Sports has always been a part of my life. I cant remember a time when there wasn’t a football or baseball to throw around, a ball game to watch on TV or listen to on the radio. I come from a Purdue family, so the Boilermakers were the college team of choice. My dad was from the Chicago suburbs and he was a White Sox fan, although I grew up a Cubs fan. Every fall, I rode the highs and lows of the Chicago Bears (mostly lows). The first time I picked up a camera, it was because I wanted to be a sports photographer. When I started writing, it was about sports. Covering sports was my job for more than 20 years. Now that I’m out of the newspaper business, I have more opportunities to just be a fan. I used to read and watch everything as part of my work. Today, I can be more selective and watch just what I want, and write about what I want. These are my teams, and here is where I will occasionally give a few of my thoughts on the sporting world. click on a logo or scroll down to read about my fan stories.
I went there. My sister went there. My mother and father went there. A grandfather went there. A great-grandfather went there.
You get the idea.
I love Purdue and the Boilermakers, no matter how many times the football and basketball teams have broken my heart. When the Boilers made the Rose Bowl in 2001, there was nothing that would keep us away from Pasadena, including a wild 48 sleepless hours that included weather, four airports, a lost and re-found credit card and a scary van ride from Pasadena to LAX. But we had good friends with us, saw Purdue play in a Rose Bowl (it didn't matter that it was a loss), and took away great memories.
Of course we love our universities. They were times where we lived in a bubble. We were on our own (sort of), and mostly without all the responsibilities that real life would present us in a few short years. I went to Purdue as an engineering student. I had considered going to Michigan State, which also a good engineering program, but there was little doubt where I would go. I can remember walking the campus as a student just as it was yesterday, not 30 years ago.
I worked at the student newspaper, the Exponent, where I fell in love with journalism and decided to make it a career. I worked with a lot of great people, an unbelievably talented group. We pushed each other to be get better each day. Later, I shot for the school yearbook, the Debris, where I worked with another terrific staff. I’m still friends with many of the people from both places. When you work in close quarters on tight deadlines, you form bonds with people, bonds that last more than 30 years. The experiences we shared allowed me to hit the ground running in my newspaper career, and to have the success that I did.
Of course, I loved football Saturdays. There’s nothing like it. There was always a fall crispness to the air and I loved shooting the games. Basketball games were two-hour thrill rides. Every game I shot in Ross-Ade Stadium or Mackey Arena was a special event, and those venues were my places of zen.
Those people and experiences are why Purdue is so special to me, and for my time there I will be ever grateful, ever true.
Seeing Purdue play in the Rose Bowl certainly was special, and the wild 48-hour, no-sleep adventure that got us to Pasadena and back is a story in its own. I was at the game where Bob Knight threw the chair. There was the road trip to Detroit in 1988 to see the Boilermakers with Troy Lewis, Todd Mitchell and Everette Stephens in the NCAA Tournament against Kansas State, a team they had crushed during the regular season. The Boilers were on their way to the Final Four until Stephens dribbled the ball off his leg in the final minute to send us home with another soul-crushing loss. There were countless college road trips where we piled as many student journalists as possible into a couple of cars and went off to Madison or Ann Arbor, most times with no place to stay the night, but with gameday credentials. Most of those ended in losses. One win came in the inaugural game in the Hoosier Dome, where Purdue upset Notre Dame in 1984. But there was one episode, one fleeting moment of time, one that I have only to myself. We were at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, known as “The Barn,” the ancient fieldhouse where Purdue was facing Minnesota with the 1984 Big Ten basketball title on the line. It was March, but it was below zero outside, and the drafty Barn was chilly. I was photographing the game, and had to shoot with my elbows on the floor, which is elevated from the crowd level. The Boilers, with Jim Rowinski, defeated the Gophers to win the title. By the time I shot the on-court celebration and gathered up my equipment, I headed into the bowels of the Barn, and I was running behind getting to the interview room. It’s like the catacombs underneath the arena, and is easy to get lost, but I somehow found myself in a hallway right behind Purdue coach Gene Keady with SID Jim Vruggink as they were heading to the postgame interviews. It was just the three of us walking along, and Keady turns to Vruggink and says, “You know what I like most about this? This gives us 16 Big Ten championships and Indiana only has 15.” Yes, I know. The Hoosiers have all their banners. But that one instant was all Boilermaker, and will stay with me forever.
I tell people that I was born in Chicago. It was actually Des Plaines, but that is in Cook County, so it's close enough. Whatever the circumstance, Chicago is in my blood. Growing up in northern Indiana, Sundays meant the Bears game. This was before the Colts bailed out on Baltimore to move to Indy. The Bears were THE team for most of the state. This was also before Sunday Ticket and the Red Zone, so the Bears were all that we would get on TV. When you’re five years old, it didn’t matter that the Bears were one of the worst teams in the NFL. I sat with my dad and watched the game, at least until the time when his yelling reached the point where my mom didn’t want to hear it anymore and sent him to the garage to watch the rest of the game on the small black-and-white TV out there. I knew all the players. While my friends collected baseball cards, I was collecting football cards, with Bears cards gaining special prominence. I took one of my dad’s T-shirts and made it into a Gary Huff No. 19 jersey (Gary Huff? I don’t know. He was the QB and I don’t think my dad was much of a Bobby Douglass fan).
By the time I was a teenager, I was playing middle school football and the Bears had Walter Payton. The Bears still weren’t good at football, and neither was I, but Walter became my idol. We went to some games, including one on the final day of the regular season, in a snowstorm, where the Bears beat the St. Louis Cardinals to finally make the playoffs. (It was also the day I got food poisoning from a bad hot dog and ended up in Cook County Hospital.) By the time I got to college, there Bears were becoming The Bears. Growing up, I had friends who were Cincinnati Reds fan, and they won championships. Friends were IU or Notre Dame fans, and they won championships. I had Purdue. The Cubs. The Bulls. And the Bears. So in 1985, when the Bears were so dominant, I finally had the feeling of MY team being the best. January 26, 1986, became perhaps the most satisfying day I have ever had as a fan, and I thought back to all those days with my dad watching a lot of bad football teams. Dad’s gone now, and the Bears never became the late-80s dynasty many predicted. There have been may lean times since, and I still yell at the TV the way my dad did, often startling my wife from the other side of the house. She just has to deal with it. I don’t have a TV in the garage.
For sure, watching the Bears win the Super Bowl was as good a moment as any fan could have, especially the way that season went. It was a terrific ride. I wish I could include the playoff-clinching game in ’78, but the food poisoning kind of put a damper on that whole experience. I went to a charity basketball game at Wawasee High School to see the Bears’ traveling basketball team play against the local celebs, back when teams did that sort of thing. I’ve had some adventures to numerous Bears-Packers games, most times with my friend, Joe Santa, a raving Packers fan.We’ve seen games in Lambeau Field and in Soldier Field, at least until the point Joe said he would never go back to a game in THAT Chicago stadium. We even saw a game in Champaign when Soldier Field was under renovation. Joe even got us pregame field passes for that game, and I was able to get some great photos. That was also the game where the section we were in nearly rioted when a dad of a Packers’ player got into a shoving match with a Bears’ fan. We were at the Monday Night game in Chicago when the fan leaped out of the stands to grab an extra point and dropped another 20 feet to the concrete below. But nothing will beat the Halloween night game, October 31, 1994. Again, Joe and I went, along with Joe’s friend, Bill Miller, another Bears fan. We had gotten a hotel room in Merrillville, which was just a short run into the city. We looked forward to the game, where they were going to retire the jerseys of legends Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus. Joe had to pick up the tickets from another friend at Carson’s a famous rib place in Chicago. We figured we could get there early and park, grab a cab to Carson’s, have some ribs, then head back to the stadium. That day became famous for the one of the worst weather games in NFL history. Hurricane-force winds combined with torrential rain and near-freezing temperatures. Being cold is one thing. Being cold and wet takes it to another level. We drove up to the stadium, and surprisingly (sacrcasm, folks) there was no one tailgating, so we were able to park close to the stadium. But we still needed to get the tickets, so we walked a half-mile through a hurricane to find a cab by Field Museum. Our cabbie probably checked in at 400 pounds, and apparently was a practitioner of Jamaican voodoo, judging by the decorations in the cab. We told him where we needed to go, and he just mumbled and hummed and chanted all the way to Carson’s. It was also Halloween night, which meant a few extra crazies were on the streets. We met Joe’s friend and got the tickets. He ended up giving them to us for free, because no one of sound mind was going to go to this game. But go, we did. We sat through the whole thing. Sat through the jersey-retirement ceremony at halftime. Joe stayed fairly dry because of his Gore-Tex rainsuit, and warm from the flask he smuggled in. It was a throwback night, and the teams wore throwback jerseys. Of course, Brett Favre tore up the Bears, as he always did. He was only 6-of-15 passing, but ran for a 36-yard TD in a 33-6 Green Bay win. I drove the three of us back to Merrillville, trying to keep my high-profile Blazer on the road in the high winds. When we reached the hotel, we saw a number of satellite TV trucks there. We soon learned of the tragic plane crash that happened that evening when a small commercial jet had gone down nearby in an Indiana field. It certainly cast a pall over the night. Joe and I didn’t get much sleep that night. Joe had somehow forgotten to tell me that Bill was a world-champion snorer. We had to flip a coin to see who would sleep in the bathtub. It didn’t do any good. bleary-eyed, we drove home the next morning, then sleeping the rest of Tuesday. It was a wild time, but we could say we were there. I’ve been to some subfreezing games in my life, but I’ve never felt as cold as I did that night. And I’ve owned a Gore-Tex rainsuit ever since.
In the blink of an eye, the meaning of being a Cubs’ fan changed. When Anthony Rizzo squeezed the throw from Kris Bryant to close out the 2016 World Series championship, Chicago’s North Side team ended a century of being baseball’s lovable losers. They never won anything for all of my first 52 years and another half-century before that. I never had to make apologies for being a Cubs fan, because they were just who they were. I was exposed to the Cubs at a time before my memory can even recall. My dad, who grew up a White Sox fan in the Chicago suburbs, would have a Cubs game on WGN, so I’m certain I watched. One of my earliest memories is taking the T-ball team bus trip to see the Cubs at Wrigley Field, which cemented me as Cubs fan despite my dad’s leanings. I went to games every year for quite a while after that. One year I seem to remember caching a doubleheader against the Phillies when real doubleheaders were scheduled and you could spend the whole day at the ballpark. There was another Phillies game where the wind blew out and both teams scored at least 10 runs, I believe. We had cable TV for as long as I can remember, and I would watch them on WGN. I wasn’t a huge baseball fan, but I love the Cubs. They were on TV and it was fun to go to Clark and Addison. It really didn’t matter if they won or lost. Games were always in the daytime and it was always a good time. That’s what being a Cubs fan was all about. When the Cubs finally made it back to the playoffs in 1984, I actually started caring if they lost, and it hurt when Steve Garvey and the Padres ended that season. I went to a night playoff game against the Giants in 1989, but even though it was a big deal, it didn’t have the same, carefree feel of previous games. I was heartbroken over the Bartman game, and couldn’t believe they were swept by the Mets in 2015. Like so many of us Cubs fans, we never really expected to see the Cubs win a World Series. So many never did live to see it happen. Now that it has, I kind of feel like we’re a bit aimless. Yes, it was a magical time, and I bought all my World Series champions gear. So what now? Who knows. The days of paying $5 to sit anywhere in the bleachers are over, gone to the big business of sports and gone to the the reality of being a winner. Loser? That seems to be gone, at least for now. Lovable? For sure. To me, with all the memories they have given me, they always will be.
The summer of 1984 was an important time for me. I spent the summer at Purdue, working as a summer editor at the school paper, the Exponent. being a summer editor is a big deal, because you are part of a select group that will assume the leadership roles at the paper in the fall, and you spend the summer learning every aspect of newspaper production. It’s the sumer I fell in love with newspapers and would eventually turn my career path from engineering to journalism. It was also a summer where I spent a great deal of time running up and down I-65 from West Lafayette to Chicago to watch baseball games. Our newspaper publisher/advisor/mentor Pat Kuhnle would take us to White Sox games. (He refused to go to Cubs games, saying he would never go to Chicago to see a minor-league team). But a few of us made regular trips to Wrigley Field. We would get in line early, because back then the bleachers had open seating. We’d head back home, stopping only at the White Castle in Merrillville. The summer of ’84 was also the year the Cubs were surprising winners. There was Ryne Sandberg, Rick Sutcliffe, Leon Durham, Bobby Dernier and Ron Cey. We went to Wrigley on Banner Day, when my friends Brad Bowers and Jerry Palm made a large banner, and everyone with a banner got to parade around the field to show them off, so we walked across the field with the banner. That summer, my Exponent-mate Greg Smith came across a book called Rotisserie Baseball, a stat-driven, season-long game where everybody could run their own baseball team. It was the book that kicked off the fantasy sports craze, but we had one of the first leagues, started back in that summer of 1984. It’s a league we still have today, now in our 34th consecutive season. although Greg and I are the only two originals remaining. Classes resumed that August, and I stepped into my role as photo editor of the Exponent. The Cubs went on to win the National League East and faced the San Diego Padres in the NL championship series. It was a warm, October day for that playoff opener, and I skipped classes to watch, because it was a day game at Wrigley. (Unlike today, when the games generally stat past 9 p.m. at night) That game marked the high point of the year. Sutcliffe started and gave up just two hits. The Cubs hit six home runs, including one from Sutcliffe and two from Gary Matthews. The final was 13-0, and all was perfect. There was nothing that was going to stop the Cubs that magical season. It seemed even more probable after Chicago won the second game a day later. As we all know now, it didn’t happen. Steve Garvey and the Padres won three straight in San Diego and went on to the World Series. Summer was over. The Cubs were done. School and the daily deadlines of the Exponent filled my days. It wouldn’t be long before realities of life and career stepped in. But for one summer, we had it all, and the Cubs were at the center of it.
CHICAGO BULLS & BLACKHAWKS
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NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH
Before the Purdue Alumni Association barges through my door and takes away my PAA card, I must say that for a good part of my life, I’ve been a Notre Dame hater. It comes with the territory when you grow up in family of Boilermakers.To top things off, I grew up in northern Indiana, where all the local media, especially the TV stations, were all in as Irish cheerleaders. Notre Dame could do no wrong. Never did the Irish lose, but always had the game taken from them. It drove my dad, also a Purdue grad, absolutely nuts.
Somehow, I married into a family of rabid Notre Dame fans. Ann’s family has had season football tickets since 1965, and every one of them live and die for the Irish. I had grown up a Notre Dame hater. How would I handle being part of this new family? I wanted to see Notre Dame lose. I wanted to see them crushed. For many years, I had to keep it all to myself.
I had been to Notre Dame Stadium a few times as a news photographer while covering Purdue. I knew that the stadium was one of those special venues, like Wrigley Field or Yankee Stadium. I always respected history, and understood that, just as I had when I walked on the field at the Big House in Ann Arbor or The Horseshoe in Columbus.
Since my college football experiences were mostly in working situations, I had never been much of a tailgater. I missed out on the beer, brats, beer, burgers, beer, chips and beer. So the first time I went with Ann to actually sit in the stands for a game, the whole tailgate thing was a bit lost on me. She often reminds me of my words “We’re going to a football game, not a damn cocktail party.” It took some time, but I warmed up to the tailgate experience. Not until I left the newspaper business did I truly allow myself to go full fan mode and really embrace game day. When Ann’s sister and her husband moved to South Bend, tailgating became an entire weekend event, and I’ve become not only a willing, but eager, participant. I still haven’t embraced the Irish totally as a fan. Let’s just say that my burning hatred has simmered to lukewarm indifference. But Notre Dame has left me with a lot of terrific memories. I also don’t take for granted the opportunities I’ve had to see games in Notre Dame Stadium. There are people who would give anything to see just one game there, and I feel fortunate to sit in that stadium and understand the history. I’ve gone on road trips to see Notre Dame play, and even followed the team to Ireland, where they played Navy in Dublin in 2012.So I’ve learned to let myself enjoy the Notre Dame football experience. There are good Irish fans out there. They aren’t all obnoxious and arrogant. They give me crap about Purdue, but it’s all in fun, and I can dish it out to them as well.My dad died in 1991, never getting to meet Ann or her family or go to Notre Dame Stadium for a game or tailgate. I’m pretty sure he would have really enjoyed the experience as much as I’ve learned to do.
I suppose I could choose any one of those few times that Purdue beat Notre Dame in football, like the 1984 win in the Hoosier Dome. There was the game in 1999, when Purdue’s Mike Rose sacked ND quarterback Jarious Jackson in sight of the goal line to preserve the Boilers’ win at Ross-Ade Stadium. I was with my ND-fan brothers-in-law, and as soon as Jackson hit the ground, one of them said “Let’s go.” I decided I was going to hang around and sing “Hail Purdue” and soak in the rare win. I had driven all of us to the game, so they weren’t going anywhere until I was ready to go, anyway. Even today, we call it the "Let's Go Game." There was also the 2004 game, a 41-16 Purdue win, the only time I’ve seen the Boilers win in Notre Dame Stadium. In 2001, the Purdue-ND game at West Lafayette was moved to the final game of the year after the 9/11 attacks. It was clear the Notre Dame coach Bob Davie was going to be fired. I again was with my brothers-in-law, who were not exactly Davie fans. We were sitting near the ramp where the Irish team entered and exited the field. The crowd was sparse. And quiet. As Notre Dame was leaving the field following pregame warmups, my brother-in-law John stood up and yelled “Bob Davie, you suck!” Davie looked up, right at John, to which John added, “Yep, it was me!” Notre Dame won the game, but Davie was fired the next day.
All of those are great memories for me involving Notre Dame, but they are more about Irish failings rather than a nice Notre Dame memory. That would probably have to be the trip to Dublin in 2012. We had a great trip, taking extra time to drive around Ireland. A big group of family and friends also made the trip. On game day, there was a great crowd for the game between the Irish and Navy. It was a festive atmosphere, with Americans there for the contest, and the native Irish people could not have been nicer. They were curious about American football. Aviva Stadium is a beautiful structure, and we had terrific seats. There was plenty of Guinness flowing. We got to watch all the Midshipmen march into the stadium in a stirring display. At the end of the game, the Notre Dame band played the ND alma mater, followed by Navy playing their alma mater. The two teams stood together for both songs in a wonderfully emotional display of sportsmanship and respect. We all emptied out of the stadium and enjoyed a celebration on the streets of Dublin.