ORLANDO, Fla. (WDRB) – It’s a quirk of this crazy job I have that as the clock winds down on 2018, I’m sitting in a hotel room about a mile from the hospital room I occupied just less than four months ago recovering from a stroke.
The last big story of 2018 is that the Kentucky football team is ready to take on Penn State in the Citrus Bowl, and I’m doing just fine.
But I think that as the seconds tick away, it’s a good time to look back. And maybe ahead, just a little.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what kind of work lasts, and what just fades away. A little while back, WDRB.com went to a new website provider, and while the end result will be far better, it also meant that years of archives no longer are available to the public. Muhammad Ali’s death? A dead link. My work on Louisville’s 2013 NCAA championship? As vacated as the actual title. American Pharoah’s Triple Crown? Don’t bet on it.
For a while, it felt a little like I’d lost part of myself, even though I have saved versions of all those stories and many others.
But my reaction to that actually got me thinking about something else. What about all the stories that I won’t miss? What about the ones I wouldn’t save if I could? This is the test, and the challenge for 2019 – to strive to write only stories that I would miss should they disappear.
Now, understand, as one copy editor at The Courier-Journal once told me, “They can’t all be Shakespeare.”
As I looked back at 2018, the big stories kept coming. We had some bombshells in 2017. This past year featured more fallout. Last week, Rick Bozich and I took time to rank our top stories of the year, in terms of magnitude and importance. This is my list:
10. John Schnatter’s name is removed from Louisville’s Cardinal Stadium amid controversy after he was found to have used a racial slur on a company conference call.
9. Louisville City FC wins its second consecutive USL title after a midseason coaching change, and secures financing for an 11,000-plus seat soccer only stadium to be completed downtown by 2020.
8. The resurgence of Kentucky football -- the Wildcats end a 31-game losing streak to Florida, and rise to No. 9 in the nation behind national defensive player of the year Josh Allen. They play for a chance to go to the SEC championship game, losing to Georgia, but still make a New Year's Day bowl.
7. After not racing at age 2, Justify becomes the second Triple Crown winner in four years and second ever to accomplish the feat unbeaten, then does not race after winning the Belmont Stakes, retiring after after just six career races.
6. New Albany star Romeo Langford wins Indiana Mr. Basketball, and the love affair with his home state continues when he signs with Indiana
5. Lamar Jackson announces he will turn pro, goes with the final pick of the NFL Draft's first round, and becomes a starter just after the halfway point of his rookie season in the league, leading the Baltimore Ravens to a division title and a playoff berth.
4. Louisville women’s basketball reaches its third Final Four after winning its first ACC Championship.
3. Xavier’s Chris Mack is hired as third permanent head coach at Louisville since 1970.
2. Bobby Petrino, winningest coach in the school’s history, is fired after a historically bad football season at Louisville. In the wake of that, Scott Satterfield of Appalachian State is named Louisville coach after a dramatic negotiation with former Cardinal great Jeff Brohm ends with him staying at Purdue.
1. Louisville’s NCAA appeal fails and its 2013 NCAA title and 2012 Final Four are vacated. The banners are removed from the KFC Yum! Center.
The list is fine, as far as it goes (and I wrote some decent stories on all those topics – take my word for it.)
But it also leaves out some important stories. Maybe the most important stories.
There were some tearful goodbyes. I was privileged to write about Carrey Dewey’s battle with ALS, and about her passing. It fell to me, shocked and shaken as I sat at the keyboard, to try to sum up the life of Churchill Downs vice president for racing communications John Asher after learning of his sudden death. I wrote about sports and race after John Schnatter’s comment set off a firestorm.
Sometimes, memorable stories happen when you don’t expect them, like when I turned into Zachary Taylor National Cemetery just aiming to take a few pictures. I didn’t count on a voice calling to me from one of those photos.
My favorite of the sports feature stories I wrote in 2018 was probably a long look at D. Wayne Lukas, who at age 82 was back with another Derby (and Preakness, and Belmont) horse. If not that one, it was on Ayeshia McFerran, who became a field hockey star in her native Ireland but toiled in anonymity at times as an All-American at Louisville.
And then there was the column, typed out slowly, explaining why I was stepping away from this job for a while, telling you about my health situation. And another when I came back to work. And a third in the wee hours of Christmas morning, looking back on all of that, and more. You indulged me in those times, and for that I’m grateful.
There were a great many pictures that weren’t terrible. At least, I don’t think they were. I don’t really solicit opinions from the pros – fearful of what they will have to say!
The revelers are starting to settle down now out on International Drive. Maybe things will be quiet soon. Tomorrow brings a new year, and a bowl game for Kentucky. It’s good to be in this hotel room, loud hallways and all, instead of the hospital room across the way.
Here’s to a 2019 filled with memorable stories, and farewell to 2018, a year that yielded a few.
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