Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Rick Cleveland: Suffering the deadline monkey

We were watching the Super Bowl, dripping with drama, at my house. The New England Patriots had overcome a 28-3 deficit and were about to beat the Atlanta Falcons. The crowd was going bonkers. The announcers were running out of superlatives to describe Tom Brady.

And me?

I couldn't take my mind off the poor guys in the press box, on deadline, who had just been thrown one of journalism's nastiest curve balls. The Super Bowl, always is one of the most difficult deadlines in the business. I covered nearly 30 of them. I know.

It starts early, but it goes on and on and on and on. Then, you have to jockey with about 2,000 or so other reporters for interviews. And then you have to write. That's why Super Bowl reporters often silently pray for a blowout. You can get started with your writing during the game.

The writers in Houston had that much-preferred blowout – and then they didn't. They had to switch gears entirely. And they did not have much time. Yes, I know: Nobody really cares except, well, the guys writing the stories and columns.

In sports writing, we call him the deadline monkey. When deadlines are the most brutal, the deadline monkey will jump on your back, grab you around the throat and won't let go. It makes for some stories behind the stories, stories until today I have never written.

Here are three of my worst struggles with the deadline monkey:

• This was Super Bowl XXXII at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego when John Elway won his first of two in a row, out-dueling Brett Favre in a simply marvelous game. Favre doubled Elway in passing yardage and threw for three touchdowns but lost, 31-24. Obviously, with me being from Mississippi, Favre was a major part of my story. There were at least another 700 reporters who wanted to talk to him, as well.

We waited and waited and then he appeared behind one of those microphones underneath the stadium. A TV cameraman in front of me decided he couldn't wait and swung his camera around to leave. He caught me right between the eyes, breaking my glasses and cutting me just above the nose. I am fairly certain I was concussed. So, when I got back to the press box I couldn't see, could barely think and had 20 minutes to write 750 words. Try it some time. I had to pause from time to time to wipe the blood off my computer. But that wasn't the worst...

• This was an LSU-Ole Miss football game at Baton Rouge back in 2004, one that LSU won in overtime, 27-24. Night games that go overtime are never fun. This one may have been the worst.

We stopped and ate oysters on the way to Tiger Stadium. To make a long story short, I have eaten raw oysters maybe 10,000 times in my life. This was the one time I had a reaction.

Midway through the third quarter, I could feel my lips growing. Worse, I could feel my tongue growing. It was getting harder and harder to swallow. I tapped my cohort on the shoulder and when he turned and looked at me, I saw the horror in his eyes. I apparently looked as weird as I felt. He asked what was wrong. I tried to answer but no words would come out. I scribbled out a note... “Oysters? Call the office and tell them there might not be a column.”

I remember having this thought: “Well, if I die up here, at least they can't fire me for missing deadline.”

But whatever it was, it went away as gradually as it came. We made deadline. The post-game beer tasted even better than usual. I swallowed it just fine.

• This was basketball, back in the dark ages before computers. We were at the Coast Coliseum in Biloxi covering Alcorn and Mississippi State. We worked on something called “portabubble,” which was a cross between typewriters and computers. They were as dependable as a freshman point guard. Good ol' Davey Whitney's Alcorn Braves were coming from behind to beat State. I was furiously typing on my “bubble.” Every time the crowd would roar, which was everything few seconds, my machine went berserk, gushing nonsensical letters across my screen. It was maddening.

Finally, I had enough. I picked up my portabubble held it over my head. I don't know if I was going to slam it on the press table or heave it to mid-court. It was a heat-of-the-moment thing. I do know that portabubble was not long for this world. And then, just like that, it was gone. I looked back, my friend and cohort, the late, great Orley Hood, had snatched it out of my hands just before I did something that surely would have cost me my job and/or landed me in jail.

“Some day,” O said, “you will thank me.”

Thank-you, Orley.

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is


Anonymous said...

Another self-laudatory column from Cleveland.

Yaawwwwwnnnnnn, SSSnnnnoooorrreeeee, ZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzz

Anonymous said...

a gratuitous snark for no reason. Small,small mind at 8:23

Anonymous said...

So he covered 30 Superbowls for the Clarion Ledger. Why not let some of the other reporters cover the game? I am sure it would have been a thrill for them and a nice resume booster. Maybe another reporter would not have been obsessed primarily with the deadline. Rick seems to be a narcissists. Its all about him.

Anonymous said...

Do you pay for these columns Kingfish?

-W said...

I wish Anonymous would show his name on some of these comments. I would take joy in reviewing what they wrote during their 40 year career. It would be something along the lines of a gummy bear review on Amazon.

Anonymous said...

Boy, someone must really hate Rick Cleveland.

Note this: when a person writes a column (rather than a news story), it always incorporates his own personal experiences and opinions, etc. That is why it is a column (also called an opinion) and not a just-the-facts news story.

We have "columnists" all over Mississippi who try to write a column, but don't have the library of personal experiences to back it up. Cleveland has those experiences in the area of sports.

As a reader, I have opinions on my own, as do we all. However, I have no experiences. That's why I love to read about those experiences of others, like Cleveland in sports. Even tho I 100% disagree with Bill Minor, he has interesting experiences and stories in his columns, which I read.

Don't hammer Rick Cleveland for writing about his decades of experiences and personal stories. If you don't like it, don't read it.

Anonymous said...

Stress really is a completely subjective thing. I was stressed at work about a deadline we were trying to make or risk losing around 2 million dollars. While I was screaming orders at people trying to make the deadline, one of my partners walked in calmly, drinking a cup of coffee and started working on the project while making pleasant conversation with people. I think I said something to the effect of "How the hell are you so calm?" He had recently returned from Iraq and said, "When people have, literally, tried to kill you on a daily basis, it puts things in perspective." I try to remember those words when I start to get stressed out about things at work or home, and try to remind myself daily how much better I have it than others. Make yourself do it for 5-10 minutes a day for a week and see how you feel.

Anonymous said...

Lead by example -W. Show us your name.

Tell me more about portabubbles, please!!! said...

And Rick himself weighs in at 10:10am.

Holy hell, this is bad! Hate to break it to you, Rick, but no one finds your life as interesting as you do, and anyone who wants to read some commentary on an epic Super Bowl isn't looking for a piece on how tough the guys in the press box have it.

This was a Super Bowl that contained the biggest comeback in SB history, the first overtime in SB history, and the first ever five-time SB winning coach/QB combo, so why in the hell do you think we want to hear you tell us about a Super Bowl you attended 20 years ago? Or about you eating oysters and getting sick in the LSU press box? Or about a damned MSU - Alcorn BASKETBALL game?

You want to share your memoirs? Write a book. How about you talk about the historic game Sunday night rather than your good ol' boy shenanigans with Orley Hood?

And this is two weeks in a row you've bragged about how many Super Bowls you have attended. We get it. You can stop now.

I'll say this, at least these birdcage liner articles get some spirited conversation on JJ, if only for how arrogant and obtuse the writer is.

And if you don't like my comment, don't read it, Rick.

I can't stop crying over here said...

I couldn't take my mind off the poor guys in the press box

Flown to Houston on someone else's dime, given free accommodations and meals, special access to the arena, sitting with a great view of the action and credentials to speak to the athletes and coaches after the game.

Yeah, poor guys. They have a deadline. My heart f*cking bleeds for them.

Anonymous said...

@ 1:18

My,my - does fever attend with these fits?

Anonymous said...

"And this is two weeks in a row you've bragged about how many Super Bowls you have attended. We get it. You can stop now."

Fuckin A. I'm really getting tired of reading this guy bragging instead of writing about sports.

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