Gary Shelton; Sports Columnist
If you've lived in the Tampa Bay area for any time, you know who Gary Shelton is. He is THE Sports Columnist for the St. Petersburg Times. Gary Shelton joined the Times in 1990 as the National Football League writer and became a sports columnist two years later. He writes a column several times a week, his subjects ranging from the familiar to the forgotten, from the Super Bowl to a vacant lot.
Gary began his journalism career writing about sports in Alabama and Georgia for the Columbus Enquirer in 1978. In 1984, he moved to the Miami Herald, where for six years he covered the Dolphins, the NFL and the University of Florida. His most admired athletes: Arthur Ashe, because of his grace. Michael Jordan, because of his competitiveness. Cal Ripken, because of his work ethic. Steffi Graf, because of her drive. Least admired athletes: the growing list of drug-using, spouse-abusing, money-driven, fan-unfriendly pedestal squatters who think they are on a scholarship from life itself. Some memorable moments as a sports writer: watching Bear Bryant walk off the field after winning a national championship. Watching Don Shula walk off for the last time.
I caught up with Gary the other day and had a chance to ask him some interesting questions; just about the sports scene in general, in Florida, and more importantly, in the Tampa Bay area.
(Continue to read the Shelton Interview)
Q: You worked the football scene in Miami. What was it like covering the Dolphins at a time when Dan Marino was in his prime?
Marino was a gas. He was one of those rare edge-of-the-seat players who made every play worth watching. No one had a quicker release, or a bigger streak of competitiveness, that Dan had. He had the arrogance that a lot of great players have, but I've always said this: Dan was the same guy he would have been if he was playing third base in a beer softball league. I liked him, even if he did work to make sure he gave the dullest quotes in America. When you saw a competitor talking to Dan, you never had to worry about what was being said.
Q: Did Don Shula change his game to a pass heavy attack because of Dan?
Yes, he did. We used to ask why he wouldn't get a running game going -- this was the guy who coached Csonka and Kiick, remember -- and he would say "why would you ever take it out of Dan Marino's hands?
But the tragedy about Marino is that his career was in reverse. He was drafted by a team that was in the Super Bowl the year before, so when he came in he had a good -- but aging -- defense and a good -- but aging -- offensive line. And so in Marino's best years, the team was never good enough to make a run.
Q: Reading old Times articles, you can see the Gators under Coach Charlie Pell start to become the basis of a dominant College football program, and a dynasty that Spurrier would begin. Do you see any similarities with the USF Bulls?
I think the Bulls can be successful, but no, I don't see a lot of similarities with Florida. The Gators are always going to be the mansion on the hill in this state. They have more alums, more money, more tradition. They're the kid with all the advantages?
USF, on the other hand, is Rocky. It's the tough, audacious kid coming up the hard way. They can be successful, but no one is ever going to hand them anything. They'll never win because they're richer, or because the deck is stacked in their favor. There is something admirable about that.
Q: I love telling people about sam wyche's 5 dash 2, where he throws his teams 5-2 record in the media's face, then of course it turns into 5-5 and 7-9! Why do you think Sam Wyche had such a problem with Tampa Bay media? Can you recall a favorite Sam Wyche story?
Sam had problems, mainly, because he didn't win enough. With every coach, it comes down to that. Frankly, I like Sam. To this day, I like him. He's funny and bright. But as a coach, he had no consistency. He was going to change everything, every week, from what day the players had off to who was the tailback to why the team was losing. He was going to practice halftime, or pull Dilfer in the middle of a rare good game by Dilfer, or storm off the field in the middle of practice.
I used to joke that I loved one of Sam's 17 personalities, but you couldn't count on getting it.
My favorite Sam story? It's probably the one where he kept the media in his press conference - the locker room is supposed to be open at that point by league rules -- so he could rail about man's inhumanity to man "during this season of lights.'' It was real Captain Queeg stuff. It ought to be on one of those Coors commercicals where they use press conference playoffs.
The other one was this. The Times ran a story once saying Sam was losing his team. Sam jumped the writer the next week in the middle of a press conference, suggesting the story had harmed his mother, who had cancer. The writer (no, it wasn't me) foolishly approached Sam after the press conference to say that wasn't fair. So Sam starts telling the writer what a s--- he is, saying it over and over. The writer holds up his tape recorder, and Sam starts to whisper, as if he can say it too quietly for the recorder. And the p.r. director jumps in and starts to wrestle the writer for the tape recorder like Rosey Grier taking the gun away from Sirhan Sirhan.
Again, I like Sam. I see him, and he throws his arms around me, and I probably criticized him harder than I have any coach here. He's had throat surgery, as you probably know, and his vocal chords were damaged. That cost him a great career in broadcasting.
Q: Speaking of the Bucs, What do you see as wrong with the Bucs?
How much space do you have? A lot is wrong, right up to everything. They haven't drafted well over the years, and it's been a long time since an impact player arrived. At some point, they were going to have to reboot and start over.
Most fans I know are fine with that, IF the plan works. But so far, there is no real indication it is. The botched hire of Jeff Jagodzinski is an indication. Signing a free agent quarterback who doesn't make it to week four is an indication. Changing a defense and not changing more personnel is an indication. What? DId the Bucs really think they had that many answers on their bench?
This is going to take some work, Nick. It's going to have to start with the owners spending more money. There has to be more nurturing and progress of young players.
I know Rich McKay is a controversial figure on the blogs, but he said something wise when he was here. "You don't need the best plan in the world, but you need a plan, and you need to stick to it.''
Right about now, that needs to be hung over the Glazers' doorway.
Q: The Sports Scene is very different than what it was ten years ago. You have internet sports news, and lately over the last couple of years, Blogs. What do you see as Pluses of Blogs? Minuses? What do you see as the ultimate role of the Blog if any?
I see a lot of advantages to blogs. I'm not one of those writers who stamps his foot and makes mean faces because someone else wants to express an opinion. How silly is that? Blogs serve the reader, and they're interactive, and the best ones get bright, reasonable people exchanging informed, reasoned opinions.
The worst ones? Those are the ones where people think it makes them smarter if they call someone stupid while hiding behind an assumed name. Or the ones where the blogger tries to act as if he's more than a passionate fan. I've seen a few where someone wants to tell you he knows more than the beat writers who spend their days asking questions. Thank fully, most people can see through that.
You're right, though. Sports has changed. In some ways, it's lost some depth by trying to be so immediate. But it also serves as a place for research, for discussion, for immediate reaction. I think there is room for all of us. For the internet, for ESPN, for talk radio, for the newspaper web site, for the morning edition on your driveway.
The ultimate goal? I guess that depends on the blog. Deadspin obviously wants to make you laugh, and that's great. Some simply want to provide a forum for fans to discuss a common interest, and that's great, too.
Many Thanks Gary for taking the time to answer these questions! Mind if I use your St. Pete Times stock photo for the article?
Nick, I would prefer you use Brad Pitt's photo and say it is me. I look way too much like Scottie from Star Trek on my own. Or Wilford Brimley, eating those oats. I would prefer everyone think I'm young and charmingl...ah the heck with it. They know better. Use the photo.