My father wanted me to be a lawyer.
I had other plans. I loved playing football and, darn it, I was going to play in the NFL.
Of course, that wasn’t going to happen. I was too slow, too small and not strong enough.
I had an English teacher in high school, Miss Burchell, who told me I should become a writer. She envisioned me being a novelist.
I had other plans. I loved sports and I was going to be a sports writer.
At 17, I became a stringer for the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts. And now, as you read this, my days as a sports writer are done. Forty years, one month and 23 days after I first entered the office of the Portland Press Herald’s York County bureau in Biddeford, I left our current offices in South Portland for the last time on Friday.
I am now looking forward to all the new adventures life will provide, and spending all my time with my family. There are grandchildren to spoil, a dog (Buck) to walk, major league ballparks to visit, roadside attractions to see, regional foods to taste and national parks to marvel at.
Over the last month, I’ve been asked by many people what my favorite moments were. Oh, there were so many. I was fortunate enough to not only write about sports here in Maine, but travel all over this nation and the world. I covered seven Super Bowls, UMaine’s first hockey national championship, the Portland Pirates’ Calder Cup championship, a Little League World Series and, halfway across the globe, the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. I’ve interviewed such sports icons as Tom Brady, David Ortiz, Bill Belichick, Michael Phelps, Muhammad Ali (over the phone, sure, but still), Paul Kariya, Bobby Orr, Billy Swift, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Mikaela Shiffrin and so many more.
But for me, the defining moment of my career came at Memorial Field in Kittery during a high school football game in 1988 between Old Orchard Beach and Traip Academy.
I don’t remember every detail, only that it was the final game of the regular season, and the winner was going on to the playoffs and the loser’s season was over. The stands were full and the sidelines were packed three-deep. I watched the game from a tower that was connected to the press box on the home sideline. There was one other person standing outside with me.
The Seagulls scored with under two minutes left in the game to take a 12-8 lead. Then Traip quarterback Sean Moulton passed the Rangers downfield, 85 yards of perfection, and the Rangers scored in the final seconds to win.
The cheers were deafening. The tower was swaying. And then I looked at the man standing with me. Tears were streaming down his face. He shrugged and wiped his eyes and said, “That’s my boy. That’s my son. ”
His name was Elroy Moulton. I nodded, and understood. That’s the moment I knew that this is all I ever wanted to do.
Over the years, I covered everything from Little League to high schools to Olympics. I covered gymnastics, golf, weightlifting, equestrian events, sailing, tennis, boxing, pro wrestling, auto racing, archery and pool (as in shooting, not swimming). I wrote about Title IX many times, youth sports and specialization, the changing face of race is Maine sports, and how Maine was at the forefront of research on concussions.
These moments stand out:
• Covering the first football game between Marshwood and Biddeford in 1989, a titanic clash between the state’s two greatest programs and two of the state’s greatest coaches ever saw, the late Mike Landry and Rod Wotton. Around 8,000 people watched, the Biddeford booster club bringing portable bleachers for the visiting sideline. Marshwood won, 28-13, en route to a state championship.
• Sitting in a Saint John, New Brunswick, restaurant with Portland Pirates fan favorite Kevin Kaminski as he described what caused every scar on his face, then drew a picture of his face, estimating he had received about 500 stitches. That story is one of my favorites that I ever wrote. And I still have his drawing.
• The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Everything about it was life-changing. But I’ll never forget walking on the Great Wall, nor watching Usain Bolt win the 100-meter dash. Oh my God!
• Walking through the tunnels under Gillette Stadium after a Patriots playoff win, alongside Tom Brady and his wife, Gisele, talking about everything except the game or football.
• Covering UMaine’s first national hockey championship in Milwaukee, watching as Jimmy Montgomery scored three goals in the third period – each one assisted by Paul Kariya – to will the Black Bears past Lake Superior State, 5-4.
• The Snow Bowl, which jump-started the Patriots’ NFL dynasty, and Super Bowl LI, in which the Patriots spit on a 28-3 deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime, simply the two greatest Patriots games I covered .
• Being there for the final MPA basketball state championship games at the Bangor Auditorium, seeing Waynflete’s Martha Veroneau score her team’s final 16 points in a frantic 59-55 comeback win over Calais. She had 34 in the game, perhaps the greatest championship-game performance I ever saw.
My job allowed me to see so many historic moments and meet so many incredible people. Over the years, I’ve often had people come up to me and say, “Hey, I read your story the other day…”
But they were never my stories. They were your stories. I merely wrote them.
They were the stories of:
• Don Crisman, the Kennebunk man who has never missed a Super Bowl as a fan and whose stories were riveting.
• Joanne P. McCallie, who I first covered as a high school senior from Brunswick. She became one of the nation’s best college women’s basketball coaches, starting at UMaine, and is now a powerful voice for mental health issues.
• Troy Murphy, the young moguls skier whose hometown of Bethel and its surrounding communities pulled together to raise the funds needed for him to chase his dream of competing in the Olympics.
• Anna Goodale, the Camden girl who took up rowing in college, won a gold medal on the U.S. women’s eight in Beijing and years later returned home to Maine to instill her passion of the sport in others.
• Josh Ross, the Thornton Academy junior whose back-to-the-basket, overhead, half-court swish in a Unified basketball game this winter became a moment no one will ever forget.
• Ashley Marble, an all-America basketball player at USM and Miss USA contestant who spoke openly about her battle with anorexia and depression and now helps people live their fullest lives.
• Matthew Mulligan, a Maine kid whose high school didn’t even offer football, but somehow managed an eight-year NFL career, and caught a touchdown pass from the GOAT while with the Patriots.
• Lily Posternak, the York High star who simply was the best high school field hockey player I ever saw. The first time I saw her air dribble down the field, my jaw dropped.
• Skowhegan’s Paula Doughty, Sanford’s Diana Walker and York’s Barb Marois, field hockey coaches who created dynasties at their schools, but more importantly taught their players how to be compassionate, caring women.
• Nik Caner-Medley, the Deering High grad who went on to star at Maryland and play professional basketball overseas longer then any other Mainer, yet never forgot his roots and still gives back to his community.
• Elle Logan of Boothbay Harbor, the only woman in US Olympic history to win three gold medals in rowing with the women’s eight crew. She was one of the strongest individuals I’ve ever met.
There are so many people to thank, from all my sports editors, to fellow writers (both here and across the state) to copy editors who made my stories look good, to the athletic directors, coaches, players and fans. I thank all you readers for letting me into your homes every day.
Most of all, I have to thank my family, starting with my wife, Tracie, who is my hero, a nurse at Maine Medical Center who somehow kept everything going at home whenever I was away on assignment. She and my children, Erika Dube, Bethany Stotler and Alex, inspired me every day to do my best.
And now I’m off, but not going very far. I promise to be on the sidelines watching. Just not taking notes anymore.
For some anglers, fishing offers more rewards than a big catch