A JERSEY GUY: 50 Years of Memories...and still counting
Forgive me, If I wonder if the wide-world of sports we are now dealing with will prevent a return to "normal'', or if that world will ever exist again.
Undoubtedly, reality will be upon us quickly enough, which is why I ask for some dispensation here in going into my personal archives of 50 years (this month) as a sports writer.
Certainly, it has been a long run. I have had a career which began with a typewriter in which you could transmit a 3-page story in just under 20 minutes. That has progressed to where I can submit a story across the world in 20 seconds or less.
Knowing what I know now about the business and how it has changed over half a century makes it seem even more amazing.
Undoubtedly, I have missed some major events. I haven't seen it all, but I've seen a lot of it in a career which began for a Jersey Guy in Nyack, New York in June of 1970. I started working for the Rockland Journal-News, one of the numerous suburban papers in the area at the time.
Truthfully, it was almost more fun than work.
Joking with some long-time friends, I told them I was a sports writing version of Crash Davis. I worked in Nyack and then went back into Jersey, working for the Passaic Herald-News, the Morristown Daily Record, the Paterson News and the Trenton Times, a journey which prompted a veteran sports writer for the New York Daily News named Norm Miller, to call me "Suitcase''.
Miller was called "WOJO--Wise Old Jewish Owl.
Miller, who covered the New York football Giants (still said by many veterans, even though neither the Giants nor baseball Giants have been in New York during my career) was part of the old school of sports writers.
The reporters traveled with the team and often socialized with them after the games, with each side understanding that certain activities were "off the record'' (more about that later) and that criticism, as well as praise, was part of the deal
It was a great apprenticeship as I worked my way through the system, covering every New York professional team, as well as high schools, colleges and other sports.
That was the 1970s and I saw and covered lots of things, the most memorable coming in 1973, when working in Passaic, I covered the 1973 Knicks (my all time favorite team) and the 1973 Yankees, who held a press conference in spring training for Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson, a pair of journeymen pitchers, to announce they were switching FAMILIES--including wives, kids and dogs.
One can only imagine how that would have been covered in today's social media world.
But the 1973 Knicks with Red Holzman coaching, and players such as Willis Reed, Earl Monroe, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, Walt Frazier and reserve named Phil Jackson was my favorite.
It also produced a journalistic rule which I have followed ever since and NO coach or athlete has ever rejected.
It was during the playoffs when we were on the road with the Knicks (the suburban papers only covered the playoffs) and the writers and the Knick PR staff were having dinner with Holtzman, who knew the New York writers well, but was only marginally familiar with the guys from the suburbs.
He looked over at me and asked one of the PR people, "Does the kid (me) know the rules,'' said Holzman. ""I don't know Red, '' said the PR guy. ""Tell him.''
Holzman's adult beverage of choice was scotch. He picked up his drink and pointed the glass at me, and said, ""See this. Any time this in my hands, everything I say is OFF THE RECORD.''
I have yet to find a coach who didn't think that was a great rule and I used it as recently as last summer when a group of us had gathered in Chicago and were having 19th hole cocktails with outgoing Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, who also thought it was a great idea and proceeded to tell stories of his long career, raising his glass of beer numerous times as a reminder.
I was in Trenton in 1978 covering the New York Football Giants and was in Giants Stadium when New York QB Joe Pisarcik fumbled what should have been a routine game-ending handoff in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Philadelphia defensive back Herm Edwards picked up the fumble and scored the game-winning touchdown, an incident which has gone into tabloid history as The Fumble or Miracle in The Meadowlands.
I got to know the quarterbacks, because back then you had lots of access. I was friends with Pisarcik, who came out of New Mexico State.
The aftermath of the fumble was so great in New York that the players were given two days off after the loss to the Eagles, which meant the first media availability was at the normal Wednesday media day.
A crowd of reporters hung around Pisarcik's locker, waiting for the chance to talk to the embattled QB.
He came in and started to dress, facing inward, which meant he was not ready to talk. That took several minutes, but Pisarcik still didn't turn around.
I finally nudged forward and stood next to him. He looked up and saw who it was and half smiled.
"What have you been doing the past few days?'' was my ice breaker question.
He paused and said very quietly. ""I had to get away, so I flew to to Florida and spent two days on the beach in Fort Lauderdale.''
I asked him how that went and he shook his head. ""I was fine, just lying on the beach, trying to forget about things and there was a shadow over me. I looked up and it was some guy who said, "Why didn't you take a bleeping knee on the last play."
I did my best not to laugh out loud and then watched as Pisarcik turned around and answered media questions--without telling that story.
Those were the days, my friend.
I finally made it to the "Show'' in 1982 when I was hired (without an in-person interview) at the Dallas Morning News, which was in an old fashioned newspaper war with the Dallas Times Herald.
The person that hired me was Dave Smith, who had made the Boston Globe sports department one of the best in the country.
Dave was brought to Texas to do the same thing for the Morning News. He hired people he trusted and listened to what they had to say.
One of those people was Gary Myers, who had come to Dallas from New York where I knew him).
Gary convinced Smith that I was the right guy to cover college football--the Southwest Conference, as well as do a few other things including horse racing.
Myers convinced Smith to hire me, which prompted veteran Morning News sport writer/columnist and Texas legend Randy Galloway to walk into Smith's office after hearing I had been hired and said, "Dave, you hired someone from New Jersey to cover the SWC. Are you crazy?''
Five years later when I left Dallas and started working at the Boston Globe, Galloway walked into Smith's office again and said. "You're letting Blaudschun go to the Globe. Are you crazy?"
The five years I spent in Dallas were the most fun I've had in journalism. That newspaper war (which the Morning News won) was going on, we had both the budget and the staff to cover everything and we did. The staff was young, hungry and each person had their own turf, with everyone helping out during big events and of course on Cowboy games.
Consider this situation. I was assigned during the week to do a Cowboys' opponent story, which happened to be the Buffalo Bills.
I called the Bills PR office, made the request and then went about my business, which was doing my laundry in my condo.
The phone rang. "Mark Blaudschun?'' "Yes, I replied. "It's OJ. What do you need?''
My main area was college football and I arrived in 1982 just when the SMU cheating scandal was starting to bubble, culminating in the unprecedented act of the NCAA shutting down the football program for numerous and continuing cheating violations, which had spread throughout the SWC, as well.
I also covered national football and was witness to the greatest regular season game I have ever seen in the Boston College-Doug Flutie TD pass win over Miami in 1984.
I got to know such future super stars as Pittsburgh QB Dan Marino during his senior season running a Pittsburgh team which went to the Cotton Bowl.
I got to know such coaching legends as Penn State's Joe Paterno and Florida State's Bobby Bowden, Florida coach Steve Spurrier, USC's John Robinson, Mack Brown at North Carolina and Texas and then again at North Carolina.
I have covered and gotten to know such basketball legends as Dean Smith and Coach K and Hall of Fame coaches such as UConn's Jim Calhoun and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim.
As much as I loved Dallas, I wanted to get back to the Northeast and the Boston Globe had been on my radar screen for years, many times with nice letters or rejections from Vince Doria, who had replaced Smith as the sports editor.
Again, I had a Trojan horse, my long-time (48 years and counting) friend Don Skwar, who I worked with at a few places in New Jersey) and was an assistant sports editor at the Globe.
I was again basically hired without an in-person interview. My application file at the Globe was so deep that Doria once sent me a rejection letter for a job (covering the Boston Bruins) which I had not gone after.
I remember calling Doria and thanking him for the reply, but I said, "Vince, this one I didn't apply for.''
I finally came to Boston in the spring of 1987, covered the Patriots (when they were one of the worst franchises in the NFL ) for a few years and in 1990 moved to college football and basketball which I covered until I took a buyout in 2012.
I went to huge stadiums--The Big House in Michigan, the Rose Bowl, Notre Dame Stadium. I went to tiny hamlets of college football such as St. John's in Minnesota to see legendary coach John Gagliardi win his 409th career game.
I have been to the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill and visited Dean Smith's office and listened to stories as well as told some of mine. I have seen the Cameron Crazies at Duke and watched Coach K create his own shadow as one of college basketball's greatest coaches.
I saw some of the great events in college football and basketball history. Christian Laettner's jump shot to beat Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA East Regional Finals.
I saw all of Duke's national championships under Coach Mike Krzyzewski. I saw all of his Final Four losses. I saw runs by UNLV under Jerry Tarkanian, North Carolina coaches Dean Smith and Roy Williams have some of their finest moments and biggest disappointments. I saw the antics both good and bad of Indiana coach Bob Knight. I watched the rise of Kentucky coach John Calipari from his days as UMass--where I once was sitting in his office in Amherst when he opened his mail and saw a letter from the university that as a state employee he was ordered to take an unpaid furlough--to his rise as a college basketball king at the University of Kentucky with a multi-million dollar contract.
I watched and enjoyed watching Calhoun, who had paid his dues as a young coach in the Boston area and in the early years at UConn climb to the top of the mountain.
I watched the expansion and then the implosion of the Big East and appreciated the deft way Mike Tranghese (another close friend) kept it together as long as he could.
In football, I have covered every college national championship game since 1991, went to the Summer Olympics in Sidney, Australia, the winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, seen all three Triple Crown horse races, all of the Major golf tournaments, covered Super Bowls, World Series, NBA and Stanley Cup finals.
As part of the TMG core, which took a serious jolt with the death last month of one of our partners Chris Dufresne, I am aware of a clock that is ticking. I still have long-time friends such as Mr. College Football Tony Barnhart, TMG partner Herb Gould and our new full-time addition Tom Luicci as guiding posts for support.
And there are more stories to tell, but I'm not sure how they will unfold, which I suppose is part of the puzzle.
Still, as Mr. CFB has been known to say, "It's time to Carry On.''