Dan Collins: My Final Take

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Gonna throw my alarm clock out the door,

Don't have no need for time no more,*

When I decide to get up,

Every day's gonna be grand. 

Most sportswriters I know these days are alike in two ways. They’re retired and they’re happy as clams.

By the time I finish this one last say, I’ll be joining their ranks.

Forty-five years is a long time to do anything, even something you’ve loved. And how I have loved it. Not every minute, mind you, but enough days and with enough sheer unadulterated joy that I’m convinced I chose the right profession.

Or maybe the profession chose me. Forty-five after writing my first sports article for the Chapel Hill Newspaper, at age 20 and still a junior in college, I’m not sure I had any real choice. Some things are meant to be.

Not to sound like the old bearded man on the mountain (though I am old, I sport a beard and I grew up deep in the Smokies) but I can’t resist imparting at least one of the many secrets of life I’ve picked up along the way.

Find something you love doing that somebody is willing to pay you to do and you’ll never toil a day in your life. My personal motto has been: I’m a sportswriter -- beats working.

Gonna come and go as I darn well please,

Ain’t never gonna to be no better* days than these

I’m a man with a plan to have more fun than I can stand,

Gonna be my own man.

Forty-five years is enough time to have crossed paths with literally hundreds and hundreds of fellow scribes, and getting to know them and sharing moments and experiences has been what I’ve enjoyed most.

As a relic, I suppose I’m compelled to wax nostalgically about how much better the old days were. And the old days were golden. Our columnist and long-time compadre Lenox Rawlings and I would double-staff some NCAA Tournament in some faraway city, and there would be between a dozen and two dozen other ACC writers and officials on hand for the fun and festivities.

Lenox knows food, so his charge was to pick the restaurant.

I know music, so my charge was to pick the club, bar or roadhouse with the best show. And there would be a whole bunch of us down at the Café Wah (Dylan’s old stamping grounds) in Greenwich Village, or grooving to Delbert McClinton (with the rockabilly legend Sleepy Labeef opening the show) in Jacksonville or checking out the Red Elvises (with Olaf Rock and Roloff on bass) in Tampa. And we all, to a man or woman, would be having the time of our lives.

And we all would pay, often dearly, for it the next day.

Ain’t gonna tote no barge, ain’t gonna lift no bale*,

See my boss, and you can tell him I’m doing well.

Ain’t gonna punch no clock, ain’t gonna attend no class*,

My days of toeing the line are gonna be long past.

What I’ll miss won’t be the games themselves. I’ve seen enough games.

And I won’t miss the hospitality rooms at the ACC Tournaments, though I have to admit some of those roaring, brew-sodden nights spent winding down off the adrenaline rush of deadline -- among about four or five dozen of my best friends in the world – were right at the top of the list of favorite times I’ve known.

But those scenes died out years ago. To even bring them up now shows my age.

Not every sportswriter I came across was a hail fellow or filly well met. But enough were that I’m here to testify that one of my many heroes, the inimitable Hunter S. Thompson, got it wrong in at least one regard. Sportswriters are not the “rude and brainless subculture of fascist drunks’ the not-so-good doctor made us out to be. Well, truth be told, some were drunks. And one or two might have even been fascist, though, looking back through the haze, I can’t remember any who were that obvious about it.

No, the sportswriters I’ve known are a tribe I’m proud to say I’ve belonged to all my professional life. The old-guard guys who accepted me when I was a long-haired hippie from Chapel Hill were awesome and some of the new-guard whippersnappers (of course anyone under 40 is a whippersnapper when you get this old) are every bit as much fun to know.

It always warms the cockles of this old heart when a younger writer mentions that I made them feel welcome in the business. To me, that was only passing forward what the likes of Mary Garber and Joe Tiede and Bob Quincy and Smith Barrier did for me when I was a newbie who didn’t know a gerund from a participle. They took me in when they didn’t have to, and I never forgot it.

If I want to sit all day in the shade,

Maybe play my guitar, maybe play croquet,

That’s exactly what I’m gonna do,

And finally, at long last, to my own self be true.

The last 25 years have been spent on the Wake Forest beat, which, for many of those seasons was the absolute best college beat in the business. Of that I’m convinced.

In the old days, when I first got to town in 1978, there was serious animosity between the Winston-Salem Journal and Wake Forest. Many on campus were convinced we were a bunch of Carolina fans because a good many of us went to school there. They didn’t trust us, and the rancor and hostility just got in the way of everything.

The hero of this story is Dave Odom, who, upon becoming the head basketball coach before the 1989-90 season, wasn’t having any of that. Odom, one of the greatest people I’ve ever known, lobbied hard for a beat guy, and I was the lucky one that our editor, Terry Oberle, assigned to the beat.

Odom opened his program up, and for the next couple of decades, with Odom and Skip Prosser to work with in basketball and Jim Grobe (the most decent and genuine coach I’ve ever had the great pleasure to know) in football, I was the envy of beat writers from California to the New York islands. And remember, this was a time the Deacons, led by legends like Rodney Rogers, Randolph Childress and Tim Duncan, were national contenders in basketball and going regularly to bowls in football.

If there were issues, we worked through them in good faith. Prosser once said `Our practices are open until we get burned, and then they’re closed,’ which I took as perfectly understandable.

But looking back, they were rarely closed.

Gonna bury my cell phone in my backyard,

Get back to a day life wasn’t so hard,

And time didn’t fly by

Faster than a sleight of hand.

None of this, by the way, is to knock coaches like Dave Clawson and Danny Manning. Both have been more than decent to me, and they’ve been available when I’ve needed them. Both made sure I had their cell number and both were steadfast about calling me back.

And both are good at what they do, good enough to have Wake Forest on the upswing in the two sports that matter most.

But times change, and trust is harder to come by in times such as these, when a former player-turned-coach-turned-analyst can give up his team’s plays to opponents and when a stray tweet from a fan in the front row can have a veteran basketball official drummed out of the conference.

Today, it’s all about controlling the message. I get that. What used to be sit-down interviews are today `availabilities.’ I get that. But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss the way it once was, back when I was close enough to the program to have a real take.

Gonna eat a burger for breakfast,

Might even wash it down with beer,

If you find you’ve got to find me,

You can find me right here.

And last, but certainly not least, I’m going to miss writing to you, the venerable Macadamia Nut Gallery. We’ve had us some times since I got around to joining the 21st century and starting up My Take on Wake.

The blog gave me a new and exciting way to reach you the readers. As you may have noticed, I wrote in a different, more conversational, voice for My Take on Wake than I did for the daily paper. And as I quickly realized, you guys welcomed that. Some of you even embraced it, commenting regularly of giving your two-cents worth on whatever I was babbling on about, to the point the whole undertaking became delightfully interactive.

Some of you have commented or just contacted me so many times I consider you fast friends. And without you, My Take on Wake would not have been what it became.

So for that and everything else, my heartfelt thanks.

Retirement is a loaded word, and I’ve been warned that it can lead to a person withering away. That’s not something I have planned for me. So what I’m calling it is my next chapter.

Don’t be surprised if our paths cross again.

And I’ll be looking forward to that day.

I’m a man with a plan

To have more fun than I can stand,

Gonna be my own man.

Gonna be my own man.

*Apologies to Terry Oberle and Phil Hrichak and all the great editors I’ve had for the double negatives. Let’s just chalk it up to artistic license.

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