METROWEST DAILY NEWS Wednesday, June 28, 1995

Another 15 Minutes Of Fame

Nancy McNeeley returns to spotlight with son Peter

The second in a series leading up to Peter McNeeley's August 19 heavyweight fight with Mike Tyson.

By Lenny Megliola
News/SPORTS COLUMNIST

MEDFIELD — The mother knew what was coming. Our lives are going to change now.

"It's gotten a lot busier," says Nancy, Peter McNeeley's mother. "Peter might have to change his phone number."


PETER AND MOM NANCY McNEELEY
Nancy McNeeley (left, with son Peter) is no stranger to the spotlight herself. She was a finalist in the Miss Universe pageant and worked as a model in the early 60's. Today she's a successful businesswoman and a professor at Mount Ida college where she teaches a course in fashion marketing.   (Photo by Michael Brennan/CORBIS)

Busy? CBS has been here, to this lovely home in a quintessentially quiet neighborhood shaded by oak and pine trees. ESPN came. "The British press was here two days ago," says Nancy. "They took pictures." The Boston TV stations have come a knockin'. Mike Lynch and Gene Lavanchy showed up at the same time. Nancy was shuffling them from room to room. All the while, the phone was ringing off the hook. "It's been incredible," she says.

Peter McNeeley has stumbled on sudden fame. "He can't get away from it," his mother says.

Her son will fight Mike Tyson August 19 and nothing, nothing will be the same for a long while in the house that Peter McNeeley lives with his divorced mother. "He doesn't want to change his phone number," Nancy says. But there's a celebrity in the house now. Whether this is just his 15 minutes in the sun most likely depends on how he does against Tyson. Almost everyone seems to think McNeeley is being thrown to the wolves. Nancy thinks her son will win. Of course. She's praying, anyway.

She is a stunning woman still, in her 50s, a former Miss New Hampshire (1960) who went to the Miss Universe contest. "I've had my teensy 15 minutes of fame, too," she smiles. Nancy also made the front sports page of the Boston Globe once. She was Miss Summer World.

She's been on stage, in summer stock at the Cape. She traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada swimming with the Water Follies, and was the model for Esther Williams pools.

At Belmont High, she was a cheerleader and played field hockey. "I would have run track, except they didn't have it for girls then," she says.

Her ex-husband, Tom, was a fighter, too. He had his 15 minutes, fighting Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight championship, Patterson pulverizing the elder McNeeley until they stopped it in the fourth round.

Remarried now to Dan McGonagle, Nancy has a full life. She's an associate professor at Mt. Ida College, fashion design, and takes students to Europe every year. "Paris and Milan mainly," she says. She works in real estate, operates a satellite parking lot at Great Woods and took over her father's building management business in 1982.

"I'm a bit of a workaholic," she says.

"But being a mother is the biggest thing I ever did." Besides Peter, there's Tom, Shawn, and Bryan. "They're the most important part of my life," she says.


PETER AND NANCY McNEELEY - IMAGE #2
Having already experienced more than her share of fame, Nancy McNeeley's already busy life has become busier as son Peter prepares to fight Mike Tyson.   (photo courtesy of the McNeeley family)

Nancy hasn't totally shed the McNeeley name. "Because of the businesses, I didn't change my name," she explains. "At school everybody knows me as Mrs. McNeeley."

Tom and Nancy met on a blind date. The irony was she'd just seen Tom fight on TV, and boom! she was fixed up with the guy. "It was a very unusual situation," says Nancy. They dated for about half a year, and after they were married, Tom continued to fight for another 10 years.

Tom won a lot more than he lost, but he took a lot of punishment, too. "I was ignorant," says Nancy. "I didn't understand the sport, how you could get hurt so bad. I was better off in my ignorance."

And now, Peter. "It's even more frightening because that's my son," says Nancy. "My baby." On an August Las Vegas night, Nancy's baby steps into a small piece of real estate with Mike Tyson. And she worries. "I went to Tom's fights," says Nancy. "He never really got hurt."

She will be in Vegas for her son's fight, just as she'd been in Toronto the night Patterson knocked her man down eight or nine times. She has felt the aura of a glitzy heavyweight championship fight night. She remembers Toronto. "It was exciting, overwhelming, beyond words. It's still vivid."

But once the fight began and Patterson's blows kept delivering her husband to the canvas, the thrill was gone. "One of the times he was knocked down, a photographer took a picture of me with my mouth wide open," says Nancy.

Then her baby decided to take after his father.

"It's much harder for me to go to Peter's fights," says Nancy. "After a couple of them I'd say 'I think I'll stay home next time.' But I always change my mind. He wants me there."

The McNeeley boys were always playing something. Football, basketball, baseball, lacrosse. Then Peter and Bryan went to Joe DeNucci's fight camp in Newton and worked with the former middleweight. Bryan did it just for recreation. With Peter it was different. "It kind of snuck up on us," says Nancy. "When Peter went into the amateurs, we didn't think it was going any further than that."

Now it's gone all the way to Mike Tyson.


PETER McNEELEY SPARS WITH GARING LANE
Medfield's heavyweight challenger Peter McNeeley (left) sparring with Garing Lane after a news conference in New York yesterday.   (The Associated Press)

"But I asked him to finish college first," says Nancy. "He did that. Then he said, 'I'm going to turn pro.'" It was about the time Hurricane Bob came whistling through. Peter took the nickname Hurricane. Hurricane Peter McNeeley.

"It sounds trite, but I just don't want him to get hurt against Tyson," says Nancy. "Win, lose or draw, just as long as he doesn't get hurt." A spectacular upset of Tyson and Hurricane Peter will be able to call his own shots, with seven-figure purses attached. "I want it for him because he wants it so badly," says Nancy. "He's driven."

This much she understands. "I was also driven, always competitive. There's a link there." And the link is dual. Father to son. Mother to son. Driven.

So celebrity has again come to the McNeeley house in Medfield. "It's just been a stunning series of events," says Nancy, rolling her eyes in the pastel-dominated living room. "It's been hectic, but OK. Not annoying. It's fine."

When the boy was 5 or 6, he found a four-leaf clover in the backyard. The mother told him a four-leaf clover was good luck, and the boy kept it. Still has it. The boy, a man now, was showing his mother the four-leaf clover just the other day.

Good luck?

Maybe he could cash it in now. August 19, in the desert.


This story ran on page 1D of The Middlesex Daily News on 06/28/95