Tuesday, 23. September 2008
I’m taking a break from former Oregon players this week to catch up with Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN. I often wonder how long it took him to learn how to spell his last name. I bet people with complicated last names end up smarter because they can spell big words early on in life.
I can’t remember exactly what game or what year it was that Gene came to Autzen to cover the Ducks. It was obviously during the Joey era, but I don’t remember the exact game. All I remember is that he was really gracious and did not take himself too seriously. Basically, he was as funny in person as he is in his writing. I like people who take their jobs seriously, but not so seriously that they can’t be bothered for a decent conversation over greasy press box food and game notes.
If you read ESPN.com (who doesn’t?), then you’re probably familiar with his columns. I miss working in sports everyday and I can’t imagine having a job that would take me from the Final Four to the World Series to Green Bay on a November day. I’m appreciative of how he captures these moments with great personality.
Even if he is wearing a salmon-colored shirt in his mug and doesn’t think I’m worthy of a blog on ESPN.com. Pfft.
The problem with this Q&A is the onslaught of phone calls it will spark from my mother. Mother, he can not get me a job at ESPN. I will never be the next Erin Andrews (even if I did have a job at ESPN) and no Mike Bellotti does not remember who I am.
Strangely, I could not find any action photos of him. Anyway, here goes…
1. Introduce Yourself: My name is Gene Wojciechowski. I might be the only sportswriter who held Michael Jordan to eight points in a pickup game. Sadly, the game was only to 11. I’m also the only sportswriter to have Michael Jordan on my team in a game–and lose. I work for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine, like short walks on the beach, and will never understand why the Green Bay Packers haven’t sued Georgia for ripping off its helmet logo.
2. What is the most memorable sports event you covered? I refuse to choose just one Most Memorable Event I covered. You’ve got to give me three, and even then it’s a toughie. In no exact order: Christian Laettner’s shot to beat Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA Tournament in Philly (in the locker room after the game, Kentucky’s John Pelphrey pounded the cinderblock walls with his fist and cried like a newborn); Larry Bird Night in 1993 at the Boston Garden (full disclosure: Bird is one of my all-time favorite athletes. And yes, I pocketed a bolt from the Garden floor that night. But the ceremony was amazing, the emotions real, and the place packed); Utah wins the West Regional and then wins the Final Four semi vs. a North Carolina team that had Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison (Utah coach Rick Majerus gave me total access during the 1998 NCAA tournament. I remain in awe of how Majerus prepared his team for those games. After the West Regional final win vs. Arizona, the team pushed the coaches into the showers and sprayed 7-Up on each other. There was such an innocence to it all. And it was wonderful to see an underdog team reach the Final Four.).
Honorable mentions: Chris Webber’s time out in 1993; Villanova beats Georgetown in 1985 (the last Final Four not played in a dome); Magic Johnson’s press conference to announce he had HIV; Texas vs. USC 2006; Miami vs. Ohio State 2003; and anything involving Tiger Woods; MJ vs. Utah Jazz in the Finals.
3. What was your first reaction when you heard Rick Neuheisel was hired at UCLA? Two thoughts: The potential to be a great hire…if he learned from his mistakes at Colordado and Washington. And it will be fun to see how T.J. Simers treats him.
4. The college football team that will surprise people this year is: I don’t cover as much college football as I did in the past. But Notre Dame will surprise you–not because of how good it is, but because of how irrelevant the program has become.
5. What athlete provides the best sound bite?: Bill Belichick. Just kidding.
Ozzie Guillen makes your tape recorder beg for mercy; Torii Hunter of the LA Angels is a pleasure to chat with; Peyton Manning absolutely gets it. For outrageousness, Joey Porter is a go-to guy.
6. In your humble opinion, how has the national prominence of the Oregon program changed in the last 15 years? Well, first of all, Oregon leads the world in Most Movies Made About The Same Distance Runner. And even though it was a cheesy idea, the Joey Harrington NY billboard was an interesting starting point for Oregon football. Personally, I would have used the money to endow, say, a scholarship, but the billboard was an interesting experiment, as is Nike’s close involvement with the program. And who can forget a program that gave America the Whizzinator? Oregon is a national player, but eventually its geography will catch up with it. There simply aren’t enough great football players in the state to sustain a program–at least, not in the same way Ohio State, USC, etc., can sustain their programs.
7. Who would win a 40-yard dash, you or Pat Forde? Well, Forde is younger, but I have much less hair and thus, would experience less wind resistance. I’ve played hoops with Forde. He has game.
8. What site/magazines/newspapers are your must-reads? ESPN.com, of course. Your blog. DairyFarmersOfAmerica.com.
9. What’s your guilty pleasure television show? I watch exactly two shows on a regular basis: “30 Rock.” Tina Fey–genius. Alec Baldwin–huge comic chops.
The other show: “Friday Night Lights.” Season One was brilliant. Season Two was uneven, but still occasionally compelling. I’ve been assured by one of the actors that Season Three will be a keeper. And did I mention that Connie Britton deserves an Emmy one of these days.
Honorable mention: “Saturday Night Live.”
10. Can you get me a job? No, I can’t get you a job. Please leave me alone.