David Cone, the jock-with-brains New York Yankees pitcher who threw a perfect game last season, floored the beer-bellied reporters surrounding his locker one day when he said -- get this -- "I grew up wanting to be a sportswriter."
Pssh. Yeah, right. Was he mocking them? Did Cone, man of superhuman athletic ability, strength, talent and fortune, really mean it?
Seems he did. After all, sportswriters attend all the games for free, grow cozy with the celebrity sports personalities and never, ever have to exercise. And it's the sportswriters who get to pontificate about said experiences. Cone may have noticed that scribbling tales about athletes is the next best thing to actually being an athlete. Just ask Denver's Rick Reilly.
Reilly remembers being a young fan in the stands, turning his binoculars away from the field and into the press booth. "I just always wanted to be those guys," he says via telephone from Atlanta, where he's covering Super Bowl XXXIV. "Ohhh, there's Woody Paige," he cracks. "What's that on his tie?"
After 21 years of covering sports, Reilly's in a league of his own. He's a five-time National Sportswriter of the Year and is Sports Illustrated's first and only writer to pen a weekly column,"Life of Reilly," for the much-read back page. He's featured in beer commercials, where he co-stars with supermodels. Reilly, his peers have noted, took sportswriting and turned it into writingsports.
But on February 3, Reilly is coming off the back page to sit down at the Wynkoop Brewery and tell a few "way off-the-record" stories, eat a nice dinner and raise a few dollars.
He wants to help students from P.S. 1 Charter School (of which his wife, Linda, is a co-founder) travel to Le Ceiba, Honduras. On March 22, the kids will leave to help rebuild the town that was all but erased by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. The students are focusing on long-term efforts such as reforestation and watershed management, says teacher Lance Rushton. They made a visit to Honduras last year, he explains, and returned with a new worldview. "We were giving relief by labor and materials, and they were giving us a spiritual relief and perspective on life. When the students saw the positive attitude of the Hondurans -- they had just lost their homes and family members -- they didn't take for granted as much their life here in Denver."
At the dinner, Reilly promises to share items that won't find their way into print. He's got stories about golfing with Bill Clinton, O.J. Simpson and Dan Quayle. He's got locker-room stories, shower stories -- or, as he puts it, stories about the "biggest jerks and the greatest people."
And, Reilly notes, Wynkoop owner John Hickenlooper "is personally pouring all the Scotch. This isn't some sort of crappy dinner."
As an appetizer, Reilly spins a tale about the day his childhood dream finally came true. He was shaving, getting ready to go to work at the Boulder Daily Camera, when his roommate startled him by shouting, "Sports Illustrated's on the phone!" Reilly swerved the razor into his face, quickly patted the blood off it and stumbled down the hallway half-naked. He grabbed the phone and took a deep breath.
"Is this Sports Illustrated?" he asked.
"Is this Rick Reilly?" a voice said.
Reilly cleared his throat proudly. "It is."
"Good. Would you like to buy a subscription?"