”I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.’’
When I was born 70 years ago, I slept in a drawer in my grandmother’s kitchen.
I’ve lived on the edge ever since.
Sixteen years ago in Australia, where The Post had sent me to cover the Summer Olympics, I chose to travel by planes, car and foot almost a thousand miles to the Outback and the setting for the “”Mad Max’’ movies.
Holding a loaf of bread, I stood atop a red-clay hill on the edge of nowhere.
Surrounded by 200 wild, hungry kangaroos.
My cell phone rang.
”What are doing, Drow?’’ my friend Tim Schmidt said from far away in Denver.
”I’m sort of up to my (posterior) in kangaroos.
“No, really, are you at the track finals?”
“Really, I asked a ranger where I could touch kangaroos. He handed me a loaf of bread, sent me five miles down the road and told me to wait for sunset. Be careful what you wish for.’’
OK, so you’re in a bar in Sydney. Talk to you later,’’ Tim said and hung up.
That’s been my life since joining The Denver Post as a columnist 35 years ago.
Fifteen years ago next month I was right on the spot of Ground Zero covering the aftermath of 9/11. Ten days later I was writing about a Broncos football game in Arizona.
A day after my birthday 19 years ago, I watched Mike Tyson bite a chunk out of Evander Holyfield’s ear, and do it again the next round. Thirty-four-four years ago I saw an amazing young quarterback throw passes for Stanford, and I announced to Broncos head coach Dan Reeves the next Monday: ”I’ve just witnessed the future of the NFL, and his name is John Elway.’’
Seventeen years ago I was at Columbine High School the day of a terrible shooting massacre, and four years ago I was an Aurora theater the night of another horrific shooting bloodbath.
Twenty-four years ago I was with the Dream Team in Monte Carlo and played blackjack alongside Michael Jordan, and 18 years ago I was on the sideline when Pat Bowlen shouted: “This one’s for John.’’
Twenty years ago I was amazed in south Florida when the Avalanche won Denver’s first championship in one of the four major professional sports. Five years earlier I was amazed when the Colorado beat Notre Dame in south Florida for the Buffaloes’ first, and only, national championship in football. Eight years later I was amazed in south Florida when the Broncos won their second World Championship _ against Dan Reeves’ team.
Thirty-two years ago I covered Olympics in Los Angeles and Sarajevo.
Over the past 35 years I was fortunate The Post paid for me to go to dozens of Super Bowls and hundreds of other major sports events _ World Series, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Finals, Triple Crown races, Indianapolis 500s and NASCAR races, Winter and Summer Games on four continents, NCAA national championships in football and basketball, Masters, U.S. Opens, British Opens, Wimbledons, U.S. (tennis) Opens, World Skiing championships, heavyweight title fights, the Tour de France, World Cups, five Democratic and Republican conventions, events in 41 states, the Colorado state high school wrestling championship and the 8-man football championship in Woodrow.
Over the years I’ve flown with the United States Navy’s Blue Angels, competed in two harness races, played in PGA pro-ams with Phil Michelson and Ernie Els and, driven a pace car during practice at Indy, lost a camel race, played a clown (no stretch) in the Ringling Bros. circus, drank beer with Jimmy Buffet, served as a roadie at a Jackson Five reunion tour concert, did shots with the Irish band U2, appeared in the movies “Rocky Balboa’’ and “Nebraska’’ and hung out with my boyhood sports idol – Bob Cousy.
My favorite places in the world to visit have been Florence, Italy; Dublin, Ireland; the Big Island of Hawaii; Lincoln, Neb., and Broken Hill, Australia. My favorite stadiums on a Saturday afternoon are West Point, Annapolis and Colorado Springs, and the original Olympia Stadium in Greece.
My favorite athletes to watch and talk to were Julius Erving, Bobby Jones, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy, Tom Jackson, Chris Harris, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods, Dante Bichette, Doak Walker and Peyton Manning. Tim Tebow was something. Rulon Gardner was something else.
Sixteen years ago, a few days after I finally escaped the kangaroos and the Outback, I went to see a young American who had reached the finals in the heavyweight division of Grecco-Roman wresting at the Olympics in Sydney. Nobody else from The Post or any other newspaper wanted to cover the event because Gardner’s opponent was the greatest Olympic wrestler of all time _ Soviet/Russian bear Aleksandr Karelin, who had won three gold medals in the Games and hadn’t been beaten in 13 years of competition.
Gardner -who was born and raised in Wyoming, played football for the Cornhuskers and trained at the U.S. Olympic Center in Colorado Springs – beat Karelin in the greatest individual upset in the history of the Olympics.
He did a backflip immediately after – and was the happiest athlete I’ve ever met. He and his farm family, members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, were the most sensational interview subjects. Rulon and I remain friends after the magical, mythical, miraculous story read round the world.
Six months ago, the Broncos concluded another remarkable saga with a third Super Bowl victory, and this one was Pat, who first revealed to me seven years ago that he was suffering with “”short-term memory loss.’’ I cried that day, as I have when I’ve written about the deaths of my father, my sister and my mother, and the birth of my daughter. Those have been the worst and the best columns.
Twenty-eight years ago I started the Basket of Joy program to honor our senior citizens, who live alone, during the holidays, and it evolved into The Post’s Season To Share program, which annually raises as much as $2 million and helps support countless programs in the community.
Six years ago Broncos’ young wide receiver Kenny McKinley committed suicide, and everyone asked “Why?’’ I tried to answer by disclosing that eight years earlier I planned out my own suicide, and was saved on the day before by my friend and my doctor.
The column received thousands of responses from families of suicide victims and those who were contemplating killing themselves. I still get emails on the subject each week. Many who were thinking about suicide changed their minds. I’ve talked to dozens of groups and recently been asked by a commander at Fort Hood in Texas to address the troops this summer because of severe suicide problems in the military. Of the 5,000-plus columns I’ve written in 47 years, that one was the most important.
This is my final column for The Denver Post.
It is dedicated to a sweet woman in Frederick, Co., who has sent me a nice note – written half in English, the rest in Spanish – weekly, without interruption, for the past 35 years. When I’m down, she brings be back up. She is my “amigo”, and I say “gracias.”
The Post has stood by me in difficult times when I’ve upset an athlete or a coach or a religious organization or offended an entire city (forgive me, Jacksonville, Tucson and Pittsburgh) or a neighboring state (I’m sorry, Nebraska and Utah); when I’ve been threatened by lawsuits by owners and major corporations, and when I’ve made personal and professional mistakes.
Editors of The Post, except for the one who demanded that I wear socks, and former owner Dean Singleton have been so supportive, although my opinions about stadium names and teams and coaches have not always been popular and costs subscriptions and money.
I’ve tried to do my best. I’ve worked hard. I’ve succeeded. I’ve failed. I wanted to make my late father and my mom, who died a year ago, proud. I’ve attempted to provoke readers to thought. A 16th century philosophy first said: “If two people agree, one is unnecessary.’’ I’ve always been honest with my opinions. I hope I’ve entertained and informed.
I’ve loved to write since I was 7. I’ve been writing professionally since I was 15. My heroes are Kurt Vonnegut, Ernest Hemingway, Geoffrey Chaucer, Dan Jenkins, Jim Murray and Winston Churchill.
I will continue to write until the moment I die. I’m sad not to be writing for The Denver Post, but I’m happy I will be writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette (completing the trifecta of writing for the three major newspapers in Colorado), KMGH, Channel 7, in Denver and woodypaige.com.
Thank you for reading.
It’s fun out here on the edge with the kangaroos.
Woody Paige can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. He appears regularly on ESPN’s Around The Horn and KMGH news.