Eighteen years have not dulled the memory of Charlie Ebersol. He vividly remembers his last conversation with his 14-year-old brother, Teddy, as their 18-seater charter plane taxied down that snowy runway in Colorado.
Charlie, who was returning to the University of Notre Dame, was in the back of the plane, and Teddy, obsessed with the Boston Red Sox, was seated near the front with their legendary TV executive father. and longtime New York Yankees fan, Dick Ebersol.
“My dad and Teddy are straight talking,” Charlie said. “We haven’t taken off yet. And my dad said to Teddy, “Why baseball?” And Teddy said, “I wanted something you and I could talk about.” And my dad said, ‘Wow,’ and then my dad thinks for a second and says, ‘OK, but then why the Red Sox?’
“And Teddy said, ‘See Charlie over there? He’s the Yankees fan and he’s sitting in the back of the plane. I’m the Red Sox fan and I’m here to talk to you.
“Thirty seconds later the plane crashed and Teddy died.”
Dick Ebersol explores this indescribable sadness at length, the loss of his youngest child in that devastating 2004 plane crash, in his forthcoming memoir, “Saturday Night to Sunday Night”, due out in September.
“We always felt like we were so incredibly embraced by so many people, the whole Red Sox nation,” said Dick, who was seriously injured in the crash – the plane couldn’t take off and crashed. crashed on takeoff – and was carried unconscious from the wreckage by Charlie moments before the plane burst into flames. The captain and the flight attendant were killed, along with Teddy.
“People who reached out, who didn’t hesitate whether we were in Boston or somewhere in New England, would come and say, ‘Can I give you a hug? ‘” he said, his voice barely audible at this point. “It was pretty phenomenal.”
On the banks of the Charles River, six miles from where golf’s US Open is played in Brookline, Mass., is a lasting memory for Teddy – three ball diamonds in the middle of downtown Boston, a public complex created by Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner and are meticulously maintained by the team’s field crew.
The fields feature a granite bench bearing Teddy’s name, the Red Sox slogan “Curse Reversed 2004” – a reference to their first World Series win that ended an 86-year drought – and a bronzed baseball glove , a replica of Teddy’s constant companion who was also lost in the accident. His original glove was a garish turquoise and white, and he was always up for a game of wrestling with his dad, brothers, or sister.
Werner is a close family friend of the Ebersols, as is New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who also helped with the draft. Also instrumental was Mitt Romney, who served as governor of Massachusetts throughout the creation of the fields, which were established in 2006. Ebersol and Romney had been close friends since working on the Salt Lake City Olympics.
Ebersol, who left as president of NBC Sports in 2011, traces a remarkable career that began when he left Yale in the early 1970s to work for ABC’s Roone Arledge as TV’s first Olympic researcher. , and included standout premieres from “Saturday Night Live” and “Sunday Night Football.”
His enduring inspiration through the best and worst of those times was his wife, actress Susan Saint James, whom he met when she hosted “SNL” in 1981 and was married within a year. She has been an open book on the loss of her son, helping countless other parents through their worst nightmares.
“Tim Russert was a close friend of the family and his summer home was 20 minutes from here,” Ebersol said, speaking from his home in Litchfield, Conn. “He was in the news at NBC and I was in sports. He had Susie on the ‘Today Show’ three or four days after the accident.
“If you look at him, you get the incredible impression of his strength and his strength. It touched thousands of people across the country. The amount of mail was incredible. It touched so many hearts. It wasn’t not her who felt sorry for herself or her family.She was trying to tell so many other families she knew were grieving in our country how to deal with it.
The Ebersols are a blended family. Saint James was previously married to makeup artist Tom Lucas, and they had a son, Harmony, and a daughter, Sunshine. Ebersol and Saint James later had sons Charlie, Willie and Teddy.
“We don’t use the term stepfather or stepparent in this family,” Ebersol said. “[Harmony and Sunshine] have their father whom they adore. We all get along somehow.
Nowhere was this more evident than in the depths of despair, when the family grew even closer in the wake of Teddy’s death. The crash happened Nov. 28, 2004, a day after Matt Leinart threw for 400 yards while leading USC over Notre Dame 41-10, at the Coliseum. Willie was at USC; Charlie at Notre Dame.
Four Ebersols – parents, Charlie and Teddy – left Van Nuys that Sunday morning and headed to Colorado, where Susan planned to get the family’s vacation home in Telluride ready for Christmas. The plane landed in Montrose, Colorado, where it was refueled and Susan got off.
“The fire was astronomical because the plane had just been fully refueled,” Ebersol said. “Meanwhile, Susie doesn’t know anything has happened because she’s in the mountains and can’t get a cell signal. It’s only when she reaches a place in the mountains where she has could get a signal that Charlie came over to her and told her there had been an accident.
Because Teddy’s glove was lost in the crash, the Ebersols contacted Mizuno to get one identical in every detail. The family then sent it off for everyone to have a chance to break it. The glove was then bronzed by the same foundry that handled the famous “Make Way for Ducklings” sculpture in the Boston Public Garden.
It’s not just the ballparks named after Teddy. The Liberty Hotel across the street, owned by close friends of the Ebersols, renamed the Presidential Suite for him. Copper beech trees in Litchfield have been planted in his memory and a school has named its library after him.
Even now for Charlie, certain reminders make the world stop spinning.
“Do you know the song ‘Drift Away’ by Dobie Gray? … “Give me the beat, boys, and free my soul, I wanna get lost in your rock ‘n roll and walk away,” he said. “It was Teddy’s favorite song. If I’m driving and this song is on the radio, I have to pull over because I’m on the verge of tears.
Sunshine has a favorite photo. It’s about his daughter, Rowena, who was 16 months old at the time and kisses the bronze glove at Teddy’s field.
“I think I was very touched by Teddy when I had my own children and realized how devastating it would be if something happened to them,” she said.
Rowena turned 14 this year, the same age as the uncle she never knew.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.