The Last Sports Reporter

Sid Hartman is an icon, a crank, and the last of a dying breed. But if you think the legendary sports columnist is going to walk away from the job anytime soon, you don’t know Sid.

It’s night, and so cold outside that the guy on the radio keeps saying it’s dangerous. At a dining-room table inside a clean and cavernous home in the Minneapolis suburbs, Sid Hartman sits stiff and alone, his back to the door, his hands folded around a glass of water.

Sid’s only son, Chad Hartman—the home’s owner and occupant—meets me at the door and leads me into the room. There, I sit down across from the Twin Cities’ most famous curmudgeon. Sid does not turn to greet me. He merely acknowledges my presence with a sidelong glance and a soft growl, something just a few degrees warmer than “hmmmph.”

Sid has been in the public eye—as a radio host, as a TV personality, and as a news­paper reporter and marquee columnist—for more than 60 years, yet he does not make things easy on anyone who attempts to understand his world: where he comes from, how he does his job, or why, at 89, he continues to do it at all. This is not just because of his infamous irritability. Quite simply, he does not like to be pinned down. I had been trying to talk to him for weeks, to get him to sit and answer the most basic of questions. But whether I called him at his home, or got him on the phone at his Star Tribune office, he would always say the same thing: “This week is really busy. Let’s schedule something next week.” But then the next week would come and go, and … nothing.

I had all but convinced myself he was running out the clock, putting me off until I had no choice but to do the story without him. So I decided to do something I thought Sid might appreciate, even respect. I would out-Sid Sid. I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I would not go away. I would hound a man who had made a career of hounding people. And so I followed Sid everywhere: to games, to news conferences, inside press boxes.

I shadowed him as he shuffled from one end of one locker room to another, as he shook a team owner’s hand, and as he dodged the distended, naked backside of an oblivious lineman.

Then, one day, I got a call from Chad. “My father wants to make himself available,” he said. “Tonight. Can you come to my house?”

IF YOU GREW UP in California or Connecticut or Khartoum, the name Sid Hartman may not mean that much to you. But if you grew up in the Twin Cities, or anywhere within the once-vast reach of the Star Tribune or WCCO Radio, Sid Hartman isn’t just a sports writer. He’s an icon. Widely read, often mocked, the subject of a million jokes and the source of a thousand imitations, he is the closest thing we have to a civic mascot. It is not hyperbole to say that there are only four people alive so familiar to Minnesotans that they can be referred to by a single moniker: Jesse, Prince, Dylan—and Sid.

There are a lot of reasons for this sort of renown, not the least of which is Sid’s ubiquity. Every weekday morning, he appears on WCCO Radio to talk sports. Each Sunday, he co-hosts a popular two-and-a-half-hour radio call-in show. Four days a week, he pens a column for the Star Tribune, for whom he also does a weekly podcast (known as the SidCast). Most days, he lunches with some sports figure or another, and most nights he’s touring a post-game locker room with his giant Sony Pressman recorder in hand. “If Woody Allen is right—that 80 percent of success is showing up,” says sports broadcaster Bob Costas, “Sid is the most successful man in our business.”

But Sid’s inescapability can only explain so much about his stature. There’s also the outsized personality, the comic-book persona: a wild stew of arrogance, petulance, and utter shamelessness that has made him one of the most notorious figures in the state. At the mere mention of the man, one Twin Cities sports writer furrows his brow: “Sid Hartman? The devil himself!” Another confides that Sid has visited him in dreams: “He was trying to hit me, just swinging and swinging,” he says. “I could barely hold him back.” And yet, over the course of his career, Sid has charmed and cultivated some of the most powerful men in the worlds of sports, business, and even politics. It’s a result of a tendency, in the words of a colleague at the Star Tribune, to “champion the overdog.” One of Sid’s favorite subjects, former Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight, wrote a foreword for Sid’s 1997 autobiography, Sid!, in which he marvels at how “Sid is able to pick up the telephone and call more people in sports than any writer in the country.” Knight’s remark isn’t an overstatement. The dust jacket of Sid’s book alone includes blurbs from Fran Tarkenton, Wayne Gretzky, Dave Winfield, Walter Mondale, Tom Brokaw, and Ted Williams. Sid famously calls these men his “close personal friends,” and the lengths he will go to build and maintain his relationships with them are infamous: not only lunches and dinners, but rides to and from the airport or the Mayo Clinic, and, legend has it, restaurant-booth counseling sessions for the offspring of more than one local coach.

Proximity to power yields its own sort of influence, and Sid has never hesitated to pull the levers at his disposal. Look closely enough at most of the big sports-related news events in Minnesota over the last seven decades—the arrival of the Lakers and Twins, the founding of the Vikings, the construction of the Metrodome—and you’re likely to find his fingerprints. In the 1980s, he fought so hard and so loudly for the dome that a local radio host joked that he’d been bought out by dome advocates with promises of a private tunnel connecting his office to the stadium.

The dome was built, of course, and Sid could count it as another success, one of the many triumphs, large and small, he’s had throughout his career. “For pure stamina spread over 50 years, for range of sources and contacts, Sid became a one-man epic,” Jim Klobuchar, Sid’s former competitor and colleague, has written. “For actual scoops … Hartman has no parallel in American sports journalism.” The rewards of such labor have been varied and many: Has any other sports writer ever had his own bobblehead doll? Has any other writer been honored with his own day at the Metrodome? Has another local journalist ever given an introduction speech at a Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony? Sid has.

After 89 years on the planet, most men might conclude that all this was enough. But to Sid, it does not matter that his legacy is secure, that he doesn’t need the money. He will not leave on any terms but his own. When former CNN anchor Aaron Brown, introduced to Sid by his father years ago, learned that the Star Tribune had filed for bankruptcy, he thought of his old friend: “Jesus,” said Brown. “Sid’s going to outlive newspapers.” He’s certainly going to try.

ON A RECENT SUNDAY MORNING, Sid walks into the WCCO building in downtown Minneapolis with a manila envelope tucked under his arm. Inside the studio, he sits down in front of his microphone. Dave Mona, the co-host of Sports Huddle for the last 28 years, is already in front of his. Sid remains a newspaper guy to the core, but most Minnesotans known him through his radio work. “I bet more people have heard Sid on the radio than have heard Prince on the radio,” says former Sports Illustrated columnist and Bloomington native Steve Rushin.

Sid tips the envelope upside down. A pile of small blank envelopes and gift cards pour out. The gift cards are for Murray’s steak house. It’s a Sports Huddle tradition: every coach, player, or front-office type who spends time on the show gets a gift card for a Murray’s Silver Butterknife Steak dinner for two: $98.50.

Sid pulls out his traveling Rolodex—a black checkbook cover containing a mess of folded paper. There are invoices, a game schedule, a page ripped from a reporters’ notebook. For the first 10 minutes of the broadcast, listeners can hear him rustling through the pile—unfolding scraps of paper, skimming them, and folding them again. He goes through every piece of paper twice—even as he interviews Gophers football coach Tim Brewster. “Tim” … rustle, rustle … “let’s forget about the past” … rustle … “and focus on the future.”

The interview ends with Sid’s typical on-air farewell: “Treat yourself and your lovely bride to a dinner at Murray’s.”

Brewster hangs up. Sid opens a piece of paper and barks at his producer, Dave Schultz: “Call Flip Saunders. Here’s his number.”

Seconds later, with a commercial still running, Schultz reaches the former Timberwolves coach at his home. “Flip? This is David Schultz calling for Sid. You got a minute to be on the show? Great. I’m going to put you on hold.”

“You got him?” says Sid.

“Yeah, I think he was sleeping.”

For the next 10 minutes Sid fires off questions at Saunders as he fills out and stuffs Murray’s gift cards. More rustling. “Talk about their ability to pick up and play that zone….”

Even as Saunders is talking, Sid stuffs a Murray’s card in an envelope, writes the interviewee’s name on it, and sets it in a pile to be mailed.

He says goodbye: “Bring your nice Debbie to Murray’s instead of that McDonald’s.”

At this, Mona speaks up: “There goes a sponsor.”

 

On-air, Sid is mostly tame these days, but it wasn’t always that way. For most of the time he’s been doing Sports Huddle, he’s been an inveterate grump. Callers would be dismissed as “stiffs” or “geniuses.” These days, Sid might tell one, “Everybody is entitled to their opinion,” but that’s about as nasty as it gets. Partly it’s his struggle to understand the caller. His hearing has declined sharply, and his hearing aides make things louder but not clearer. He blames the headphones.

Just then, Erik Eskola walks into the studio. A well-known figure among the state’s news junkies, Eskola hosts the local news show Almanac on public television. He also appears on WCCO Radio, including the weekday-morning spots with Sid. During these short bursts of conversation, Eskola often takes friendly shots at Sid—at times making him seem a hopeless old coot.

On this day, though, Sid gets Eskola’s attention during a commercial break: “Do me a favor,” he says, pointing to the growing stack of envelopes. “Write the return address in.”

Eskola sits down and dutifully begins the task. Sid looks at me and winks.

IF THERE’S A TRICK to animating Sid Hartman, it’s not to ask him about sports. It’s to get him talking about his childhood in north Minneapolis. He’ll start by reciting house numbers: 525 Humbolt; 711 Irving; 726 Irving. But he doesn’t linger there long. He may have called the area home, but he learned everything he needed to in the downtown alley that separated the Minneapolis Journal from the Minneapolis Tribune.

Sid learned to hustle in that alley. It’s where he shot craps and got in fights. It’s where a scrappy kid who was known as Sidney at home and at Hebrew school got tagged with the nickname “Blackie” for his nest of dark hair.

A job first drew him there. He was just 9 years old in 1929 when he started biking downtown after school to stand in line for copies of the city papers. He’d buy them at a discount and sell them at a mark-up on whatever corner he could hold against the older paperboys.

Sid eventually won an exclusive Tribune route that had him dropping papers at corner stands, pubs, and office buildings—a run that allowed him to move as many as 1,400 papers a day. With tips, he was earning as much as $50 a week—far more than what his delivery-driver father was bringing home. That was if his father came home at all.

Jack Hartman was born in Russia and couldn’t read or write English. If Sid’s father wasn’t home at dinner time, his son would be dispatched to find him. Often he could be found passed out on a platform outside a nearby warehouse. “For all the grief he caused our family,” Sid writes in Sid!, “my father was a hard worker. He was an underdog all of his life. He was a fierce competitor. I think that’s something I picked up from my old man. I had nothing going for me as a kid. I felt like an underdog who had to fight for everything.”

Even back then, there was no clear path from the alley to the sports desk—but Sid found it. He had friends in the sports department. And he’d already done the work of a newspaperman in room 308 at Lincoln Junior High in north Minneapolis. He was sports editor and a columnist for the Lincoln Life student paper. The column, “Punts: Lincoln Life Pickups and Sports Bits by Sidney Hartman,” was situated among stories like “Cooking Classes Study Diets for Families on Relief” and “Minstrel Show Promises to Be Splendid Entertainment,” but Sid’s style even then would be recognizable to current readers. “If the rumor that the Physical Education Department and the swimming pools of all city schools are to be closed comes true,” Sid wrote in 1935, with the same mix of dire prophesy and wild speculation that he employs today, “it will not be with the consent of the students. This will probably mean the removal of all interscholastic competition in city high schools.”

He learned early the value of a well-placed source, the need to establish and maintain confidences. “Don’t be surprised if John Deno is promoted to a coaching position in the near future,” he wrote in one Lincoln Life column. Sid had every reason to flatter Deno. It was Deno who gave Sid the keys to the gym at lunch hour where he and his friends would shoot baskets and bet whatever money they had on the outcome. It was Deno who was one of Sid’s coaches. Most significantly, it was Deno who read Sid’s columns and told him, “This is what you should do for a living.”

He started his career as an intern in the sports department of the Minneapolis Daily Times. It was 1944, and most kids Sid’s age were fighting overseas. Sid tried to enlist three times but was rejected because of his asthma. Instead, Sid would come in at night to work on the paper for the following afternoon. He’d leave at 1 a.m. and be back at 6 a.m. Then, at noon, he’d pick up stacks of papers for his news run.

By his own admission, Sid couldn’t write. (To this day, he struggles with anything more than the most rudimentary roundup.) But nobody was going to out-hustle him, and soon enough, Dick Cullum, the notoriously sharp-tongued sports editor, was sending him over to the University of Minnesota. “Before we got all of these major league sports, Gopher football was the biggest thing there was,” Sid says. He hung around the University every day, a habit that continues to this day.

Behind the scenes, he ingratiated himself to coaches and players, and he soon became part of a covert lifeline for Gophers athletes—football especially—known as the “Touchdown Club,” which placed star players in no-show jobs. On paper, the hard-working jocks were making a living between the practices, the road games, and their studies. In reality, the Touchdown Club provided critical support for stars like Bud Grant in the days before scholarships.

Sid would often take a cash-strapped Grant out for food (just as he would do for a cash-strapped Kevin McHale years later and countless others between and since). He’d connect Grant and others with Albert Murray, owner of Murray’s steak house. In those days, players would get tickets for family or to sell for walking-around money. Murray would buy the tickets from Sid at a premium and Sid would pass the profits—seven dollars per ticket—to the student-athletes. “Unethical?” writes Sid in his autobiography, “Hey, it was the 1940s. The newspaper wanted the Gophers to win.” When they did, he explains, the paper’s press run would jump by 30,000.

In 1945, when he was all of 25 years old, Sid was promoted to columnist for the Times. His first column, “The Hartman Roundup,” appeared in the morning edition of the paper on August 11, 1945.

SID’S ROUTINE is dictated by the season—but the basic elements are unchanging: He wakes up on the radio. The first of his three morning live spots comes on at 6:40 a.m. By mid-morning, he’s usually behind the wheel of his black Cadillac, making his rounds. It might be the University’s athletic department, a Vikings practice at Winter Park, a Timberwolves practice at the Target Center—or all three.

One morning last fall, he was off to the Metrodome to see William Lester, the executive director of the facility. As is his custom, Sid exploded through the office door—there had been no phone call or e-mail requesting an interview—only to find Lester sitting at his desk, bare-chested. Lester had recently returned from attending a wedding in the Virgin Islands, where he had been badly sunburned. The only thing that helped the pain was wrapping a cold, wet towel around his bare shoulders.

From Sid’s vantage point, however, it looked like the executive was sitting there naked. Sid erupted in expletives, before finally blurting: “I thought you had a girl in here!”

Lester, accustomed to such intrusions after 20 years of working with the columnist, merely stood up, removed the towel, and began dressing. As he knotted his tie in the reflection of a window, Sid hit the button on his famous recorder. “It’s not just me,” Lester says of Sid’s ways. “He does that with the Vikings and the Gophers, too. There’s no knock, he just blasts through closed doors. He will get the story.”

After making his rounds, Sid often uses lunch as an opportunity to sit down with an athlete, coach, or team executive. If he needs to bang out a column, he’ll march into the Star Tribune newsroom around 4 p.m. His desk at the paper is part museum, part dump. “In the old days of typewriters,” remembers Jon Roe, a former colleague at the Star Tribune, “he pasted all of these sheets of paper together—like Northern Tissue on steroids. There was literally crap on it.”

A Star Tribune staffer transcribes the interviews Sid compiles on his recorder. The tapes are epic collections of interviews, often with long gaps of ambient noise because Sid forgot to shut off the machine. If he is on deadline—the only thing that will bring him to the office these days—Sid will hover around his transcriptionist as he waits to get to work.

A former sports-department intern described what it was like around the newsroom when Sid was on deadline: “There were only a small group of people that edited Sid’s column, and it was always treated like the short straw. He had these early deadlines and the night-team managers would lose their minds if he missed them…. If an editor changed anything and Sid was still in the office, he’d pop in the file, and see it, and then come out to argue. That was rarely pretty.”

 

BY THE 1960s, Sid had taken his column—and his rapidly expanding Rolodex—to the Minneapolis Tribune. He was writing for the paper seven days a week and serving as sports editor. Sid being Sid, he was also doing a spot—five minutes with a national sports star—each weekday for WCCO Radio.

In his own memoir, retired Star Tribune columnist Jim Klobuchar captures the Sid of this era. Klobuchar was covering sports for the Associated Press when he met the rival columnist. “Sid was an unreformable fan,” he writes. “Sid agonized and erupted from the kickoff to the last drip of beer from the upper-deck customers at Metropolitan Stadium. When the game was going badly for the Vikings, Sid was beyond consolation. He delivered thunderbolts of bitterness and excoriation directed impartially at the Vikings’ defensive backs, the Vikings’ pass rush, the National Football League, and the officials.”

During one football game between the U of M and Wisconsin in the early 1960s, the Gophers seemed to have the game wrapped up when Minnesota started drawing a series of penalties. In the press box, a Wisconsin State Journal reporter was stunned to spot Sid, who minutes before had been seated next to him, down on the field. He was standing shoulder to shoulder with Gopher coach Murray Warmath—arguing with the referee.

Klobuchar covered the University of Minnesota’s first Rose Bowl appearance, in 1961, where he got a firsthand look at Sid’s ferocious competitiveness. “He was on the field, in the dressing room, in the chow line, in the coaches’ hotel rooms, riding the team bus, and on the telephone around the clock,” Klobuchar writes. “You could also find him at the second urinal to the left in the locker room, fortuitously standing next to a star linebacker…. I’ve never seen a man work as supernaturally hard covering a story.”

A national audience would soon get a taste of Sid’s relentlessness. In 1967, the New York Giants played the New York Jets in New Haven, Connecticut—the first time football greats Fran Tarkenton and Joe Namath met on the field. After the game, reporters swarmed the Jets locker room hoping for a few minutes with Namath. He wasn’t talking to reporters. At least that was what he told everybody but Sid, to whom he reached out in peculiar fashion. He was headed for the showers, he said, and he’d answer Sid’s questions there. Sid followed Namath into the shower—fully clothed—to get his exclusive. News of Sid’s soggy interview made it into papers all over the country.

Sid could, at times, use his combativeness for worthy goals. In the early 1960s, the Twins, having been in Minnesota for scarcely a year, were the only team in Major League Baseball still segregating black players during spring training in Florida. “The black players stayed in a dump,” Sid remembers, “and the white players stayed at the Cherry Plaza Hotel—a real fancy place.” Sid started writing about the issue in his column, which led Minnesota governor Elmer Anderson to write to Twins owner Calvin Griffith. When Griffith ignored the governor, Sid arranged a meeting between Griffith and Rabbi Max Shapiro, an appointee to the state’s human rights commission. Griffith was upset with Sid’s advocacy, and told him to mind his own business. He wasn’t alone in his annoyance. Sid, a Jew who was defending blacks in a city pulsing with an undercurrent of racism and anti-Semitism, was repeatedly threatened on the phone and in the streets. Eventually, under heavy pressure by the state and intense media scrutiny (thanks to Sid), Griffith caved.

Usually, though, Sid’s combative nature was employed for less noble ends. In 1981, Jay Weiner was just 26 years old when the Star Tribune sent him to his first Twins spring training. “I get there and I introduce myself to Twins second baseman Rob Wilfong,” says Weiner, who has since left the paper. “He says: ‘Oh, you’re the new guy. Sid told me not to talk to you.’ That was my introduction to Sid Hartman.”

IN 1979, when the Minneapolis Star merged with the Tribune, the paper’s new managing editor, Tim McGuire, inherited Sid. “I was put in charge of sports,” he says, “and Sid became mine.” McGuire retired from the Star Tribune in 2002, but he still wears a cross around his neck that was given to him by his former employee. “To my friend Tim the Catholic,” it says, “from Sid the Jew.”

“He grew up in a very different time,” McGuire says. “My job was to bring him into the modern world. I never claimed any success—but I may have prevented some really horrible things.”

McGuire had reason to be on guard. Over the years, Sid has provided plenty of fodder for the ethics police of journalism. In the 1970s, for example, the Star discovered that Sid was helping to recruit athletes to the University of Minnesota, an organization he covered on a regular basis. “Sure, I helped if I could,” he’d later tell a reporter. “I’d make a call to a player and encourage them to come here.” His paper ordered him to stop. Thirty years later, McGuire can only say: “I think we got him out of recruiting.”

Sid’s propensity to transgress some of the most basic rules of modern journalism has long been a source of hand-wringing at the Star Tribune. Not so much for Sid. Even now, when Sid forces the words “conflict of interest” past his lips, there is clear disdain. Ask him when he was happiest, in fact, and he won’t regale you with tales of breaking stories or newsroom debauchery. “I think of all the fun I had running the Minneapolis Lakers,” he beams. Inside his home, a giant framed photograph hangs on a wall. It’s a team photo of the 1954 NBA champion Minneapolis Lakers. Sid is in the picture.

To detractors, Sid’s involvement with the Lakers is Exhibit A in the case against him. The Lakers were the first major-league team to come to Minneapolis—and it was Sid’s idea to bring them here. At the time, he had a side gig bringing pro ball clubs to the Minneapolis Auditorium for exhibition games, and he started telling any moneyed ear he could bend that the city needed its own professional basketball team. When the deal was finally done, and a team was purchased, it was Sid who delivered the check. He would go on to essentially serve as the team’s general manager—even as he wrote about sports for the newspaper and talked sports on the radio. “The writing business is different,” he says. “In those days all of the writers had a publicity job.” One reporter promoted fights. Another promoted baseball. “There was no such thing as ‘conflict of interest’ back then.”

He left the Lakers when ownership changed hands in 1957. Three years later, Minneapolis lost the team to Los Angeles, a move that still saddens Sid, albeit for different reasons that one might imagine. If Minneapolis could have held on to the Lakers, Sid insists, his son Chad “would be running an NBA team right now. There’d be no Lakers in California. He doesn’t think about that, but I do.” When Chad hears this, he merely shakes his head.

Sid still finds ways to get into trouble. In 2005, the Star Tribune’s top editors learned that an event honoring Sid would raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for athletic scholarships at the University of Minnesota, an institution Sid covers on a near-daily basis. “I’ve been at the paper for 60 years,” he told ombudsperson Kate Parry at the time. “I might drop dead tomorrow and not have a chance to do this. There’s nobody else who’s done more for this paper. That’s why it could be right for me and not for someone else. I’ve got a unique situation. There can be a little different rules for all I’ve done for this newspaper.” The issue was resolved when Sid agreed that the money raised would not be released until he was gone from the Star Tribune.

It’s easy to understand why Sid thinks there should be different rules for him. For most of his career, there were different rules for him. And for all the anxiety he’s caused his employers, they have never hesitated to use his vast contacts, which extended well beyond the world of sports. “We used him for business stories all the time,” says McGuire. “I’d say ‘Walk by the old man’s desk and have him make some calls.’ He’d simply come back and nod or shake his head. So many people fault Sid for being too close to his subjects, yet that’s given him a lot of scoops. There are national people—several sources—who have called him on stories where the first reporter shouldn’t be a reporter in Minnesota.”

THERE’S A PRICE TO BE PAID for Sid’s brand of obsessiveness. He’s lived alone since 1967, when his marriage to a runway model that began three years earlier, with an elopement in Baltimore, ended in divorce. He’s still in touch with his ex, who left Minnesota decades ago for a life in California. Today, his personal life, what there is of it, is wrapped up in Chad and his grandchildren. “Those three kids,” Sid says. “I worship the ground they walk on.” The youngest, 7-year-old Quinn, has had a long battle with a list of illnesses, and Sid often accompanies his son and grandson on hospital visits.

Sid’s devotion to his grandkids is often cited by his friends as proof that he’s not as much of a jerk as many people think, that in his old age he’s mellowed. “What bothers me these days,” says Jon Roe, “is that the ones that say he’s a jerk seem to be growing in number. I’m part of a small cult that says ‘Take it easy on my guy here.’”

Scott Litin is a card-carrying member of the “my guy” cult. Litin’s father, Eddie, was Sid’s boyhood friend. Edward Litin grew up to be head of psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic, initiating Sid’s long and very public relationship with Mayo, to which he regularly refers in his column as “the greatest hospital in the world.” Edward died young, and Sid looked after the family. Scott Litin carries a string of mind’s-eye snapshots from dinners and locker-room encounters arranged by Sid. “When Fran Tarkenton was brand new with the Vikings, he got us into the locker room and I got to meet him,” he says. Litin’s childhood hero was NFL defensive lineman Eugene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb. Sid set up a dinner. Litin still has a picture from the evening.

In an e-mail following our interview, Litin writes: “Be kind to old Sid. When you had to fight for every little thing growing up, it is hard to shake the old habits. He is actually quite sensitive underneath the rough exterior.”

In recent years, whether it’s because of the grandkids or his age, Sid’s rough exterior has softened a bit. He doesn’t yell at officials anymore, and his press-box rants have cooled. His scoops are fewer, too, but he’s still out reporting every day despite a wildly different media landscape. Most of Sid’s colleagues are amazed he tries at all.

“A lot of older guys send in their column once a week,” says Costas, “and they phone it in.”

“He can still do this in a highly competitive environment,” says Klobuchar. “He’s like Methuselah walking into the locker room. He’s talking to 20-year-old athletes—some of them millionaires. But I’m willing to bet every one of those players knows him and is willing to talk to him. He probably still gets points because of his protective style.”

Of course, no one knows the value of Sid more than Sid. “About a year or so ago when we started reporting Web statistics vigorously, he found out that his column was number one,” says Sid’s current editor, Glen Crevier. “He does not hesitate to let you know that. He always knows the numbers.”

AT CHAD HARTMAN’S dining-room table, when the talk turns to his rapport with those young millionaire athletes, Sid is quick to smile and boast: “We have fun. I kid them and they kid me.”

I ask him if he gets bored when he’s not working. It’s an obvious way to bring up an obvious topic: why, after all these years, he still bothers. Why is he still hanging out in locker rooms with supremely talented but mostly uninteresting young men? But after following him everywhere—to games, to news conferences, press boxes, from one end of one locker room to another—I already know the answer to whether he’s bored.

“Yup,” he says plainly.

Sid, it turns out, can’t stop working. Even when he’s on vacation, at his condo in Fort Lauderdale. “He’s got a view of the Atlantic Ocean,” says Chad. But all he does is watch TV and go see sports friends.

Sid laughs, then stares at his hands.

“Are you always going to do this?” I ask.

“I’d die if I didn’t,” he says. “I wouldn’t make it.”

Jeff Severns Guntzel is a senior editor at Utne Reader.

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