Goe: It’s been a long, strange, 43-year ride and it’s come to an end

I walked into The Oregonian in 1977 on my first day as the youngest full-time

I walked into The Oregonian in 1977 on my first day as the youngest full-time employee of the newsroom. I exit for a final time on Friday as the oldest.

Looking back on the day I started, I remember the noise and commotion. The newsroom was a bustle of activity. It was loud.

Typewriter keys clacked. Phones rang. The wire machines made a racket, printing out stories from the Associated Press and United Press International on long rolls of newsprint.

The Sports Department was on the third floor of the old Oregonian building at 1320 SW Broadway, next to the wire room. The copy desk was next to both. Most desks were filled. You had to raise your voice to be heard.

I was massively unprepared to work on a daily newspaper and scared to death. I had one year of professional experience at the weekly Woodburn Independent, a job I landed after graduating from Lewis & Clark College with degrees in history and communications and no real knowledge of how to apply them to adult life.

I learned by trial and error. I survived thanks to the patience and encouragement of people such as former sports editors Wayne Thompson and Lynn Mucken and by imitating established pros such as Leo Davis, Nick Bertram, Steve Kelley, Norm Maves, Ron Olson and Bob Robinson.

Paul Buker, who had started a week earlier and previously worked for daily newspapers, took me under his wing. We’re still good friends.

Paul introduced me to my wife. I was in his wedding. Somehow, both marriages have lasted nearly four decades despite a sportswriter’s life of long hours, stories breaking at the most inconvenient times, long days of covering events in different cities, sometimes on different continents.

My wife, Christy, worked the nightshift full-time as a hospital nurse. When our kids were young, I often either was covering a beat in Eugene or Corvallis or was the Pac-10 at-large writer, on road trips sometimes lasting most of a week. Christy managed to get the kids fed in the morning and at night, helped with their homework, dealt with their problems, ferried them to various activities.

I don’t know when she slept. In some 24-hour periods, I don’t think she did.

I was an absentee dad at times. It hit home hard when my daughter, Courtney, was part of a state championship dance team. The night Courtney’s team clinched, I was in Salt Lake City covering the NCAA basketball tournament.

I couldn’t tell you who played in those tournament games. I can tell you about the sense of loss and regret I felt when Christy held up her cell phone so I could see Courtney and her teammates celebrate.

I didn’t make that mistake again. I was an eyewitness when Courtney’s team won its second consecutive state championship, and to her selection on the all-state dance team. The NCAA Tournament went on without me, unlamented.

Nothing I ever saw at the Olympics matched the high I got from walking my daughter, Heather, down the center aisle on the day of her wedding.

I usually don’t remember the scores of games I covered, or even who won. I do remember profile stories. The contests never interested me as much as the people, whether they were coaches or athletes, male or female, football players, distance runners or hammer throwers.

To me, the games became the canvas on which people made art by what they did in a deciding moment, how they overcame an adverse situation, handled victory or defeat.

To me, that is why sports are so fascinating.

I still marvel at the way some athletes can shut out the noise, narrow their focus and transcend the moment.

Some things, I’ll never forget. In 1984, I sat in the ICU waiting room at Eugene’s Sacred Heart Hospital with the family of Colorado tight end Ed Reinhardt while Ed fought his for his life after suffering a subdural hematoma in a game against Oregon at Autzen Stadium.

Sixteen years later, I was in the Pediatrics ICU at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital as my son, Justin, fought for his life after suffering a subdural hematoma in a high school junior varsity football game. Life takes some hard twists.

We were comforted then by many in the sports world, among them Scott Brosius, Dennis Erickson, Rick Neuheisel, Lute Olson and Edgar Martinez, the parents of Jonathan Smith, then Oregon State’s quarterback and now OSU coach.

I’ve always believed lessons Justin learned from athletics, and the embrace of friends, family, teammates, readers, coaches and athletes aided his recovery.

Throughout my working life, I tried to be fair and accurate with everything I wrote. There are too many times I fell short of those standards. Those times cut like a knife even days, years and decades later. As a journalist, the aim above all is to get the story right.

A former boss, Bill Mulflur, once pulled me aside and offered this counsel: “It’s nice to want to be perfect, but it’s an imperfect business.”

And a necessary one. Truth matters. Free expression matters. Journalism matters, whether the stories are about Oregon and Oregon State football, or political and societal issues.

Often there is more of an overlap than fans looking to escape “real-world” problems from a stadium seat want to admit. Going forward, telling that story daily will be somebody else’s job.

This publication works out of a different downtown Portland building now. The wire machines, telephones, typewriters and the racket they made are long gone. The work of delivering the news remains.

I expect to continue to read it in print in The Oregonian and online at OregonLive.

— Ken Goe

[email protected] | [email protected] | @KenGoe

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