An open letter to Brandon Palaniuk, Part 2

“We lose our way…”

Dateline:  A Dining Room Table Story

Know this young man Brandon,

on the day you were born in 1987,

I had already been a reporter for 6 years.

Had already covered a President, a Queen, Movie Stars,

and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders,

before you had even left the birthing room of the Idaho hospital.

Before you were you,

I had stood amidst natural disasters,

stepped over rivers of blood in the streets,

covered a Governor named Moonbeam on a Monday,

and a migrant worker in a field named Chavez on Tuesday.

Since 1992 I have covered most of the greatest athletes on this planet,

and the Little League World Series.

I have walked in the dust of the World Trade Towers,

have stood in an empty lot where a town once stood in Alabama,

walked through a field of debris with a child as he searched for his Xbox.

Young man, these old eyes have seen a lot, this old heart has felt a lot, this old soul has been battered and bruised and has a love/hate relationship with mankind,

and what we do to each other…most of my life I have covered the man,

not much of the kind.

I say all that of that young Brandon for one reason. When I close the laptop for the final time and move to a quiet life of sipping good Bourbon with a fine lady, I will only have the memories of the past, and not the words of the present, but know this child,

I will never, ever forget the moment when you came off the 2013 Bassmaster Classic stage.


Diseases of the brain will never be able to take that moment away.

That moment when you came up to me and gave me a huge hug and cried on my shoulder,

that moment when you whispered to me, “db….I’m so sorry…I wanted to win it for you.”

Never forget it, will be the only moment in sports I will remember with good sips and fine woman.

And please young child, know also this,

if you ever say that to me again,

I will kick your ass.

“…we get back up again…”



For giving it your all.



For 2nd.

I’m on the record now for saying that the phrase, “Second place is the first loser,” is full of crap.

It’s a very catchy phrase,

but it is wrong.

And the reason it is wrong is because those who say it,

hide behind it.

It is a phrase of pity.

Trust me, young man, if you are in the freaking game and if you are giving it everything you’ve got…there is no way in the world you are a loser.

In reality, the first loser is the one who doesn’t make the game.

And stats mean nothing, to the player; read the water my friend, not the spreadsheets.

“…it's never too late to get back up again…”

So you are sitting in 93rd place.

Placed 90th at Sabine, 82nd at Falcon.


John Elway, Hall Of Fame QB, one of the best modern era quarterbacks to ever play the game…#1 pick…Mr. Franchise…

…lost three Super Bowls…

then, won, back to back…

…became a Champion the moment he took to the air in the “Helicopter” play in Super Bowl XXXII…

…at age 37.

Good that you kind of stink right now.

Champions are covered in bruises.

Championships are built on faces full of dirt.

Championships are built on tears, not smiles.

Every champion I have ever reported on

was covered in 2nds.  Tattooed in twos.

“…one day you will shine again…”

Now you may think I have no idea what I’m talking about.

Fair man, fair.

Think Manhattan.

Think fancy hotel ballroom.

Think fancy tux.

Think a round table filled with your friends/colleagues.

Think the biggest stage in the Sports Television game.

Think, the best story of your life.

“The envelope please…and the winner…”


“winner is…Bryant Gumbel, HBO Real Sports.”

And knowing, that ain’t my name.

Think the very next year, everything the same, redemption.

“…and the winner is…Bryant Gumbel, HBO Real Sports.”

Back to back him, not us at ESPN.

Next year, we are not even at the table.

Nor the next.

Three years later, we are back in tuxes and sitting at a round table, one round table over from…Bryant Gumbel.

“…and the…”

Everyone at our table has worked 200 hours a week to be here; everyone has given up family life, sleep, special occasions, played hurt, played exhausted, laughed together, cried together, smelled good together, been smelly together…

…and right next to us…there he sat…


I just sat there looking at him; he had no idea who I was, probably no idea of why I was even here


Never looked at the podium, just him.

“…and the winner is…”

Never took my eyes off…


Was all I heard. Other stuff was said, I don’t know what. All I did was smile at him when he looked our way.

No trash.

Just a smile, not because we beat him and his team, I smiled because of the team I sat with, the much smaller team with the bigger bruises.

I have the Emmys, but it is the bruises, that I cherish.

I don’t remember what I wrote in Black and White, I do remember, though, the Black and Blue.

“…you may be knocked down…”

When you take to the stage this week in Bull Shoals, you will do so as the reigning champion.

The last time the two of us talked standing there, I told you to be




Be joyous that you are making a living doing something that love,

while most on this planet, will not.

Be thankful that you were born in a place that allows you to chase dreams,

instead of being told what your dream will be.

Be humble, for you are not here alone, you are here

because of all of those who have sat at your round table.

Brandon, when you put your head on my shoulders, and cried,

I cried too.

I cried not because you didn’t win.

I cried because you were so hurt.

I cried because at that moment in time, I knew you have what it takes to have a banner hang with your name.

Dude, there will be sweetness in your future.

You texted me that you wanted to be “the most dangerous man in fishing.”

Be, instead, the most gracious.

Be, instead, the kindest.

Be, instead, the one who smiles, and doesn’t shout.

Sweetness, it comes to those who will honor it.

Pay Sweetness forward.

Look out from the Bull Shoals stage at all those in the crowd, and realize this,

you are there because of them.

Every champion owes sweetness to those who clap.

Every champion owes sweetness to the past.

Every champion,

owes sweetness,

most of all,

to the bruises.

You’ve got the bruise, now get back in the game.

Reigning champ, now in 93rd place, expect to hear, “what’s wrong.”

Know now, the answer to that is simply, nothing.

This, my young friend, IS HOW IT SHOULD BE.

This, my young friend, is how the game wants it to be.

The game wants you to take it.  It will not be given.

It was not given to him. He was bruised, led the league in K’s 5 times, the whiff king, struck out 1,330 times, whiff king…Major League Bruising.

In the end, the game won, with his presence.

In the end, he won, and no one speaks of the bruising when they speak of,

The Babe.

Young man, bruising hurts, winning hurts, as it should, as it needs to. If not, it is just playing…and not game.

93rd place will not be forever.

Because I believe you, you have champion stuff.

1,330 whiffs looked to be forever, unbreakable. 1,330 whiffs lasted for 30 years, three decades in the record books.

Until another challenged the game, and the game challenged back,



you want this game, come take it,

and he did, he broke Babe Ruth’s whiff record,

and only he knows of the bruising,

and yet, he also rose above the bruising to become a champion.

And, young Brandon, the man who first broke Babe Ruth’s Strike Out record,

you can find out all he’s done by looking in the MLB record books,

all his championships,

all the iron he has on his mantle,

simply by looking up his name.

And his name is

Mickey Mantle.

“…but not out forever.”

“Get Back Up”



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