Norm Clarke is a contributing columnist for VSiN.
Clarke started his journalism career with a Hollywood ending. His first tournament assignment featured a winning half-court shot at the buzzer by his hometown team. That was his first big story and he was hooked. A college dropout, his improbable journey would take him from tiny Terry, Montana, to a 50-plus year career that included 12 years as a newsman and sportswriter with The Associated Press in Cincinnati, San Diego and Los Angeles. He left The AP after serving as coordinator of coverage of the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. He joined the Rocky Mountain News to serve as the point man in Denver’s bid for a Major League Baseball franchise. In June 1991, Clarke broke the story that Denver was getting a National League expansion franchise. After 15 years at the Rocky as baseball writer, sports columnist and man-about-town columnist, he moved to the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 1999 as gossip columnist. He was voted Best Journalist in 2013 and 2014 in the Review-Journal’s annual Best of Las Vegas readers poll. He retired from the newspaper business in 2016.
Norm’s diary . . .
"At age 10, I lost my father to cancer. Months later, I lost my right eye when doctors diagnosed it might turn cancerous. At age 15, I counted on playing high school football with my childhood friends. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t. My mother, my coach and my eye doctor disagreed with me.
"Being relegated to the sidelines hurt like hell. But I finally wore ‘em down and got to play my junior and senior seasons. That was a turning point in my life because I refused to accept my disability. I had fought so hard to play football and overcome what seemed like career-limiting possibilities that I somewhat foolishly developed no fear of failure. Anything was possible.
"As a 20-year-old grocery store delivery boy, I delivered an ad to our weekly newspaper. I was so passionate about sports that the editor offered me a sportswriting job on the spot. It didn’t matter that my first big assignment--a three-day tournament 80 miles away--paid all of $5. Six months later, I was working part-time as a sports writer and photographer for the Miles City Star, a daily. My first sports editor, Gordie Spear, was one of the most inspirational figures in my career and one of the greatest storytellers. He played for the Minnesota Gophers as a walk-on after repeatedly failing to make the varsity cut in high school. He survived World War II as a dive bomber in the Pacific. I greatly admired his courage. On every mission, he carried a bible his mother had given him. He was quite the father figure. Bigger than life.
"My first job at a daily newspaper was in Helena, Montana. After a couple years, I moved to the Billings Gazette as assistant sports editor and became sports editor a year later. During my five years at the Gazette, I met a wonderful character, Cecil Musburger, who founded the city’s Little League organization. I never met Brent until 1992, when I interviewed him a year after his departure from CBS following the NCAA Final Four in Denver.
"Another big break in my career came in 1972. I had left the Gazette to travel across Europe by train for 2½ months. Spent my life savings. Slept on a bed of leaves in a park in Avignon, on the banks of the Rhone River. Survived on bread and cheese, and an occasional beer. On my way back to Montana, I got off the train in Lima, Ohio, on a whim and hitchhiked to Cincinnati in December to see a sportswriter friend who ran the AP office there. Three months later, I was back in Cincinnati, covering the Reds, Bengals and University of Cincinnati.
"From 1973 to 1978. I covered great Reds teams. I learned a lot, especially as a newsman. I was one of the first reporters at the scene of the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire that killed 165 in 1977. A year later, I covered Tom Seaver’s only no-hitter and was in charge of the AP coverage team that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the Willow Island (West Virginia) nuclear cooling tower collapse that killed 51 in 1978."
Favorite athlete: Sandy Koufax. "I was a huge Dodgers fan. Later met Sandy and Don Drysdale at the Dodgertown bar in Vero Beach."
Favorite team: Colorado Rockies. "There will always be a connection because I covered their birth. Very few people get that opportunity."
Favorite author: James Michener. "Ran with the bulls in Pamplona, twice, after reading 'The Drifters.' Loved 'Centennial.' "
The most memorable games I covered: "Hank Aaron’s 714th homer to tie Babe Ruth; BYU’s 46-45 miracle comeback win in the 1980 Holiday Bowl capped by Jim McMahon’s Hail Mary with three seconds left after trailing SMU 45-25 with 4:07 remaining; Pete Rose’s 4,192nd hit to surpass Ty Cobb; and in one of the most iconic moments in World Series history, Kirk Gibson’s pinch-hit walk-off homer versus heralded closer Dennis Eckersley."
Most awe-inspiring game I covered: "UNLV’s 103-73 title game rout of Duke in 1990 in Denver.
The most earth-shaking event I covered was the 1989 earthquake World Series. I instantaneously shifted from sportswriter to newsman for the next week."