I met Jim McKay once, when I was in college. I had a late class but ran over to the theater he was speaking at promoting his book “My Wide World” on college campuses.
My first impression was that he was tiny! I got there after he was finished speaking but I was determined to hear something that he had to say so I hung around the exit to the stage and he walked out with the promoter, an on-campus administrator I happened to know.
McKay had a little bit of a beard if I remember correctly, and he couldn’t have been nicer. We shook hands, and he asked me if I had heard his presentation. I said I did not, I was in class but I wanted to get over here just to say hi at least. McKay said “Oh,” when I told him I wasn’t at the speech, but was very interested in hearing about the fact that I was majoring in communications.
I went to Clemson as a freshman as a pre-med major, and actually did quite well. But when they called us together after my first semester to tell us they were phasing out the pre-med program, I needed a change.
Political Science made a short appearance but after taking Introduction to Broadcasting 101, my professor suggested I look into majoring in that discipline. Citing that Clemson lacked a Broadcasting department, he gave me a list of seven schools where I could gain my degree. Luckily, Maryland was one of those and I transferred to get my degree in Radio, Television and Film, the Terp’s equivalent to Telecommunications.
I was already planning to transfer, and McKay encouraged my move, saying that the field was wide open and it was going to even get better. Remember, this was a time that was before cable, before ESPN, FOX and CNN. There were only the three networks, but McKay had an inkling that was going to change.
We spoke for just a couple of minutes, and I thanked him for making it seem so interesting to go around the world and experience different sports. I think I might have even mentioned barrel jumping and he laughed. We shook hands again, he wished me luck and he was off. But I remember how pleasant he was, and how encouraging he was about a career choice that seemed to be at the top of everybody’s list.
Obviously I’ve been thinking about McKay since he death on Saturday and I’ve read and heard what a lot of the different national “voices” have been saying. I do know he was a very good writer. He was plainspoken and occasionally Spartan, which is always best. A lot of “voices” want to wax eloquently about somebody else who waxed eloquently. But that seems kind of cheap to me.
McKay was a real guy. I met his son, Sean McManus the President of CBS News and Sports once here in Jacksonville and commented that his Dad had a very positive effect on my career. “He did that a lot,” was McManus’ response. Which was correct.
But what I realized in the last couple of days is that McKay fueled my wanderlust. As much as Chuck Thompson, the voice of the Orioles made it seem fun to me, McKay opened my eyes to a true “Wide World.” Since I was a kid I’ve been as interested in barrel jumping as I have in NFL football. Sure, I understand the difference, but perhaps because of McKay and his globetrotting I understand the similarities. The dedication, the sacrifice and the sheer joy of the competition, no matter on what scale.
McKay also represents another layer of professionals who are now gone, who shaped my interest in what I decided I’d put my life into. McKay was a little smarter than the average bear, a little more interesting than the everyday play-by-play guy, a little more well read and well traveled than just about anybody else in the room. He spent his retirement at home, with his family, knowing he had done it all.
But he didn’t flaunt it.
He was it.
We should all be so lucky.