Friday, June 22, 2012

Sportswriting Flashback - Nate Meikle's Return to BYU Lineup

Former Hillcrest star back with first-team offense


PROVO – Saturday morning, the BYU football team gathered at LaVell Edwards Stadium for the next-to-last full contact scrimmage of Fall camp. Excitement and optimism abounded, both on the playing field and in the stands with the 2006 season opener against Arizona just two weeks away.

About two miles away, the atmosphere was decidedly different.

Nate Meikle, along with several other injured Cougars, ran through some light running and offensive drills under the watchful eyes of a BYU strength coach. No coaches, no fans, no fanfare – just quiet determination.

“We hate it over there,” said Meikle of the isolated, limited workout he and several others endured while the team was scrimmaging full tilt in the stadium. “I understand the reason for it and totally accept his (Mendenhall’s) decision,” added the Academic All-America receiver.

The former Hillcrest star came into fall camp as BYU’s starting H-back, one of the brightest spots in Bronco Mendenhall’s ongoing quest to return the Cougars to their former dominance as one of college football’s perennial offensive powerhouses. When we last saw Meikle, he was playing through a recurring hamstring injury against California in the Las Vegas Bowl.

On that December evening, the Idaho Falls native led all BYU receivers with 12 receptions for 93 yards as BYU mounted a furious fourth-quarter comeback which fell just short in the final moments of a 35-28 loss to the Golden Bears.

Meikle has healed - and then re-injured the hamstring - three times since the bowl game, the last setback coming just a month ago. He has been forced to spend most of 2006 concentrating on treatment and rehabilitation rather than attacking defensive backs.

“I’m running at about 80 percent,” said the 5’9” 181-pound senior. “It feels good, but it also felt good a month ago when I re-pulled it and I wasn’t pushing it that hard.”

Monday, Meikle’s patience and persistence finally paid-off. He re-joined the first-team offense in his first full-contact practice in months. In Mendenhall’s ‘effort-plus-production-equals-playing time’ world, in spite of the long absence, the starting job is Meikle’s to lose.

“He will come back as number one with a chance to hold on to it,” said Mendenhall, who is also one of Meikle’s biggest supporters. “Nate is proven, he’s the one who led the comeback against Cal – I have no question of his heart, commitment or spirit.”

Other than Meikle himself, the Cougar happiest to see #9 back in the offensive huddle is quarterback John Beck, who knows a thing or two about battling through injuries.

“I locker right next to Nate, so I know he’s been frustrated,” said Beck. “The great thing about Nate is when he gets on the practice field he works his tail off. He’s such a good football player, he’s an easy guy to throw to because he sees the same holes I’m seeing - he has a feeling and an awareness for the game.”

That drew a smile from Meikle. “Oh I hope so, I hope he does miss me, and hopefully we can get things going again.”

BYU opens the season Saturday, September 2nd in Tucson.

Sportswriting Flashback - Pioneer League Baseball


IDAHO FALLS - It was ‘Bull Durham’ meets ‘Groundhog Day.’

Terrible pitching, stranded base runners, an unending stream of batters, and that was just the top of the first-inning.

Idaho Falls fell to Helena, 6-5 Sunday afternoon in a 3 ½ hour marathon that felt more like a double-header. The loss plunges the Chukars to 7-14 in the Pioneer League second half.

Helena wasted no time jumping on starter Daniel Gutierrez. After giving-up two singles and a walk to open the game, Gutierrez saw Brewers clean-up hitter Chris Errecart slap a bases-loaded chopper to third, scoring Chuckie Caufield. Catcher Andy Bouchie then followed his grand slam from Saturday with a two-run single to left, as the Brewers grabbed a 3-0 lead before a single out had been recorded.

But the Chukars hitters rallied behind Gutierrez in the bottom of the first.
After O.D. Gonzalez led-off with an infield single, Jase Turner crushed a Chris Jean pitch over the wall in right, his sixth home run of the summer, to make it a 3-2 ballgame.

“I was trying to wait for a pitch up in the zone after swinging at a lot of balls in the dirt, trying to have patience,” said Turner of his first homer against a team other than Orem.
But in the second, Caufield ripped a shot to the gap in right centerfield which he stretched into a triple. Then, when a Gutierrez pitch got past catcher Matt Morizio, Caufield raced home, making it 4-2 Brewers.

Once again, the Chukars batters came to the rescue.

Left fielder Alvi Morel slapped a 2 RBI single into center, scoring Marc Maddox and Morizio to level the score at 4-4.

“I’ve been hurt for two weeks, but now that I’m back on the field it feels good to get my groove back” said Morel.

In the Idaho Falls 5th, after spotting Helena two more runs, infielder Kurt Mertins drove Morel home with a single to left, but that was as close as the Chukars would get, eventually stranding nine base runners enroute to the 6-5 final score.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Everybody's Talking....Who's Listening?

"Everybody's talking at me,
I don't hear a word they're saying,
Only the echoes of my mind."
                                  - Harry Nilsson

A funny thing happened today when I went to share some BYU football news with 1,086 of my CLOSEST friends. I discovered it had already been shared by someone else. And then shared and shared and shared some more.

As one who always strives to keep it fresh, I thought, 'okay, my news seems to already be old news, so I'll go to Plan B and toss-out a few opinions or theories about BYU's 2012 football schedule (which will be finalized and announced officially tonight at 6:00 p.m. MT)  Once again, someone had already beaten me to the punch. Actually, several dozen someones.

Welcome to Social Media Information Revolution - the Jeopardy answer to the question: What do you get when you cross the Oklahoma Land Rush with a keyboard and the internet?

Here's MY question: If everybody is talking (myself included), who is listening?

Just in my twitter timeline alone - I'm currently road-blocked by twitter's puzzling limit of only being able to follow 2,000 people since I am Joe Nobody - it's not that much of a stretch to say that almost every week a new sports blog or podcast is born, with anywhere from a single lone 'voice' to as many as 10 contributors, editors etc.

I currently fight under the flag of As of a few minutes ago, we appeared to have eight folks in our starting lineup. Fortunately, for sanity's sake, we have one more topic selection than we have contributors, so there is minimal content overlap. This seems to be the rule on the larger blogs. There are also smaller ones where usually 1-3 people are all covering the same 'beat,' be it BYU, RSL or the Utah Jazz.

On the one hand, I think it is great that we now live in an age where literally everyone who is passionate about something, whether it is sports, scrapbooking, parenting or politics can have a voice and make themselves heard. This has not always been the case.

Back in the Jurassic Era, when I was a schoolboy athlete and sports junkie, each town had only a select handful of people who had a platform to report, comment and opine on the sports news and issues of the day. The rest of us were relegated to cafeteria, locker room or office cooler discussion.

The one really good thing about these days was the nearly total absence of troll types. I can literally NEVER recall anyone making a comment, and someone else walking right up into their face, chest-to-chest and calling them a $%$##&% idiot. I'm sure it happened occasionally, but not in my little corner of the world. Something about real accountability for one's words - and the possibility of having your nose re-located or swallowing a few teeth seemed to keep the dialogue mostly civil. I digress.

So in your mind, contrast the days I am describing - a handful of TV and radio sportscasters and print sportswriters in any given area doing the talking - with the rest of the masses listening, with what we now have.

On any given day, it feels to me like 50 to a hundred of us are ushered into a large conference room. The doors are then closed behind us, and at the count of three, everyone starts talking simultaneously. Then, after 30 seconds or so - or 140 characters if your main frame of reference is now twitter - everyone stops. We were all speaking at once, but did anybody actually hear anything?

Perhaps, with the give and take, back & forth nature of twitter and facebook conversations, and message board and chat room discussions, this would be a better analogy: the 50 or 100 of us line the walls of the conference room. One person begins by turning to the person next to them and sharing a short message. (remember this game?) Then, the process repeats itself until the message has circled the room. When it arrives back at the starting point, does it bear ANY resemblance to the original information?

And it's not like this process is limited to those of us who do this because of passion as opposed to a paycheck.

Check-out sports talk radio or even the extended weekend local TV sportscasts. For every actual sports news maker - athlete, coach, administrator - who is heard from, there are nearly as many interviews and discussions with other reporters, commentators and columnists. The Tom and Jerry Show on KOOK-AM 980 - with columnist Bob Stone from the Daily Diss sitting-in for the vacationing Jerry - are now joined by a 'good friend of the show' - Harold Hyperbole from ZNN/ to break down Madonna's halftime performance at the Superbowl.

Again I wonder, if everyone is talking, who is listening?

There are no right or wrong answers here, just a question from one of those voices in the chorus.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Coming Attractions: TV Sportscasting Greatest Hits

Several years ago, my daughter Tiffany had a Christmas request for me. She wanted a clip of some of my TV sportscasting work to show her kids when they asked "what did Grandpa Mike used to do?"

It would have been easy to schlock-out a couple of things from my videotaped archives, but schlock is not my style, so I got some video editing software to try and dress it up a little bit. Think of deciding to make a scrapbook and instead of buying a cheap-o scrapbook, a bottle of rubber cement and a pair of scissors and having at it, going to a scrapbooking specialty store and getting all the fancy accoutrements and determining to create an organized, pleasing presentation.

I rolled-up my sleeves and went to work. I spent literally MONTHS cataloging almost 20 years of work at seven different stations, learning the software and working on my masterpiece.

Well, one day my computer was running really slowly, locking-up and generally irritating me to no end. As I often do with technology and machinery, I decided to go all 'alpha male' and show my PC who was boss. I don't remember exactly what all was involved, but when the disc cleanup, the defragging of files and a complete system restore were completed, I was horrified to discover that all those months of video editing had gone *poof* into the great digital beyond. Talk about seeing a grown man cry.

Rather than dive right back in, I sulked and pouted for over a year, but my daughter - and my little angel grandkids - persisted, so I re-installed the editing suite in December and started again. Those who know me best know that I tend to err towards being a perfectionist when it comes to creative endeavors, so this project will probably stretch over most of 2012 as I continue to learn and master this editing software and get things just the way I want them. 

When it's finished, I will burn DVDs for permanent keeping, get a nice DVD labeling or engraving program and deliver something I can be proud to leave behind.

In the meantime, here is a small taste...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Media Memories: 1981 Holiday Bowl 30 Years Later

There is this amazing algorithm which takes place in the part of the brain where memories are stored.

The longer you live, time increments shrink proportionally, and before you know it, 5, 10, 20 years have passed in the blink of an eye, and you're like "...huh? ....wait, WHAT?"

And so it is for me to mentally rolodex back to the 1981 Holiday Bowl and realize that 30 years - three decades - have passed since two teams of Cougars squared-off on a crisp December evening at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. WAC versus PAC. Provo meets Pullman. Cosmo and Butch battling for mascot supremacy three years before ESPN would 'Big-Bang' it's way into the sports broadcasting universe.

I was on the sidelines that night, press pass hanging around my neck, one-year before graduating from BYU with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

It was BYU's fourth-straight trip to the bowl it literally helped found in 1978, and it was my third-straight year attending the game, having been in the stands with my family for 1979's last-second 38-37 heartbreaker to Indiana (the first time a BYU kicker would break our hearts) and on the sidelines for the first time, camera and notepad in tow for the Daily Universe for 1980's had-to-see-it-to-believe-it 46-45 comeback miracle thriller against SMU and their (in)famous Pony Express backfield of Eric Dickerson and Craig James.

I was pulling double-duty this night. My credential had been issued to me as Sports Director of KDOT-AM radio in Provo, a position/title I literally created for myself after a great summer news internship at the little station located between Southwest Provo and Utah Lake. Armed with a tape recorder, I arrived early in the week and attended every BYU practice and bowl event, feeding back reports and interviews and doing multiple daily live phoners with Tom Walker and J. Robert Howe.

It's hard to beat the Holiday Bowl when it comes to the bowl events. What's not to like about lunch and a tour of a US Navy aircraft carrier and Team Night at Sea World? The host and emcee of the Sea World Team Night dinner was Mister College Football himself, Keith Jackson, who managed to remain almost completely neutral despite being a WSU broadcasting alum.

After dinner and the program, I got Keith off to the side by myself, and talked to him about the Production Assistant freelancing I had already done for ABC Sports at the 1981 NCAA Track & Field National Championships in Provo and on both ABC's college football broadcasts and several Monday Night Football games throughout the Fall of 1981. He told me he was losing his in-booth spotter for college football and invited me to apply for this F/T network position.

I did so, with Al Michaels and Frank Broyles as my two top references. True to his word, Jackson considered me, and called me the next week at my parents home in Los Angeles to personally tell me I had narrowly lost-out to a much older applicant who already had years of full-time network experience. It was a disappointing, yet wonderful conversation and a defining and motivating moment in my sportscasting career.

Once the actual game arrived, I switched my sideline duties. BYU photography legend Mark Philbrick approached me with WSU's Sports Information Director alongside and explained that Wazzu's sports photog had not been able to make the trip. They asked me if I would be willing to shoot the game - which I was already planning on doing - and get a bunch of isos and close-ups of the Pullman Cougars that they could have for their official publications and archives.

My color slides and B/W negatives from that night are somewhere in a box in my parents, but many of my shots are very similar, and in some cases, almost exact duplicates of what you see here. I remember Danny Plater getting behind the WSU secondary for a 35-yard Jim McMahon touchdown bomb to open the scoring in the 1st quarter.

I can still see a BYU backup quarterback named Steve Young hustling into the huddle, unseen by WSU's defensive coordinator, taking a pitch from McMahon, rolling right and then passing to TE Gordon Hudson who was dragging on a backside route. Big gainer, and just the start of great things to come from Young-to-Hudson.

When McMahon brought the Provo Cougars to the goal line in the 3rd quarter, just before handing-off to Waymon Hamilton for a 1-yard dive which would stake BYU to a 24 - 7 lead, I caught the moment.

My lens found RB Don LaBomme leaping into the endzone over BYU's current Athletic Director, Tom Holmoe (who earlier had returned an interception 35-yards on a pick-six) - to pull State back within 31-15 in the 3rd quarter.

From that point, in a surprising role-reversal from their game the year before against SMU, BYU saw a seemingly-insurmountable lead evaporate into the foggy evening as Wazzu posted 13 unanswered points to close to 31-28 heading into the final quarter.

But McMahon was McMahon, and threw a 4th quarter touchdown to reserve RB Scott Pettis, then gathered-up a bobbled snap on a critcal 3rd and short and surged ahead for a first down, allowing BYU to run out the clock on WSU for a typical (see: thrilling) Holiday Bowl win, 38-36. It was BYU's fourth-straight Holiday Bowl appearance and their second-straight win, setting the stage for many more great (and a couple of not-so-great) moments at the Murph.

As I watch Texas and Cal battle tonight, 30 years later, it will seem a little odd, as it has for years now to not see the Cougars on my screen, rocking the home blues as the host team of the Holiday Bowl.

Kind of like driving past the home of your youth and seeing strangers living there.                                                                                   

Friday, December 16, 2011

People I Interviewed In My TV Career

Last year I was watching the Duke-Georgia Tech basketball game, and when they mentioned Blue Devils star Kyle Singler was from Medford, Oregon my jaw dropped open for a second. I looked him up on Facebook and discovered he wasn't even BORN until 1987 - the year we pulled-up stakes in Medford and moved to Yuma, Arizona.

That got me thinking about the people I personally met - and interviewed - during my TV sportscasting and news reporting career. I decided to make a list - a partial list - in no particular order:

*Steve Young *Jim McMahon *Ty Detmer *Rob Morris *LaVell Edwards *Frank Arnold *Danny Ainge *Bobby Clampett *Jake Plummer *Vai Sikahema *Gordon Hudson *John Beck *Martina Navratilova *Jane Seymour (yes...THAT Jane Seymour...I still haven't completely recovered from the moment she smiled at me in Sun Valley)

*Chuck Yeager (first pilot to break the sound barrier - flying the X-1)

*Kareem Abdul-Jabbar *Magic Johnson *Julius Erving *Ken Griffey, Jr. *Tony Gwynn *Roberto Alomar *Neil Lomax *Gene Stallings *Napoleon McCallum *Sonny Sixkiller *Chuck Knox *Dave Krieg *Curt Warner *Steve Largent *Don James *John Kruk *Harry Caray*Adrian Dantley
*Sen. Dirk Kempthorne-ID *Gov. Cecil Andrus-ID *Mark McGwire *Tony LaRussa *Lute Olsen *John Thompson *Dale Brown *Bill Walton *Shaquille O' Neal *Harry Caray *Adrian Dantley *Darrell Griffith *Tommy Lasorda *Frank Layden *Benito Santiago (Nicole's personal favorite - LOL - ask her to explain)

*Pilots of the 366th TFW (the Gunfighter Squadron out of Mountain Home AFB. They were among the very FIRST fighter pilots to fly through the missiles and flak and Iraqi fighters into downtown Baghdad the first night of the Gulf War - the tip of America's sword which struck down Saddam Hussein. Their stories raised the hairs on the back of my neck and brought a lump to my throat - they were the very DEFINITION of 'patriot')

*Capt. Al Haynes, United 232 (the flight that cartwheeled into the ground in Sioux City, Iowa. His exceptional piloting skill saved 184 of the passengers and crew from a fireball and shredded DC-10) 


*Fred Whittingham (yes...he went-out as a Ute but he was my HS football coach at Alhambra and my LB position coach at BYU when I walked-on after my mission. He truly was a 'player's coach'. Seriously one of the toughest men I have ever met in my life, from being one of a handful of survivors of the 1960 Cal State Poly team plane crash in Ohio which killed many of his football teammates to the New Orleans Saints to coaching at BYU and Utah. RIP, big Fred)

*Bobby Knight (I am, without hesitation, most proud of THIS interview, my absolute favorite of the thousands I did. It was an exclusive one-on-one when I tracked down Indiana at the Boise airport just as their charter flight was landing for the NCAA West Regionals. I was the ONLY reporter there. Can you say 'SCOOP'? I had the most colorful and volatile coach in NCAA history all to myself for about two minutes, was well-prepared, and knew how to NOT ask stupid, typical media questions. I must have done something right - Bobby didn't shred me or even frown)

I'll stop here - that was just off the top of my head.

For anyone still reading at this point, I was truly BLESSED to have a career I LOVED for 20+ years. Like I always said, I got paid to play for a living.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

So You Want To Be A Television Sportscaster? Part Three

Those who want to be doctors choose their colleges carefully. So do prospective lawyers, accountants and engineers.

And so it is for those dreaming of becoming sportscasters.

Just as the football and basketball polls differ in their opinion of who's best, so do the various lists of top college broadcasting programs. But it's a pretty good bet you'll find what you are looking for on the following list, in no particular order:

  • USC - Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
  • ASU - Walter Cronkite School of Journalism
  • Missouri - Colombia School of Journalism
  • Syracuse - S.I. Newhouse School
  • Northwestern - Medill School of Journalism
  • Washington State - Edward R. Murrow College of Communication
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Texas
  • BYU
Graduates of these programs are a literal 'Who's Who' All-Star roster of the finest television anchors and reporters in the U.S. Focusing exclusively on the sports people, you find names like Keith Jackson, Mike Tirico, Erin Andrews, Jenn Brown, Rachel Nichols, Bob Costas, Al Michaels, and Brent Musberger.

In most cases, it won't be as easy as just getting accepted into the university and declaring yourself a broadcast major. You will have to apply and be accepted as a major in almost all of these journalism programs. Grades will be important, but the really good news is, practical experience and portfolios will almost always trump GPAs here, unlike most other majors.

Did you write for your high school paper and take journalism classes? Good, find your clippings. While you were managing the local Walmart by day, did you do any freelance sports writing for the area prep teams, or even better, did you ever sit behind the mic calling play-by-play or analyzing high school sports for the local 500-watt AM radio station? Awesome.

Any and everything you can do to get practical experience in sports media will pay-off in spades when you apply to a broadcasting program. And here is an insider tip, hot from a top college broadcast program news director: when you are interviewed for admission and they ask you WHY you want to be a broadcast journalism major, do NOT say anything like, "because I want to be on TV" (the cast of Jersey Shore wants to be on TV - aim higher) or "it looks fun" (of course it is, that's unspoken) or "I want to travel." (flight attendants want to travel - I have first hand knowledge here)

Responses like that will immediately hoist red flags in the minds of your interviewers of whether you are just going through a phase or really in this for the long-haul. You need to dig deeper, and speak about your passion for sports and news and how it's all you talk about with your family and friends. Tell them you know too many people who have jobs and YOU are looking for a career. Be honest and speak from the heart. It will shine through in your interviews and application letters. 

Once you are accepted into a program, while taking your introductory and lower-level journalism classes, blast-out all of your general education credits as quickly as possible. You want to keep your junior and senior years free for your upper division journalism classes - and internships.

Internships come in all shapes and sizes and are solid gold for broadcast majors. This is where you begin to network and build contacts and future references for your resume. Contacts and references are EVERYTHING in this business. What you know (experience & talent) is important, but so is who you know.

Holiday breaks and summers should be dedicated to more than friends, family and laying on a beach. Every time I was home in L.A. I would pick-up the phone and call the sports anchors there - guys like Stu Nahan, Jim Hill and Ted Dawson - tell them I was a broadcast major wanting to become a sportscaster, and ask if I could come down to the station, hang-out and watch them work. (if you are shy or timid, TV sportscasting probably isn't the best place for you) Not one of them ever told me no.

As I mentioned in Part One, before graduating, I lucked into a freelance Production Assistant (PA) job when BYU hosted the 1981 NCAA Track & Field National Championships. That weekend and those new friends from ABC Sports led directly to more PA work with ABC on NCAA and Monday Night Football broadcasts. I worked with Al Michaels, Frank Broyles and Keith Jackson. Keith would later call me personally to tell me I had come within a heartbeat of being hired as his permanent full-time spotter before being passed-over for a guy with many years of network sports experience. 

Another of my internship experiences was a summer spent at KDOT-AM radio in Provo, where I ripped the old AP & UPI newswires and re-wrote those news and sports stories for J. Robert Howe and Tom Walker to read on-air. This led to being named the first-ever Sports Director at KDOT, which led to a week in San Diego covering the 1981 Holiday Bowl against Washington State - the second of many Holiday Bowls I would cover as a media member.

The broadcast journalism students I am mentoring at BYU are benefiting from attending one of the top, award-winning programs in the nation. They are landing internships at places like 'Dateline NBC,' 'Good Morning America,' 'ESPN Sports Center,' and last but never least, 'KSL Sports'

Which brings me to Greg Wrubell.

I share a common heritage with the 'Voice of the Cougars.' Although separated by many years, we both came through the BYU broadcast program. We were both mentored by S.L.C. sportscasting legend Paul James, and we both eventually aspired to his job calling BYU football and basketball games. One of us actually made it.

I used a word in Part Two of this series - tradecraft.

If Greg's picture isn't next to this word in the dictionary, it should be. I have an almost inexpressible level of professional respect for Greg. He is a pro's pro. For every hour you hear and see him on KSL, there are countless hours spent preparing for each broadcast reading, researching and preparing his spotting boards and game notes. Greg often eschews the movie, music or magazine choices on plane trips to and from BYU road games, choosing instead to listen to recordings of his prior game calls in order to critique himself and get even better at something he already excels at. Tradecraft.

Like those who inspired, taught and encouraged us, Greg is now paying it forward, working with several sportscasting interns each semester.

I am a big fan of symmetry, so to bring this series to a conclusion, I say again to anyone of any age and background who would like to get paid to attend sports events and then talk about them, 

"...dream BIG, go to a top college broadcasting program, make connections and network like crazy and work your guts out.."

Remember Jimmer.