Whenever Matt Loede and I held our weekly lunches, he had an ongoing prank.
He would place his order with the waitress and then immediately point at me. “I’ll buy for my grandpa over here, so whatever he wants,” he would say.
I’m seven years older than Matt. Usually, I’d just roll my eyes. Sometimes, I’d play along.
“I had him young,” I once told a waitress.
Matt quickly corrected me, just so the timeline would make sense. “Actually, gramps, you had dad young, and dad had me young,” he said.
While the joke had me pegged as Matt’s grandpa, he was actually more like a brother. We had been friends for 15 years. We were extremely close for the last decade.
We had so much in common, so the connection made sense. We both founded websites and shared our big dreams for them. We both worked as stringers and full-timers and bounced around the sports media industry. We both refused to do anything other than what we loved, merely hoping someone would pay us a livable wage to do it. If anyone actually did … well, that was sort of beside the point.
But Matt was more than a man of the media, more than someone who had made a name for himself in Cleveland, more than a man with a relentless work ethic and great passion for the industry. He was those things, for sure. But so much more.
He was also a devoted and doting husband to Shanna, his wife of nine years. They were what every married couple hopes to become: best friends who constantly took care of each other. I never revealed this to Matt, but he served as a role model for me as both a husband and man of God.
That was the case for so many others, too. I actually made more friends just because I knew Matt. He had so many friends that they actually became mine by default.
He loved the music of Billy Joel. I mean, really loved — as in driving to Wrigley Field, alone, just to catch a concert. Recently, Matt and Shanna attended a show at Fenway Park.
He loved to monitor young writers and radio broadcasters. In high school, Matt wanted to become The Next Joe Tait, the late legendary Cleveland Cavaliers play-by-play man. Like most of us, though, Matt adapted as the industry changed. He wrote, produced video, broadcasted and taught at Ohio Media School.
Recently, he received the 2020 AP Sports Stringer Lifetime Service Award.
He thought that was kind of cool. I could tell when he showed it to me. He usually didn’t care about those things. He usually seemed much more in tune with the needs and achievements of others. But I knew it was a big deal when he placed it on a shelf next to his Peanuts stuff.
Yes, Matt was a big fan of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest. Shanna sometimes joked that Matt was like Charlie Brown. But Charlie Brown always had the football pulled out when he tried to kick it. From what I could tell, Matt booted it through the uprights, living his life and fulfilling the dreams he chased.
Matt followed me when I worked at UPI a few years back. Then to Sports Illustrated. Then to OutKick, where he started one month after I did. He told Shanna she had to be especially nice to me because “Sam keeps getting me jobs.” But I just gave people his name. He got the jobs on his own.
Matt passed away Wednesday after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 46.
It took me this long to mention his passing because I am still having a hard time believing it. My world has been rocked. Many in the Cleveland sports media feel the same. Same with fans of Cleveland sports. The tributes and mentions on social media have been incredible.
“Man, I’m sorry to be reading this,” actor/wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson wrote in response to a tweet about Matt’s passing. “Our love, light and strength to Matt’s family.”
Yeah, Matt loved pro wrestling. He made friends in the industry. The Rock had been following his status. He even posted a video of encouragement for Matt earlier this year.
“So I’m your fan now, man,” the Rock said. “I’m probably your biggest fan now. Literally the biggest.”
Mostly, Matt truly was a genuine person, a good man who lived his faith. Those are hard to find.
So is a friend who is like a brother. I’m so happy to have had that, and I know so many others are saying and feeling the same.
GOODBYE TO MY FRIEND
Shortly after learning of Matt’s passing, I got in the car, just to drive and collect my thoughts. I turned on the radio. A song was just starting.
It was Billy Joel. It was the song, “Only the Good Die Young.”
I had to pull over.
As the cars and trucks and motorcycles whizzed by, my world had just stopped. My friend was gone.
He was good, he was young. It just wasn’t fair.
Selfishly, I can’t believe our daily texts on sports and media are over. I can’t believe we won’t be going to another lunch. I can’t believe I didn’t really get to say goodbye.
So I’ll do it here …
Thanks for everything, my friend. Not a day will go by that I won’t think about you. You helped me become a better man.