In some settings, my age can seem quite old, but in the grand scheme of life I am still very young. Regardless of which perspective people have on my age, the fact remains that I have been a part of five decades here on Earth.
34? Five decades? I’ll wait while you do the math.
I managed to catch the end of the 1970s, still be called a child of the 1980s, become an adult in the 1990s, survive Y2K threats and beyond in the 2000s, and finally prepare to take a vow of marriage here in the 2010s. It’s been quite a ride already, and hopefully there’s still a lengthy journey ahead. There have been several monumental events for me personally, and even more for the world around me.As you know by now, much of the world around me that grabbed my attention, involved sports in some way. Living in Duluth all these years, two names stood out in local sports —
Wait a minute, countless athletes stood out in a much bigger way than those two media talents, didn’t they?
Not to me they didn’t. Born with Cerebral Palsy, I didn’t exactly have the typical childhood sports dream of “playing in the big leagues some day.” I knew the reality of my own physical limitations as soon as I was old enough to understand. I was never going to play any sport at a high level, but instead I made sure I had a vast knowledge of all of them, and could discuss and analyze them with everybody. I was going to be just like Marsh and Tom. They didn’t know that, but I sure did.
I can only recall meeting Nelson three times. I spoke to him by phone on a few more occasions as I was the squeaky-voiced young kid who loved to call in on his weekly sports radio show. I knew him, but he didn’t know me. I didn’t let that happen with Hansen.
My age had not yet reached double digits when I first met Tom at a UMD basketball game. My father took me to as many games as possible, and again with my physical limitations, we always sat down in the front. There was Tom, just a few feet to my left, as the radio voice of the Bulldogs. Being someone who had already been taping himself doing video game play-by-play, I figured I could do that some day. I inched closer to Tom so I could hear his call of the game. That night, I’m sure he found it odd, and perhaps annoying. Yet as he officially met both me and my father, and the seasons and games would later pile up, he grew to expect it. As I grew older and continued to idolize him, I would jokingly tell Tom that I would have that UMD play-by-play job eventually. It turned out I wasn’t joking.
I never truly took a job from Hansen, but he instead became my mentor on how to move forward in my pursuit of sports broadcasting. He saw how serious I was about making it my career path. We stayed in touch during my time at Duluth East, and we always took a few extra minutes to chat when he covered sporting events that involved the Greyhounds. If I was there (and I usually was), I made sure he knew it. I still have a photo from the 1995 section championship in boys basketball. I was the East manager and we had just beaten Duluth Central to advance to the state tournament. Our student body had stormed the court and many were engaged in emotional hugs. Where was I? Hugging Tom and posing for a picture with my medal. He knew how much sports and Duluth East meant to me. I just hope he knew how much he did too.
I decided after East to attend Winona State University. It was no coincidence that Winona State was Hansen’s alma mater. Winona didn’t exactly fit me like a glove, and I only lasted two years with the Warriors. However, during that time, I was able to become the play-by-play voice of Winona State football, basketball, and baseball. All that taping of video games had actually paid off. UMD and Winona State were conference opponents, which meant the voice of the Bulldogs and the voice of the Warriors would often be in the same building. Here sat Tom and I broadcasting games against each other. I can’t explain how honored I felt!
The biggest honor came mid-free throw during a basketball game in Winona. Silence dominated the gym except for Tom’s voice and mine. Tom then picked up a wad of athletic tape nearby and hurled it in my face in an attempt to distract his broadcasting pupil. It stunned me, but I kept going. I looked over and smiled and saw that Tom was laughing pretty hard. I loved it. I didn’t have to idolize him anymore, he had just welcomed me as a broadcaster just like him. Mission accomplished.
I came home to Duluth, and finished college at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Hansen had attended school there as well and is now a member of the Hall of Fame. It was great to continue following his career path, but we also became colleagues when I returned home. I joined the KBJR-TV staff as a production assistant in 1999, and worked with Tom on a daily basis. It was obvious to Tom that I wanted to be a big part of his department, and other supervisors of mine noticed as well.
Eventually, I was writing sports scripts, editing sports highlights, voicing sports stories and even got the chance to sit in that precious sports anchor chair about a dozen times to do live newscasts. Each day, I would give Tom every bit of breaking sports news he could possibly want — and even information he didn’t. I remember being reminded that “this was Duluth, Minnesota — not ESPN.” Tom passed on so many valuable lessons on how to be more involved with local sports and how to appeal to local audiences. Nobody did it better.
However, the most valuable lesson Tom taught me was the importance of family. It was sometimes painful to watch his tireless work ethic, but know deep down how disappointed he was to have such limited time with his wife and daughters. Tom loved his jobs and loved the world of sports, but never lost sight of what was truly important in life. He’s the ultimate family man, but the demands of his position were robbing him of displaying that quality to the fullest. This was a major reason why I left my position at KBJR-TV in 2006. Meeting those demands was one more thing Tom could do that I couldn’t.
However, I prefer to focus on the things Tom could do that I was also able to do. Our histories are eerily similar. Attend Winona State? Check. Attend UWS? Check. Work at KBJR, UPN, FOX, MY9, CBS3, NNC? Check. (Various mergers allowed us to be many channels over the years) Play-by-play for UMD basketball? Check. Play-by-play for the Duluth-Superior Dukes? Check. I’m sure there are many more similar traits, but I hope I can eventually be for someone, what he has definitely been for me: friend, mentor, colleague, role model.
Yes Tom, as you prepare to leave your television sportscasting position, you are a bigger role model to me now than you ever were in sports. You are doing the best thing for your family and for yourself. You’ll be off the air just a handful of days before your next birthday. Celebrate well, you deserve it.
Oh yeah, even our birthdays are just a day apart. Several years and a day. Then again age is just a number and a matter of perspective.