High school football has a way of making folks feel nostalgic, and a moment at a recent Eden Prairie game put me in that frame of mind.
An hour before kickoff, I ran into former Gophers basketball standout Trevor Mbakwe, who now works as an activities coordinator at the school. We chatted about the Eagles boys' basketball team and freshman sharpshooter JJ Sullivan, son of Minnesota high school legend Jake Sullivan.
Later that evening, it hit me. I covered Mbakwe as a college athlete and now he's a father of two kids (including a teenager) and working a grownup job. And I was there the night JJ's dad carried Tartan High to the state championship as a senior.
This felt like my own "Tell me you're old without telling me you're old" meme.
A milestone birthday a few days ago — the Big 5-0 — has caused me to reflect and in doing so, I realized that I've spent almost half of my life covering sports in Minnesota, which just seems outrageously implausible.
True, I have yet to shed my southern accent, but I'm rocking a head full of gray hair and a robust Dad bod, and reading glasses have become as critical to daily survival as oxygen.
Example A: The other night my wife held her phone a foot from my face to show me something. I didn't have my cheaters. Cute golden retriever puppy, I said.
Close. It was a photo of a moose spotted on the Superior Hiking Trail.
Example B: When navigating the coffin-sized bathroom on the flight home from a recent Vikings road game, somehow my cheaters flew off my head and into the toilet, thus presenting a moral dilemma.
The answer came quickly: There was an hour left on the flight and the plane was equipped with TVs and I wouldn't be able to see the screen without my cheaters and the menu had "Curb Your Enthusiasm" episodes so …
Hey, don't judge. I washed them off.
The point is, this all happened so fast — AARP eligible and writing about the children of athletes I covered when I arrived in Minnesota. Point A to here has been a two-minute drill.
Time moves at Usain Bolt speed when making a living writing about sports because monotony doesn't exist. Every game or story is different — unless we're talking about the Twins in the postseason. That's the definition of monotonous.
Otherwise, the seasonal calendar keeps things fresh: Football season, winter sports season, March Madness/spring training season, baseball season. One finishes, the other begins and the flywheel just keeps spinning. Athletes come and go. Always something new or different.
Games tend to become a blurry blob in the mind over time, but specific moments or emotions still illuminate, even for someone with a terrible recall like me.
The tension in all the elimination games in the Wild's 2003 playoff run. The helicopter chase and fan dressed in full parrot costume the day Brett Favre arrived. Standing high up the Caucasus Mountains in Russia singing along to a Florida Georgia Line song blaring over speakers before an Olympic skiing event.
Some memories will never erode. "Here comes Diggins!" The roar of the Minneapolis Miracle. Sitting on a couch, fighting back tears, listening to former Gophers football captain Mike Sherels describe a harrowing medical crisis that took him to death's door.
There are two wishes for my AARP chapter of sportswriting. I miss being inside locker rooms and having face-to-face conversations that unearth stories that don't happen as organically on Zoom or press conference settings.
I once sat with Twins catcher Mitch Garver in an equipment room for an hour discussing the science of hitting. I learned more about hitting mechanics and preparation (which made for an insightful story) than I could ever glean without that intimate access. Hopefully we return to pre-pandemic interaction in all sports.
The other wish: An endless supply of compelling stories. Something interesting, dramatic, controversial, historic or weird. That's what we root for as writers. Especially weird.
Weird like turning 50, which, truth to be told, doesn't feel all that bad or different.
Besides, Sid called this halftime.