Around the LL
ed note: Something new for our viewers: LLhoops will be bringing to you some of the media/followers and basic fans of LL hoops. He/she gets the 5 question interview that our LL coaches get- media style. Enjoy!
I had the pleasure of conversing with and learning many things from Mike Gross throughout the years - even had to look up" ameliorates" after this "interview". This much I know, the guy has more connections to media than most and is always welcomed and embraced by others.
Mike Gross, Lancaster Newspapers, @Mikegrss
Can you give us your a background of your career?
From Lebanon, went to Cedar Crest and IUP. Started covering HS games as a stringer for Lebanon Daily News in, I think, 1981. Hired full-time in '82, and the meteoric rise began...
Was at the Hbg. Patriot from 1987-97, and at Lancaster from 97 to now. While at the Patriot, I also covered the Patriot League, football and some hoops, for USAToday.com.
I also did talk radio for the now defunct WAHT in Lebanon from, I believe, 1987-90, and again at WLBR (still funct) from 1993-97. Did color commentary on HS and a few college games for LBR broadcasts, including a couple state finals and district finals.
Can you give us some of your best games you covered- Football, basketball, NCAA, etc?
It's been 30-plus years now, so there are a lot of them. Many of the best memories aren't necessarily the best games – covering the 1983 World Series at age 24, interviewing Michael Jordan, last year's US Open golf at Merion and everything that went with that.
If we're just talking best games, though, here are a couple:
In 1992, the Lebanon Catholic girls got to the state final, and they were down 10 with 10 minutes left in the game. They had a guard, Iris Heilman, who actually worked for me at the Patriot Leb. Bureau, who wasn't very athletic but was skilled and tough, part girly-girl, part rip your face off. They came out of a timeout, and Iris huddles her team and screams something that ends with (I'm lip reading) 'No way we're losing this #@!* game!'
And all of a sudden, she's breaking people down off the dribble for the first time in her life. I remember writing that for a little while, she could have beat Pete Maravich in HORSE. She had, if I remember correctly, 18 in the fourth quarter, and 26 in the second half. They won by 18. Played 10 perfect minutes. Just went to another place. An amazing thing to watch.
In 1994, Lebanon Valley College won the national championship. Both the semi and the final went overtime. The semi with Wittenberg, in particular, was an unbelievable game. LVC's point guard, Mike Rhoades, was national player of the year, a two-time all-American, now an assistant to Shaka Smart at VCU, and one of my favorite people I've covered. Also, their coach, Pat Flannery, became a friend. He was the best coach I've gotten to see up close, and the fiercest competitor I've ever been around.
The heavyweight champ is this category, of course, is Manheim Central's 2003 state championship, about which I thought enough to write an entire book, Best Game Ever, which is available on amazon.com, by the way, and should belong on every right-thinking American's bookshelf.
There are others. Even though it was only a couple weeks ago, the Pitt-Syracuse game, which Tyler Ennis won with a 35-footer at the buzzer, was a great one, in a phenomenal atmosphere. The finish of Cedar Crest-Central York, just the other night, was pretty good. I'm annoyed by the certainty that I'm forgetting something.
Covering Penn State Football the last decade, what was your favorite story...and of course your take on the Joe Paterno ending?
For me, the best thing about covering Penn State is the road games. They're like five annual mini-vacations with people I enjoy being around, great or at least good and interesting eating (thanks to legendary gourmet Frank Bodani of the York Daily Record) and hanging out, and I actually like most of the Big Ten towns. There's something about getting on an airplane and going far away to cover a game. It feels like what, as a kid, you imagined would be cool about being a sportswriter. And it's nowhere near the soul-crushing amount of travel you'd get covering baseball or the NBA.
Anyway, the 2005 season was the first in which I traveled to every road game. This was the Michael Robinson team. They had losing records four of the previous five years, but this team went 11-1, tied for the Big Ten w Ohio St and beat them head-to-head, won the Orange Bowl in OT and finished No. 3 in the country.
I can think of dozens of things from that year, on and off (sometimes way off) the field, but I'll give you a couple specific ones:
Being on the field for the final minutes of that team's only loss, at Michigan, 100,000 plus going nuts at the Big House. This was the game when Lloyd Carr talked the refs into putting two seconds on the clock. Michigan (Chad Henne at QB) scores on the last play of the game to win, 27-25.
The Nits win that one, they probably play USC (or Texas w Vince Young) for the national title. They would've lost to either of those teams, but still...
I remember being so struck with Joe's combination of weariness and disappointment and frustration after that game – and also his crankiness; he didn't let us talk to the players.
Then there was the Orange Bowl, where they treated us like royalty (they took the media on a cruise on a yacht, for example), the week-long contrast between crotchety Joe and Southern-gentlemanly Bobby Bowden, and then the endless game, which forced newspapers all over the state, including ours, to literally stop the presses to get stories in.
As for the end of Joe:
Again, I'm thinking of dozens of things. It was of course an horrific tragedy. It's sickening to even think about, in terms of the victims. So I hope it doesn't make me sound like a bad person to admit that from a pure media standpoint, it was incredible to be covering what felt like the biggest story in the world. It certainly produced some of the best writing I've ever done, and by far the biggest, strongest and most interesting reaction from the readers.
One day in the middle of all that I was sitting at home, working, and I heard myself on SportsCenter, an exchange between me and a player, Drew Astorino. Another writer, my buddy Eric Thomas, texts me, 'Dude, I just heard you on SportsCenter! ...'' In the midst of the horror, there was a sense of giddiness about it.
My take on it? I guess I'd say what I've written several times. There was no grand conspiracy to cover up and protect Sandusky, but on some level Joe had to know there was a problem with Jerry, and had to have had some awareness of the 1998 incident. As he said, he could have done more. Doesn't make him a criminal. Doesn't wipe out all he accomplished. But you can't pretend it doesn't exist. And the NCAA insanely and nonsensically screwed Penn State's football players in the aftermath.
One thing I'm certain about: If Joe was alive, he'd be telling his family and its lawyers to shut the bleep up and leave it go.
How do you keep your enthusiasm for covering different sports?
Again, it's been 30-plus years, so there are times when it's tedious to be running over the same ground for the umpteenth time. But it isn't as big a deal as you'd think. The seasonal aspect of sports ameliorates it. I look forward every year, for example, to this week at the Giant Center. Isn't it the same thing every year? No, it's the same thing ONCE every year. Think of what most people do for a living.
What's weird is, I'm less of a sports fan, in the sense of rooting for teams, than I've ever been. There are very, very few athletes I particularly admire or honestly have much interest in as human beings. In spite of all that, I'm more interested in sports than ever. I never seem to stop wanting to understand it better.
Also, the Internet and social media have changed everything. Especially since our company has a new president with a lot of new ideas, I actually have a significantly different job than I did even 3-4 months ago. And, you know, I did write my first (and not last) book last year, at age 54. I can, and probably will, continue doing this in some form as long as I'm able to do anything.
What are some of the best TEAMS you have covered?
The best HS basketball team is easy: 1993 Simon Gratz. Rasheed Wallace and five other D-1 players. They played the most national schedule you could at the time, plus the then-monstrous top division of the Philly Public League, didn't come close to losing a game, and were named national champion by everybody. Wallace averaged only about 15 points and 19 minutes (!) a game, because they just crushed everybody, but was national POY anyway. Not that flashy offensively, but just buried people defensively. The final scores were like football blowouts. 53-19, 56-21.
Best local basketball team was McCaskey 2000, Jerry Johnson-Dustin Salisbery-Perry Patterson-Bobby Eberhart-Anthony Gibson. That's two pros, a D-1 quarterback, a guy who averaged 13-14 a game at Kutztown and was better defensively, and a no. 5 guy (Gibson) who would have averaged 20 a game in Section Four. Needless to say, that team accomplished much less than it should have.
Also have to mention Lancaster Catholic's undefeated 2003 state AAA champ (Greg Testa, et al).
Best CFB team is also easy: 2001 Miami, which opened an undefeated, nat champ season by kicking Penn State's behind 33-7 at the Beav. That team had 38 guys eventually get drafted (roll that around in your mind for a minute), 17 in the first round (and that), including Ed Reed, Andre Johnson, Clinton Portis, Bryant McKinnie, etc. Out-scored teams by an average of 43-10.
Second best would probably be 2008 USC, which beat the Nits in the Rose Bowl. Eleven of those guys went in the '09 draft. They finished No. 4 nationally, because they somehow lost to an Oregon St. team Penn State had slapped silly.
Bonus: King for the day..what things would you change in sports/coverages/ tournaments ? No one asked me but ??? :)
My big general thought here is sports is too big - too many teams, too many leagues, too many playoff berths, the games are too long, the seasons are too long, etc, etc. There's just this inertia toward endless expansion.
Example- I've always thought it was ridiculous that we didn't have a playoff in CFB. Now that we have one, I can't help thinking we have four teams, which means eventually we'll have eight, and then 16 ... and at 16, you lose the importance of the regular season which is the best thing about that sport. So a good and obvious change could become a bad thing, because people can't stop pumping air into the balloon.
If I was King of the World, the first sports thing I'd do would be cut the NBA regular season in half. I'd have to do something about Dick Vitale, of course.
High schools sports in Pa. - The first and most important thing I'd do is go back to three classes. AAA, AA and A, in all sports. The second is to adopt the Bohannon Rule (schools are divided into boundary and non-boundary, and each group is divided into thirds by enrollments, for classification purposes). Neither of these things have a chance in hell of happening, of course.
If you were interviewing yourself, what question would you ask and why?
Bill James (the Baseball Abstract guy) was once asked by an interviewer if it ever bothered him that what he did had "limited social value.'
His answer: What most people do for a living either has no value or is actually destructive, so "limited social value,'' is a compliment.
A tremendous answer, but I would go beyond that.
This is from a column I wrote after Don Imus called the Rutgers womens' basketball team "nappy-headed hoes,'':
"America invests way, way too much in sport. Duh. But because it does, sport is the language through which we, in an admittedly stilted and bumbling way, at least try to talk about these things.
If Rush Limbaugh does the Donovan McNabb thing on his radio show, nobody cares. He says three loonier things than that, most days, before his first commercial break
ESPN is another matter.
If Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction happens on the MTV Video Awards, nobody cares.
But keep it wrapped up for the Super Bowl, lady.
Al Campanis. Jimmy the Greek. John Rocker. Don Imus.
Our iconic pundits on race.
I have a dream, too, but it's a little different than this.
A newsside journalist friend asked me, many years ago, when I was going to "stop screwing around and get into some serious journalism.''
You mean like city-council elections and refuse-authority meetings?
If you want the cutting edge of the culture, if you want who we are played out before your eyes, you're in the right section of the paper.''
So I guess my one question for myself would be, "Why do sports matter?'' And the answer is "because we say so.''