August 12-18, 2012 – a big week for sports, with many happenings of historic value and here today, gone tomorrow news.

The three biggest events for which most people will remember (listed chronologically): The Olympic Closing Ceremonies, Felix Hernandez’s perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays and the U.S. men’s soccer team win over Mexico for the first time ever on Mexican soil.

All three were amazing! I watched two of them on TV and was afraid (for fear of long-distance fan jinx) to find a pirated stream of the Mariners game and watch King Felix accomplish history – something future hall of famer Randy Johnson never did as a Mariner.

The finish to the USA-Mexico match was simply oustanding. Watching substitutes Brek Shea, Terrence Boyd and Michael Orozco Fiscal, a Mexican-American and a Mexican league player, create the match-winning goal to silence a behemoth Azteca Stadium. Not to mention the play of Tim Howard in net to prevent the equalizer – awesome.

Did I mention that Mexico was only four days removed from claiming Olympic Gold at the London Games? Though it was only a friendly, the historic value of the win against our neighbors to the South will always be something to look back on in the tenure of manager Jürgen Klinsmann. Hopefully it will be the start of something great for the national team (wink wink, World Cup).

These events will hold a place in time and are the kind that people say “Hey where you when…”, to which I’ll answer DeKalb, Illinois, glowing with excitement on my living room floor, reading The Seattle Times and Grant  Wahl’s coverage for Sports Illustrated in Mexico.

I’ll always remember this week for something else however.

On August 12th, Boston Globe Sports columnist Bob Ryan wrote his final daily column after 43 years in the business, all of which were with The Globe.Image

To most, this is a fairly insignificant moment, just the loss of some print. To me, it’s the loss of a voice in print, something every writer shoots for.

I remember buying my first Boston Globe when I arrived in Brighton, Mass. at the corner liquor store in Oak Sqaure August 2008 and all the articles and columns written on the departure of Manny Ramirez from Boston to Los Angeles. I’m not going to blow smoke up your you know what and tell you “I remember Bob Ryan’s column on Manny.”

No, I just remember seeing his face printed in the paper and remembering that he was a Bean Town guy. One of the few guys who I enjoyed watching on “Around the Horn” back in my dorm days in Minnesota. The other of course being Woody Page and his blackboard — “Bacon: The Candy of Meats” — I still use that to this day.

Of course being an intern/slappy at Harvard, I thought there’s no way I’d meet him. I remember asking at a luncheon at the Boston Globe’s headquarters what the chances were of running into him were, in which my boss replied, “not likely.”

One of my day-to-day duties in the office at Harvard was to answer and screen phone calls – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. All three were commonplace. People wanting tickets, retired folks asking for game results, Fortune 500 CEO’s asking what jersey numbers they were for the hockey team, settling a bet over lacrosse stats between college roommates, former players asking for game film from 1974…

The list goes on and that’s only five examples. But after saying “Athletic Communications this is Matt” one afternoon in early December, I will always remember hearing in that refined, New England tone “Hi Matt, this Bob Ryan from the Boston Globe, how you doing today?”

Dumbfounded with shock and awe, I just started started talking to the guy like I’d known him for years. After a sonnet about the day at Harvard (and probably my life story) I asked how I could help him.

Of course he wanted a credential for that night’s Harvard-Boston University men’s basketball game, as pro and college basketball were one of the main sports he wrote his columns on. I told him that it shouldn’t be a problem but that I needed to talk to my boss, “it’ll just be a second.”

Of course I set the phone down and talked to my boss about the credential and he said no problem, however, I couldn’t relay that message on the phone as the call was dropped. I hung up the phone.

When the phone rang 5 seconds later and “Boston Globe” came up on the caller ID, I sheepishly answered “Athletic Commun…” to which Bob gracefully snapped back, like only a New Englander could, “it appeahrs your phone hung up on me.” I couldn’t have been more embarrassed about the situation and I don’t even remember what I told the guy from there besides “you’re all set” and “I’m so sorry.”

Setting up press row for hockey, basketball and football was one the interns main responsibilities. I had finished up and thought I wasn’t working the game, might as well watch the crosstown battle between the Crimson and the Terriers.

I remember sitting at the end of press row and watching Mr. Ryan walk in with a long, black trench coat, talking to other members of the media. I remember pointing out to one of my mentors Casey that he had arrived and he told me “you should introduce yourself to him. You hung up on the guy, it’s a good icebreaker, you gotta do that in this business.”

I’ll never forget the advice, because he was right. The words have stuck with me ever since.

I walked right up to Bob Ryan, a legendary sports columnist, and told him I was the guy who hung up on him and introduced myself while he was yucking it up with the other members of the media. Smiling, he pointed his finger and started shaking it at me and quipped back “so you’re the one!” I just laughed and told him I was really sorry. He just started laughing, and craggily, he said “don’t wohrry about it!”

He was far from the crusty and opinionated guy who I had watched on TV in my dorm room and even read every Thursday and Sunday morning while working my second job at the gym. He was just a normal guy who loved sports and wrote about.

I will always reflect on in my time at Harvard as a highlight of my experience. How many people can say they hung up on Bob Ryan? I’ll always be able to raise my hand to answer that one.

When I read his column last Monday morning, I was very sad when I saw the headline. But as I read it, I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing and again found the awe from that December phone call, when he started talking about the newsroom at The Globe when he started as intern… With Peter Gammons no less.

The crafty newsroom veterans, who were as he put it, “reformed or functioning alcoholics” that taught him the business through the cigarette smoke filled air and how he started on a typewriter.

He wasn’t my favorite writer at The Boston Globe (John Powers earned that distinction), but he was face for the paper and his columns were enjoyable. At the end of the day, he was just a cool, old dude and I heard that from everyone I ever told this story too. A link to the past.

As if I didn’t already know from my employers and previous employers, it really showed me that I am really not too far removed from those days of yore Ryan talked about.

What will I say in 40 years when I write my reflective column about the sports media industry when I started and my experiences? It will probably be on the advent of Twitter and how it changed how media is reported forever, and this story.

I won’t worry about that now however. I think I’ll just worry about year five in the business and what a unique world sports media is. At the end of the day, Bob Ryan’s semi-retirement might just be here today, gone tomorrow news for most, but for me it will always be a day of reflection – self, social and industrial reflection.

So to you Mr. Ryan, I wish you happy trails in your semi-retirement and thank you for inspiring a wet behind the ears, slappy intern to continue to pursue a career in media relations and sports media… What the hell did you get me into?


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