Let’s play 36: Mr. Cub loved golf and Tiger

In 1997, I covered my first tournament as the Tribune’s new golf writer. It just happened to be the Masters when Tiger Woods made history.

While walking the course during the final round, who do I happen to see? Ernie Banks.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I just had to be here to see this,” Banks replied.

Of course, the man who was mentored by Jackie Robinson as the first African-American player for the Cubs had to be a witness to an epic moment in golf. Watching on TV wasn’t going to cut it.

Naturally, I included Banks’ comments in my story on the historical significance of Woods’ victory. In a subsequent interview, he recalled:

“I played with Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, Calvin Peete, Jim Thorpe, Jim Dent, all of them. When Tiger won, I thought about those … Continue Reading

Memories of Ernie: The day I showed Mr. Cub his picture file at Tribune

Our town lost one of the faces on its sports Mt. Rushmore yesterday with the passing of Ernie Banks.

In listening to the tributes last night, what struck me was how everyone had a personal memory of being with Ernie. I can’t imagine a more accessible superstar ever. The platitudes were more about the person than the player, and man, he could play.

Luckily, I was fortunate to have a few encounters with Ernie. I’m going to share a few of them here.

My first meeting occurred during the 1994 baseball strike at a golf outing. To fill the massive space void in the Chicago Tribune with both the White Sox and Cubs not playing, we decided to run a classic games series, complete with box scores and old photos.

One of those games happened to be from a Mr. … Continue Reading

Thankfully, Stuart Scott’s voice will be heard again with new book

Stuart Scott left us a great gift.

Scott, who died Jan. 4 at the age of 49, details his battle with cancer in a new book “Every Day I Fight.” The official publication date is March 10.

ESPN.com ran an excerpt this week. He talks about his zealous determination to not let cancer take him down.

From the excerpt:

“I can’t tell you how important it felt to go from the chemo infusion center to the gym. There were patients at the infusion center who were gaunt and too weak to walk. I wanted to hug them. I wanted to work out for them. It took about fifteen minutes to get to the gym from the infusion center, but I felt like I was traveling a great distance: from the land of the sick to the land of the

Continue Reading

Who lands exclusive interview with Patriots ball boy?

If you really want to get to the heart of Deflate-gate, go find the New England Patriots ball boy who had to be in on the scam. Here’s a clue: Look for a ball boy who is driving a new Mercedes.

You would have to think there is a Patriots ball boy who knows exactly what went down last Sunday. You also would have to think the Patriots are paying him well to keep quiet. Who knows, he might be relaxing on his new private island in the Caribbean, courtesy of Tom Brady.

Then again, maybe the payoff is yet to come. How much would this story be worth to TMZ?

Also, just wondering if the ball is deflated in this classic Patriots logo.

Oh man, it is going to be a feeding frenzy at the Super Bowl next week.… Continue Reading

NFL on Google? Could be on agenda in the 2020s

Get ready people because the TV revolution truly is just around the corner.

The notion of watching the NFL via Google isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds.

In an interview with Peter King of MMQB, Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s executive vice-president for media, acknowledged the platforms likely will be much different in the next decade.

“(People ask) ‘when is Google going to carry a game package?’” Rolapp said. “I think the answer is once an Internet player can sustain 30 million users at the level and the quality that they expect to get on television. Five years ago, we were like, We don’t see that. Now? That might be possible as we sit with the Google guys.”

Rolapp explained how the set-up might work.

“Our broadcast contracts go through 2022,” he said. “We’ve made our bed. And in 2023? I don’t … Continue Reading

Special men: Meet writers and photographers who have covered all 48 Super Bowls

Worth your attention on the four photographers and three writers who have covered every Super Bowl.

Friday at 7 p.m. ET, ESPN will air “Keepers of the Streak.” The film (link to trailer) is directed by sports photographer Neil Leifer and chronicles the decades-long journey of veteran shooters John Biever, Walter Iooss, Mickey Palmer and Tony Tomsic. It features a great ending about Sports Illustrated’s cover for last year’s Super Bowl.

Also, you get the inside story of how Iooss landed the famous Joe Namath picture from Super Bowl III.

Meanwhile, Richard Deitsch at SI.com wrote a terrific piece on three writers who have covered every Super Bowl: Jerry Green, Jerry Izenberg, and Dave Klein.

How was back then:

Their memories of the first game — Green Bay’s 35-10 romp over Kansas City — remain sharp. Izenberg recalled

Continue Reading

Devastating news: Blackhawks writer Mike Spellman dies

For those who toil in there, the press box feels like a fraternity. Sports reporters often spend more time with other sports reporters than they do with their families.

Mike Spellman lived in that world. That’s why the Chicago sports fraternity was devastated today in learning the news that he died unexpectedly yesterday. Today would have been his 51st birthday.

Spellman recently took over the Blackhawks beat for the Daily Herald. He succeeded Tim Sassone who died last year.

Spellman’s greatest asset was his versatility. He covered everything for the Daily Herald. I got to know him from his work as a golf writer.

Beyond that, Spellman was one of those guys you looked forward to seeing when you walked in the press room. He always was friendly and had an upbeat attitude. Believe me, upbeat isn’t a description that … Continue Reading

Sports TV’s roots: First Monday Night Football game laid foundation for modern NFL telecasts

My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana is on watching the first Monday Night Football telecast and how set the template for what we see today.


Last week, I wrote about ESPN’s Megacast offering a myriad of platforms to consume the college football championship game. Coming next year: A Megacast option allowing viewers to exercise with Richard Simmons while watching the game.

Next week, NBC will have 24,916 cameras for its coverage of the Super Bowl. Looking forward to the Tom Brady toe nail cam.

So it seemed fitting in a time when sports TV continues to push various envelopes, I got a chance to see where it all came from: ABC’s debut of “Monday Night Football” in 1970.

On Friday, Mike Bass, my old Daily Illini teammate, invited me to join his Northwestern sports … Continue Reading

RIP Tony Verna: Inventor of instant replay

Just think how different sports, not just sports TV, would be without instant replay. You wouldn’t have those excruciating 8-minute interruptions while the referees determine who knocked the ball out of bounds.

OK, so there are some negatives to instant replay.

However, there are far more positives, thanks to Tony Verna’s creation. Verna died Sunday at the age of 81.

From the Associated Press obit:

CBS used instant replay for the first time in the Dec. 7, 1963 Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, after Verna developed a method to cue the tape to pinpoint the play he wanted to immediately air again. He said he was looking for a way to fill those boring gaps between plays during a football telecast.

 The concept was so new that when Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh scored a touchdown, announcer Lindsey Nelson had to

Continue Reading