Sporting events just won’t be the same without the Courier’s Sully
Josh Fenske hit a sharp one-hopper to the Denver second baseman and sprinted to first base.If the Cyclones turned a double play, they’d be out of the inning; if they didn’t, New Hampton would score its first run of the Class 2A substate game.My son easily beat the throw to first, and I let out a sigh of relief, and I swore I heard a little chuckle from the man standing next to me on “press row.”“Well, he runs a heck of a lot better than his dad,” Waterloo Courier sports writer Jim Sullivan said, almost as if he was talking to himself.I couldn’t help but smile; 27 years after I first met “Sully,” he still had that dry, sarcastic wit that I came to know and love so well.Fast forward 38 days to Friday.I woke up and followed my usual morning routine, which includes a quick check of Facebook and saw the devastating news — “Our family is mourning. Sully died last night at work ...”Even now, hours later, I’m still stunned, still in shock, still hoping I’ll wake up from a bad nightmare.We met long ago and became fast friends.We were both Minnesotans, and we both worked at Iowa newspapers. Those were the only bonds we needed.Back then, I worked at the Mason City Globe Gazette and we covered a lot of the same games. Even if we didn’t see each other in Cedar Falls, Waterloo or Mason City, we covered the same state tournaments — girls basketball, boys track, softball, just to name a few — and I have a million “Sully stories” to tell.There was the year Cedar Falls made a run at a state girls basketball title. The Courier sent down a young photographer, who would not stop talking about getting a “jube” — as in jubilation — shot if the Tigers won the title game.For a day and a half, the photographer was “all jube all the time,” and for 25 years, Sully and I have always found a way to get “jube” into a conversation.There was the time I was sitting in between Sully and the Des Moines Register’s Rick Brown at the state softball tournament.The night before Mason City Newman had pulled off the biggest upset in tournament history, beating top-ranked Pella Christian 4-3.The Register had this beautiful “jube” shot of Newman’s pitcher and catcher leaping into each other’s arms. My paper, meanwhile, had nothing because our editors didn’t send a photographer to the state tournament.I was still rankled by the fact that night, and I had no clue that sitting on the other side of me was Des Moines Register reporter Rick Brown.So I’m sitting there whining to Sully about it and then went on and on and on about how at least I had written a way better story than “that Rick Brown guy.”Sully tried to stop me, tried to get my attention, but I would not stop venting.Finally, my rant had run its course, and Sully says, “Bob, let me introduce you to Rick Brown of the Des Moines Register.”A couple of years later in Fort Dodge, we were both covering Charles City at the state softball tournament. Since we always stayed in the same hotel, we rode out to the park together.The Comettes’ game was rained out, and Charles City coach Jerry Newton wanted to get his girls back to the Iowa Central dorms.Newton asked if we could meet him there for the interview, and on the way back into town, I rear-ended a cadillac, and we both got out of the car.“It doesn’t look too bad, just the bumper,” Sully said before adding with a twinkle in his eye, “of course, even a bumper on a Cadillac probably costs a couple thousand bucks.”I would eventually leave sports and go into news, but Facebook and the fact that I moved to New Hampton brought us together again.In 2010, for the first time in 15 years, we covered the same state team in Des Moines when Turkey Valley made it to its first-ever state boys basketball tournament.We were a little older, maybe even a little grayer, but nothing had changed. We flipped each other just as much grief as we did in the early 1990s.We’d trade comments on Facebook, and I loved reading his posts about his son, Pete, who Sully always referred to as the “Wily Lefthander.”We’d discuss the woes facing Minnesota teams from the Twins to the Vikings to the Gophers.And from time to time, we’d run into each other at a sporting event.Way back when, he taught me a lot about this business, and maybe the most valuable lesson he gave me was not to let the detractors get me down.“Just move onto the next story,” he said. “You know that saying you can’t please all the people all the time? That’s pretty much the world of sports writing.”And he was one of several reporters who taught me — as he would put it even in the pre-Internet days — that “everyone knows the score, but it’s your job to come up with the story.”Hopefully, I’ve done that, but honestly, today is just a really tough day for me and countless other sportswriters around Iowa.The Cedar Rapids Gazette’s Jeremiah Davis may have put it best when he wrote on Facebook that Sully “made press boxes and media rooms fun.”Jim Sullivan was 61 years old. He was way too young and had way too many stories yet to tell.Last week, we chatted for the last time and we talked about the Olympics, and for the final time, I got to hear that dry, self-deprecating humor as we talked about Usain Bolt’s 100-meter winning time of 9.81 seconds.“Hey, I can run a 9.81,” he said. “Granted, I’d only cover 20 meters, but people get so tied up in the details.”And while I will continue to use the lessons he taught me, I know that sporting events just won’t be the same without Sully.