Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tribute To Tom McEwen

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

When I heard the news that My Former Boss Tom McEwen died on Sunday Night, there were several things that entered my mind.

I am glad that I can write this story electronically and not worry if an editor would cut out a very important point. It would be sad to not give McEwen the tribute he rightfully deserves.

Over the years, I've had the privilege of working with some of the greatest people on the planet.

It began in 1979 when George Eichorn of the Detroit Monitor and WXYZ Radio and I began a friendship and brotherhood that's lasted a lifetime.

In 1982, I was fortunate enough to come across the late Peter Bluesten of the Hallandale Digest, who was the publisher of a weekly newspaper, but his staff sold so many ads that the publication was the size of a daily newspaper.

I had so many wonderful times with Peter and as I've written time and time again, you'll never meet a nicer and more loyal person to work with. He was a father to me and treated me like his son.

The only downfall of my experience working for the Digest was the typesetting of the newspaper and production occurred at the Hollywood Sun Tattler.

Therefore, when you're a young aspiring writer trying to get experience, I had to go to the paper and re-check my work to minimize the mistakes that would make me look bad. Peter was fine with this but his son Dan and I had numerous problems. If Peter didn't buffer the conflicts between his son and I, then I was prepared to move on to another newspaper that cared about my work.

My old Journalism instructor David Merves at Broward Community College was also critical of the Digest finished product and saw it every week since he lived in Hallandale.

Thankfully, I had enough good clips and in 1984 and I landed a job at the Tampa Tribune. On weekends off and holidays, I would return to South Florida and visit the Bluesten's. I would do some free-lance writing for events that took place in Central Florida and the Tampa Bay Area.

It would take me awhile to get established at the Tampa Tribune.

Once I got established, then I was able to land work with the heads of the respected bureaus. I would go downtown and work the desk with the rest of the staff especially during football and basketball seasons.

When I met Tom McEwen, he was very nice to me. Whether you were a full-time writer or a part-time correspondent, he treated you with class and always offered pointers and gave advice if you needed it. I stayed at the Tribune until 1986 and nearly landed a spot working for the Lakeland office. But unfortunately, I couldn't survive on their offer and decided to move back to Detroit where I would eventually work for My Father's Home Improvement Company.

Back in 1989, I began covering the Detroit Lions on a regular basis and at the time, they would play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers twice a year because they were in the same division. It was neat seeing McEwen twice a year and on several occasions. We would talk about my returning to the newspaper again. By then, however, I had found my niche in the Home Improvement Industry and the writing was more of a hobby and passion.

Yet, every time we spoke, there were times that I pondered the possibility and wanted to return to the Tampa Tribune. When I did travel with the Lions, I used to eat lunch with McEwen before the game. We would talk about what was wrong with the Bucs and Hall of Fame Running Back Barry Sanders used to have some of his best games against Tampa Bay, including one contest where he ran for a pair of touchdowns that were both over 80 yards and had the press box cheering.

But as I mentioned before while our relationship was good, it was even better when I began covering the NFL because now we were both in the big leagues. We continued to remain close over the years. I'll never forget the time when the Lions were routing the Bucs and there was talk that if the Bucs didn't build a new stadium, the team would move. We were on the Tampa Stadium field near the end of the game wondering what would happen.

For awhile, things didn't look good because the Bucs were perennial losers and the crowds were in major decline. McEwen was actually nervous that the team would indeed leave town, but thankfully, things did work out. When the Bucs left the Lions division, this stung because I used to enjoy returning to Tampa at least once a year.

But thanks to the man upstairs, on December 19, 2010, the Lions took an NFL record 26-game road losing to Raymond James Stadium. For myself, there were a lot of highlights this afternoon.

Once again, I had the chance to talk about old times with McEwen.

But this time, I took things a step further and introduced my good friend and colleague Jennifer Hammond to meet him. She had a smile on her pretty face that would burn through rubber. The two enjoyed a couple nice minutes.

The Lions snapped their losing streak with a 23-20 overtime win and that would be a major step toward their season ending four-game winning streak.

But as I spent time with my former boss, this was a much different feeling. He seemed like he was in declining health and I had a real weird feeling that this would be the last time I'd ever see him again.

That feeling became a reality when he died on Sunday Morning at the age of 88 at 3 a.m. at his Davis Island home. The Lions were supposed to play the Tampa Bay Bucs on September 11 if the NFL season started on schedule.

I was hoping to see McEwen again. Now I know that will never happen.

According to his wife Linda of 41 years, McEwen had been battling an aggressive form of Cancer with chemotherapy. He had suffered several strokes, most recently in May of 2002. He had a pacemaker implanted in May of 1999 and had a leg amputated that confined him to a wheel chair and lost the sight of his eye.

It was tough seeing him like this.

While I was working at the Hallandale Digest, I was gaining great experience working with all kinds of major sporting events and features despite horrible editing.

The Tampa Tribune editing staff was excellent. I loved the deadline pressure and felt that I became a much better, disciplined writer. To this date, I am extremely proud of my time at the Tribune because I grew in so many ways covering a lot of high school sports, the Florida State League plus different human interest stories. The professionalism at that place was tremendous and I know that was attributed to the Sports Editor.

McEwen was a Sports Editor for at least 25 years. His Column "The Morning After" was must read material. He won the Red Smith Award in 1993. He was a Florida Sports Writer of the Year 19 times---a record.

He wrote more than 10,000 columns and supervised a sports staff that grew from seven to 61 at one point. It earned numerous national and state awards. His Final Column in the Tampa Tribune appeared on February 4, 2001.

He set the example for every writer that worked there to follow and if you didn't leave the paper better than you were when you started, there was something wrong with you.

I once joked around with McEwen that one of my fellow correspondents named David Kaminski told me on a Friday Night during football season that I had won an award in 1984 where I finished in second place for in the State of Florida for a USFL story that I wrote.

As it turns out, when I contacted my Department Head of Journalism Betty Owen at BCC, she said that I finished first and not second. I went back to South Florida during that Thanksgiving and she presented the award to me. I reecived the award six weeks after the Detroit Tigers defeated the San Diego Padres to win the World Series.

McEwen said to me that all the writers were pleased with my hard working attitude and he was pleased to have me on his staff. He did smile when he felt it was a coincidence that I found out at his newspaper, but hugged me and shook my hand.

Coming from a man whose accolades are endless, that made me feel real good.

The Press Box at the St.Pete Times Forum bears his name as did the Press Box at the old Tampa Stadium. After the Bucs new home was built, Raymond James Stadium, the street just south of the new venue was renamed "Tom McEwen Boulevard."

Rightfully so, because McEwen was the driving force in the Tampa Bay Bucs landing a franchise in 1976. At least he can say that he was alive to see them win a Super Bowl as well especially since he had to write a lot of columns during the Bucs lean years that looked more like obituaries.

This is a real sad day for me but like Peter Bluesten, Tom McEwen was a mentor for me as well and I'm proud of the association with these classy individuals.

When I do return to see the Lions and the Bucs, there will be a real void when I step in that press box again, especially when I see my old colleagues from the Tampa Tribune.

But Tom, it was a privilege to work with you over the years and thanks for the memories. When I see all the health problems that you experienced, I hope you do indeed, rest in peace.

Because of  you and the rest of your outstanding staff, I will always be grateful of the experience, knowledge and kindness you gave me that I proudly use everyday in so many ways.

Thanks for the memories and God Bless.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog can be seen at http://www.scottsports33.com/.

1 comment:

Gladys Echevarria Rivera said...

Scott I am truly sorry for your lost. It is heartwarming the tribute you wrote and I was very impressed by it. Excellent writing!!!

Please remember the good times and know that loved ones passing is just a part of life we must all deal with. Take care.

Yours always,

Gladys

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