Continued from page 1

What Ryan O’Halloran brought to the Redskins beat, joining forces with Dave Elfin, gave us an edge over the competition many mornings. The same goes for Mark Zuckerman and Ben Goessling on the Nationals, Mike Jones on the Wizards, Corey Masisak on the Capitals, Barker Davis on golf and Georgetown basketball, Patrick Stevens on Maryland, Tim Lemke on business and media, John Haydon on soccer, Steve Nearman on running and - I can mention him last because he knows how much I think of him - jack-of-all-sports Bob Cohn on features.

Mike, bless him, commuted all these years from Bridgeville, Del. (“home to the annual Apple-Scrapple Festival”). On good days, when the traffic wasn’t too bad, he made it to work in an hour and 20 minutes.

Then there’s tireless Patrick, who seems to have figured out a way to blog while sleeping. (I’m guessing it involves a voice-activated laptop and a highly unique pattern of snoring.)

And Bob… now it can be told. He was the recurring “Neal from Gaithersburg” character - Neal being his Secret First Name - in my Sunday Column. Whenever I was running low on one-liners, I’d shoot him an e-mail and he’d rescue me with a bon mot or two.

Something else you probably didn’t know about our staff: Deputy SE Scott Silverstein, who directs the desk most nights, is the boys and girls track coach at Churchill High School in Potomac. If they ever held a 100-yard dash at the Associated Press Sports Editors convention, Scott would win by five lengths.

As for the columnists, there wasn’t much overlap among us - which is exactly what you want in a sports section. I was the jabber and joker, Tom Knott the thunderbolt thrower. Thom Loverro liked to write about the manly arts, and Dick Heller never tired of reminding us of The Way It Was. And who didn’t love Gene Mueller, our field-and-stream specialist? Here’s all you need to know about Geno’s 24-plus years of splendid work: There isn’t a fish in the Chesapeake Bay that has a good thing to say about him.

Somehow, despite a limited budget, Mark Hartsell, our assistant managing editor for sports, and John Taylor, his deputy, put it all together and made it work. And thanks to Harrison Goodman, the able assistant SE for design, the section always looked world class.

Some who worked here got worn out and/or discouraged and moved on. Others, like me, went the distance because, well, after a while a place becomes your home. Besides, the bosses were good enough to give us the freedom, the trust, that writers need - but don’t always get. If there’s one thing you can’t put a price on in this business, it’s that.

The people I’m sorriest for are the younger members of the department. I mean, at least I’ve been lucky enough to have a career - 34 years’ worth. If this is it for me - if, in these contracting times, there’s no room at the inn for a 56-year-old sports columnist - you’ll hear no complaints about being shortchanged. (Though you might hear, “Would you like some whipped cream on your frappuccino?”)

After all, when I signed on at the Times, there were no guarantees it would last a year or even a month. The only real surprise is that the entire sports section has been euthanized/amputated (choose one) - while the paper reinvents itself yet again, this time catering to an almost exclusively political audience. Can’t say I saw that coming.

Still, you couldn’t have asked for a better 27 1/2 years to write about sports in Washington. This was truly the Golden Age.

The Redskins won three Super Bowls. Baseball came back. The Capitals went to the Stanley Cup Finals - and now have the best hockey player in the world, Alex Ovechkin. The U.S. Open returned to Congressional. D.C. United ruled Major League Soccer.

And that’s just the tip of a Titanic-sized iceberg. I haven’t even mentioned George Mason - George Mason! - making the Final Four of the NCAA basketball tournament… or Georgetown and Maryland (men and women both) winning it… or Leonard-Hagler… or 100 other gold-plated memories.

In those 27 1/2 years, truth was forever trumping fiction. In those 27 1/2 years, the Times was always there.

And with that we say goodbye - for now, anyway. But maybe, if the planets align properly and this economic stimulus really works, you’ll be hearing from us all again - sometime, somewhere, somehow.

Story Continues →