Association from 1986-92, was a member of the FIFA technical and development committee from 1998-2012 and was chairman of the Concacaf coaching committee from 2001-12. He worked on projects in 60 countries, working with the likes of Pele and Franz Beckenbauer.

He worked as an analyst and color commentator on CBC, CTV, Rogers Sportsnet, TSN and the Fox Soccer Channel, for more than 200 games.

He also authored two books – Shutouts and saves, which was a goalkeeping manual, and Soccer – Diving, headers, selling a dummy and everything else about the game.”

Yeah, don’t worry he was inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Lancers Wall of Fame in 2013.

And one last thing about when we met in Mexico City.

Dick told me that a former Lancer, Francisco Escos, was working as an assistant with the Argentine national team at the World Cup. He told what restaurant Escos went to on a regular basis, and I met the former midfielder there that night. We spoke for a while and he said that and I worked out the possibility of talking to Diego Maradona’s father at practice, with Escos being the translator.

I envisioned a story, “My son, the great Diego Maradona.”

Unfortunately, the elder Maradona did not want to talk at training, fearing that he would jinx his son. Diego already had tallied that Hand of God goal against England, and eventually went on to win the World Cup with a dominating presence the planet has ever seen.

I did get an up-close-and-personal photo of Maradona, which I still use today.

I can thank Francisco Escos and Dick Howard for that.

I will always treasure my friendship with Dick, one of my favorite soccer people.

He is a class act in so many different ways.