Kent Somers and Rick Morin discuss John McCain and his love of sports in our Shot Clock video.
Diana Payan, The Republic |

His game uniform was almost always the same. Navy blue blazer. Light-blue print shirt. And if the competition was outside, a ball cap with “NAVY” on the front.

No one loved Arizona sports teams more than Sen. John McCain, and his affection was genuine. Why else show up to a Cardinals football practice in August? Call a Coyotes captain after a game? Lobby an owner to give Arizona a baseball franchise?

You know you’re big when star players make a point of seeking you out, which receiver Larry Fitzgerald, quarterback Carson Palmer and running back David Johnson did when McCain came to practice last August. 

The same thing happened in other venues. Luis Gonzalez, Shane Doan, Devin Booker all knew him and made heartfelt statements after McCain died of brain cancer on Saturday.

On Capitol Hill, McCain could be stubborn, cantankerous and a handful to deal with.

Around athletes, however, he melted and usually looked at them with the adulation of a kid.

A self-described average high school athlete, McCain admired in others the qualities he didn’t possess. And the athletes always seemed amazed that McCain, who ran for president twice, was actually interested in what they had to say.

“I’m at a loss for words for what he’s done for this great state of Arizona, our nation and internationally,” Fitzgerald said during NBC’s broadcast of the Cardinals game on Sunday. “Just his heart, his compassion, his sacrifice as a POW. He’ll be with me forever.”

McCain would talk sports with anyone, not just athletes. When he made appearances at news radio stations, he often would pop in and do segments on the sports talk station. He even dropped by our sports department to shoot a “Shot Clock” video once. Two years ago, McCain and Jerry Colangelo headlined an azcentral sports “town hall” at Grand Canyon University.

At least once, his sports addiction might have gotten in the way of his day job. In June of 2017, McCain sounded confused while questioning former FBI Director James Comey during a Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing. McCain later released a statement that “maybe going forward I shouldn’t stay up late watching the Diamondbacks night games” before an important hearing.

He stayed up late to watch a game in June. That’s a fan.

McCain was a Diamondbacks fan before the franchise was officially established.

Colangelo, the former managing general partner of the Diamondbacks, was reminded of that Monday by Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the White Sox.

The two had lunch in Chicago and reminisced about McCain. Reinsdorf, who was on baseball’s expansion committee when Arizona was making a bid, recalled meeting McCain in Colangelo’s office, and McCain lobbying him hard.

“In that regard, you can say he gave us an assist,” Colangelo said.

McCain remained a huge fan and accompanied the team to Ground Zero during the 2001 World Series.

McCain was a fan of the Suns, too, and had season tickets in a corner near the floor.

“He was kind of a fixture,” Colangelo said.

Doan, like Fitzgerald, became good friends over the years, and they talked about more than just hockey.

“It’s kind of impossible to be around somebody like him and not learn,” Doan said.

One important lesson Doan learned: Do what you think is right, especially when it’s not easy.

“That sounds so simple but at the same time it’s so, so important,” Doan said. “That’s where him being called the maverick comes from. Often people do what’s right because it’s the norm. But if you do right when not the norm, it’s being a maverick.”

There were times McCain’s interest in politics and sports intertwined. He wrote the Muhammad Ali Act, which introduced financial and safety regulations that protected boxers.

The bill was “very pro-boxers,” Top Rank President Bob Arum told Norm Frauenheim in a piece for The Ring. “One thing is boxers never knew financially what was involved in a fight. The disclosure required by the Muhammad Ali Act at least levels the playing field a little bit. A fighter getting $50,000 from a main event might not have known the promoter was getting $1 million from the network.”

Before a championship boxing card last weekend at Gila River Arena, the bell sounded 10 times in honor of McCain. The guy who boxed at the Naval Academy would have liked that.

Last December, Fitzgerald wrote a love letter of sorts to McCain for Sports Illustrated. He and McCain became close friends over the past five years or so, and both their faces lit up when they saw each other.

In the Sports Illustrated story, Fitzgerald describes a trip to Vietnam and touring the “Hanoi Hilton” where McCain was a prisoner of war for more than five years.

“I know this,” Fitzgerald wrote. “As soon as my boys are of age, I’ll tell them stories about the quality of the man I’ve gotten to know. I’ll tell them: Senator John McCain will be revered and respected for as long as the United States of America has a place in this world, and his legacy will outlive us all.”


Reach Somers at 602-444-8335. Follow him on Twitter: @kentsomers.


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