- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2002

High-scoring section grows with home teams



Those who gathered to organize the sports pages of The Washington Times in 1982 hardly could have imagined what lay ahead in the next 20 years, not only for the new newspaper, but for the Washington sports scene, which was about to see a remarkable transformation.
In 1982, the nation's capital was in the basement, athletically speaking. The Redskins hadn't made the playoffs in six years. The Capitals never had made the playoffs. The Bullets, who became the Wizards, were in the early stages of a long decline. The college scene, beyond College Park, wasn't enough to excite anyone.
Along came The Times. Just like that, the Redskins won the first of three Super Bowls. Caps General Manager David Poile swung a deal with the Montreal Canadiens, acquiring Rod Langway, among others, that changed the course of the franchise.
That was for starters. The past 20 years have been, by any measure, a golden age in Washington sports. Georgetown won an NCAA basketball championship. Maryland finally got to the Final Four twice. Navy reached the Elite Eight, thanks to a midshipman who, incongruously, grew to be 7-foot-1 David Robinson. George Washington emerged from the depths of a 1-27 season to make it to the Sweet 16. Catholic captured a Division III basketball title.
History also will record that Greg Norman's first victory in the United States came in the Kemper Open, held at Congressional Country Club in those days.
The Washington area has hosted the U.S. Open golf championship, the final round of the Davis Cup, the Stanley Cup finals. It has glistening new sports palaces MCI Center, FedEx Field and FitzGerald Tennis Center at Rock Creek Park, not to mention the Tournament Players Club at Avenel and the two new stadiums in Baltimore. The sports landscape here has been transformed.
So, too, the sports pages of The Times. At the outset, sports brought up the rear of the second section, in what then was called Capital Life.
Before long, though, sports had its own section front. For one heady period, it even led the Sunday paper as Sunday Sports Times.
It would have been ill-considered if not impossible over the past two decades not to emphasize sports. There were too many good stories out there: John Riggins and the Hogs and Riggo's memorable encounter with Sandra Day O'Connor, Cal Ripken's pursuit of Lou Gehrig's record, the Bullets acquiring Chris Webber and Juwan Howard on the same day. There were unfortunate ones, too: the death of University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias, the limousine scandal that shook the Caps, Joe Theismann breaking his leg on Monday Night Football.
More recently, the Baltimore Ravens, with a crushing defense anchored by linebacker Ray Lewis, won Super Bowl XXXVI. Michael Jordan, considered by many to be the greatest basketball player ever, joined the Wizards, and Jaromir Jagr, the best active hockey player, joined the Capitals. The nation learned to fear the turtle as the Maryland Terrapins captured their first national champ-ionship in basketball.
But what put the sports section of The Times on the map and brought it a bushel of national and regional awards wasn't just coverage of the big stories. It was the efforts of writers like Marty Hurney, now a bigwig with the Carolina Panthers, who scooped The Washington Post left and right on the Redskins beat. Bob O'Donnell even brought baseball back to Washington in 1986 with a game-by-game re-creation of the 1924 Senators' championship season.
Columnist Dan Daly, here from the beginning, fondly recalls turning out a book to commemorate the Redskins' Super Bowl triumph in 1982.
One morning, Mr. Daly arrived at the office and found Mr. Hurney looking a bit rumpled. Turns out he had spent the night, sleeping underneath his desk. "But the book we produced was very good, if you don't mind my saying so," Mr. Daly says, "and it beat the Super Bowl book put out by The Washington Post to the newsstands by a week. It was probably the first major punch we landed on them the first of many, of course."
Another sportswriter from those days was Happy Fine. He was a huge sports fan and likely to pop up anywhere.
From Day One, the stated goal of the sports section was to be different from the competition, and editors like Mike Keating, Mark Green and Gary Hopkins took it to heart.
"The look of our sports pages crisp, clean, colorful, with eye-grabbing art and graphics always has been distinct from that of The Post," says Mark Hartsell, the sports editor as the newspaper completed its second decade. "And over the years, we've separated ourselves more and more from them in content. If you compared our recent Redskins reporting and columns with the 'Other Paper,' you'd wonder if we were writing about the same team."
There's a healthy mix on the staff in the 20th year: Youthful voices like Pat Hruby and Barker Davis. Eric Fisher covering the business of sports. Experienced hands like Thom Loverro, Rick Snider, Dave Fay (another original staffer) and Bob Cohn. Columnists like Mr. Daly, Dick Heller and Tom Knott, each of whom brings individual strengths.
"As always," says Wesley Pruden, editor in chief of The Times, "we hold no cows sacred. You may not agree with us, but you have to read us."
And it's still early in the game. What's 20 years in the life of a newspaper? An inning, maybe?


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