It was an autograph from Hall of Fame fullback Larry Csonka after a Giants game in the late 1970s that stuck with Bob Salomon.
As Csonka signed his name before getting into his car in the Meadowlands parking lot, the fullback looked at the young fan, patted him on the head and said simply: "Here, kid. Do good in school."
"I remember that to this day," Salomon said.
It turned out to be a transformative moment for the resident of Howell, New Jersey. "When I was a little boy,'' he said, "I always thought that if I was ever to become a professional athlete, I would take time with kids and really use my platform and be really good to the kids."
Salomon never did become a pro athlete -- he's a retired corrections officer -- but he is giving back to kids. He has co-written a football-themed children's book, "Beyond the Laces," a follow-up to an award-winning baseball book he helped create in 2009 -- "A Glove of Their Own" -- in hopes of spreading his message of kindness and hope.
His latest project has drawn support from several former NFL players, including former Jaguars, Washington and Jets quarterback Mark Brunell, now an ESPN NFL analyst; former Cowboys safety Bill Bates, former Jaguars kicker Mike Hollis and former Broncos and Giants kicker Mike Horan. The baseball community also is backing the project, led by former Yankees first baseman and current Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, former Dodgers and Yankees pitcher Tommy John, former Yankees outfielder Roy White and former Cubs and Phillies outfielder Doug Glanville, now an ESPN baseball analyst.
"I think it's a good story, a story that has a great message, especially at a time when there are so many bad messages that come out of sports," Brunell said. "It's inspirational for children, but also for adults."
The story is about a young sports fan battling a serious illness. The child wants to play touch football with friends but can't make it outside because of his condition. The boy eventually gets to meet his favorite player -- he is not named in the book but is referred to as No. 87 -- and is inspired to overcome his illness.
Why no name for the player?
"I didn't want to put it on one person," Salomon said. "I wanted a number to represent the good in sports. I asked my son, who's a football fan, to give me a number that represents a receiver. He said 87, so that has become the face of the project. My vision is that all the 87s will hold this book up, and 87 will come to represent kindness and love."
Salomon has partnered with Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Daniela's Wish and the Anti-Bully Squad. It is a similar setup he used with "A Glove of Their Own"; Salomon partnered with several pro athletes to support the pay-it-forward theme by using the book as a fundraising vehicle to deliver sporting equipment to children in need.
" [Children's Hospital] helped one of my children and my family go through some difficult times,'' he said, "and the professionalism and kindness they showed to us, I will never forget."
Brunell is happy to help spread the message. " sheds light on what professional athletes could be and how they can make an impact and use their platform to do that," he said.
Brunell can relate to the book's theme. He has visited many children in hospitals, and his foundation benefits Wolfson Children's Hospital in Jacksonville.
"You see kids fighting for their lives, and we've had an opportunity to bring a smile to their faces and say some words of encouragement," he said. "Hopefully, it's been meaningful for them. I know it's been meaningful for us to have an impact."
Glanville wrote for the book jacket: "We plan on storming the globe, sharing the message of kindness and inspiring our youth 'to never give up.' ''
Salomon's story also has received support from the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation, which honors one player from every NFL team. The foundation's Courage House National Support Network for Kids now is partnering with Salomon's project. According to its mission statement, the foundation is "dedicated to support for abused, neglected and at-risk children."
. . . "Our vision is to break the cycle of abuse and neglect and lay the foundation for generations of safe and nurturing families."In an attempt to spread his message even further, Salomon has created a website -- "Beyondthelaces.com" -- which is the portal for sales and group events. One of his biggest backers, Charles Ambrogio of CMYK Printing/ Publishing, is spearheading an effort to donate 650 copies of the book to charities.
"We're trying to embrace and bring the good guys into sports and create a movement to bring sports to the kids," Salomon said. "Love, kindness and inspiring. That's the message."