As some of you might know, I spent the 2004 baseball season in the city of Chicago producing a documentary on the Chicago Cubs (which made it to the edit room for two days after the end of the season before the plug was pulled). Gene Wojciechowski, who was covering the Cubs that season as well, understood my pain. He authored a book titled Cubs Nation: 162 Games. 162 Stories. 1 Addiction, re-living the season that never was in Chicago. The book breaks down the season into 162 stories that reflect what goes on throughout the course of a baseball season on and off the field. Here's one of my favorite excerpts:
GAME 60: I've seen the bearded Haddad, 27, and his crew of one or two man free-lancers skulking around since Opening Day. Haddad doesn't have a Lord of the Rings budget. Sometimes he and his sometimes crew look like they are a straight-out-of-junior-college audio-visual class. Or maybe that's part of Haddad's plan: the more non-threatening, the better. During Haddad's lifetime the Yankees have won six world series and nine-pennants. The Cubs have won zilch and bupkus. So how in the name of Leon Durham can Haddad understand the mentality of this franchise?...(Courtesy of Amazon.com and Doubleday)
Check out the book to find out how this "game" ends as well as the other 161! A fine read.
Gene and I keep in touch on a regular basis trying to see if we'll ever actually be in the same city ever again. After reading his recent Lloyd Carr article, I thought it might be nice if he'd be willing to share his thoughts on College Football, Lloyd Carr, Michigan and his own illustrious career as a writer and a walk-on.
From his bio on espn.com:
Gene was named ESPN.comâ€™s first ever senior national sports columnist in June of 2005. He joined ESPN The Magazine as a senior writer in January 1998, after serving as a college football reporter for ESPN since 1992.
Here's what transpired. Thanks again Gene!
The Hammer: Having been a walk-on at the University of Tennessee, and working in Fort Lauderdale, Denver, LA, and Chicago before landing in Bristol, you have run the gambit of college football conference coverage: SEC, ACC, Big 12, Pac-10, Big-10. Do you have a favorite?
Gene Wojciechowski: First of all, I wasn't much of a walk-on. Walk-on, limp-off. Never played. So sadly, no Rudy story involved. As for favorite conferences, that's a no-brainer: SEC. So many rivalries. So many great players. So many subplots. Such a rich history of rules breaking. It's the conference that keeps giving.
TH: Your columns have grown to be much more than essays on college football, as you now cover the entire sports world year-round for ESPN. Is college football still your primary passion?
GW: Chicago-style pizza and a cold beer are my real passions. I also have a very soft spot for pooches, Tennessee, the Cubs, and a family that endures my road trips and mood swings. But college sports, especially football, remains my favorite. The players, at least, most of them, are still glad to see you. The games are played at distinct places with distinct fan bases. I love college towns. I'm tearing up here, but I really do think there's still a certain purity to it all. But that's the naive part of me talking.
TH: If money was not in the equation, and you had to go back to being the beat writer for only one team, in one sport, what would that be?
GW: If I had to go back to beat writing--and please, don't make me do that--I think covering Duke basketball would be sort of fun. Krzyzewski has always intrigued me, because he refuses to quit learning more about himself, his profession, and his world. Plus, Cameron Indoor is electric on game night. Plus, at Duke, you don't have to worry about contracts, agents, playoffs that last until June, etc. I love baseball, but covering an MLB ages you like dog years.
TH: If you could go back to the day after you graduated from Tennessee, would you do anything differently in your career?
GW: I came thisclose to going to law school. The world needs another lawyer like I need another vowel in my name. I became a sportswriter by total and complete accident. I was supposed to cover circuit court in Mississippi for the Memphis Commercial Appeal. I took a job in Fort Lauderdale to cover city government and then, on the first day at my job, switched with someone in sports (at their request, for one week). One week became 23 years later. The only thing I would have done differently--because, after all, life is a series of accidents--is not moved back home. My mom drove me crazy when she barged into my room every Saturday morning with the vacuum on. I hated that.
TH: The much maligned Coach Carr has been doubted since his interim days following the dismissal of Gary Moeller. He is following the legend of Bo Schembechler, which while spectacular in its own right, has grown faster than the best of fish stories. And despite having a comparable record and garnering the only Michigan National Championship in the last 50+ years, he isnâ€™t nearly as widely known or respected. He is known in local media circles as being tight-lipped and standoffish, while I contend he is merely protecting his program and his players at all costs. What is Lloydâ€™s image like nationally?
GW: Carr's image is probably one of a sort of ornery, tight-lipped coach who had his sense of humor gland removed at birth. But that isn't really the case. He's like most football coaches: he thinks he has better things to do than talk to the media. We don't know a thing, and sometimes he's right. I've never had a problem with Carr. You ask him a good question, he usually gives you a good answer. He can be difficult at times, but who cares? He wins games. Lots of them. He has a national championship ring. I suppose if he learned to crack a few jokes, people would warm up to him. But I usually judge a coach by his record, not his laugh track.
TH: With all of the stories leading into the season, what made you choose the Coach from the #15 team in the country?
GW: I chose Carr because, A) I was at the Big Ten media days, B) now, more than in recent years, his status at Michigan seems to be more in play, C) Ivan Maisel was doing something on Ohio State, and, D) I love pimping all those anti-Carr people.
Thanks again to Gene Wojciechowski for "dropping the hammer" on UMTailgate.com's Hard Hittin' Thursdays. See you next week!