“Aaron passes Ruth!”
Those headlines helped me sell a lot of newspapers in 1974, when my journey with the Tucson Citizen began as an 11-year-old hawker. Wearing my “Citizen Charlie” smock, I pitched the paper – which cost 15 cents back then – in front of my father’s East Side liquor store.
In between begging for tips, I pored over the sports section. I studied box scores and Citizen writers such as Regis McAuley, Corky Simpson, Jack Rickard and Bruce Johnston.
The newspaper bug had bitten me.
I took journalism at Catalina High School under J.G. Carlton, and began calling in prep box scores to the Citizen for $3 a game. By the time I landed a correspondent’s job in 1980, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
Except for a five-year stint at USA TODAY, I worked many different jobs and many crazy hours at the Citizen until Gannett announced our closure.
Some of my favorite memories:
• High school: Sahuaro quarterback Rodney Peete threw for a then-state record 424 yards and five touchdowns in 1983 against Amphi. It ended in a 34-34 tie but was the greatest game I ever reported. Amphi countered with 361 yards on the ground in a contest that saw three TDs and one field goal scored in the final 3 minutes and 42 seconds.
• College: After covering Sean Elliott for three years at Cholla High, I watched him break Lew Alcindor’s Pac-10 career scoring record in 1989. Elliott needed 34 points and scored 35 – with six 3-pointers. It’s the loudest I’ve ever heard McKale Center, and we had a special section printed after UA routed UCLA.
• Pro: Curt Schilling sprayed champagne on me and other reporters in the locker room after the Diamondbacks beat the Yankees to win the 2001 World Series. When Luis Gonzalez singled in the winning run, strangers began hugging in the aisles at Bank One Ballpark.
• Embarrassing: On a hot night, I fainted in the elevator at Arizona Stadium during UA’s 1986 football home opener vs. Houston. When I came to, then-sports information director Butch Henry stood over me, asking in his Arkansas drawl, “Is he dead?”
• Initiation: Two Cleveland Indians players, who shall remain nameless, tried to stuff me in a locker when I was 19. To the locker-room attendant who saved me, thank you.
• Sadness: When I was an assistant city editor, I had to wake up Lute Olson to tell him that former UA basketball assistant Ricky Byrdsong had been gunned down in Evanston, Ill. After Olson’s wife, Bobbi, yelled, “No, God,” Lute gave me an eloquent quote.
• Proudest: Watching our sports staff pull together some of the biggest stories of the decade: UA football coach John Mackovic’s firing; the death of UA women’s basketball star Shawntinice Polk; Olson’s retirement and Sean Miller’s hiring as basketball coach.
I’m biased, but I considered my sports staff to be one of the hardest-working and professional in the nation.
The Associated Press Sports Editors agreed. It named us a top 10 daily sports section in the nation seven of the last nine years for our circulation category.
Credit goes to my second “family”: Steve Rivera, John Moredich, Anthony Gimino, Bryan Lee, Ken Brazzle, Geoff Grammer, Raymond Suarez and Michael Schmelzle. Correspondents Ash Friederich, Rodney Haas and Christopher Veck deserve high-fives, along with past staffers Dave Petruska, Paul Schwalbach, Michael Caccamise, Shelly Lewellen, David Pittman, Stephen Sharpton, Jessie Vanderson, Charles Durrenberger and Christopher Walsh.
More thanks go out to all the page designers I annoyed with my suggestions, Simpson for his inspiration and guidance, and Peter Madrid, who I succeeded as sports editor in 1999.
Finally, I’d like to pay tribute to all the coaches, players, parents and readers who helped suggest stories and make my job easier.
I’ll miss this place.