Almost 20 years ago, when I left the sports pages, it didn’t seem like I’d be back.
First, there were other opportunities. I wrote film reviews, features and a column on the city and politics of San Francisco.
But there was also a sense — and I understand that this sounds smug and entitled — that sports were played out for me. I’d been there and done that. I was reminded of that four years ago when we members of the Northern California media went to the Super Bowl in New Orleans to cover the 49ers.
I think it was my ninth or 10th Super Bowl week, and all I could think is what a parody it has become. There are the daily chaotic press gaggles with players. There are the self-consciously wacky questions — Which Disney princess do you identify with? — from zany media personalities. And there is vapid, non-stop chatter along radio row.
And I’m not stupid. I get it. A lot of people would love to have that opportunity. But when you aren’t excited to go to the Super Bowl, it is pretty obvious you are losing your sports mojo.
However, a funny thing happened on my way to the ballet and museum of modern art.
I left sports, but they never left me. I watched them all the time. We bought tickets and went to Giants games at AT&T Park. We lucked into some seats for a Warriors playoff game and were rocked in Roar-acle Arena.
My wife would come home from work and I’d have the TV tuned to a Diamond League track and field meet from Lausanne, Switzerland.
“What in the world are you watching?” she’d say.
Blame the Olympics. I went to Olympic Games, summer and winter, in Norway, Korea, Japan, France, Australia, Canada, Spain and — the strangest place of all — Los Angeles.
I loved the Olympics. I loved the purity of the competition, the heart-pounding finishes and the heroic efforts.
Oh, who am I kidding?
I loved the Olympics because it sent me all over the world on someone else’s dime. You got to see cities and countries which were not only putting their best foot forward to make a good impression, they treated visitors like honored guests. And as a bonus, you got to see the greatest athletes in the world — and that’s the whole world, not just our USA piece of it.
I was at a media information booth at the Winter Olympics in Norway in 1994 when suddenly all the usually friendly and helpful volunteers abruptly got up from their desks and left the room. The woman answering my questions walked away in mid-conversation with no explanation.
It turned out that members of the Norwegian men’s cross country ski team were coming into the press center for interviews.
That may mean nothing to you, but in Norway they are gods who walk the earth.
You’ve never heard of him, but superstar cross country skier Bjorn Daehle is the Joe Montana of Norway. His 12 Olympic medals, eight gold, are still the Olympic record.
Spectators and volunteers crowded forward, begging for autographs and snapping hundreds of photos.