Sometimes you find the finish line. Sometimes the finish line finds you.
This Eagles season would have been my 20th as a beat reporter. I had a loose, hazy plan to make it my last, before retiring next year at age 66.
Then, as new sports department management took the reins, I was given the chance to take home the same money I would have made by working through next spring, if I left this summer, instead.
So, yeah, they’re gonna pay me to not write. I’m sure readers, players, coaches, and general managers throughout the land wish someone had hit upon this solution long ago, but, better late than never, right?
And from my end, who doesn’t aspire to be Chase Daniel?
I came here 38 years and one month ago from The Charlotte Observer. No one asked me to come, but the people in charge ended up letting me hang around a very long time, and I am grateful.
I was headed to Philly regardless because my lovely and talented wife, whom I met at The Observer, got a job at The Inquirer. (She left that job a long time ago and is now wrapping up a second career, as a teacher.) By the time we moved into a cockroach-inclusive apartment at 20th and Green in Fairmount, I had managed to talk my way past the door at the Daily News, initially as a summer replacement copy editor on the news desk.
I tiptoed back into sports when no one was watching, and after several years of editing, returned to writing. Those mid-’80s nights as a copy editor, absorbing how Stan Hochman, Mark Whicker, Ray Didinger, Rich Hofmann, Phil Jasner, Elmer Smith, Paul Hagen, and some others did it basically helped me forge whatever style it is that I eventually tried to fob off on readers.
I began a 13½-year run covering the Flyers in 1989, despite starting out knowing as much about hockey as you’d expect someone raised in North Carolina in the ’60s and ’70s to know. I treasure those years -- for the work I got to do, the places I got to go, and for the people I got to meet.
There couldn’t have been anything much better in daily journalism than being a Daily News sportswriter in the ’90s. We traveled anywhere we wanted, wrote whatever we wanted, most of the time using as many words as we thought we needed. Yes, we had great resources, but we also had leaders who understood what worked.
When The Inquirer absorbed the Daily News staff a few years back, I wondered if my style would fit, if the other side of the office’s central corridor would be stuffy and rigid. But everyone has been great. I was made to feel welcome.
I can thank people by name privately without boring you with that, and I’m pretty sure you don’t care about this story I wrote, or those stairs I sprinted up to meet a deadline, or that days-long series of flights to some distant Olympiad many years back.
I do relish having taken part in the coverage, in one capacity or another, of a bunch of Super Bowls -- most notably LII -- along with a bunch of Stanley Cup Finals, one World Series, one NBA Finals, one Summer Olympics, and four Winter Olympics. Because of the drying up of resources in the biz, that’s a dance card a lot of younger, more talented writers will never have a chance to fill. I’ve led a privileged writing life, a better one than my skills ever warranted.
The folks at what was then Comcast SportsNet somehow thought it was a good idea to beam me into your unsuspecting living rooms once a week or so for about 20 years. They eventually wised up. I plan to spend part of my retirement sorting through a large collection of out-of-date neckties acquired during that time. I’m told hobbies help with the adjustment.
This might be the place to give a shoutout to all the copy editors over the years who puzzled over why I thought 4-for-7 was 50%, or who, when tasked with writing my headline, had to figure out exactly what the hell I was trying to say.
But more than anything else, what I want to do here is thank you, the audience. I’m sorry I wasn’t ever quite as good as I wanted to be, or as good as you deserved. I never stopped trying to get better, and despite vast shortcomings, I think I’m more polished now than I was 10 or 20 or 30 years ago.
That’s one reason I’ve kept at it so long, the thought that I might one day get it right, like the thousand monkeys eventually typing Shakespeare.
I never applied for a job in any other market. Maybe that betrays a lack of ambition. It definitely reflects my view that this is the place. There is no big city in the country where sports matters more, where if you are covering, say, the Eagles, you know that people are dissecting every paragraph, reading every word.
The trend in the business as long as I’ve been in it has been toward shorter and shorter stories, and I always nod agreeably when editors preach this gospel. But I also know that if I were to write 2,000 words tomorrow on how Nick Sirianni chooses the Eagles-themed T-shirts he wears to practice, and if I were to miss a typo 1,967 words in, I would hear about it on Twitter and through email.
For me, sportswriting has always been as much about the writing as about the sports. That perspective is becoming rare in the biz. So much of what seems to be in vogue today is foreign terrain to me, and I don’t like that feeling, because I never wanted to write like “an old guy.”
Way back when I started out, sports was attractive because it encouraged a certain writerly style, more so than news reporting. You were granted freedom to have a voice, to be whimsical, or sarcastic. I might have tested the limits of that freedom a time or two. Thanks for indulging me.
I’m probably still going to write a bit, somehow, somewhere. Maybe even here from time to time, if the stars align.
Hope we meet again on another page someday.