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Canastota Chronicles: Coffee and Donuts With Smokin’ Bert Cooper

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  • Canastota Chronicles: Coffee and Donuts With Smokin’ Bert Cooper

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    By Matt Andrzejewski

    By MATT ANDRZEJEWSKI -- Boxing fans often flock to Canastota for Hall of Fame weekend in hopes of meeting a few stars. I am no different than most fans in that I yearn for that once in a lifetime encounter with a boxing superstar whenever I am in Canastota. As a matter of fact, the very first fighter I ever met there was Felix Trinidad and still proudly display the glove he signed for me in a prominent place in my mancave.

    But its not all about just meeting the “stars” of the sport when attending Hall of Fame weekend. You just never know who you will bump into and maybe even spark a friendship. For me that random encounter took place at the Dunkin Donuts across the street from the Hall of Fame and gave me two years’ worth of unforgettable memories.

    Anyone who has ever been to Canastota knows that things can sometimes get a little congested Hall of Fame weekend in that small town. Saturday is usually a busy day on the Hall of Fame grounds with all sorts of events that tend to draw large crowds. I was on the grounds as usual with my wife Kelly on Saturday June 10th, 2017 and as the day ended, we decided to head across the street to Dunkin Donuts instead of battle an ensuing traffic jam.

    As I sat there watching out the window sipping my coffee, I noticed an individual enter who looked like someone I should know. Well, he must have noticed me staring and came right over to sit down next to me. Definitely not what I was expecting but he soon stuck his hand out and introduced himself as Bert. That’s when I knew who was sitting next to me.

    I was frozen for a second and in my head was trying to quickly recount as many of Bert’s past fights as possible. Shortly after he sat down next to me another individual walked in and came over to the table. He asked if I could watch over Bert for a minute and make sure he didn’t leave. This person told me he’d be back in ten minutes.

    My wife shot me the look of let’s just get out of here. But I couldn’t. And I wanted to make sure Bert stayed put. I am not sure to this day why this is the first thing I thought of but I wanted to get some conversation going with Bert to make sure he didn’t suddenly split. So, knowing he was from Philadelphia, I asked he ever fought at the Blue Horizon.

    He did. It apparently wasn’t a particularly fond memory of Bert’s.

    That awkward start out of the way Bert went right into telling me about his fight with George Foreman. I am guessing he figured I’d recognize the name and well it was quite the sensational story. I will steer away from the X rated version but essentially Bert claimed Foreman sent hookers and drugs to his hotel room the night before the fight. He went into details. My wife looked petrified and clearly wanted to leave.

    So, I swerved quickly and got Bert talking about other fights as well as moments from his career. And he could talk. Eventually that person showed back up and joined us along with Junior Jones. It was quite the experience and at the end as we parted ways Bert asked me if we could have lunch next year. I said sure thinking it’d never happen.

    But it did. The person who I referenced earlier who asked me to make sure Bert didn’t leave Dunkin Donuts was named Sam Bearman. He was an attorney who had a passion for boxing and was assisting some former fighters with various matters. One was Bert along with Junior Jones and Riddick Bowe. Sam contacted me during Hall of Fame weekend in 2018 and asked if we were still on for lunch with Bert. Of course, my answer was yes.

    When I first saw Bert in 2018 he sure acted like he remembered me (not sure if he really did or if Sam helped juggle his memory). Bert whipped out a black and white photo right away and asked if I wanted an autograph. So, I said sure and knowing he probably wanted a few bucks I began to pull out my wallet. Bert saw this and said that while he usually charges fans, he never charges friends. I offered anyway and he refused to take any money.

    We headed off the Hall of Fame grounds for lunch to this little restaurant in the heart of Canastota called Three Pines. Bert made sure to introduce himself to the few patrons who were seated as well as all the staff. Possibly wanting to avoid a scene the hostess took us to the back dining area that was unoccupied.

    Generally, when I go to Canastota I watch several past fights of the many fighters who I know will be in attendance that week. That way just in case I come into contact with someone I am prepared to spark a conversation about their career. Knowing there was a better than outside chance I’d bump into Bert again I watched many of his old fights just in case we’d head out to lunch.

    Anyway, I probably recounted a dozen or so fights with Bert that day. Since we had plenty of room in the area that we were stashed back in at the restaurant he even gave me a demonstration of how he knocked out Richie Melito. In doing so I thought for a second that I was going to be on the receiving end of his patented left hook.

    Eventually the owner came over and asked me if Bert was really a famous boxer. I said yes. She asked him for an autographed picture and he gleefully ran out to the car where he left the photos to get one to sign for her. She told us next year when we come the photo would be in a frame on the wall with the other signed pictures.

    My wife and I would soon have to part ways to head to Turning Stone for the boxing card that evening. Before we parted Bert told me that we’d have to get together next year as he had more stories that he wanted to share from his career.

    But that was the last time I saw Bert. About a month before the 2019 Hall of Fame weekend Bert suddenly passed away.

    I decided not to go back to Three Pines restaurant in 2019. It was just too soon as just a year earlier Bert was in his happy place there talking about his career with a diehard fan who soaked up every second of his stories. I figured in 2020 I’d stop by and hopefully see that photo displayed on the wall. But that did not happen.

    The plan is this year for me to make it back to Three Pines for the first time since I had that lunch with Bert and Sam Bearman. Unfortunately, it will be just my wife and I. Sam also passed away sometimes shortly after Bert’s death.

    The stories Bert told me I will never forget. And that’s why I head out to Canastota whenever there is an induction weekend. You just never know who you will meet and with whom you will develop lifelong friendships through the shared passion of the sport of boxing.

  • #2
    Happy to welcome Matt A. back to these pages.

    Not for one second do I believe that George Foreman sent drugs and hookers to Cooper's room. That would be completely out of character. However, I wouldn't be shocked to learn that some of Foreman's people did the deed without Big George's knowledge.

    The fight was in Phoenix during Foreman's second coming and aired on the old USA network as part of its Thursday Night series. Cooper quit on his stool after two rounds.


    • #3
      Thanks Arne.

      Bert was a fun guy to be around. But yeah I am sure some of his stories were a bit exaggerated. I have had several other writers tell me Bert told them a similar story about what happened to him in Phoenix before he faced Foreman. He told that one a lot apparently and seemed to be his go to when first introducing himself to a fan and/or writer.

      Canastota this year is going to be a bit different. There is anticipation for a much larger than usual crowd given the three year's worth of inductees and the big names going in. Canastota is not a big town and well there is at least some concern as to how they will be able to handle the large anticipated surge in attendance this year. So it may not be the same though I am pretty certain I will attend for at least some part even if there will be some headaches.

      Surprisingly though the Hall has not even sent out its usual correspondence on who will actually be in attendance. The only notice anyone has received just came a few days ago when they finally announced the boxing card in conjunction with Hall of Fame weekend at Turning Stone.
      Last edited by oubobcat; 05-03-2022, 03:52 PM.


      • Kid Blast
        Kid Blast commented
        Editing a comment
        Jackie Tonawanda's entry into the IBHOF gives me pause on my past financial support to the Hall.