During Sunday’s telecast of Temple’s basketball game, there was a little shtick, one of the announcers interviewing Stella the Owl. The actual owl, with handler. Except you couldn’t help but noticing the Temple Hall of Fame portraits on a wall behind the owl.
Your eye went to one portrait. There’s Al Shrier. It was hard to notice anything else, even a live owl in front.
“He touched more lives than any person in Temple University’s history, in 60 years," Larry Dougherty, Temple’s sports information director, said Monday over the phone, talking about Shrier.
Dougherty had woken up to a text from Ruth Shrier that her husband, long ailing, had died early Monday at age 88. He’d worked more than six decades at Temple, most of them in charge of the sports information department.
The West Philadelphia High graduate was class of ’52 at Temple. Shrier worked at his alma mater from ’53 on, was around for Final Fours under Harry Litwack, and in charge of the media at the historic ’92 NCAA Regional at the Spectrum, and thousands of lesser events along the way. Not just an era — all the eras.
The whole ride, nobody ever got a good look inside his briefcase.
That was Shrier’s famous routine. He always had that briefcase, and he never let anyone know what was inside.
"I had one guy a few years ago who had to have a hot dog," Shrier once said. “And I produced two hot dogs out of it. He almost fainted.”
“One time, he had two bags," said Mike Kern, who covered Temple for the Daily News and graduated from the school. “There was a period there. [John] Chaney used to point it out. I used to joke with him, ‘C’mon, Al, let me see in there.’ He’d just give you that little smile.”
It wasn’t the only information Shrier wouldn’t give up.
“I swear to God, in all the years I knew him, he never once told you anything in advance," Kern said. “He took it like a badge of honor. I’d say, ‘Al, you’re making me go to all these other people.’ … ‘Yeah, babe.’ ‘’
Before cellphones, the best time to reach Shrier in his office in Temple’s athletic department was between 8 and 9 in the morning.
He was always ready for you, never fazed. Although he had stopped traveling years ago — flying had gotten to him — he was still in charge of press seating and other tasks, still into the office, still mentoring yet another generation.
“The thing about Al, he was a very understated guy," said Jack Scheuer, for years a correspondent for the Associated Press. “Not overzealous about anything. For such a powerful guy at Temple, you would never know it.”
Scheuer, who helped run the Herb Good Basketball Club with Shrier and the late Bob Vetrone for years, added, “He was a stickler for the rules, extremely so, in every facet of his life.”
Scheuer remembers he once lost his Temple press credential. Shrier wouldn’t just wave him in.
“He made me go through this whole rigamarole before he finally let me in,” Scheuer said.
Shrier was at every Temple home game, but not just at Temple games.
“It was like the Palestra couldn’t function without him," Inquirer reporter Joe Juliano said of the days of Big 5 doubleheaders on 33rd street.
Technically, Shrier had retired from running the sports information department in 1996, but he showed up for work the next Monday, and stayed on the payroll until last July.
“He did everything he could for Temple," said his longtime friend, Michael Richman. “And they did everything for him.”
They would socialize for decades, Richman said, maybe at an Italian place in Center City, or get together down the Shore, first in Atlantic City, later in Margate.
“We would see Al all the time," Richman said. “He wasn’t much of a beach person. He was a boardwalk person.”
His favorite year of all, Shrier once said, was 1969. The Owls won the NIT that year, back when it really meant something, and he married his wife. Al and Ruth met when they lived in the same apartment house on Conshohocken Avenue in Wynnefield Heights.
There also was a pretty good time in 2013 when Temple unfurled a banner from the rafters, with Shrier’s name and a replica of that briefcase.
They surprised him with the banner. His chin maybe quivered a little bit during the ceremony. He still wouldn’t give up what was inside the briefcase.
“You’ve got to keep them guessing," Shrier said that day.
Services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Goldstein’s Funeral Home, 6410 N. Broad St., Philadelphia. The family will start receiving visitors at 10:30 a.m.