Everybody’s got a date that stands out. We all remember our anniversary or our kids’ birthdays (well, most of us anyway). But most of us probably have another date; a day that doesn’t mean much to anybody else, but that changed your life in some way.
Mine is February 24, 2003.
That’s the day I was fired.
That was 20 years ago today. Twenty damn years.
About five months after that, I was fortunate enough to land a new job. I had never heard of PowerMizzou or rivals.com. I didn’t honestly know people were interested in following recruiting. I certainly wasn’t outside of a couple of high-profile guys during Quin Snyder’s first few years (by following it, I mean I would see if anybody was saying anything interesting about Kareem Rush or Jason Kapono or Luol Deng on Tigerboard because it had not occurred to me that this is information people would pay to learn). Anyway, we loaded up the U-Haul and headed from Rapid City, South Dakota to Columbia, Missouri so I could work out of my house covering Mizzou sports for this relatively new website about which I knew nothing other than the fact that theoretically someone was going to send me a paycheck every month if I would post stories there.
Twenty years ago.
To quote the great philosopher Jim Halpert, “Everything I have I owe to this job…this stupid, wonderful, boring, amazing job.”
The one word that doesn’t fit there is boring. Very little about this job is boring. College sports–and Mizzou in particular–seems to make sure of that. But the rest of it, yeah, that quote kept coming to mind for me this week.
I’ve thought about writing this column for a few months now. Because somewhere in my mind, I always know February 24 is out there. Some years I remember it, some it just passes and I don’t really think about it. But 20 was kind of a significant anniversary. My termination can drink next year.
Getting fired from a TV job at a tiny station next to a par three golf course in western South Dakota (same owners, so that was a nice perk) isn’t exactly the career path they chart for you at “the world’s first and finest journalism school.” I think it falls more under “things they don’t tell you about when you go into the world with stars in your eyes and dreams of hosting SportsCenter in your head.”
But at 26 years old with two kids and 29 years of a mortgage left, that was reality. It’s why when I talk to students now–every now and then, some professor who had a cancellation from somebody more accomplished and important will ask me to do so–one of the things I tell them is that they’re probably going to have to start at a job they don’t think they want and they’re probably going to get fired or laid off somewhere along the line. It’s kind of reality. Somebody might as well let them know.
That’s not the only thing I wasn’t really prepared for. To be honest, almost nothing about this job is the same as it was when I started it. Newspapers were still free, Twitter didn’t exist and a lot of places around the country still didn’t see any need to allow piddly little recruiting websites to cover games. But fortunately, the Internet seems to have caught on somewhere along the way and people still really, really care about sports and we haven’t raised our prices in 20 years. So some combination of those things and just hanging around for so damn long that eventually people figured they’d start talking to me allowed us to make something out of our little corner of the information superhighway (I saw that phrase somewhere earlier this week and it made me laugh because I haven’t heard it in well over a decade).
In the first few years covering Mizzou, I remember frequently thinking it’s a good thing my dad was the beat writer for the Kansas City Star. Because there’s no way I was ever going to be able to develop the sources he had or Vahe Gregorian had or Joe Walljasper had, but at least if I was going to get beat on every story that actually mattered, I wouldn’t be too far behind because my dad would call to tell me about it. Here’s the other secret of journalism: If you just stick around long enough, people tell you things. The most common question kids (yes, I’ve been here plenty long enough that I can now refer to younger journalists as kids) ask us olds is “How do you develop sources?” And the answer is, just be there. If practice is open, go. If there’s a recruiting camp, go. If the coach is having a radio show, listen. If you keep showing up and you show an ability not to screw people over, at some point they’ll start trusting you a little bit.
So over the last two decades, I’ve gone from the young guy trying to figure out how to compete with the crusty old vets to being the crusty old vet. This is a business where most people are always chasing the next chance. You might start covering high schools in South Dakota, but then you’ll get a chance to cover a college and then maybe a bigger college in a bigger conference and then maybe the pros or a national beat. That’s what everyone wants to do. Nobody starts out and says, “You know, if I could just get to covering a school that has a decent fanbase and matters a little bit, I’d never leave.”
But that’s what happened. Because Columbia became home and the checks kept showing up and you guys allowed me to stick around. And really what this column is is my way of saying thanks for letting all of that happen. If you’ve read anything I’ve written in the last 20 years, you probably know by now, sometimes it takes a little while to get to the point. But that’s the point. Simply to thank you.
Over the last 20 years my wife has come to know Columbia as home and my kids have made friends, graduated from high school, gone on to college and one of them (maybe even both) is a full-fledged grown up now. The oldest had just turned six when we moved here and he’s now 25 in his third year of teaching fifth grade. The youngest turned one somewhere on I-90 or I-29 between Rapid City and Columbia and he’s now two-thirds of the way through his sophomore year in college.
And I’m still here, doing the same thing I’ve been doing for almost 20 years. I’ve had a chance to cover three football coaches, four athletic directors, six basketball coaches, hundreds of athletes and some of the most memorable games and stories in the history of the University of Missouri. In all that time, I’ve interviewed for exactly one other job and shortly thereafter turned down a second interview. I’m pretty set in my ways now. I can’t really see doing anything else. I already had to learn one new thing and that seems like enough for a career.
So hopefully you all continue to see some value in what we do here. Because over two decades, this has gone from a paycheck I had to have to a career and a business and a community that has given me headaches and hope and heartbreak and lifelong friends.
Everything I have I owe to this job. All because some guy decided 20 years ago I wasn’t good enough to do the sports on the local newscast in Rapid City. Sometimes things work out. And sometimes you just get really lucky.
Thanks for reading.
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