Join Date: Oct 2000
Posnanski to Sports Illustrated: Going ... but not really leaving
JOE POSNANSKI COMMENTARY
This is a strange column to write. Itís a goodbye but not a goodbye. Itís a thank you but not a thank you waved through the window of a departing plane. Itís a farewell, only Iíll probably be around more than you want. Like I say, itís a strange column to write.
I came to Kansas City 13 years ago, almost to the day, and Iíd love to be able to tell you that on that very first day, I knew I was home. It wasnít like that, though. All I knew that first day was that it was really hot. I wore a black suit for my job interview. It was like I was trying to drop weight before my heavyweight fight weigh-in.
I was 29 years old then, a bachelor, balding but not quite bald yet. What I knew about Kansas City and life ó as an old high school coach I knew in Georgia used to say ó could have fit in a flea suitcase. There are those, of course, who write in often to say that I donít know much more now.
Anyway. When I arrived 13 years ago, I had no idea ó how could I know? ó that Kansas City would become home. I could not know that I would meet my wife Margo here, that we would have two beautiful daughters here, Katie and Elizabeth. I could not know that I would learn the secrets of keeping a lawn green through the Midwestern summer (Rule No. 1: Mow high), or that I would come to know exactly what kind of barbecue I wanted to get depending on my mood. I could not know that I would get to see a young Carlos Beltran glide in center field or a relentless Tony Gonzalez catch 100 balls after every practice or a possessed Maurice Greene get to the finish line first under an Australian sky.
How could I know? How could I know that I would be sitting just a few feet away when Mario Chalmers hit the shot that shook the state of Kansas? How could I know that I would be standing on the sidelines and watching a phenomenon named Darren Sproles dance under spotty lights on a high school football field? How could I know that I would be there the night that Missouri beat Kansas under the lights at Arrowhead in the biggest football game in America?
And how could I know how much all that would mean to me?
When newspapers columnists are hired, they are asked to write an introductory column. And when they leave, they are asked to say goodbye. It has been that way for a long while. And this is my goodbye column. Thing is, itís complicated.
Weíre not exactly leaving. Kansas City is our home and we plan to stay. The Star is part of our family, and editors and friends (one and the same) have kindly asked me to write for The Star regularly. Most weeks, youíll still find my column here. I am flying to Canton on Thursday to write about Derrick Thomas going into the Hall of Fame.
But, yes, I am leaving. I have been offered what I honestly believe is the best job in American sports writing. Iíve been offered the role of Senior Writer at Sports Illustrated.
Iíve been offered the job, the chance at Carnegie Hall, the opportunity to write at the magazine I grew up reading, the place where my heroes worked ó where Frank Deford and Dan Jenkins wrote, where Roy Blount and George Plimpton wrote, where Steve Rushin and Rick Reilly wrote, where S.L. Price and Gary Smith and a brilliantly talented staff still write.
Itís mind-boggling to me. My first day as a sportswriter ó I was an intern at The Charlotte Observer ó my assignment was only to write a small note about what time star Magic Johnson would be arriving for an autograph appearance at a local department store. Good news: I got the time right. Bad news: I got the day wrong.
I spent my second day as a sportswriter standing outside that department store and breaking the news to people with cameras and entire families wearing Los Angeles Lakers jerseys that, in fact, Magic Johnson would not be arriving for three more days.
That day, I knew I would never make it in this crazy racket. And, yes, that thought has recurred from time to time over the last 13 years. Only then I would get a letter or a call from a husband who says he reads this column to his blind wife at the breakfast table, or one from a young writer who claims to have been reading this space since she was a little girl, or one from an old English teacher who will gently explain the not-so-subtle difference between the words blatant and flagrant.
And then Iíd realize that I have made it in this crazy racket.
When I got to Kansas City, I could not have known just how lucky I would be. The positive responses always wildly outnumbered the negative ones. The Kansas City hope always endured in the face of the hard playoff defeats and the 100-loss seasons. The parking lots always smelled like barbecue, and the fireworks nights were always filled with the sounds of children squealing, and those crazy college basketball nights ó in Lawrence, in Columbia, in Manhattan ó were always just a little bit louder than I remembered from before.
I spent days with Buck OíNeil. I played chess with Priest Holmes. I talked football with Bill Snyder and Len Dawson and Will Shields, and basketball with Roy Williams and Norm Stewart and Bill Self.
I talked golf with Tom Watson, and baseball with Art Stewart and Kansas City with Bill Grigsby. I traveled to more than a dozen countries on five continents to write about sports, and I always managed to get home to the most convenient in-and-out airport in the world. Itís been remarkable. Thank you.
And so the final question would be: If it has been so great, why leave? I guess there are two answers.
The first is that I am taking the job of my dreams. And the second is that Iím not exactly leaving.
Iíll be around.