When my phone rang, I saw who was calling, grimaced and went to go find a quiet spot in The Chronicle’s third-floor office. Standing in the dark emptiness of the lounge, I tried to hold myself together as my dad told me that my grandpa had passed away. I was not successful.
My family had gotten the news earlier in the day, but it was the night of the Duke-North Carolina game at Cameron Indoor Stadium—the one every Chronicle sports editor circles on the calendar well before the season starts. They knew it was one of the highlight days of my tenure, and they knew I’d be busy, so they waited to tell me until it was over.
In many respects, that’s a pretty apt way to sum up the last 12 months of my life—everything has revolved around Duke athletics. Weekends and vacations were left clear to handle breaking news, if anything were to happen. Writing my thesis became secondary to writing about basketball. Sleep became optional.
And it was awesome.
You don’t jump into sports journalism without an extreme passion for sports—for analyzing every decision, for noticing every little detail, for finding the unique stat. I threw myself into the deep end, and as a result, covered some truly great games. I had a front-row seat to Jim Boeheim’s blazer bonanza, documented Mike Krzyzewski’s 1,000th win in my first trip to The Garden, survived “Enter Sandman” and four overtimes at Lane Stadium, got crushed on press row by students after Grayson Allen’s buzzer-beater against Virginia and, yes, live-tweeted the net-cutting ceremony in Indianapolis.
Those games are going to stick with me forever—I have the articles to re-read and the audio files to re-transcribe. But the off-court, off-field part of being a reporter has been just as unforgettable. They say college is where you create the best memories of your life. For the most part, all of mine revolve around the work I did for The Chronicle.
I’ll remember the searing heat from the flames at Lucas Oil Stadium as Duke and Wisconsin ran onto the floor. I’ll remember Nigel Hayes’ press conference hijinks. I’ll remember the bald eagle fly-over during the national anthem and the chance to watch “One Shining Moment” on the big screen.
I’ll remember trying to play it cool as the large man in the green sweatshirt walked past us courtside at the Final Four. Once he’d disappeared, I glanced at the Chronicle writer with me and was met with the eyebrows-raised look that mirrored my own, as if confirming, “Yes, in fact, that really was Magic Johnson.”
I’ll remember standing in the back of the East Room of the White House, watching President Obama say he’d dominate Duke’s fantasy basketball camp and introduce Krzyzewski as an “up-and-coming” head coach. One of the first times I appeared on camera for our actual “up-and-coming” video department, the White House was my backdrop. No pressure.
I’m a quiet person, but reporting forced me out of my comfort zone. The games were always great, but the most interesting stories I wrote focused on life off the field. I asked Krzyzewski about the college readiness program at the community center that bears his mother’s name. I asked David Cutcliffe how he’s approached the tidal wave of tragedy his football team has faced. I asked midfielder Rebecca Quinn about being taken out of the latest EA Sports FIFA video game at the behest of the NCAA, and tried to get a handle on how Cutcliffe and other Duke coaches use social media on the recruiting trail.
I also saved room for the truly important questions: “Matt, Tyus is gone, so is there a reason your jersey still says “M. Jones?” That’s one of the few stories I wrote that had a perceptible impact—by the next game, the “M” was gone.
I’ll remember sitting in the Oakland Athletics’ clubhouse, talking with former Duke first baseman Nate Freiman. I asked him about his walk-off hit against the legendary Mariano Rivera, and he asked me about life on campus. Like most everyone, he was upset to learn that the Armadillo Grill is gone. Before I left, I made my way over to Coco Crisp to get his thoughts on Freiman. He slowly looked up from his game of FarmVille and answered my first two questions graciously, and when I went for a third, he gave me an answer that gently told me that it was time for him to return to his iPad.
For reasons unknown, Chicago Bull legend Scottie Pippen came to watch Duke play Syracuse in 2014. I’ll remember walking over to try to figure out why—he was nice about it, but by the time my wrist had reappeared from his enormous hand, it was clear I wouldn’t be getting an interview.
I’ll remember the quietest, saddest place I’ve ever been—the Duke locker room after the loss to Mercer. I’ll remember standing next to an emotional Jabari Parker trying to deflect questions about his NBA future just minutes after his heart had been ripped out. A few feet away, Rasheed Sulaimon sat staring straight ahead, hands on knees, totally despondent. That’s the first image in my head when I reflect on my first season on the beat.
I’ll remember the pressure I felt trying to cover the men’s lacrosse national title game as a West Coast kid with very little exposure to the sport. I’ll also remember the fully stocked media press box at M&T Bank Stadium. Thank you, Baltimore Ravens, for the Memorial Day feast.
I’ll remember the weeks spent reporting on the Tommy John epidemic, probably the best story I’ve ever helped put together. We got Tommy John himself on the phone, and I got as close to understanding the workings of the ulnar collateral ligament as I ever will. The takeaway: Think before you throw a curve ball.
I’ll remember—though not nearly as well as I should—the drowsy drive to Charlotte that could have, and maybe should have, ended so much differently. That was just one of several travel mishaps while trying to get to road games in the past four years. I’m still grateful to the Syracuse beat writer who drove three of us back to our hotel in the middle of a blizzard, and still amazed that it got so cold that night that ice formed on the inside of our hotel window. Two days later—still stranded—I befriended an AP U.S. History teacher at the Syracuse airport who perfectly encapsulated my frustration in language far more colorful than I’m allowed to repeat here.
To be sure, I’ll remember the many, many trips to Pitchforks at 2 or 3 a.m. once the paper was finished for a late-night snack before starting homework. Thanks to the staff there for always asking me what I wanted, even though my order never changed.
In his postgame press conferences, there are a few buzz words Krzyzewski is bound to bring up during the course of a season. When the Blue Devils play well, he will often praise the “verve” and energy of his team, which likely played “together.” After a disappointing loss, he has lamented the fact that his team lacked “it” down the stretch.
I never got the chance to ask him to clarify what “it” actually is, or how I too could become wise and acquire “it.” But I think my four years at The Chronicle can be best described by another Krzyzewski sound byte, one he used—albeit euphemistically—in the aftermath of a last-second loss to Syracuse back in January:
Ryan Hoerger is a Trinity senior. He served as the sports editor of The Chronicle’s 111th volume.