The last Elite

"Last night I slept in a bed of tears …"

Dateline: Greyhawkin' I-65 North

It's been a privilege.


I came here old, broken, cranky.


I leave.

Still old, still broken, not half as cranky though.


I came here, not knowing what here was.

I leave here … as a fan.

Fan of the sport.

Fan of the competitors.

Fan of the fans.

Fan of the family BASS.

"… but I woke up a better man …"

Before this I spent almost two decades busting people up.

Investigative journalist, me.

Broke lots of stories you've heard about.

Won stuff you've heard about.

Would smile for you, and then hand you your head.

On camera.

Twenty years covering the mob.




One year, in the space of 52 weeks, I covered 186 dead bodies.

All sorts of dead.

A society going nuts on each other.

For 20 years, my beat, was, mayhem.

And then one day I knew it was over.


Next to the Brooklyn Bridge.

I stood looking up into the trees.

Trees, filled with paper. Memos, calendars, receipts, photographs.

And as I stood under the mayhem, I coughed, sneezed, eyes watering from the smoke.

From the smoke drifting across the East River.

From the smoke rising off the pile

I came to Brooklyn with a friend of mine, Bob Ley, longtime ESPN news guy and host of the show I worked on, "Outside The Lines."

We were sent to Brooklyn looking for a story.

About 9/11.

It was, maybe, 9/13 or 14. Smoke was still in the air.

Debris was still in the trees.

And we found one. Found a school populated with children of Middle Eastern descent.

As we sat and talked to the children, one young boy, maybe 8, maybe 10, a Yankee fan told me a story of how when he went to the ball game right after 9/11, as he walked through the crowd, he was called "mean names."

And spit on.

A child.

Born in America.

Going to a Yankee game.

And that night as we rode back to the ESPN campus in Bristol, I knew one thing.

I was done.

When that child told me what happened to him, and I leaned down and whispered in his ear, "I'm sorry." I was never the same reporter again.

Mayhem had won.

Knocked my ass right out of the game.

There has never been a week in my life since that day that I haven't thought of that young boy. That moment, the heart for the job left me.

And I sucked.

No more awards.

No more heart.

No more passion.

Then came the Elites.

"… there's a space in between …"

I'm pretty sure most of BASS didn't want me.

I know, I didn't want BASS.

I'm not an outdoor kind of guy.

I don't fish.

I knew this was the end of my career. ESPN's kind way of stressing the importance to me of retirement planning.

I had pretty much never seen a fish in its fish stage before. Most of my fish came fried, already in the bun, never dripping lake.

Never saw a bass boat before.

When I did for the first time I asked, "Where's the rest of the thing."

I called my wife and said, "They fish from surfboards with seats."

No cabins.

No bathrooms.

No TV.

No boat stewardess's bringing us drinks.

I wanted to go home.

ESPN Outdoors said no. Said I was here to cover an Elite angler bass fishing tournament.

When my wife asked me what I thought that was I told her, "Have no idea, I'm guessing it's just a bunch of guys on the dock eating ham sandwiches, drinking Bud and who ever catches a bass, whatever that is, wins."

I was wrong.

It may have been the greatest mistake in my life.

And it changed my life.

"… who you want and who I am …"

To think this sport is just fishing, would be akin to thinking that the pilot of the space shuttle is just flying.

That the NASCAR guys are just driving cars.

That the NBA guys are just shooting hoops.

That the MLB guys are just hitting a ball.

To think that fishing at this level is not a sport, is just flat out wrong. And I say that as someone who has covered all the major sports.

Stood on the NFL sidelines for playoff games.

Stood on the field next to the Yankees batting cage.

Stood in the hot pits of NASCAR during a 500 mile race.

Stood under an NBA hoop, stood behind the NHL glass.

I came here laughing about this being a sport.

I leave here with tears, knowing now that it is.

A sport.

A sport I have fallen in love with.

"… one way is holding on …"

The closer I got to professional sports, the less I liked it.

Not the sport itself.

But those who run the sport.

But those who play the sport.

Cry babies, most of them. Whiners.

Very few Peyton Mannings.

Very few Richard Pettys.

Very few Derek Jeters.

Very few Larry Birds.

Athletes have somehow forgot that it's not a RIGHT to play their game, it's a privilege.

Mr. Athlete, you doubt that … go ask the Roto-Rooter guy about his job.

Go ask the auto mechanic working in a freezing garage about his job.

Go ask the road workers in sweltering heat about their job.

Ask the factory guy who bolts on the truck bumpers, the guy who takes your drive-through order, the guy who dry cleans your clothes, the guy who brings the carts back to Wal-Mart.

Ask America about their jobs.

And then shut-up. And play the game. Love the game.

For God's sake, bring some passion back to it. The game. Your game.

And I now know, that's possible. Passion.

Passion in sports.

Passion in what you do.

Because I've seen it everyday at launch.

I've seen it throughout the day as these Elite anglers stand for hours on the deck, casting every 15-20 seconds.

Compete with passion through weather that would halt any other sport.

Compete with passion through economic worry about where the next rent check, gas money for the boat/truck will come from.

I once was sitting in the db/bb/rv around 9:30 at night, watching out the window, watching an Elite angler who camped next to me, still working on his tackle for the next day of the tournament.

Launch the next morning was 5:45am.

And this Elite angler was 92 in the standings.

About two spots from last place.

And he never left his boat until after 10 p.m.

And he never stopped competing.

To witness that, to cover that kind of passion for the sport being played, is not a RIGHT for me either.

It's a privilege.

It's what I will miss most of the Elites.

The passion they have for life.

The passion they have for their sport.

The passion they allowed me to put back in my life.

"… one way is being strong …"

I have no memories of the fish caught.

I have no memories of the total weights.

Barely can remember all the tournaments.

This is not a sport about the fish. The sport is on the other end of the line. The man, or woman, holding that reel, and their families.

K-Pink and K2 taught me how to deal with the worst possible loss imaginable with grace and honor.

And changed me as a person.

Steve Kennedy, showed me, once again, what's really important in life, when one day as he docked his boat and was ready to weigh-in, stopped doing everything when I showed him an Ultrasound photo of his son, SK Jr., that his wife Julia had emailed me, in the midst of competition we stood and looked at his unborn child, for the very first time.

And changed me as a person.

James and Sandy Niggemeyer sat in the db/bb/rv and told me of the murder of a young lady they tried to adopt as a child, and whom they had tried to help throughout her short life.

And changed me as a person.

Skeet Reese has shown me, that in the end, it's all really about family.

And changed me as a person.

Ken and Tammy Cook gave me a three year long lesson in graciousness.

And changed me as a person.

One-hundred of the best in the world who do what it is they do because they can't NOT do it.

Who play the sport for the love of it.

Who play the sport for the passion of it.

Who define, sport.

"…there's two ways to say goodbye…"

Elite dudes, for me, there is only one way to say goodbye.

And it is, simply.

Thank You.

Thank you for allowing me to be here.

Thank you for taking me in.

Thank you for giving me the privilege to get to know your sport.

You guys are more than just the best of the best.

You guys are the stewards of this sport.

And I thank you for the love you have for it.

And I thank you for the passion you have for it.

And so do the fans.

And so do the other anglers out there trying to be you.

And so do I.

Thank you for putting back what it was I had lost.

In the debris hanging in the Brooklyn trees.

In the child spit on at a baseball game.

Thank you for allowing me to board your boats.

And for giving me the chance to catch …

… passion.

Once again.

"…your tears are made of pride."

Two Ways to Say Goodbye

Pat Monahan


-- db

Don Barone is an award-winning outdoors writer and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association and the Outdoor Writers Guild of the U.K. You can reach db at