THE FINAL EDITION
An airplane of some sort flew over my house the other day, so high up there you couldn’t see it – just the long wake of silken contrail across the sky. At some point the white vapor line began to fold, like ribbon candy, then it broke apart.
Then it became a smudge, a streak of white slowly erased from a blue chalkboard.
As you know, this great little newspaper is fading away, the victim of relentless arithmetic and a soulless economy.
And nothing will be missed more than the Citizen Sports section.
Forever ragged-on as the toy department, Sports has actually been an island of sanity in a stormy sea of political, financial and crime news.
What you’ve read here has made sense, for the most part. And that’s why you turned to Sports.
Press Row has always had an essential part in the games we love to watch. I can’t imagine a big sporting event without the ink-stained wretches of the media there to tell the story.
In times like these, the sports pages are like a warm breath blown through cold fingers.
And it saddens me more than I can tell you that the Tucson Citizen is about to draw its last breath.
We’ve been there on the greatest days of University of Arizona athletics. We covered the national championships, the Olympic gold medalists, the dreams come true.
And more than a few nightmares.
It was my great fortune to join the Citizen’s Sports department in August 1976, after two years on the news side. Bruce Johnston covered Wildcats football, Steve Weston basketball, Regis McAuley wrote columns, Naaman Nickell was the copy chief and Jack Rickard was the sports editor.
For the better part of three decades, I slid in and out of various beats. After Regis retired, I stuck mostly to columns.
Johnston became sports editor after a time, followed by Peter Madrid and then the current top guy, Mike Chesnick. Somewhere in there, the late Phil Hamilton filled in briefly.
Nothing I ever covered was as much fun as the Tucson Sky professional volleyball team. The Sky was the last world champion of the International Volleyball Association, in 1979. The league folded the following year; the Sky never did.
And every once in a while, somebody will dig up the grave of that motley mascot, Spike the Skygull, and wear the costume to a party. Doug Clark owned the Sky, along with Burt Kinerk and others. Games were played at Catalina High School. At halftime, fans would go outside on the parking lot to smoke. Some used tobacco.
Bob Garrett was the general manager, the funniest man alive. I went to lunch one day with Bob at the old Cafe Olé downtown. In order to pay for his liverwurst sandwich, he first had to go to the bank and I went along. All of a sudden I noticed Bob, standing in line as if nothing were wrong, wearing the large, yellow foam feet of Spike, including ugly toenails.
The most inspirational team was the 1980 Arizona national championship baseball team, so ably coached by Jerry Kindall, Jim Wing and Jerry Stitt. The Wildcats, led by outfielder Terry Francona, now the manager of the Boston Red Sox, were dead last in the Pacific-10 Conference Southern Division (“Six Pac”) at semester break.
They roared back, winning almost every game in the final inning or two, and took the conference title. Then they came back through the losers’ bracket at the College World Series in Omaha to win the NCAA championship, UA’s first in a team sport.
Jim Young was the finest coach I ever met. He was Arizona football coach from 1973 through 1976. He was a winner here, at Purdue and then at West Point, using different offensive philosophies at each stop.
The late Larry Smith and his Arizona football teams were a joy to cover. I still can’t believe Smitty’s been gone now more than a year. His wife, Cheryl, brought the same positive influence to Arizona football that Bobbi Olson, Lute’s late wife, did to Wildcats basketball.
Lute, of course, is a Tucson monument. His 24 years as head coach brought the school its greatest athletic accomplishments . . . 589 victories, the 1997 NCAA championship, four Final Four appearances, 11 Pacific-10 Conference championships, an unbelievable 43-7 record against Arizona State.
As sports columnist, I got to travel along with some wonderful beat writers to the big games: Dave Petruska, Steve Rivera, Bryan Lee, Charles Durrenberger and then John Moredich in football. . . . Rickard, Cindy Somers and then Rivera in basketball. . . . Petruska in baseball.
It was a pleasure to work with some of the finest athletic directors in UA history . . . Dave Strack, Cedric Dempsey and Jim Livengood. And with sports information directors Frank Soltys, Bob Jacobsen, Mike Parkinson, Butch Henry and Tom Duddleston.
Covering Tucson’s La Fiesta de los Vaqueros rodeo for many years was a treat. So was the old Tucson Open golf tournament, run so well by the Conquistadores, the greatest group of volunteers in the country.
The men and women I’ve worked with in Sports, writers and editors, were dedicated, talented people. We were an afternoon paper in an age when people preferred to read their news in the morning. We felt we had to work harder than our competitors.
We were like a Jeep battling its way out of the swamp.
I wish the Arizona Daily Star nothing but the best. You’re on your own now, guys. We can’t help you anymore. Good luck.
From the perspective of a retirement which I entered two years ago, I have grown to appreciate even more the work of the two daily newspapers in Tucson.
Now there’ll be only one.
And it breaks my heart.
Former Citizen Sports Columnist Corky Simpson’s book, “Corky: 30 Years of Sports Commentary, Heroes, Egos, Gloves, Sweat and Tears,” is still available. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org