On a bright Sunday morning in 2003, my friend Mark Nelson listened to all the reasons I could not accept an offer to write sports columns for The Gazette.
Reasons to say no: My children were split on leaving the city of their birth. We didn’t want to depart the 1872 farmhouse we had restored with loving care. We couldn’t abandon the precious New York friends who embraced us as family for 17 years.
Mark and I stood in front of the stately 19th-century church building on the edge of Denver where my brother preaches. Mark, like me, is a Colorado boy, and he understands the primal needs of our kind.
He listened patiently to my angst before replying with a near shout.
“Yeah,” he said, “but you can cover the Broncos!”
It was the voice of Mark, but it sounded like the Voice of God. Standing there, looking at the church steeple, I knew he spoke truth. The Gazette had asked me to come home to my brother and sister and father and follow teams I watched as a teen in south Denver. I could cover the Broncos! The Nuggets! The Buffs! The Falcons! And on and on! I’m so glad I said yes.
Today, the joy ride ends as I prepare for another leap, this time from sports columnist to news columnist. Starting next week, I’ll write columns about human interest, faith, local history, music, old restaurants, traffic, mountain towns, prairie towns, the outrageous beauty of Colorado, urban and wilderness biking, crime, the wonders and terrors of Front Range population explosion along with a dive back into sports now and then. I’m mega-excited.
But sorrowful, too. Writing this sports column has delivered the greatest thrills of my career.
On the day of my first interview at The Gazette, editors told me I would cover the Athens Olympics. Sure, I thought. No way, the inner skeptic roared, will they send me 6,201 miles to Greece.
The Gazette did send me to Greece. And to Beijing, London, Sochi and Rio for the greatest games of them all. I’ll long remember peaceful hours in 2008 spent walking exotic and ancient streets in Beijing. It hit me: No matter what happens in the future, I’ll always have this moment. I was sent across the world to cover the greatest show on earth. What can be better?
This whole ride almost never happened. This was not my journalism plan. I was an accidental sports writer.
In early January 1980, I was sleeping in a cluttered college dorm room when the phone rang at 7:30 a.m. Classes didn’t start for a couple of days.
It was David T. Wallace, sports editor of our campus newspaper. His voice was full of fire. David T.’s voice, I would discover, always was full of fire
“I want you to help me cover basketball,” he said of our nationally ranked men’s team blessed with a maniacal 6-foot-11, 280-pound center. “We’ll have a lot of fun.”
Thanks, I said, but no. I had plotted to become a newspaper journalist since grade school, but writing sports never was part of the vision.
He asked again, and I said no again.
But it was obvious David T. would refuse to hang up until I said yes, a yes that led to nearly four decades of watching games.
I saw Roberto Duran, George Foreman and Mike Tyson box and Michael Jordan, Chucky Jeffery and A.J. Kuhle drop jumpers and John Elway, Kale Pearson and Peyton Manning throw touchdowns and Michael Phelps swim to a dozen gold medals and Matt Carpenter run up and down America’s Mountain and Matt Holliday fail to touch home plate and Missy Franklin conquer the world.
But it was more than just games.
In the winter of 2015, I spent chilly mornings sitting outside a Woodmen Road coffee shop with Carson Bird, once a ferocious cornerback for Air Force. We talked about what truly matters in life. Carson, in the final months of his battle with cancer, grew into a humble, powerful philosopher.
“Since I was diagnosed, I have never felt alone,” he told me. “There has not been one minute when I felt I could not call somebody, one minute when I felt I was on my own. It’s amazing. It’s crazy, how you feel you can do anything if you’re not alone.”
Sitting at my writing desk this chilly morning, I think of my late friend Carson and his words of truth. I’m thankful for my magnificent children, who grew to love Colorado as much I do. Thankful for Colorado friends who embraced me when I arrived as a long-haired seventh-grader and remain by the side of a balding newspaperman.
And thankful, too, for loyal Gazette readers who have challenged and lifted me for nearly 16 years. I can’t wait for our new adventure.