The day after the Denver Post published his goodbye (sort of) column, Woody Paige is in what's become his element. Road-tripping ESPN staffers at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas are hustling him from the temporary home of Cold Pizza, the ESPN2 morning staple on which he's a regular, to an impromptu set constructed for Around the Horn, the talking-heads bellow-off that first turned him into a hot commodity by sports-geek standards. "I'm stunned and amazed by this," he confesses during the casino commute. "I'm an overnight success after 48 years."
A beat later, Paige adds, "I'm saying that facetiously," but the caveat is necessary only from a mathematical perspective. He's actually 59 years old -- a vintage that makes his current popularity among America's youth that much more unlikely. Students at Pennsylvania's Lehigh University and elsewhere have invented drinking games in his honor, and athletes at Kentucky Wesleyan College are big fans, as Post editor Greg Moore learned firsthand. "I was giving a speech there last year, and before I arrived, the president of the school called and asked if I could get autographed photos of Woody for members of his sports teams," Moore reports.
Kids and tweens love Woody, too; he hypothesizes that "they think I'm their age." (He cites Soupy Sales as a major influence.) And adults want their turn with Paige as well. On December 3, he couldn't find a cab to take him from Caesars to Mandalay Bay for the middleweight championship bout between Jermain Taylor and Bernard Hopkins, so he decided to hoof it. "It should have been a 25-minute walk," he estimates, "but it took me an hour and a half, because people stopped me every foot. They kept saying, 'There's what's-his-name,' or 'You're that guy.'"
Not in Denver he isn't, at least not at present. In 2004, the Post gave Paige a one-year leave in exchange for his vow to write a weekly column. But both Moore and Paige admit that his submissions left much to be desired. Moore puts it gently: "Woody was up and down. It's really difficult writing a column about Denver sports when you're not here." As for Paige, he believes that "it worked okay for a while, but it didn't make a lot of sense to continue." Because an option in his ESPN contract allowed him to bail after the first of three years, Paige considered returning to Denver a few months back, but a couple of factors convinced him to extend his television commitment. For one thing, he still sees TV as a challenge. For another, he says ESPN management told him there'd be "options to readdress my contract" -- a comment that hints at a raise.
On the surface, Paige seems vulnerable. ESPN recently announced that Cold Pizza, which has been running opposite network morning shows, is being pushed back to an 8 p.m. Mountain slot in January to accommodate Mike & Mike, an adaptation of a radio program co-starring Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg. However, Paige is jazzed about the later start ("Getting up at four in the morning is the worst thing I've ever done," he says) and doesn't see the shift as a precursor to cancellation. Besides, he reveals (and Moore confirms) that Post owner Dean Singleton has promised to rehire him when his ESPN adventure ends -- and he'll return with pleasure. "Not to get maudlin, but I prefer Colorado to New York," he says.
He's got good reason. In 2002, Paige pissed off untold thousands of Utahans via a column that charged the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with turning the Salt Lake City Olympics into "a massive Mormon marketing scheme." As a bonus, he also suggested that Colorado tourism officials lure visitors by pledging never to "ask you to worship a salamander and a seagull, marry three of your mother's cousins, consider you inferior if you're not white, a man or heterosexual...and wear weird underwear under your parkas and ski pants." But in an example of cosmic payback that should cheer folks from Provo to St. George, his NYC apartment is a stone's throw from the Manhattan Mormon Temple. "I have to walk by it every day," he says. "I guess that proves there's a God."
Somewhere He must be laughing.
Weekly controversy: Each former Boulder Weekly employee with whom I've spoken over the years has mentioned publisher Stewart Sallo's explosive temper. Tales of epic tantrums and frequent use of profanity aren't just commonplace; they're de rigueur. Whether such behavior crosses the line into illegality is another question -- but a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission may eventually provide an answer.
Beverly Napier, who worked as a bookkeeping assistant and accounting manager at the Weekly from 2002 until she resigned last May, charges Sallo with discrimination and the creation of a hostile work environment based on sex and religion. In the EEOC document, dated August 29, Napier says Sallo "subjected his female employees to constant inappropriate and sexist comments. He referred to his female employees as 'fucking cunts' and gave them awards such as 'most likely to call in horny' and 'best use of a cut-off T-shirt'....For example, I was given an award for being the 'least likely to have a boob job.'" Napier asserts that three female employees other than herself left the Weekly within the last year because of Sallo. To bolster her claim of religious discrimination, Napier says Sallo, who's Jewish, routinely mistreated Christian employees like herself. When she accidentally referred to the Weekly's annual holiday party as a Christmas party, she says Sallo hollered, "It's not a fucking Christmas party!" loudly enough for everyone in the office to hear. "On another occasion," she continues, "Mr. Sallo yelled at me because I was softly humming Christmas carols."
Napier says she was so traumatized by the experience of working for Sallo that she decided to leave Colorado; she's presently living in Texas. Nevertheless, she's moving forward on the legal front because "I don't want another woman to go through what I went through." The matter could grow to include others. According to Stephanie Struble, Napier's lawyer, "We filed on behalf of a class, so it could include additional women who have been similarly discriminated against."
Attorney Matt Finberg, speaking for Sallo, declined to comment about the case.
The buddy plan: In September, Cincinnati's E.W. Scripps, owner of the Boulder Daily Camera (and the Rocky Mountain News), announced that it had purchased the Colorado Daily, a free, previously independent daily. Afterward, neither side did much talking about the future, but speculation was rife that the Camera would soon cease daily publication of dirt, a youth-oriented spinoff that tried to cut into the Daily's market share, and the Daily would drop home delivery of its Sunday edition, which had been launched in March 2005 to compete with the Camera.
Bingo and bingo. On December 22, dirt officially becomes a weekly, and Camera publisher Greg Anderson is forthright about why. "After the acquisition of the Colorado Daily, we didn't need two daily youth-oriented products," he says.
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Daily editor/publisher Randy Miller isn't nearly as garrulous when it comes to describing why Sunday home delivery abruptly ended last month. An article in the Daily made the laughable claim that the change to "single-copy distribution at retail locations and newspaper boxes" was made because "you've had time to become familiar with the paper." In an attempt to get at the actual truth, I contacted Miller via e-mail, and in a reply that he declared was off the record only after I informed him that I considered it to be otherwise, he wrote that it doesn't "make sense for me to do interviews with you." His rationale? Instead of publishing everything he wanted me to print, "You simply used my quotes to verify your reporting efforts."
Egad! He's right! I've never felt so ashamed in my life.
Fun in the sun: KOA yakker and ex-gunnery sergeant Bob Newman expects to begin 2006 with a bang. "I have been formally approved for embed with my combat alma mater, the 2nd Marine Division, from approximately 6 to 14 January, based in or around Fallujah," Newman notes in an e-mail. He concludes with "Semper Fi and, if I recall my Henry V correctly, 'Once more unto the breach.'"
Happy New Year to you, too.