CRAWFORD | My five most memorable sports events (more or less) - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | My five most memorable sports events (more or less)

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — I can't tell you how many people have asked, “What was it like to be at the Belmont?” You know an event has scored pretty high on the “cool” meter when even national writers are taking time to write not only about the event, but about the experience of covering the event.

I write about such things fairly often, just because there's a segment of people who seem interested in the “how” of some of the stories that show up in this space.

But the Belmont for the Triple Crown was something different altogether. When Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden asked, he could find only one writer in the press box who was there for Affirmed's Triple Crown in 1978: Jerry Eisenberg, longtime columnist for the Baltimore Sun.

The event inspired several national writers to record their accounts of covering such a rare feat, and many of their thoughts are summed up in this Q&A compiled by the Associated Press Sports Editors. My piece on the experience of covering the Triple Crown can be read here.

All of this got me to thinking, what are the five “coolest” events or places I've covered? And why only five? Well, has Buzzfeed taught us nothing?

Anyway, here's an attempt to get at some of them. It's not as easy to do as you might think. For starters, sometimes it's great to be somewhere, but you're not really “there.” For instance, the University of Louisville's NCAA championship in 2013 was a great event to cover, and the players were tremendous with the insight and access they gave, but for the game itself, I was three-quarters of a mile away in a press room. So it didn't make the list.

Here are the ones that did.

1. BILL MURRAY, Fuzzy Zoeller's Wolf Challenge, Covered Bridge Golf Club, August 2006. Look, criticize if you will, but it doesn't get much better than walking 18 holes on a golf course with Bill Murray. I could've written 10,000 words. Mercifully, for readership of The Courier-Journal at the time, I was limited to 761.

He got a microphone on his hands once during the round, to introduce his playing partner, Champions Tour pro Tom Wargo on the first tee. And he was off, “Here's our celebrity, a former exotic dancer out of Centralia, Ill. He hates varmints. They're grimy and they're grisly and they have gopher guts . . . “

Murray was wonderful interacting with everyone that day, crowd and reporters alike. When two older women came up to ask him what mysterious words he whispered to Scarlet Johansson at the end of “Lost in Translation,” Murray said he whispered, “You're a beautiful girl, but it takes two women to satisfy me.” They scampered off, laughing.

He was full of one liners. A woman called from across the fairway, “Bill, over here! We have children!” He said, “They're not mine!” A kid told him, “My mom loves you.” Murray responded, “Tell her to call me.”

It hasn't gotten much better than that afternoon.


2. RYDER CUP, Valhalla Golf Club, 2008. Two things stand out about this tournament. The first was on the tourney's second day, when I was with a small group of reporters who rounded the corner to head back up the 18th fairway when we ran into Michael Jordan. And for the next five or six minutes, we walked together as a group. I won't ever forget the way the buzz rippled through the crowd as people realized who was walking through. For a brief moment, it gave me a realization of what he lives with every day, wherever he goes. It was another level of fame that you rarely get a glimpse of.

Two days later, I was on the green at No. 17 when I was standing right beside Boo Weekley when Miguel Jiminez conceded the putt to Jim Furyk that ended the United States' 9-year Ryder Cup drought. Boo took off toward the hole. Everybody took off toward the hole. I looked around and Gov. Steve Beshear was not far to my left. Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly was a few steps away. And though it wasn't a huge crowd, it felt like most of Louisville was surrounding that little patch of green. Walking back up the 18th fairway, I followed Phil Mickelson, who saw his wife off to the right talking to three guys behind the ropes. He swooped in and grabbed her away and started walking on when she pointed back to tell him that the guys wanted to give him their flag. They had an American flag, that Mickelson accepted and draped around his shoulders as he walked the rest of the way in.

3. BILL KEIGHTLEY'S OFFICE, April 1, 2008. This was the day after Mr. Wildcat died. Bill was always good to me. He was a friend of my parents, had told me not a couple of months before that he'd stopped by my parents house and found the door unlocked, but no one was home. I'd seen him just a couple of weeks earlier, at a University of Louisville basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, of all places. Scott Stricklin, who now is the athletic director at Mississippi State but then was the sports information director at UK, granted a request I made to look around Keightley's office at Memorial Coliseum. It was just as he'd left it. Roped off. Again, I could've written thousands of words. But the 1,100 I wrote came as close to satisfying me as any I've written.

It was a rare chance, being in that office, to walk back through a storied Kentucky life. We were all a little spooked when we realized that the two bobblehead dolls on his shelf — Aaron Harang and Brandon Webb — were the pitchers scheduled to start the Major League game he was heading to when he died. The best thing you can do in this job is try to get yourself into places where other people can't go. I was glad I was able to take that little trip through an office where Bill spent most of his life. I wrote the story at a Kentucky Fried Chicken on Versailles Road in Lexington. I know I won't forget seeing his space, the way he left it, a suitcase still packed on the floor, though he had departed on his biggest journey of all.

4. REDS DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIP CELEBRATION, Cincinnati, Sept. 27, 2010. Yes, it was only a divisional title, not a league pennant. I know that. But the Reds and I go back a long way. My dad covered the Reds for WCKY radio in Cincinnati for a time. I slept through games as a baby at old Crosley Field. So to be there, and even better, to be in the clubhouse for the celebration, on a night when Jay Bruce hit a ninth-inning walk-off homer to clinch the club's first division title in 15 years was a special thing. Those were happier times for the Reds. The team chanted “Dus-ty, Dus-ty” at manager Dusty Baker as the players sprayed him with champagne. Joey Votto, Bruce, the rookie Aroldis Chapman standing in a corner with a victory cigar. Among the, “How did I get here?” moments, that one stands out. 

5-A. THE WHITE HOUSE, University of Louisville championship team visit, July 19, 2013. As a history nerd, this probably stands out more to me than the championship itself (though before the Triple Crown win for American Pharoah, that team's 2013 Big East Tournament championship win in Madison Square Garden was squarely on this list). Just the experience of being in the White House press room, on the grounds, the intrepid Steve Andress getting curious about something and wandering right to the White House front door before we were politely shooed back into the press area, scurrying through a basement hallway and seeing framed candid photos of recent occupants of the house. We all could have spent a great deal more time there. But we were grateful for what we got. I wrote this piece, describing what it was like to be there.

5-B. AMERICAN PHAROAH'S TRIPLE CROWN, Belmont Park, June 6, 2015. As soon as people realize you were there, they stop you and ask, “What was it like?” Especially in these parts. Maybe we'll have a chance to cover other Triple Crowns. But I wouldn't bet on it. The reaction of the crowd. The reaction, frankly, of other members of the media. Everyone knew we were instantly in the midst of a special thing.

EVERYTHING ELSE. When you sit down to do a story of this nature, you realize that you'll never get everything in. NCAA championship games for UK and U of L. Being in the locker room before the national title won by Bellarmine in 2011. Being with the team for the entire trip to Duke later that fall. Flying with Rick Pitino to go watch Rajon Rondo and Sebastian Telfair at the ABCD Camp. Being at ABCD when Lenny Cooke and a young LeBron James squared off. The Masters, still the best-run event of any I've ever been to for media. Covering the U of L football team in the Orange Bowl, and again in the Sugar Bowl. The Maui Invitational. Any Kentucky Derby. Writing a book with Rick Pitino. Watching Zenyatta win in the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita, standing next to Bo Derek on the rail. I'm sure I'm only leaving a hundred or so off the list.

BUCKET LIST: The list has grown pretty short. I hope to cover the Olympics. I've never gotten to. Not sure I ever will. The World Cup. 

FAVORITE ROAD RESTAURANTS: In no particular order — Mr. B's, New Orleans; P.J. Clarke's, New York City; Mary Mac's Tea Room, Atlanta; Longhi's, Lahaina, Maui; Charles Vergos' Rendezvous, Memphis.

FAVORITE HOTELS: The Waldorf Astoria, New York City; The Mansfield, New York City; Sheraton Maui Resort, Kaanapali Beach, Maui; Hilton Sandestin, Miramar Beach, Fla.

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