Here are selected looks at the starts of some of my Sporting News stories. Subjects include many Hall of Famers and coaches who became more prominent in later years. With a couple of exceptions, I have not included stories written from games (e.g., Super Bowls) or live coverage of such things as the NFL draft. My archive keeping was and still is spotty, so these are not necessarily the Greatest Hits -- TF

 
     

 

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Headbangers Ball: The Bears' Richard Dent and the Packers' Ken Ruettgers met twice a year in the NFC Central rivalry. I spent time with both in game week and attended the first 1993 meeting in the rivalry, on Halloween in Green Bay. It was both a double profile and inside the game piece. The story ran in the issue that hit the mailboxes the week of the rematch in Chicago. Dent was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.  

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In July 1995, I traveled to Starkville, Mississippi. Jerry Rice picked me up at my hotel and I rode with him to Mississippi State, where I watched him go through one of his legendary offseason workouts at the school's track. In addition to interviewing Rice that weekend, I also went to his nearby hometown of Crawford, explored where he grew up, visited his alma mater, B.L. Moor High, and got a mini-tour from principal Lillian Thomas. His senior picture was on a hallway wall between those of GL Brown and B McGee. The story was a combination look back at his youth in the small town and what lengths he was going to, to remain the game's top wide receiver at age 32. Hall of Fame: 2010.           

 
 

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I jokingly called this 1994 story my "10th Annual" piece saying Vikings defensive coordinator Tony Dungy should be an NFL head coach. I had first written that after meeting him in 1984 during a visit to Pittsburgh to gather preview material for the Broncos-Steelers playoff game. "At least you still have your hair," he told me when I met him at the Vikings' headquarters. He had to wait two more years for his chance with the Buccaneers. Hall of Fame: 2016.           

 

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At the 25th anniversary of the landmark Texas-Arkansas game, I did the story that led to Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming. Based on this story as a starting point, Simon and Schuster bought the book before I'd started the additional research or the writing. Eventually, I came to understand that this story was, well, no more than OK.    

 
 

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In Super Bowl XXVIII, the Cowboys routed the Bills 30-13 in Atlanta and it was Buffalo's fourth Super Bowl loss in four seasons. The Cowboys' Emmitt Smith noticeably consoled the Bills' Thurman Thomas after the game and the seeds were planted for a story about theeir friendship. That spring, I attended the joint birthday party for charity Smith put on in Dallas and talked with them, then visited them at their training camps. (Their birthdays were one day apart.) The resulting story was the cover piece for the NFL Preview edition. Hall of Fame: Smith 2011, Thomas 2007.  

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My suggestion was that I do a narrative project piece on a college program going through a coaching transition. We picked out Michigan State after George Perles was fired late in the 1994 season. I attended Perles' final game, at Penn State, to get the story started. Soon, MSU hired Browns defensive coordinator Nick Saban and I first met with him at the Browns' headquarters after he took the job, but remained with Cleveland through its first-round playoff elimination. I went to East Lansing to check in with Saban off and on for the next year and the story ran in December 1995. A version of what I now call "Nick Saban Before He Was Nick Saban" -- is here.    

 
 

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USC tackle Tony Boselli was from Boulder and Fairview High and as the 1995 draft approached, I attended his private workout in a USC gym and profiled him. The issue at the time was cynicism about PEDs in the wake of Michigan State tackle Tony Mandarich's flop in the NFL. At the end of the story I said the question was whether Boselli was going to be more like Mandarich or Hall of Fame tackle Anthony Munoz. I said the answer would be Munoz. I was right. Boselli only played seven seasons because of injuries, but was dominant at his position and eventually will be in the Hall of Fame.  

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Charles Haley was one of the top defensive end-linebackers in the NFL and an intriguing, thoughtful, largely private man. He didn't speak much with the media at the time, and he met me in a Cowboy official's office for the major interview for this story. Hall of Fame: 2011. 

 
 

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Because of the popularity of my "Headbangers Ball" story, we decided to have me do a sequel two years later. It was a double profile of Cardinals cornerback Aeneas Willliams and Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin. Again, I attended the division rivals' first meeting of the season and spent time with them before and after in the Phoenix and Dallas areas. (Aeneas suggested I meet him at his daily Bible study at the McDonald's near the team headquarters. At 6 in the morning.) The story ran as a setup for the Christmas night game in Tempe. Hall of Fame: Irvin 2007, Williams 2014.         

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I settled on relatively obscure tackle from Sonoma State, Larry Allen to both profile him and illustrate what he got out of attending the NFL Combine in a time when the curtain largely remained in place for the media and the proceedings were private. He had fun doing the story and was cooperative. Hall of Fame: 2013. 

 
 

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I checked in with the bellicose Browns and young head coach Bill Belichick in Berea, Ohio after popular quarterback Bernie Kosar's controversial release. Belichick, perhaps hearing from others that I believed he was taking more heat for his "diminishing skills" evaluation of Kosar than was warranted, granted me a brief private interview for the story. This didn't come into play, but our fathers had played against each other in 1942 at Chicago's Soldier's Field -- Jerry Frei for Wisconsin and Steve Belichick for the Great Lakes Naval Station. 

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This was a fun story to do. I attended the 1994 Oklahoma State-Nebraska game in Lincoln and documented the weekend Nebraska football experience. Misty's Steak House, with the band marching through and playing the fight song, the Sidetrack Bar and its house band raising hell, tailgates and motor homes in the parking lot, booster game-day breakfast, the game itself and senior Terry Connealy being honored on his "Day" and ... Most of the Cornhuskers' faithful continued to cooperate after I let it slip that I was a Colorado alum.       

 
 

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This was a blast and one of my favorites. I spoke to a bunch of NFL long-snappers for a cover story on their quirky role and their craft. I spent the most time with, and wrote the most about the cover buy, Vikings long snapper Mike Morris -- a motorcycle-riding rebel who ended up being a talk show host. We all talked about such things as whether snappers were real players, how they managed to get the strings in the prime place for holders ... and more.    

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Before the 1994 draft, I attended the private workouts of Heath Shuler in Knoxville and Trent Dilfer in Fresno and did a dual profile of the two quarterback prospects. Shuler later went third overall to Washington and Dilfer sixth to Tampa Bay. I concluded in the story that Dilfer was more pro-ready, but Shuler had more more upside. Oops.  

 
 

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When Nebraska's Tom Osborne retired from coaching in 1997, I was asked to do the assessment of his career with the Cornhuskers and his legacy. It was my perspective, with the opinions of others I called around the country also included. 

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I proposed that I find and write about the college football experience of the best player we could find in a major program who most likely wouldn't play in the NFL. After putting out feelers and accepting nominations, we settled on Texas linebacker Jason Reeves, a starter and standout, but not a star. Texas coach John Mackovic was cordial and cooperative and I went to Austin, with photographer Elsa Hasch, to shadow Reeves during the week and attend the Longhorns' game against Texas Tech.           
 

 
 

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TSN scribes also wrote for the Sporting News' Yearbook magazines, and it was enjoyable because we were given virtual carte blanche on subject matter and often the OK to travel. I did this on Dave Meggyesy, the former NFL linebacker who wrote the landmark football rebellion book, Out of Their League. He was working for the NFL Players Association at the time.      

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For two seasons after having enough of Jerry Jones and leaving the Cowboys, Jimmy Johnson worked in TV. But he couldn't stay away and took the Dolphins job as Don Shula's replacement in 2006. Late in the season, the Cowboys faced the Dolphins in Miami and the game was treated as a showdown between the head coaches, with Barry Switzer in his third season in Dallas.  That week, I first went to Dallas, and Switzer was hilarious in talking about Johnson and the matchup. When I thanked him for taking the time to meet with me privately during Jones' weekly news conference/luncheon, and noted I probably wouldn't have that kind of access to Johnson, he teased that Jimmy couldn't even draw up a Dolphins play. On Sunday in Miami, the Cowboys won 29-10 and I finished up my largly pre-written story and made the Sunday night deadline.  Hall of Fame: Johnson, 2020 selection.           

 
 

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I'm including this, written from the 1995 Rose Bowl matching Oregon and Penn State because my assignment was to try and make the case for the unbeaten Nittany Lions as No. 1, ahead of Nebraska, which had beaten Miami in the Orange Bowl the night before. I made light hearted remarks about the NBC Orange bowl crew declaring Nebraska the national champion the second the game ended, and years later when I spoke to Bob Costas on a book matter, he brought up what I had written.    

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As the 1999 draft approached, I went to Kentucky to profile Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch, expected to be the No. 1 overall choice and go to the Browns. I visited with Couch in Lexington, then headed to his tiny hometown of Hyden to fill in some blanks. The story and approach was similar to my Jerry Rice story a  few years earlier. Like virtually everyone else, I was convinced Couch was a can't miss prospect. He wasn't a complete flop -- that has been overstated -- but his five-year career with the Browns was a major disappointment.           

 
 

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I often was called on to do inside the game-type pieces, and this might have been the ultimate. Going to Columbus and using the Ohio State Buckeyes as the case study, I wrote a magzine-length examination of what happens between the break of the huddle and the snap of the ball. Quarterback Joe Germain was terrific and so were many of his offensive teammates. The story ran in the 1998 College Football preview edition. 

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I talked my way into this one for TSN's 1995 Hockey Yearbook. I had seen a lot of major junior hockey in Portland and knew there were good stories out there. Photographer Doug DeVoe and I went from the Final Four in Seattle to Kamloops, B.C., to hang out for a few days with the Kamloops Blazers during a playoff series against, yes, the Portland Winterhawks. The Blazers were coached by Don Hay, and their top forwards -- sometimes even jammed onto a line -- were Darcy Tucker, Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan, who played a combined nearly 60 seasons in the NHL. 

 
 

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Rick Neuheisel's departure from Colorado was sudden and controversial and I was sent to Seattle to catch up with him in his early days at Washington in 1999. The question: Had he learned lessons during his stay in Boulder that he could take with him and use in a fresh start in a new program?     

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Another pre-draft story. This one was star-crossed. In 2000, I went to Jackson State to chronicle the private workouts for scouts of two highly regarded Tigers -- receiver Sylvester Morris Jr. and cornerback Rashard Anderson. They both went late in the first round -- Morris to Kansas City at No. 21, Anderson to Jacksonville at No. 23. Morris was the Chiefs roster for four seasons, but played in only one because of injuries. Anderson played only two seasons before he was suspended for violating the league's substance abuse policy. He wasn't reinstated until 2003 and didn't play another game in the NFL.       

 
 

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So ... After his rocky four-season stay at Indianapolis, Jeff George had moved on to the Falcons. As his second season there approached, I went to Atlanta and visited him for the 1995 Pro Football Yearbook. His coach, June Jones, had been in my dad's Oregon program, and I also knew quarterbacks coach Mouse Davis. They thought George was an All-Pro in waiting. George was candid and, I thought, sincere in saying he would continue make the most of his fresh start. I believed him. I remember thinking if George couldn't keep getting along with Jones and Davis, there was no hope. He didn't and there wasn't. He played for 13 seasons but never took full advantage of his mouth-dropping physical talent. 

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Maybe I was just angling for return trips to Misty's and the Sidetrack, but I was sent to Lincoln to do this College Football Yearbook piece on the Nebraska offensive line tradition. I even got a tour of the famous Cornhuskers weight room of the time -- one that would be belittled as inadequate today.          

 
 

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Although I mostly wrote about football, the bosses knew I had covered the NBA and I occasionally helped out with basketball. In March 1995, I went to Orlando and San Antonio to meet with Shaquille O'Neal and talk about his progress in his third season and especially his reaction to the "Hack-a-Shack" strategy that was gaining popularity as a defensive strategm against him. He swore he would get better at free throws and make the approach moot. That didn't quite work out. Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame: 2016.       

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I had covered Gary Payton at Oregon State and even was in New York for the 1990 NBA draft when the Sonics took him second overall. So I was a natural for this TSN Pro Basketball Yearbook story -- chronicling his Oakland background, his continuing friendships and family closeness. Hall of Fame: 2013.