Wayne County Wanderings: Rest in Peace, Cimo

Three men ... somber faced, silent and identically clad in dark suits ... stood in the rain outside St. Mary’s.

Brian, Billy and I have known each other all our lives. Friends, teammates, members of the Class of 1984, we’ve sunk our roots deeply here in Honesdale.

All three of us married here, raised children here and work here. We've been close friends at times, but distant at others and that's normal in the ebb and flow of busy lives,

On this day, however, we were as close as possible … united in grief at the loss of one of our oldest and dearest friends.

Is This Real?

When the hearse pulled up, I honestly didn’t know what to do.

For the briefest of moments I considered walking away. After all, this couldn’t be real, right? Was it possible our friend was actually in the back of that big black car?

The rain intensified just a bit as the back door yawned open and I took a deep breath. Richie Hessling, ever the consummate professional and compassionate human being, guided us through those terrible few minutes.

Each of us took a place and helped carry the coffin up the steps and inside the church. Waiting for us there amid the candles, organ music and incense was a crowd of mourners come to pay their last respects to Jeffrey Cimahosky.

Our friend.

Simply the Best

Jeff died unexpectedly on Friday, December 21. He was 52-years-old.

There are so many things I'd like to tell you about Cimo, but I don't even know where to begin. He was a larger-than-life person … an almost legendary figure who loomed over my graduating class like a colossus.

It isn’t often that I get a chance to write about someone I consider to be the best at something.

In my world, though, today is definitely one of those occasions.

Why? Well, because Jeff Cimahosky was the greatest football player I ever had the honor of sharing a huddle with. My own gridiron career lasted many years after I graduated, but in all that time I never encountered a better, more naturally gifted player.

It’s nearly impossible to convince someone who wasn’t there to see him in action what an absolutely transcendent player Cimo was. So, instead of trying to sway you with a flurry of stats, honors and coaches' testimony I’ll just tell you a story...

It’s Homecoming our senior year and Honesdale is hosting Wallenpaupack Area in a Suburban Conference football game.

The stands are packed and the stakes are high. The Buckhorns have the ball and I’m playing corner. The ball is snapped and I start running downfield.

We’re in man-to-man coverage so my back is to the line of scrimmage when I hear two very distinctive sounds. The first is the unmistakable, thunderous crunch of pad and helmet on ballcarrier. The second is a collective gasp from the crowd.

The Paupack receiver and I screeched to a halt. He looked at me, wide-eyed, and asked: “What the hell was that?”

Without even looking back toward the line, I replied knowingly: “That was Cimo.”

I took out my mouth piece and turned around to confront what had become a familiar sight: A broken running back lying in a twisted heap on the grass … and Cimo towering over him, pausing just for a moment to admire his handiwork before heading back to the huddle.

Now let me be clear on one thing: there was no malice in the way Jeff played football. His was a controlled ferocity unleashed only within the boundaries of fair play.

However, he was always the biggest, baddest, scariest dude on the field. He was the Dick Butkus of NEPA football at the time, striking fear in the hearts of all enemy ballcarriers.

As you can probably imagine, from that point on, it was all but over. Paupack trainers carried that poor lad off the field and their coaches replaced him with another player.

The Buckhorns were done, though, and everyone knew it. We were the best team in the region that year, led by most fearsome linebacker around.

They finished out the game and then scurried to safety of their bus.

Final score: Honesdale 49, Paupack 0.

Childhood Friends

Our friendship began long before either one of us ever picked up a football.

In fact, I have countless happy memories of Cimo going all the way back to first grade...

Playing kickball during recess at the old Stourbridge; trading baseball cards in the mornings before school started; riding the bus to CCD every Wednesday for our weekly classes with St. Mary Clare, Sister Bridget and Sister Renee.

In fact, one of my favorite childhood pictures features Cimo and I arm-in-arm in front of St. John’s. We’d just received First Communion and couldn’t wait to get outside and take off those stupid ties. Our proud moms were waiting there to document the moment with a cutting edge Polaroid Instamatic.

I'm actually looking at the photo right now, a tear in my eye, marveling at how quickly the time between that sunny day and this rainy one passed.

Lessons Learned

More than a week has gone by since the funeral and I still can't believe it.

My heart breaks for Jeff's family, especially his parents. Many of us went up to Cordaro's for a luncheon following the funeral … an event run flawlessly (as always) by our hostess, Rosina.

It was hard to stop hugging Tony & Nian. They are great parents who never deserved this.

I can't even imagine the pain they've had to endure; but, I smiled a little when I saw Jeff's picture looking down on us: a football in his hands, clad in that iconic no. 54 jersey.

As with every tragedy, there are always some positive things that emerge if you look hard enough.

Many of my former teammates and classmates got back in touch for the first time in years. A group of us gathered at Tick Tocks Friday night to drink a toast to Cimo … to laugh a little, cry a little and tell tall tales.

We'd only planned to stay a little while, but the old magic returned and and one round turned into many.

Nobody wanted to leave, but when we finally did it was with hugs and promises to keep alive the spirit that Jeff's passing had somehow re-ignited. We exchanged numbers, texted one another photos and began planning for our next reunion.

On my way home, I tried to sort through this wildly emotional experience. And, while it will probably take me a very long time to make sense of it all, I can promise you one thing: I won't forget the lessons learned today.

There's nothing we can do about the past, but the future is wide open and brimming with possibilities.

Jeff may be gone, but his heartbreaking exit brought many people back together again … one last tribute to the influence he exerted in all our lives.

So, farewell Cimo. Rest in peace. Your journey here on earth is over, your pain is gone forever and you will never be forgotten.