Being hired by The Philadelphia Inquirer in the spring of 1985 was a thrill for this product of Scranton and Temple University. The Inquirer was one of the nation’s great newspapers, a perennial Pulitzer Prize winner, boasting a newsroom full of talented writers that I had been reading most of my life.

The sports department was no exception. Our beat writers back then were Jayson Stark and Peter Pascarelli on the Phillies, Angelo Cataldi and Ron Reid on the Eagles, Mike Bruton and Jere Longman on the Sixers and Al Morganti on the Flyers. Add Chuck Newman on colleges and veteran columnists Bill Lyon and Frank Dolson voicing their opinions and you saw all-stars everywhere you turned.

Which led to the question: “What the heck am I doing here?”

I had come to The Inquirer after 10-plus years at United Press International, the rival wire service to the Associated Press. Most of those years were in the Philadelphia bureau, the last seven as a full-time sportswriter. In my job interview, Inquirer sports editor Jay Searcy was very complimentary of my UPI stories. I was flattered, but this was quite a jump. Did I really belong here? Could I raise my work to the level of our gifted staff?

It didn’t take me long to find out. I had been working for eight months as the night writer, doing rewrites of wire stories and local pro and college coverage from 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., when I was called into the office of our new sports editor, Glenn Guzzo. Glenn told me that because of my good work, I would be sent to cover the 1986 Masters.

I was thrilled. I played golf. I watched the majors every year. To cover a Masters, and with Bill Lyon by my side, was a dream come true.

The assignment was fantastic, but it got a lot more real in Sunday’s final round. Some elderly gentleman named Jack Nicklaus, age 46, touched off roar after roar amid the pines at Augusta National Golf Club coming from behind with a scorching back nine, and ended up winning his sixth green jacket.

It was incredible – and terrifying. The tournament ended at 6. My first edition deadline in those days was at 7. I mean, I HAD to answer the bell on this. If I couldn’t deliver a story that matched the historic moment writing about Jack Nicklaus, for God’s sake, winning a record sixth Masters, I feared the editors forever would put me in the back of the line for all assignments.

Fortunately, it turned out well, helped greatly by Bill’s encouragement. Minutes after I finished my first edition story, Nicklaus entered the interview room and filled reporters’ notebooks as he often did. I wrote an updated piece that included his thoughts on the day. When I returned to the office two days later, I received many compliments from my colleagues, writers and editors alike.

That’s when I knew I had arrived, my breakout moment for an Inquirer career that would last more than 36 years. I liked to refer to myself as a utility infielder, someone who could report and write capably on a number of different sports. My UPI training – getting the story out first and getting it right – allowed me to write quickly on deadline, an important trait at a morning newspaper.

Of all the gigs I’ve had, the one I enjoyed the most was the Penn Relays. I covered the carnival for 44 consecutive years, from 1976 in my UPI days to 2019 before a two-year hiatus because of the pandemic. The most memorable race might have been my very first one where a relative unknown from Morehouse College named Edwin Moses finished first in the 400-meter hurdles. Three months later, Moses won the gold medal in the Montreal Olympics to spark one of the greatest careers in track history.

I got to write about legends like Carl Lewis, whom I also covered, winning four gold medals in the track and field competition at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics for UPI; Renaldo Nehemiah, Herman Frazier, Leroy Burrell, Justin Gatlin, Sanya Richards-Ross, Allyson Felix, and Veronica Campbell-Brown.

Of course, if it was the Penn Relays, there were Villanova runners taking home watches such as Sydney Maree, Don Paige, Mark Belger, Angel Piccirillo, and Siofra Cleirigh Buttner. Longtime Wildcats coaches Gina Procaccio and Marcus O’Sullivan also enjoyed success in their competitive running years.

The greatest moment for me was provided in 2010 by Usain Bolt, who first ran in the carnival as a Jamaican high schooler and would go on to win nine Olympic gold medals. The thunderous cheers from a carnival record crowd of 54,000 at Franklin Field carried Bolt and his teammates to victory in the USA vs. the World 4x100 relay.

It’s been a true honor for me to cover some of the most unforgettable events involving local teams or venues. I’ve written about three of the most famous walk-offs in sports history – Christian Laettner’s shot for Duke in the 1992 NCAA East Regional final at the Spectrum, Joe Carter’s home run that gave Toronto the 1993 World Series championship in six games over the Phillies, and Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beating three-pointer in Houston that won the 2016 national title for Villanova.

I’m grateful to have been able to tell compelling stories on all my beats, especially my last two -- Villanova basketball and Penn State football. I’ve covered Jay Wright and the Wildcats for the last 14 seasons, plus Wright’s first two seasons starting in 2001. I also wrote about Steve Lappas’ last four ‘Nova teams, and Rollie Massimino’s 1988 Elite Eight squad.

Probably the coolest moment on the Villanova beat came last September when I attended and wrote about Wright’s induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. A bonus on the trip was watching Mel Greenberg, my longtime Inquirer colleague and friend from my Temple undergraduate days, win the Curt Gowdy Award for print media.

The interruption in my Villanova coverage came between 2003 and 2007 when I spent four seasons on the 76ers’ beat, including the final days of Allen Iverson’s remarkable career in Philadelphia. You never knew what AI was going to do off the court on a daily basis but he was as reliable as a Swiss watch between the lines, giving his all, playing hurt, challenging much bigger players at the basket. His motto, “I play every game as if it’s my last,” became my mantra as well, slightly changed to “cover every event as if it’s my last.”

I spent the last 13 years on the Penn State football beat, from the final days of Joe Paterno to the Sandusky scandal to Bill O’Brien and finally to James Franklin. I had two runs on the beat -- 1976 to 1984 and then a 25-year layoff before returning in 2009. The common thread when I came back? Paterno was still the coach.

The most unforgettable season was 2016 when the Nittany Lions started 2-2 and the heat on Franklin was growing. But the Lions won nine straight games and the Big Ten championship and finished fifth in the final College Football Playoff ranking, one spot out of the tournament.

I also was fortunate to cover local and national golf. What was a reward for my work being assigned to the 1986 Masters turned into coverage of 73 men’s majors, including 20 Masters to go with 27 women’s majors. Of course, having Tiger Woods to write about, from the time of his landmark win in the 1997 Masters to the present day, has made coverage of the sport anything but boring.

My last assignments were Xavier at Villanova on Dec. 21 and the Outback Bowl with Penn State on Jan. 1. I knew the end was coming in May when I committed to take the company buyout, but it still felt pretty sudden, like going full speed for all these years and then crashing into a wall. I’ve been very fortunate to do something I loved to do – cover events large and small and tell stories about interesting subjects, whether it’s the All-American, the All-Pro, or the last guy off the bench.

I have so many people to thank for their help, support, and friendship to me over the years, but I’m hesitant to start naming names for fear I’ll leave someone out. The two I absolutely must mention are my parents, the two hardest-working people I’ve ever known, who passed that quality on to my sister, my daughter, and me. Another is the incomparable Bill Lyon, a great writer, a better human being, a tremendous sounding board, and someone who treated people the way we all would like to be treated.

And a shoutout to all the coaches, players, and administrators, as well as those folks who work away from the limelight. Thanks for your time, your patience, and your candor and honesty in helping me tell my stories. And thank you to the readers for reading them.

I’ve had an absolute blast.