They came from Denver and Detroit, Austin and Indianapolis, and from all over California.
They even came from ASU.
If you’re an Arizona Wildcats fans, you know what I’m talking about when I write about the Arizona football family, or the Arizona basketball family or the Arizona softball family …
Within the athletic department, there’s a well-accomplished, equally tight — albeit less-known — family that is forever grateful to one person in particular, and that’s why they — and by “they,” I also mean “me” — came from all over last weekend to celebrate the career of Tom Duddleston.
He’s our Mike Candrea. Our Dick Tomey.
Duddleston, who served in Arizona athletic department for 31 years, including nearly two decades as the sports information director, actually retired in December, but his family and many proteges had been conspiring for months to spring a surprise party in Tucson.
It was successfully pulled off Friday night, with another gathering Saturday night.
To just about everyone, he’s just “Dudd,” and Dudd’s disciples are all over the sports landscape — in the NBA, the Pac-12 office, cable networks, bowl games, the office of sugeragents, running their own college sports information offices … even working as sportswriters.
It’s been weird, sometimes, to be in the media and to have these old, happy ties to the media relations department … going back to the spring of 1985, near the end of my freshman year at Arizona. That’s when I first met Tom Duddleston.
I was reading The Arizona Daily Wildcat’s career guide over lunch at the Student Union, turning the pages until I came to a feature on a student who worked in the athletic department’s sports information office. He got to work with specific teams, write the media guide, the press releases, keep the stats, go on road trips …
I had no idea such a job existed. Where do I sign up?
I went right over to McKale Center, found the sports information office and asked the secretary — back in the days when the media relations department still had a secretary — if I could talk to someone about a job.
She sent me around the corner into Duddleston’s cubicle.
I fumbled through a “I would really like to work here” speech and he told me to come back at the beginning of the fall semester.
So I did.
That began four very cool years in the sports information office, working with wonderful tennis coaches Becky Bell and Bill Wright, being assigned to this up-and-coming softball coach named Mike Candrea, and traveling all over the country with a women’s basketball team filled with great people (and not a lot of victories).
Duddleston wasn’t the big boss of the SID office at the time, but he helped set the culture. As many of Dudd’s disciples talked about last weekend, he gave us loads of freedom, responsibility, opportunity. That’s his style.
He joked last weekend that he was just being selfish and didn’t want to have to do our jobs, but it was more than that. He gave his trust; in return, he got loyalty.
I would have happily stayed in the sports information field after college, but the first job that came along was at the Arizona Daily Star, and I soon was covering Arizona football and softball, which brought me right back into Duddleston’s circle.
He was a pro’s pro. Perhaps somewhat to my chagrin — whether I was working locally or nationally, for print or for the web — he never pulled me aside to deliver an exclusive, never called with a scoop. I have said, only partially joking over the years, that Dudd was like God: He helped those who helped themselves.
He never gave you anything. But if you asked the right question, you got the right answer. His fairness was unquestioned. It didn’t matter who you were or who you worked for, you asked the right question, you got the right answer.
In this way, he set the standard for how I view all other SIDs.
Dudd has been a fixture on the Arizona sidelines, in the locker room and in the press box, and one of his happiest places has been at Hillenbrand Stadium. Anybody who has been to a UA softball game knows Duddleston’s fingerprints — the “Pocket Litter” game, the playing of Linda Ronstadt’s “Palomita de Ojos Negros” as the Cats take the field in the first inning, the delightfully sappy scripts that are read as each senior is introduced on Senior Day, backed by the theme from “Forrest Gump.” (My homage: I’m listening as I write this.)
Duddleston does have a way with words. Plunging into the dictionary, his “Word of the Day” on a whiteboard in his office did not go for naught. And back in the day, he would periodically pen “McKale Pops,” a wickedly funny newsletter of sorts, dishing on athletic department events and personnel. This was not Greg Byrne’s Wildcat Wednesday.
For sure, Dudd never lost his ’60s-era free-spirit vibe, as comfortable in his own skin as anybody I’ve ever known, the kind of guy who sees no need for practice swings before striping a shot right down the fairway.
He served the UA well and faithfully, and his impact won’t soon fade.
That’s why so many came from so far last weekend. Even Arizona State’s highest-ranking members of its media relations crew — Mark Brand and Doug Tammaro — came to pay tribute Friday night. Classy. They brought ASU assistant media relations director Jeremy Hawkes … yep, a Dudd disciple.
Saturday night’s “family reunion” continued with stories, laughs and a few misty eyes.
It was far from a goodbye, though. Dudd will continue to work on stat crews for football and basketball (what, give up those seats?), so we’ll still have the pleasure of seeing him around campus.
Until the next time … Thanks, Dudd.
And this time it’s for you: