It is Saturday past, and I am surrounded by pals and palettes. We have survived a fundraiser and are resting inside our favorite thirst-aid station.|
After we've solved all the world's issues, someone new to the group mentions he is taken with what I do for a living.
"So am I,'' I counter, hoping the topic slides back to Manti Te'o, Lance Armstrong and tax hikes. "Best gig on the planet. Seriously, the best.''
Then he asks: "Your favorite interview?''
Here we go. "Do you have three hours?'' I ask.
I look at the television screen and point. "He's one.''
On the screen is golf analyst and professional David Feherty, who had me in stitches for 90 minutes last July after the John Deere Classic's Chairman's Dinner. It was just us in the green room at the Waterfront Convention Center in Bettendorf.
"His work with wounded war veterans brings tears to his eyes each time he talks about it. It did the same to me. Like me, Feherty struggled with alcohol, but has several years sober. We talked about all the things we have in life -- great families and a few bucks in our pockets -- because we don't drink. We held up people long past the end of the banquet, and still 100 or so people waited to chat him up. Great guy.''
"Just David Feherty?'' the new guy asked. "In 30 years (almost 28, actually), just him?''
"As far as 'big-timers'' (ha! ha!) go, there have been a couple of presidents and presidential hopefuls in group settings. And lots of professional athletes.
"Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripen Jr., Pete Rose (denying that he gambled on baseball), Robin Yount, Joe Girardi, Michael Jordan, Terry Bradshaw, Walter Payton, Jim McMahon, Scottie Pippen, William Perry and Dennis Rodman were above good. Anyone in the CBA was great. Legends Henry Aaron, Jack Buck and Rick Barry were interesting and kind. Muhammad Ali was gracious, but we kept getting interrupted by Chicago White Sox players wanting his attention.
"Cyclist Greg Lemond, fresh from a clean Tour de France victory, made me laugh for an hour, while 75 minutes alone with Reggie Jackson on his last day in baseball was amazing. Wrestling legend Dan Gable scared me to death but was gracious and easy-going.
"Three of my more proud moments were interviewing East Moline's Mike Butcher and Milan's Steve Decker when they reached the Major Leagues, and any interview with former Illinois wrestling coach Mark Johnson. They all know where home is and are friends of mine.
"I played the Jeff Schneider card with Ripken Jr. (Quad-Citian Schneider was a former teammate of his), and it earned me 30 minutes with the baseball Hall of Famer when others could not get close to him during his record games-played streak.
"Michael Nunn, before he ran afoul of the law, treated all the writers from his hometown like family, no matter where we were.
"The best? Hard to say.
"Getting to share a story of someone local is what this gig is about,'' I continued. "I spent three hours laughing and crying with the late Walt Gerber, who at the time was Rock Island High School's wrestling coach. He had a coaching language only he and his wrestlers understood, and he shared some of it with me. I had to repeat most of the questions because Coach 'Gerb' was hard of hearing. We stayed friends until his death.
"I have the same affection for former UTHS football coach Jim Sanders and his wife, Joanne. Coach Sanders made my early years in the business as easy as any coach could. Same went for Rock Island legend Duncan Reid, who for some reason went easier on me than others. Any moment I spend with Gerry Huiskamp, the man behind the Rock Island Legion baseball team, has been rewarding. Huiskamp was one of a small group of people who never left my side during the 'really dumb'' years.
"I will never forget the kindness showed to me by retired East Moline police officer Tom Peterson Jr. Peterson, shot in the line of duty, shared with me how he had to defend himself and shoot the man who shot him. Peterson's shooting was justified, but the incident forced him to step away from job he loved and was good at.''
By now I am 45 minutes into my "favorites,'' and I haven't made a dent, sharing 1,000 or so local interviews and stories I have been allowed to tell.
"I get the picture,'' the newbie says. "Pretty cool.''
"Cool doesn't begin to describe it. But fortunate does.''
Columnist John Marx can be reached at (309) 757-8388 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
East moline, IL Details
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