hen you're born into an Irish-Catholic family of nine children, you're born to have your orbs busted. And so what could I do, as Rick Reilly won one National Sportswriter of the Year Award after another, but brace and cringe when I went home for the holidays? "But ... but I've won a few awards," I'd splutter, "and besides, there's no way to compare my four long stories a year to his 51 columns." By 2003, when he was crowned for the eighth year, I was all out of splutter.
And then, last spring, an amazing thing occurred. No, not that. Rick called and asked if I'd present his ninth award to him at the national sportscasters and sportswriters banquet in Salisbury, N.C. ... on the same day my family would be gathering from all over the East Coast for my mom's 80th birthday. In North Carolina.
"Sure, I'd love to," I assured Rick. He couldn't see my eyeballs glint.
March 7, 2005
"Don't you think you should warn him?" my sisters kept asking as I hatched my plot. "Rick doesn't even know us. Won't he get mad?"
"No," I kept insisting. "You gotta know Rick. When we covered the '92 Olympics in Barcelona, we ended up in a nightclub at 3 a.m., dancing around a ceremonial pile of everything we'd peeled off--shirts, shoes, socks, watches, wallets, passports. He'll go along with anything."
I strode in front of America's finest quills and tonsils that night in Salisbury. I began to explain how my siblings had finally accepted that I'd never win the damn award, when suddenly, from the back of the hall, they all stormed the podium brandishing protest banners. award hog screamed one. They pulled a black hood over Rick's head and bound him with a rope.
"We're holding Rick hostage until my brother gets the award!" cried my sister Sue. It was all going perfectly. "Unless...."
Suddenly she was offering him two alternative conditions for his release. If Rick agreed to become a member of our family and change his column's name to The Life of Smitty, he'd be freed to accept the award, and my disgraced siblings would finally have a brother who was king.
Maybe it was Rick's big heart. Maybe he'd never been hog-tied and hooded in front of a couple of hundred people and Joe Garagiola. Or maybe it was my sisters Chris and Janine grabbing his head and jerking it up and down. He nodded yes.
The crowd loved it. When the hood came off, Rick blinked ... then beamed ... then took the mike and flayed us all. He rose to the moment, jumped in with both feet and both ventricles, just as he does on the last page of SI every week. Like when he puked flying in an F-14 for a column in 1999, and when he got trashed by an 87-year-old in a 50-yard swimming race for a column in 2003, and when he mangled six cars trying to soar over them in a monster truck that same year. I looked around the room. At least I wasn't alone. Heart, guts and talent merged had made bridesmaids of us all.
Eight weeks from now, in Salisbury, Rick will receive his 10th sportswriter of the year award. He must need a presenter. I can't, for the life of me, figure out why he hasn't called.