Jay Mariotti has been the most famous sportswriter in the Midwest for the last decade. The nation knows him because of his television work on ESPN. Chicago knows him as a shrill, the-sky-is-falling, everyone-is-stupid guy who seemed to write page-long columns eight days a week for the Sun-Times.
Talk to any Chicago sportswriter, it seems, and you’ll get a disparaging comment or 50 about Mariotti. A friend of mine who works there has nothing good to say about him, and that person is what I would call very positive in general.
Mariotti quit the paper this week in a huff about something or another, and basically declared his paper and newspapers in general dead. Which gives me hope they’re very much alive.
I’ve had two experiences with Mariotti, one directly and one not. The direct one was more pleasant, even though it put my health in jeopardy.
Iowa State was playing in the NCAA men’s basketball tourney in Auburn Hills, Mich., in 1997, and there was an ice storm. I could have and should have waited for a shuttle back to the media hotel in Troy, several miles down the freeway, but took up Mariotti and another sportswriter on their offer to ride with them.
The other writer, whose name I cannot recall, drove. I didn’t envy him, because not only did he battle the slick road, Mariotti talked animatedly the entire ride and seemed oblivious to the danger we were in. We got to our destination safely, though we had quite the skid in the hotel parking lot. The conversation was friendly and interesting, and I enjoyed it.
The second episode … not so good. In the spring of 1997, I covered a Cedar Valley Cyclone Club banquet in downtown Cedar Rapids. It was a full year before Tim Floyd took the Chicago Bulls’ coaching job, but Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause had let it be known that he had his eye on Floyd to replace Phil Jackson one day.
Here’s what I wrote from that banquet for the Gazette:
McCarney said he spoke to the police chiefs of Ames and Chicago, claiming Ames officers have fired one bullet in 25 years while Chicago officers fire one every 25 seconds.
“Chicago’s a dangerous, dangerous place for your daughter to graduate high school, Beverly,” McCarney told Floyd’s wife.
Here’s what Mariotti wrote in the Sun-Times on July 20, 1998, as it appeared Floyd was going to become the Bulls’ coach:
They’ve tried everything to keep Tim Floyd at Iowa State, even gallows humor. At a Cyclone Club banquet, football coach Dan McCarney kidded Floyd that he had talked to police chiefs in Ames and Chicago and had some numbing crime statistics to report.
In Ames, he said, officers have fired one bullet in 25 years.
In Chicago, he said, officers fire one bullet every 25 seconds.
“Chicago’s a dangerous, dangerous place for your daughter to graduate high school, Beverly,” McCarney told Floyd‘s wife.
Gosh, that looked familiar to me. For the life of me, I didn’t remember Mariotti being at that Cyclone Club banquet. But he must have been, since he heard the exact same thing I did. Or else maybe, just maybe, he swiped that stuff without attributing it to where he found it.
But at least it’s nice to know you’re getting read, even if it is through someone else’s byline.
By the way, the Sun-Times still has Rick Telander and Greg Couch writing columns, and they are two of the best in the business.