The first time the Giffin family exploded onto my radar was at a Fort Hill basketball game years ago in the old Fort Hill gym. Believe it was a City game, which meant the place was packed, the walls were sweating and the smell of popcorn permeated the atmosphere. And through it all marched the family Giffin in perfect formation, tallest in the front, shortest in the back, led by father Lew, mother Donna, oldest son Bob, second son Tom, third son Donnie and fourth son Johnnie.
The Giffins usually sat in the front row of the old Fort Hill bleachers — again, in formation, Lew, Donna, Bob, Tom, Don and John — but formation went out the window once that ball went up in the air for the opening tip. For the Giffins, you see, particularly the boys, are rather excitable folks and, when it comes to their sports, very, very intense and very, very loyal folks. In fact, I would be willing to wager that somewhere on the Giffin family crest are the words, “Emotions on your sleeve, baby! Emotions on your sleeve.”
The Giffin boys also played sports in much the same manner that they watched sports — all or nothing and larger than life. So, so competitive were they, whether it was basketball or tiddlywinks, as through the years I have enjoyed saying that the Giffins were Parcells before being Parcells was cool.
I remember Bob and Tom playing church league basketball for, I want to say, Christ Lutheran, and I recall Bob, who was the center, having the sweetest little left-handed baby hook shot as he dominated games in the paint, while Tom backed him up as a forward. But then the greatest thing happened: the Giffins showed up one Sunday at our church, St. John’s Lutheran, and while Bob had other things on his plate, Tom joined the basketball team and helped the Johnnies to a run of two championships.
Bob went on to play basketball for Fort Hill, where he also played football and ran track. Bob was a good athlete and a great teammate. He wore No. 65 and was a tackle on two varsity football teams — one that went undefeated and one that played in the first Maryland state playoff game. In track he was a shot and discus man, and a damn fine one, using picture-perfect technique and form, just as he had on his baby-hook, to set various marks in both throws.
Along the way, Bob met Judy Kelly and the two fell madly in love and continued to grow more and more in love with each passing moment. They got married and had two sons, Bob and Branden, who would also immerse themselves in all things Giffin and play sports with the same passion and desire as all of the Giffins who preceeded them. And in their parents, they had the greatest support team in the world, as Bob and Judy were with them every step of the way, giving their love and encouragement the way nobody else could or can.
Anything is possible when you’re a Giffin because being a Giffin means having the most cheerful and positive outlook in the world. To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, You see things; and you say, “Why?” But the Giffins dream things that never were; and they say, “Why not?”
When you’re with a person named Giffin you can be certain you are going to be surrounded by love and good cheer, and you can be certain you are going to have a smile on your face because they’re going to put it there.
When the news came on Christmas Eve that Bob had passed away, much laughter and cheer vacuumed from so many holiday gatherings here because Bob was a great provider of both. Like everyone else, he might have had some bad days or some difficult times, but you’d never know it when you saw him. He was always the first one to speak to you and speak to you cheerfully. He was always the first one to encourage you and to pick you up when he might have sensed you were having a difficult day.
As Mike Calhoun said, “Bob is one of two people in my life I never heard say a negative thing about anybody.”
Bob didn’t know any other way. It’s how he and his brothers were raised, and it’s how he and Judy raised their own. Bob Giffin always had everybody else’s best interests at heart. Which is why right now so many of our hearts have been broken.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at email@example.com.