We’ve reached the end of another era in Seattle sports journalism: Steve Kelley is retiring, and his final column for the Seattle Times appears in this morning’s edition.
I’ve known this was coming for months, but the reality of it makes me feel sad, happy and old.
I’m sad because Steve has been a must-read for longer than either of us wants to admit, and also because his departure is just the latest by those who have chronicled so much – so well – for so many years. If they were to create a Mount Rushmore of Seattle sports columnists next to the Troll under the Aurora Bridge, Steve would be up there with former Times columnist Georg Meyers, former Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Royal Brougham and two others I worked with in my 22 years at the P-I – Art Thiel and John Owen.
But I’m also happy for Steve and his wife, Carole, because he’s leaving on almost his terms. As he put it in the story announcing his retirement on Jan. 19, “I feel like I’ve seen every kind of game and written every kind of column. In 30 years, I’ve seen it all.”
And he’s written about it all – with his own deft touch and wish-I’d-written-that turns of phases – including all the meaningful events surrounding the Seahawks for the past three decades. In fact, a cringe-inducing feeling I felt too many times while covering the team for the P-I was discovering after a game that Steve and I were working on the same angle. So we would be telling the same story, but Steve would be telling it so much better.
As for feeling old, we’re the same age (63). But there’s more to it than the common life experiences that come with growing up in the 1950s and having our Wonder Years play out during the 60s. I first met Steve in 1978. As sports editor of the Klamath Falls Herald and News, I was in Kansas City covering Oregon Tech in the NAIA National Basketball Tournament. Steve was there as the Oregonian beat writer for the Portland Trail Blazers, who were playing the Kings.
I had acquired a press pass to that Sunday afternoon game at Kemper Arena and always thought I would end up covering an NBA team. So seeing Steve, I was awash in admiration and excitement.
“Boy, it must be cool to cover these guys,” I said after introducing myself outside the locker room.
Steve looked at me like I had indeed just fallen off the turnip truck and said, “Are you kidding me? I’ve been on the road for two weeks. All my clothes are dirty. I’m tired of dealing with these guys, and they’re tired of dealing with me. I can’t wait to get home.”
It was a jolt of reality that served me well as I left Klamath Falls in 1979 and began covering the Seahawks for the first of three newspapers in the Seattle area. Steve helped me realize that there is no perfect job. Instead, the satisfaction comes from doing the best job you can – at all times, under any circumstance.
Our paths would cross again when Steve was hired by the Times in 1982, when I was at the old Journal-American.
Over the years, we became friends, in addition to remaining fellow ink-stained wretches. We would see each other at sporting events, especially those involving the Seahawks. But most of our conversations usually start and almost always end with music, a deeper connection for us than even the Seahawks. We’ve seen shows together on road trips, including Suzanne Vega (in St. Louis) and Cold Blood (in Manhattan). We’ve gone to shows together at various Seattle venues, including Jazz Alley (Cold Blood), The Triple Door (Over the Rhine) and The Zoo (Rosanne Cash). We’re regulars at Bumbershoot, where we regularly bump into each other. We’re always exchanging musical notes on shows we’ve seen and exchanging CDs of our most-recent discoveries.
So as you write off into the sunset for this chapter in your life Steve, may the sounds of the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin’ ” be with you: “Lately it occurs to be, what a long, strange trip it’s been.”