Humble Brewer football great hangs up his (work) uniform

Brewerhall100515.JPGOne need only talk once with Ralph Payne to know he is a special man.

That was my impression upon interviewing the most heralded football player in Brewer High School history prior to his recent induction into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

Payne’s name was in the headlines again on Friday when WABI-TV in Bangor reported that he was retiring after 38 years working for United Parcel Service.

Payne is a study in humility.

Longtime BDN sportswriter Larry Mahoney, who played against Payne during his football days at Bangor High School, always joked that he still had Payne’s cleat marks on his back.

Payne is revered as the best running back ever at Brewer, where he and the Witches ran roughshod over the competition while posting a 30-2 record from 1968-1970. He racked up 45 career touchdowns, despite playing only a half in many games.

Coach Ken Perrone was quick to lift his starters and reward many other players with game action when Brewer was comfortably out in front.

Payne rushed for 1,239 yards and 17 touchdowns during his senior season, helping the Witches attain a ranking of No. 1 in New England and No. 5 in the country.

Mahoney commented that Payne was so good because of his ability to avoid onrushing would-be tacklers.

Give all of those accomplishments and his personal accolades, it is remarkable to hear Payne talk about his days at Brewer as though he had little to do with the program’s success.

“It’s the people I played ball with,” Payne said of his success.

“I’ve always been taught, never forget where you come from and who got you here,” he said.

Payne doesn’t talk about long runs, touchdowns or even victories. Instead, he focuses on the people with whom he enjoyed the experience.

First and foremost, he praised Perrone for his ability to convey all the values that football teaches. He attended Perrone’s first marriage and was his best man for the second one.

He is grateful to God for the many blessings he has received — and tried to share with his family and friends.

His reverence for his friends, including former teammates Dick Coffin, Bob Fortier and Steve Campbell, is touching. At his hall of fame induction, he shared the following by Welsh poet Joseph Parry.

“Make new friends, but keep the old;
Those are silver, these are gold.
New-made friendships, like new wine,
Age will mellow and refine.

“Friendships that have stood the test —
Time and change — are surely best;
Brow may wrinkle, hair grow gray,
Friendship never knows decay.

“For ‘mid old friends, tried and true,
Once more we our youth renew.
But old friends, alas! may die,
New friends must their place supply.

“Cherish friendship in your breast —
New is good, but old is best;
Make new friends, but keep the old;
Those are silver, these are gold.”

Pete Warner

About Pete Warner

Pete is a Bangor native who graduated from Bangor High School, Class of 1980. He earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He has been a full-time member of the Bangor Daily News Sports staff since 1984. Pete lives in Bangor with his wife of 32 years, Annia. They have two adult sons, Will and Paul. Pete is fluent in Spanish and enjoys visiting his in-laws and friends in Costa Rica. His hobbies including hunting, fishing and listening to jazz.