The Baltimore Sun brought me to Charm City just when the city was experiencing its highest highs and lowest lows in sports. The Colts had recently moved to Indianapolis. The Orioles had recently won the World Series.
Yup, it was a long time ago – 38 years, to be exact.
When I started, no one could have predicted Baltimore would embrace another NFL franchise in the 1990s and go on to celebrate two Super Bowl triumphs. No one could have imagined so much time would pass without the Orioles returning to the World Series.
Certainly, it was impossible to envision a future in which readers consumed my articles on their phones.
On my first day at The Sun, I had to take a physical. (Told you it was a long time ago.) As I stripped down to my skivvies, the doctor, who bore a vague resemblance to Albert Einstein, clenched his fists as if he wanted to punch me.
“Do not you dare write anything about that $%&# Irsay!” he shouted, referencing the villain who had hauled the Colts to Indiana on a snowy night.
I assured him I wouldn’t, fearing what he might do if I answered otherwise.
My interaction with him was a sign. For the next 38 years, Baltimore and its sports scene provided me with a unique and endlessly rich tapestry of source material – characters I could never have invented, events I wouldn’t dare have missed.
My role has been to fire off opinions, which, for better or worse, ingrained me in the local architecture as something of a character myself, someone to agree and disagree with. I’ve never viewed it as anything other than a privilege. But with this column, I’m retiring from my job with the Ravens.
I’m not done writing. I’m working on a book about the history of Black quarterbacks in the NFL, due out in 2023.
I’m not going anywhere, either. My wife and I are lucky to have two grown children and a grandson living in Baltimore.
But including my time with a newspaper in my hometown of Dallas, Texas, before I came to Baltimore, I’ve written sports on a daily basis for 43 years. It’s time to let someone else do the talking.
“Are you going to sum everything up in your last column?” someone recently asked, knowing my clock was ticking.
I laughed. You can’t just casually sum up 0-21, Fantastic Fans Night, the opening of Camden Yards, the NFL expansion debacle, Cal Ripken’s streak, the arrival of the Ravens, their first Super Bowl triumph, Fang Mitchell, Juan Dixon and Gary Williams, the spectacle of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in their primes, Elrod, Michael Phelps, the Mile High Miracle, the lights going out in New Orleans, the Buck Years, Lamar … the epic tale of Baltimore sports I’ve witnessed.
OK, I’ll start with this: I was lucky. I had a great job in the glory years of newspapers, back when they felt reporters and columnists around the globe in pursuit of stories.
I lived those days, covering the World Series, Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby, Masters and Preakness again and again, as well as Wimbledon, golf’s British Open in England and Scotland and the Olympics in France, Norway, Canada and Australia.
My wife cried on the way home from my assignment to cover soccer’s World Cup in Italy, where I was based out of a villa in Tuscany, because she figured (correctly) that we’d never top it as an experience that most resembled being IN a Hemingway novel.
But the heart of the job was covering the home teams, day after day, year after year, forging more memories than I can count with talented friends and colleagues in press boxes and newsrooms.
You woke up knowing your words were being consumed, considered and debated – all any writer asks for.
One day in 1995, Rush Limbaugh spent the first 22 minutes of his radio program eviscerating me because his producer had voiced factually incorrect data that sought to marginalize Ripken’s streak, and I had dared to call them on it.
“That guy is never getting out of Baltimore!” Rush shouted.
But he was wrong to think I viewed spending the rest of my career in Baltimore as anything other than a stroke of good fortune. It started out as a place to work and ended up being a home that embraced me and my family. When I wrote about my father passing away, I received condolence notes from hundreds of strangers.
By the time I left the Sun in 2007, I had written some 4,000 columns from 40 states and a dozen countries as well as from home.
Then I got lucky again. The media workforce was shrinking, especially for journalists of my age, but I landed a role with the Ravens’ outstanding digital media crew, allowing me to glide forward, and eventually, out the door with my words still being consumed, considered and debated.
To the Ravens, from the top down, thank you. And to anyone who was reading, thank you.
I’ve still got plenty of opinions (as you may have noticed), and I promise, my social media will not go dark. It’s even possible my byline might pop up again somewhere – I’ve learned not to count anything out.
But I’m looking forward to spending some time in the stands, rather than the press boxes, at M&T Bank Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards. If you happen to see me, please say hello. Otherwise, if you need to reach me, I’ll be with my grandson at the zoo.