One of the most important parts of my career as a sportswriter and columnist has been the relationships I have built with sources.
There’s no doubt the phrase “close personal friend” has meant a lot to me, and it really describes a lot of my contacts — including decades of area athletes, coaches, executives, owners and more.
Bud Grant and Carl Pohlad have to be two of the people with whom I have had the most unique relationships. I could mention a lot of other close personal friends that I have made, but I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out.
One thing about Grant, even though we have been friends for over 70 years: there was a St. Paul sportswriter named Ralph Reeve who got more Vikings scoops than me. Still, one of the biggest honors of my career came when Grant asked me to introduce him for his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in 1994. I served on the Hall of Fame committee for 33 years helping to pick nominees.
During my career, I have traveled everywhere as a reporter, covering beats and building close relationships with people around the country.
In the 1960s, we used to cover every Big Ten football game, flying on a Star Tribune chartered plane, and I was often helping to plan the sports section, writing my column and doing game stories on whatever contest I was at on a given weekend.
I have covered everything in sports — including multiple World Series, NBA Finals and Final Fours. I was at every Super Bowl from 1970 to 2001 except the 1990 and 1993 games — that includes being at all four Vikings Super Bowl losses. The Final Four was an every-year occurrence for me, and maybe the event I enjoyed covering the most.
The fact is that through both the Star Tribune and WCCO, I had a lot of access to some of the biggest names in sports, but I also worked hard to keep those relationships.
If a source wanted to be off the record with me, I wouldn’t print it in the paper. And that got me a lot of trust with coaches and players everywhere.
Local clubs helped
It also has to be said that there are a lot of public relations people with all the teams in town that have really helped me throughout the years. But I don’t want to get anyone upset over forgetting a name.
I am still building contacts today, and I have covered some of the best events of my career in recent years with the Super Bowl and Final Four both in Minneapolis.
It was been amazing to see the state sports scene only get bigger and bigger.
People wonder how long I am going to keep on working. Well, I love what I do so much that I’d like to do it as long as I’m physically able to do it.
I have a couple of nurses — sisters Larissa Lundstrom and Lacey Lundstrom — who really help me get around and cover events. They have gotten to know all of my contacts and they are appreciated by those people for what they do.
But I just wanted to thank all of the local connections who have gone out of their way to help me in my career.
World Series wins
If you had to pick the defining sports events in Minnesota history, they would have to be the Twins’ World Series championships in 1987 and 1991.
After the Twins beat the Cardinals 4-2 in Game 7 of the 1987 World Series at the Metrodome, then-Major League Commissioner Commissioner Peter Ueberroth told me, “Three years ago when I became commissioner, I was told by a lot of people that this area shouldn’t have a baseball franchise. But these fans proved everybody wrong, and this has developed into one of the best franchises in baseball.
“These are the best baseball fans I have ever seen.”
Pohlad, the owner of the Twins, said it topped any moment he had as a businessman.
“What makes me feel so good is the happiness the Twins have brought to everybody in the tri-state area,” he said.
After the 1991 World Series and watching Jack Morris pitch 10 innings in a 1-0 victory over the Braves in Game 7, Pohlad said, “The best money I’ve ever spent on this baseball team was signing Morris.”
It was an incredible game. Dan Gladden had an iconic moment when he scored the winning run on Gene Larkin’s single.
Gladden waited to run home after the hit and told me after the game, “I stood there for a moment, because I knew we had won the ballgame.”
The photo that graced the Star Tribune sports page that day showed Kent Hrbek hugging Morris. It’s framed and still hanging on the wall of my office.
The Vikings have had so many big games in this state it’s hard to focus on one, but you have to say that the Minneapolis Miracle — when the team beat the Saints in the NFC divisional playoffs two years ago on Stefon Diggs’ touchdown catch — was one of the most incredible because of the fact that the state was also getting ready to play host to the Super Bowl.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was so elated after the game and said the winning pass from Case Keenum to Diggs was one he knew could work, even if it had to be perfect, and lucky.
“You execute it better,” Zimmer said. “Obviously we made a great play and a great catch, but it was big. It was a big win. We practice a lot of those situations. So you know we got lucky, but we’ll take it.”
Of course the Vikings still get remembered for their four Super Bowl losses, but the fact is that the run they went on from 1969 to 1977 was one of the greatest in football history.
And to this day Grant remains one of only eight NFL coaches to have reached the Super Bowl four times.
Last year, I talked to Grant about his bad luck in the Super Bowl, and he had a great attitude about it.
“I keep referring to luck — there is so many things you can control and there are things out of your control, like officiating can rob you,” he said.
“We played very good teams [in the Super Bowl] — Miami at their peak, Pittsburgh at their peak, Oakland, that was their run when we lost to Oakland. But I think it is harder today [to win a title].”
What’s amazing is that there are still incredible moments happening every year in this state. The Gophers’ victory over Penn State last year at TCF Bank Stadium was one of the best moments in program history. The Vikings’ surprise overtime playoff victory at New Orleans in January was another incredible game.
Covering these kind of events is what makes my job so easy, and keeps me looking forward to my next column.