Friends, family remember Jerry Green, say ‘Hum baby’ one more time

Detroit News

Jerry Green was remembered as far more than just an iconic sports journalist, but also a doting family man.

Troy — Jerry Green was no fan of growing old.

Often times — and this has been going on for years — after reading an obituary in the sports section, he’d call the reporter who wrote it, and bemoan, “I’m next.” Except, he was never next. Until, inevitably, he finally was.

Green, who famously was the only man to cover the first 56 Super Bowls over a seven-decade career in which he was one of the most influential voices in a robust Detroit sports scene, was laid to rest Wednesday afternoon, following a funeral service in which he was remembered as much for his career as he was for being a doting husband, brother, father, uncle and grandfather.

Green died Thursday, March 23. He was 94. His last byline appeared in The Detroit News just weeks ago.

“I was Jerry’s colleague and friend for 50 years,” said Tom Gage, a retired Detroit News sportswriter who spent many days and nights sharing press boxes with Green, all across the country.

“I feel sports in this room, I feel football in this room, I feel newspapers in this room.

“But, mostly, I certainly feel love in this room.”

A crowd of more than 100 gathered Wednesday at A.J. Desmond & Sons Funeral Home in Troy to pay final respects to a man who made his name covering football — he’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and missed his first Super Bowl this February, his health forcing him to watch it in his Bloomfield Hills apartment — but really spanned the whole sports spectrum. One of Green’s nephews, James Citrin, read condolence emails he received in recent days from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Multiple Detroit sports teams sent flowers, as did legendary New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

From Silver: “I always admired Jerry’s incredible knowledge of the NBA and the extraordinary work ethic he displayed in the many decades he covered our league and every sport. It’s remarkable when you think about the generations of sports fans in Detroit that he influenced throughout his legendary career. … Jerry’s humility and class made him such a beloved figure, not only in the NBA but across the entire sports world. He will be deeply missed.”

From Goodell: “He was a special man and someone I always admired personally, as well as professionally. He set a standard for all of us.”

More: Wojo: Jerry Green deeply respected the game and his craft, right to the end

Green’s two nephews, James and Jeffrey, both spoke at his service, providing a personal glimpse into the family man Green was. Green’s wife Nancy died in 2002. He is survived by younger sister Glenna Citrin, daughter Jenny, her husband David Klein, and granddaughters Gretchen and Susannah Klein.

But Green’s family never could escape his legacy, not that they wanted to. James Citrin recalled a visit with Green in the late 1960s, when he had given his nephew an autographed copy of his new book, “Year of the Tiger,” which chronicled the 1968 World Series championship. James took the book with him when he went off to college, at Vassar. There, he learned his new roommate was from Farmington Hills.

“The first question I asked was, ‘Do you know Jerry Green?'” said James, standing next to his brother Jeffrey, Green’s casket behind them. “He said, ‘Of course, he’s a legend, I read him every evening.’ … Then I said, ‘What do you think of him compared to Joe Falls?’ … ‘Joe Falls is great, a legend also…but I think I like Jerry better.’

“Any time you meet anyone from Michigan, certainly from Detroit, my first question is: ‘Are you a sports fans?'”

They’re from Detroit. They’re always a sports fan.

“Do you know Jerry Green?”

“Yes! He’s a legend!”

“I always take such pride in that,” James said.

Green — who started at the Associated Press in Detroit in the 1950s and joined The Detroit News in the 1960s — seemed destined to go into sports. He attended the same prep school as future Lions owner William Clay Ford, and the same college, Brown University, as future Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. He grew up playing sports in New York, too, though, it was pretty clear he’d make a better writer than a player.

Jeffrey Citrin told a story of when Green was third-string on his junior varsity football team, and on game day, came down with a nasty flu. Green didn’t want anyone to notice he was missing, so he sent younger sister Glenna, then 13, in his place, wearing his uniform, pants and helmet.

“After the game concluded, it belatedly occurred to young Jerry that there had been a risk that even third-stringers might be brought into the game,” Jeffrey said. “So he sheepishly asked his 13-year-old sister, who was riding the bench that whole game, what she would’ve done if the coach had instructed her to jump onto the field. To Jerry’s pride, and to Jerry’s horror, mom replied, of course she would’ve run onto the field. A sibling rivalry, indeed.”

Glenna Citrin wasn’t able to attend the funeral in person, so she watched a livestream — fitting for Green, who kept up with the technology; he was a prolific texter, and had an iPhone — and sent a message, delivered by Jeffrey.

The siblings hadn’t seen each other in person in some time, but frequently emailed and texted. Green, an 11-time Michigan sportswriter of the year, would send along his latest columns in The Detroit News.

“Jerry, I will miss your letters,” Glenna said, through Jeffrey. “I miss you greatly. You were a gift to so many people.”

There were lots of former colleagues at Wednesday’s funeral, from both Detroit dailies. Former Tiger Dan Petry was in attendance, paying respects to a reporter who was more than that to him. When Petry first moved into Green’s beloved Grosse Pointes, Green took Petry to lunch so they could go over the best places for Petry to eat.

Green’s casket was flanked by elegant bouquets of flowers, as well as a 13-fold American flag, remembering his service in the Navy, and a Michigan football jersey, from his day in 2021 as an honorary captain.

He was interred at White Chapel Cemetary in Troy.

“We want to thank God for the gift of life for Jerry,” said Deacon Michael Stach, of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Troy. “He has touched so many lives, by his writings, his journalism…and emotionally.

“I know he probably would love to get the Lions to the Super Bowl. It didn’t happen, but hey…there’s hope.”

Gage, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame who like Green also is in the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, recalled several stories about life on the road with Green. Once, in the Caribbean, Green rented a boat and set sail, figuring with his Navy experience, it would be no sweat. The boat capsized. He was rescued by a couple who he just so happened to see at dinner that night. He went up and thanked them, and said, “I’m such a klutz.” The woman responded, “Our last name is Klutz.”

Gage interrupted his eulogy to take a “phone call” from Green — complete with the five-second delay on the other end when answering, a staple of Green calls for years (and nobody knows why).

“You haven’t seen Joe Falls yet?” Gage asked, speaking of Green’s longtime colleague — and fellow sports columnist — at The News. “Well, I’ll tell you this, Jerry, you’ll probably hear him before you see him.”

“No, no, no, no, no, don’t put Sparky (Anderson) on the phone,” Gage said, of the Tigers’ legendary late manager, drawing laughs in the funeral home. “He won’t stop talking. But tell him hello.”

“You’re up there with a lot of good friends, I know that.”

Gage then told the story about how he and Green came to always tell each other, “Hum baby!” That was a phrase introduced to them by Roger Craig, the Tigers’ pitching coach in the 1980s. Craig used it as a hello, and also as a way to pump up his players.

Eventually, for Gage and Green, “Hum baby” not only became a hello, but also a farewell.

“And I want to say to you, Jerry, my dear friend, this is the last time I will say it to you,” Gage said.

“Hum baby.”

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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