My time writing at the Daily Northwestern was like the animals on Noah’s Ark — a whole bunch of pairs of two.
Two seasons covering volleyball, my first beat. Two seasons covering men’s basketball, my first multiple-times-a-week and travel beat. Two seasons covering baseball. Two seasons covering my favorite sport, football. And two editorial positions on the sports desk, sports editor and gameday. You can even count two “20 bucks” Holiday Guide features as another set of two.
You would think that of those eight seasons spread across those four beats, I would have covered at least one winning season. Nope.
Football, which won the Citrus Bowl and Big Ten West the season before I joined the Gameday staff, combined for a 4-20 record, and I spent two of those games in the student section and watching the Cats play in Ireland from my grandparents’ den. Men’s basketball never won a Big Ten Tournament first round game in either of its matchups against Minnesota. The other two sports didn’t get off the ground, at least while I covered them.
But what I gained from each of those beats was valuable experience and the opportunity to grow and experiment in my sports coverage. Through profiling star athletes like Shawn Goosenberg and forward Pete Nance to pitching outside-the-box story ideas to covering games in Indiana, Minnesota, Iowa and my home state of Maryland, I embraced different opportunities with a real Magic School Bus/Ms. Frizzle-type approach — take chances, make mistakes, get messy.
Learning how to cover winning teams? That was one aspect of journalism I was not prepared for by the Daily, but that deficiency was cleaned up during my residency with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
These are some of my favorite random sports journalism memories along the way…
- Going ahead, then getting crushed by my Daily mentor Charlie Goldsmith in 2K because our conversation was so interesting to me and I wasn’t paying attention
- Playing a 10-person game of keepaway with a Wisconsin plush basketball outside the Daily newsroom
- Asking men’s basketball coach Chris Collins about his high school music video “2 Legit 2 Quit” and accompanying dance at a basketball luncheon in Chicago
- Wandering Mall of America with the Daily Gameday staff and Inside NU writers
- Meeting NFL Hall of Famer Steve Hutchinson in the Ryan Field press box by chance and realizing it was him by seeing his Super Bowl ring and his firm handshake
- Playing a student union worker and my friend Jack on the last night of publication instead of starting my assignment (I got it in, don’t worry)
- Saying hello to Northwestern strength coach Alex Spanos on Tues. media availabilities
- Watching Shawn Goosenberg hit a walk-off home run in the Cats’ last home baseball game
- Making a bet with the AJC Braves writer Justin about the NU-Arizona State College World Series matchup, and then winning it (Justin had to wear the NU hat)
- Getting my image on the Daily Northwestern newsroom wall (in various areas)
- Almost engaging in a PTI-level debate about whether you can rewatch great old movies with Daily alum Mike Wilbon (I say YES, of course)
- Experiencing a Northwestern tailgate in all its glory while *researching* an article
- Imagining going to March Madness when NU men’s basketball was 3-0 in the Big Ten and ranked No. 19 in the nation (yes, this actually happened)
- Meeting with my mentees and following their own journeys through journalism
- My roommate John and I asking questions to Pat Fitzgerald back-to-back in Monday press conferences
- Staying an extra two hours to watch Revenge of the Sith in the newsroom (it was already 1 AM when we started, so I got back pretty late)
- Coming up with over-the-top, zany takes on the spot for the last minute of the Gameday podcast
149 articles and three-and-a-half years from when I first stepped foot in the Daily newsroom, I’m now headed down into the city for grad school. But before I officially retire from my current Gameday Editor position and move past my Daily expiration date, I wanted to revisit the top 10 percent, my favorite 15 Daily sports articles (movie and shopping articles didn’t count for this) and the reporting process behind them — the stories behind the stories.
I chose this list on a mix of factors: significance, experimentation, insight and entertainment value among them. My profile on Derrick Gragg, Northwestern’s athletic director, was a major deal but was very stressful to report and had access deficiencies, for example, while my feature on Northwestern’s new football uniforms fulfilled a lifelong obsession with jerseys. A couple of these articles mark important “firsts” and “lasts” in my college journalism career, too.
Note: this is a list of the best articles, but truthfully, my experience with the Daily had plenty of ups and downs. The intensity of my commitment and my passion for journalism made it seem life-or-death at times, when in retrospect, it definitely wasn’t. My time wasn’t perfect or a linear path to where I ended up, and I learned valuable lessons about newsroom environments and handling rejection, whether for positions, potential sources or the team I was covering losing 11 straight games. I think there’s a lot to learn, but also a ton that I will reflect back on with a smile. Now, let’s get to it!
15. Game Coverage: Down to seven-man rotation, Northwestern can’t keep up with Minnesota (LINK)
The game itself was pretty uneventful, but the lead-up was a huge turning point of my journalism career. After a somewhat slow start to my Daily career (I wrote articles about cross country meets in different states), the editors entrusted me to join the men’s basketball beat for the winter, one of the biggest and happiest surprises of my time in journalism. For the first game I’d officially cover as a part of the beat, we went over to the apartment of our editors Charlie and Andrew and covered the road game remotely. This is a memory I look back on very fondly, although the game itself was par for the course.
14. News: New Ryan Field designs look to reduced capacity, state-of-the-art canopy to enhance gameday atmosphere (LINK)
The biggest off-the-field news of my time as Gameday editor was the release of the Ryan Field designs, which look very futuristic and gave us plenty of content to build off. For example, we spun the news release into a feature where each member of our team picked an aspect of the old Ryan Field to keep and one to add. On the actual day of the release, we audibled our coverage and I wrote up five takeaways from the design reveals. A lot of times, news briefs and articles are just a part of the job, but this assignment was enjoyable to write and infuse with analysis.
13. Game Coverage: Evanston Township captures first football victory over New Trier since 2010 (LINK)
I caught some flak from the journalism dean for reporting this story because of its high school football roots, but I have never gotten more vivid or colorful quotes from a story than by going to Evanston Township for their big rivalry against New Trier. The rivalry had plenty of storylines, and an older gentleman was kind enough to introduce me to the coaches and players and share the statistics that he kept. Writing pages of notes while traversing the sidelines was quite an experience after not having covered high school football while in high school, but the photos were spectacular and the anecdotes were among the best of any of my game coverage articles. And without a specific team I had to cover, there was no chance of covering a losing team!
12. Game Coverage: Cats fall in double OT marathon, suffer 10th straight loss (LINK)
At this time in my sophomore year, the arenas were only open to the teams and reporters. This one, a close game against Indiana, was one I’ll never forget. My dinner plans were dashed by the start of the first overtime, though watching the action unfold alongside the other reporters build plenty of camaraderie. I grew a lot from my first to my second season of the men’s basketball beat, and this piece was probably my best in terms of the lede and analysis. The next best thing to covering a win? Covering a close loss with plenty to talk about.
11. Q&A: Washington Football Team President Jason Wright (Weinberg ’04) still making history after storied college career (LINK)
I worked diligently for four or five months to snag an interview with Washington Commanders president Jason Wright, a former Northwestern running back, and actually landing it was a huge win. I sharpened my questions as best I could knowing the time restraint and balanced investigating his Northwestern career with the reason for his recent relevance — his role atop an NFL franchise. This was my first reported football article for the Daily and gave any NU fan who read it something they couldn’t find out, the intricacies and anecdotes of the Northwestern-Wright connection, anywhere else.
10. Column: With thrilling comeback in season opener, Northwestern football feels fun again (LINK)
This column did not age very well given that the Wildcats proceeded to lose their next 11 games, but if you rewind back a few months and actually consider the result, the column captured the sentiment around NU football. Times were great! The Cats came back, had a clear leader at the quarterback position and had a shining moment from pretty much every unit, all on national TV and on an international stage. This would be my only time covering a Big Ten football win and only win in 2022, so I had to make it count. Better times, better times.
9. Column: This academic year showed Northwestern athletics at its best. Then, we saw its worst. (LINK)
Following all of the intricacies of the Northwestern athletic director search was as difficult as any development in my four years, and I have to tip my cap to the reporters who reacted and reported the story live. Once the dust had settled a bit but before the announcement of Derrick Gragg as the next athletic director, I wrote a column about what the legacy of the 2020-21 year in Northwestern athletics should be, arguing that both the good (three ranked sports teams at once and a top-ten finish for Northwestern football) and the bad (the AD controversy) should be a part of how we remember the year. For a column, it required considerable research and editing, but the payoff was an article that resonated with a lot of the NU community and provided closure to a turbulent but exhilarating year.
8. Column: Northwestern athletics should consider expanding. Adding women’s track and field is a great place to start. (LINK)
My first real beat was cross country, so it was fitting for my final sports desk article to be a column about the team’s success. I couldn’t believe just how far the XC squad came in the years since I covered them, and while I started by giving them their proverbial flowers for a national championship berth, I explored the idea of expanding NU athletics and starting with a full-time track team, an idea I’d tossed around for years. I’m very grateful that my sports editor Charlotte let me write the article after 10 pm on the last night of publication and loved how the column brought in reporting and ideas I’d accumulated over each of my years. The words just seemed to flow together while I was writing (so I didn’t keep everyone up too late) and as with my other favorite columns, I went beyond the obvious take and (hopefully) helped to initiate a conversation that was worth having.
7. Profile: ‘Get it to Goose’: Inside Shawn Goosenberg’s emergence as Northwestern’s best batter (LINK)
Northwestern baseball hasn’t been in the College World Series in decades, and when I had the privilege of covering the program for a full season as a sophomore, I had to find storylines that would be interesting to readers. A star infielder with a knack for blasting home runs, on a historic and power-heavy lineup, was as perfect a profile idea as they come. This wasn’t my favorite article because I couldn’t conduct any interviews in person and didn’t even attend a game until midway through the season, but it definitely stood out as my favorite baseball article.
6. Feature: “A modern take on a historic look”: Behind the scenes of Northwestern’s offseason uniform upgrade (LINK)
I take sports jerseys very seriously. Very seriously. Just consider, I chose my favorite NFC team, the Cowboys, because of the shoulder stripe and my favorite NBA team, the Magic, for their iconic light blue and pinstripe look. As much as I’ve enjoyed reading mainstream sites like ESPN and Sports Illustrated, I’ve also made sports logos.net and Uni Watch staples of my internet trips. And, of course, I have the uniform collection to back the obsession up. When Northwestern released new uniforms, I knew it was the perfect time to tap into my interest and ask all of the questions the readers needed to know about the new threads, which debuted in Ireland. This was also one of my coolest articles for sourcing; I interviewed Daily alum Ella Brockway, NU equipment manager Eryk Jackson and two Northwestern players with polar opposite views of uniforms. The piece got two thumbs up from even the least sports-oriented editors.
5. Game Coverage: Wild weather becomes game-changer in Northwestern’s loss to No. 2 Ohio State (LINK)
Aside from the battle in Ireland in Week 0, Northwestern football’s most nationally relevant game in my time covering the team was its home battle against No. 2 Ohio State. Expected to be as lopsided a rout as a Big Ten game could be, the contest instead became a battle of both teams against the weather, with torrid winds and heavy downpours making passing all but impossible. Buckeye QB C.J. Stroud had his worst statistical performance of his career, and Northwestern, against all odds, actually held a lead through the first quarter break and were ahead for most of the first half. The final score was 21-7 in Ohio State’s favor, but the weather-centric sidebar was, for sure, an article to remember.
4. Profile: After a rocky start, Pete Nance is living up to the hype. Now he’s a Big Ten problem. (LINK)
Through covering Northwestern men’s basketball for my first two years of college, the most interesting narrative to me was the night-and-day difference in performances in Pete Nance. The big man with an NBA family was always talented and at the front of NU’s marketing campaigns, but his growth from getting benched as a sophomore to a force to be reckoned with in the front court — all while the pandemic was going on — was a marvel to witness. Nance was very candid about how he spent his offseason to help propel his monster junior year when I talked to him, and teammate Miller Kopp and his college coach were very insightful as well. With Nance now at UNC, I’m interested to see how the final chapter of his storied college career will end.
3. Game Coverage: Despite another Big Ten blowout, Wrigley football eccentricities made Northwestern-Purdue special (LINK)
When the team you covers plays a game on arguably the most historic sports stadium in the United States, and a baseball stadium for that matter, figuring out a way to play up the baseball angle as much as possible is the absolute move. Northwestern’s 32-14 loss to Purdue was nothing to write home about, but the eccentricities of playing a football game at Wrigley Field spiced up the weekend’s football coverage and turned out to be the highlight of my first season covering Northwestern football.
2. Profile/Feature: “Iron sharpening iron”: How competition between Adetomiwa Adebawore and Peter Skoronski has strengthened the Wildcats’ culture (LINK)
My favorite article to write. Originally I wanted to write a profile on top NFL Draft prospect Peter Skoronski (I sat between his parents on a plane ride back from an away loss once), but after rewatching the movie The Departed, I came up with an even better idea. I structured my article after the movie’s plot — two guys who are polar opposites but who are the perfect match to go against each other — and looked into how Peter and Adetomiwa made each other better on and off the practice field. I interviewed each player and their respective position coach about the opposite guy for my first four interviews, then added in press conference insights from Pat Fitzgerald and Jay Hooten’s perspective as the strength coach for what turned out to be a fun and eye-catching lede. Covering a 1-11 team was tough, but my goal through the season was to give readers something that they couldn’t read anywhere else and enriched their viewing experience, and this hybrid of a profile and feature came as close as any article I wrote to achieving that goal.
1. Photo Gallery: Field Hockey wins first NCAA Championship (LINK)
Not even a written article! My only assignment as a photographer was the NCAA Championship in field hockey between Northwestern and Liberty. I didn’t know how to use the camera and the photos were nothing special, but my efforts braving the rain and cold paid off when the Wildcats won the championship (and sealed a front-page cover for the next morning’s issue of the Daily). No article, written or multimedia-based, ever captured the emotions of sports quite like this one, and I am so honored to have been and commemorated a tiny part of history. And after covering all of those losing men’s teams, witnessing a championship was pretty sweet!