One thing in sports you never can beat: Writing about them

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Bill Lyon (center) taking a time-out with Inquirer sports department colleagues in the early '90s. As he has shown, the joy of covering the world of competition can indeed be put into words.

Inquirer staff writer.

Except for family, that three-word appendage to my name is really all I ever wanted.

Oh, it could have been Evening Bulletin staff writer or Daily News staff writer, but as long as I was writing about sports in my hometown, I knew life was going to be good.

This is no farewell. I'll be here as long as they'll have me. But these are tough times in our business, and every once in a while you need to convince yourself it's all been worthwhile.

Last weekend, I met with two old childhood friends, one of whom I hadn't seen since that sultry afternoon in 1964 when Jim Bunning pitched his perfect game.

They're retired now, but the first thing they mentioned after all these years was how lucky I've been to be doing what I'd dreamed about as a kid in Broomall.

They were right.

Such an ambition might seem modest in retrospect. Not many parents nudge their kids to be sportswriters. Not many of us get rich. We don't heal the sick or feed the hungry. And most of our shirts have ink stains on the pockets.

But I wish I could tell you what it feels like to be sitting in a press box on deadline when, with caffeine and adrenaline pumping through your veins, with phones ringing and tempers flaring and keyboards clacking, you somehow find just the right words.

If you don't know what I mean, read that new collection of Bill Lyon's columns.

Of course, sportswriting has been devalued. Everybody does it now. All you need is a laptop, an opinion, and a pallor. You throw some words together, slap them on the Internet, and hope the world beats a path to your blog.

More power to you.

But it's just not the same.

Those people will never know how tough it is when a player you criticized is waiting, offending article in hand, to jump down your throat as you enter a locker room.

They won't know how breathtaking it is to be sitting two rows back from the field during an Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing.

They won't know the thrill of that first time you saw your name through the window of an honor box.

Sure, you need a strong stomach, a good pair of shoes, a tolerance for travel, and a love of both sports and words. It's not for everybody. And, with more and more newspapers cutting back, it might soon be for nobody.

During our reunion, my old friends asked why they seldom saw me on TV. Logical question.

Many of my former Inquirer sports colleagues have managed to unmoor themselves from the rickety old pier that is newspapering and sailed off toward bluer seas.

Sal Paolantonio, Jayson Stark, and Peter Pascarelli are at ESPN. Mark Bowden is a best-selling author. And there are more Inquirer sports department alums than know-it-all callers in local sports talk radio.

I probably don't have the ability to do any of those things. And I hope I don't sound disingenuous when I say I really wouldn't have wanted to.

Sure they make more money. Sure they're far better known. Sure they don't have to worry so much about the futures of their professions.

Yet, for all its problems, I still wouldn't trade this job for any other.

There's nothing quite like sitting in front of a blank sheet of paper or a blank computer screen and creating something out of nothing.

Or getting to watch an ever-changing cast compete in the same games, in the same uniforms, I loved as a child.

Or, best of all, never having to grow up.

Where's his cane? After his myopic performance behind home plate in Tuesday night's Phils-Pirates game, it seems clear that C.B. Bucknor's initials stand for Completely Blind.

NASCAR note of the week. From a David Letterman Top 10 on "Things Never Before Said by a NASCAR Driver":

No. 5: "You're looking at a guy that can go 500 miles without taking a leak."

No. 8: "I don't care much for country music or beer."

Too low for even Jones. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones refuses to raise the enormous scoreboard in new Cowboys Stadium even though it was hit by a punt last week.

This is in keeping with Jones' character. He's always been more comfortable lowering his standards.

The Cowboys seem to have trouble building things. Their stadium is hostile to kickers and the middle class. Their practice bubble collapsed. And Tony Romo's relationships keep crumbling.

Noise factor. Quarterback Michael Vick will make his Eagles debut tonight before a big crowd at Lincoln Financial Field. I hope someone in the organization has let him know that Philly fans' bark is worse than their bite.

 


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.