I was just reading through my last two blog posts, and I cringed a little. I’m not a preachy guy. I’m opinionated, yeah, and I’m not shy about sharing those opinions. But I don’t ever want to try to pass myself off as some kind of authority on most of the stuff I write about. It’s opinion, that’s all. I was a sportswriter, for goodness’ sake. That’s what I knew. Ask me about baseball, football, basketball and (now) English soccer and I can speak with some authority. The rest? It’s just me being a loud mouth, flexing my rhetorical muscle for the sake of … writing. Because that’s something else I flatter myself about, that I know a thing or two about writing.
Anyway, enough about me and my opinions (which, to reiterate, are just that – opinions).
I started this blog, ostensibly, to tell my kids some stories about my time in newspapers. Here’s one.
Once, there was this sportswriting hotshot who thought he knew everything. That guy was 27, covering the NFL for what was then considered a fairly major newspaper on Florida’s West Coast. (It was me, in case I wasn’t clear enough, and the paper was the Tampa Tribune.) The Tribune has certainly fallen on hard times lately, but back in the mid-to-late ‘90s, it was still a “big paper,” with a large and incredibly talented staff. We traveled all over the place, sending reporters and columnists around the country and the world to write about the teams we covered. My first year on the pro beat was 1997. I was the backup Buccaneers writer and the NFL writer for the paper. It was my first extended taste of traveling professionally to places like Green Bay, Minneapolis, Atlanta, New York, and other cities. I liked it. A lot. And I felt like I did a decent job that first year.
So, at the end of my first NFL season, when it was time to determine which FOUR Tampa Tribune writers would be assigned to cover the Super Bowl in San Diego, I kind of hoped (OK, expected) to be included in the traveling party.
Um … no.
Oh, I was disappointed. Kind of pissed, actually. I felt entitled (who doesn’t at that age?), and I felt ripped off. Hadn’t I earned that trip? Didn’t the bosses OWE it to me to let me go and cover the biggest game of the year?
Um … no.
They didn’t owe it to me. I only THOUGHT they did. And, because I had absolutely no ability to hide my disappointment at that age, my co-workers KNEW that I thought I was entitled to that trip. Man, I was such a douche.
Anyway, about two weeks before the game, I received a letter in my office mailbox. It was from John Lynch, who was the starting strong safety for the Buccaneers at the time. I don’t remember the exact wording, but it went something like this:
I very much enjoyed working with you during this past football season. This letter is to let you know that you are invited to participate in the Lynch Family Foundation Charity Golf Tournament at Torrey Pines on the Friday before the Super Bowl in San Diego.
In fact, I would personally like to invite you to complete a foursome with myself, my father, and radio host Jim Rome. I know we’ll have a great time!
Please RSVP as soon as possible, so we can hold your place in the featured foursome. I look forward to seeing you in San Diego during Super Bowl week. Also, make sure you set aside Friday night for the post-tournament party and dinner. Linda and I would love for you to share our table.
PS I almost forgot to mention that all tournament participants will receive a complete set of customized Callaway golf clubs. Could you include your height and grip preferences in your RSVP? Thanks!
I read it and felt my face begin to flush. I fumed. I ranted. I showed it to everyone in the office that afternoon.
“See?” I said. “See? This is what I’m missing out on! I can’t believe I’ll miss this because the Tribune won’t send me to the Super Bowl! Dammit! Dammit!”
Most people just nodded and went on with their work. One or two told me to pipe down. One guy told me I better not waste time bitching about it, because Lynch needed to know ASAP that I wasn’t going to be able to make it. He was right.
I had to call John!
I checked the letter (it was on official-looking Lynch Family Foundation letterhead) to see if there was a phone number. There was. It had a Southern California area code. I dialed it. It rang. Someone answered.
“Thank you for calling Steak n Shake. How may I help you?”
I was all … “Steak n Shake? What? No, I’m trying to reach …”
And that’s when it occurred to me that the letter might not have been genuine. I looked up from my desk and saw every face in the department smiling at me. And not in a kindly way … more of a we-feel-bad-but-we-still-think-it’s-funny-you-fell-for-that way. I slowly placed the phone on its cradle, folded the fake letter and put it back into its envelope.
They got me. I later found out that my colleague on the Bucs beat was the mastermind. It wasn’t the first time he got me, and it wouldn’t be the last. I deserved every one of those cranks, and I learned a bit about what happens to douches when they take themselves a tad too seriously and forgot to laugh at things – especially themselves.
I covered the next three Super Bowls in Miami, Atlanta and Tampa. No free golf clubs, but good times.