Monday, April 26, 2010

For The Good Of The Clan

TigerBlog, as he always does on his way to and from Harvard, got off I-84 at Exit 65 in Vernon, Conn., and went to Rein's Deli.

On the way up, TB went with a turkey club. On the way back, it was what the people at Rein's call their "Boston Harbor" sandwich: whitefish salad, lox, onion and tomato. TB added a black-and-white cookie and a Dr. Brown's cream soda.

Rein's has been the destination of choice on the Harvard trip for years. It was also a stop on the way to Dartmouth, even though that requires going up 84 for a few miles and then back to 2, which reconnects to 91. That's about 20 minutes or so out of the way. Fortunately, Rein's opened a second location right off 91 in Springfield, Mass.

TB always chuckles at the time that Tom McCarthy (before he lost all the weight) was at Rein's and made this order:
"I'll have a turkey reuben, a potato kanish and a diet coke. Oh, who am I fooling? Make it a chocolate milk shake."

In the pre-Rein's days, it was usually McDonald's or Burger King on the way. Once, when getting ready to leave Harvard, John Veneziano, then the sports information director for the Crimson, suggested stopping at the deli instead. Needless to say, TB has not gone fast food since on the way to Harvard or Dartmouth.

Veneziano has long since left Harvard, seduced by the lure of working more normal 9-5 hours. It's something that gets a lot of people who are in the sports information field, one that requires working basically every weekend for most of the academic year, as well as a few other nights here and there.

On the other hand, it does offer tremendous flexibility that being tied to your desk from 8:30 - 5:30 or whatever doesn't. But that's not our point today.

When TB was in Rein's the other day, he couldn't help but think back to John Veneziano and the others who were the cornerstones of Ivy League sports information 10-20 years ago.

At Columbia there was Bill Steinman, whose brother Jim Steinman wrote all of Meat Loaf's songs from "Bat Out Of Hell," as well as many songs from rock operas and other musicals.

At Cornell there was Dave Wohlhueter, one of the high-ranking members of the national sports information organization.

At Harvard there was Veneziano, known to all as Johnny V. His dream, to see Harvard win an Ivy League men's basketball championship while he was the men's basketball contact, was trampled year after year during the Princeton-Penn weekend.

At Dartmouth there was Kathy Slattery, who didn't exactly, uh, appreciate TigerBlog's sense of humor very much. Slats, as she was known, was as much a part of Dartmouth athletics as anyone has ever been, bleeding green until the day she died more than two years ago at the young age of 55.

Here at Princeton, there was Kurt Kehl, now with the Washington Capitals, and, Mark Panus, whose decision to leave opened up the space that TB originally got.

At the Ivy League office itself was Chuck Yrigoyen, who was as objective as a person could be in an eight-team league after working at one of the schools for a time and continuing to work on that school's campus (yes, that would be Princeton).

The only two people who have more time in than TB are Chris Humm at Brown and Steve Conn at Yale. For whatever reason, The Hummer has managed to raise two kids while staying in sports information, and TB and Conn (no nickname) are in the process of doing the same.

At each office there were assistants and interns, and as a whole it was a group that knew each other very well and worked together closely. There were a lot of years that TB knew everyone who worked in every office, even with the amount of turnover there was at the time.

Today, it's all different.

Princeton is playing Cornell Saturday in men's lacrosse. TB has already emailed Julie Greco, Cornell's men's lacrosse contact, requesting what he needs in advance of the game (rosters, action shot for the program, media list, etc.). Julie will send it back to TB, along with whatever questions or requests she has. Eventually, the game will roll around, and TB will see her when she gets there.

Back in the "old" days of the 1990s, all of that would have required several phone calls and possibly a fax or two.

It's not saying anything new that technology has advanced what each of the eight schools is doing in communications. All eight schools have gone down the path of video and other multimedia, not to mention an explosion of information on web pages that didn't exist back then.

The world continues to go away from printed materials and in the direction of a web-based world. All of this is great, of course.

But it has also come with a cost, which also isn't saying anything people don't already know.

The cost has been the relationships that used to exist. TB has attended Ivy League administrative meetings that have ended with a dinner at which each school's representatives would sit together except for the SIDs, who would all sit with each other.

There used to be annual Ivy League SID meetings, which when TB first started to attend was a two-day event. In TB's closet here at HQ, he has a binder of minutes from those meetings, and they make for great reading.

The group would discuss/debate/argue about anything, stuff that now seems to be ridiculous. Issues with fax-on-demand. Would email and the internet catch on or be a phase?

How long should a post-event fax list for the visiting team be before it gets to be too much of an imposition for the home team? Should writers from the different alumni magazines be able to get an extra ticket for their spouse? Should tennis and golf be eligible for fall Academic All-Ivy?

Of all of the topics that would come up, TB's favorite by far was the issue of standardized rosters. TB is laughing as he writes this all these years later about the inanity of trying to get eight schools to agree on what order rosters should be in before they were sent via email to other schools.

For the record, it took two years to come up with this: Number, Last Name, First Name, Class, Position, Height, Weight, High School, Hometown.

And that of course wasn't enough.

The big debate then shifted to such great issues as whether or not it should be AP or postal abbreviations for hometown and whether or not last names should be capitalized. TB can't get these words out without rolling his eyes.

Anyway, as moronic as some of the topics seem to be looking back now, it was the sense of camaraderie that existed among the group, the idea that it was a group of people who worked those nights and weekends and knew that there were others out there who understood what they were going through.

The meetings would end with lots of laughs at the Ivy sports information dinner, and then everyone would go back to their campuses, knowing full well it wouldn't be long until they were on the phone with each other about something. In many ways, the Ivy SIDs worked closer with each other than they did with many in their home departments.

Today, those meetings no longer exist, and on the few attempts in the last 10 years to have them, they have produced no agendas and no discussions of anything remotely relevant. The meetings fell victim to the constant communication that exists with email and the web, and even the issues that need to be discussed can be knocked off in an hour on a conference call.

Sports information today is a vastly improved field over what it was, and the advances in the ability to provide information continue to take us in new directions all the time.

Still, what TB wouldn't give to go back to sitting in a room with Chuck and Johnny V and Bill Steinman and the rest, including Slats, and make each other yell and scream and ultimately laugh.

Back then, Slats would finish every meeting with her benediction, which was the same each time. The group could fight and argue and disagree, but ultimately everyone needed to keep in mind that we were all in it together.

Or, to use her words, everything we did, we did "For The Good Of The Clan."


Anonymous said...

Jim Steinman has written some of the best songs in the history of rock music. No offense to the fine people of the Ivy SID community, but finding out that he is the brother of Columbia's sports information director kind of takes the luster off his image a bit, doesn't it? Unless of course you tell me that the Columbia sports information office is populated by cocktail-swilling mini-skirted supermodels.

Anonymous said...

And I suppose you'll rail on about the time you drove to New Brunswick to type your inept friend's senior thesis on a Brother Selectric typewriter! Let’s face it, it’s a brave new world we live… one where a person can have 1,000 Facebook friends and not have an actual conversation with any of them. Now if you excuse me I have to walk to school (up hill both ways!).

BGA said...

"For The Good Of The Clan."

How many times did I hear Slats say that?

As an early member of the "Clan," who considers many of the names in your piece friends (even though I've gone over to the dark side) thanks for the memories.