When I left sports writing five years ago I thought I’d never go back into a press box again. But I did, and just as I thought, the sports world is getting along fine without me.
Saturday I walked into the press box at Johnson Hagood Stadium for the Medal of Honor Bowl and was immediately greeted by some old friends, Gene Sapakoff and Jeff Hartsell of the Post and Courier staff, Andy Solomon from Citadel Athletics, and a few others whose names I couldn’t remember.
For a moment it felt good to be back. To feel the underlying hum of gameday. To watch the familiar patterns of radio guys studying player charts and scribes looking over two-deeps.
A goodly chunk of my life was spent in press boxes like this, places filled with sports writers and TV anchors and sports information directors. You know, people who are paid not to enjoy the game.
Press boxes, you see, are very dull places. Because despite being right in the heart of any given sporting event, where other people are jumping up and down and screaming, you could whisper to the person next to you and be heard three rows back.
Working Press is more than an oxymoron. When you’re wearing a press pass, you’re working. You’re not there to see the game, you’re there to cover the game.
That means paying attention, to every play, to every stat, to every nuance of what is happening on the field, so when it’s over you can package it into an information sandwich on deadline.
Thus there is actually a rule – No Cheering in the Press Box – that keeps the fans outside where they belong and the rest of us in this zoo where we belong.
But this makes for a very quiet, rather morose, somewhat cynical environment where the most interesting thing is what kind of barbecue is being served on the free buffet. And, yes, I ate a couple of tons of free barbecue during my 27 years on the bunny trail.
I am, indeed, infamous among my fellow scribes for saying, “It’s not the years or the miles that kill sports writers, it’s the free food.”
So it was that I conducted myself in this mundane professional manner for several decades. Only when I stepped back into that world as a “civilian” this weekend did I notice how boring it can be if you’re not working.
So I did what every sports writer dreams of doing – I left early.