KNOXVILLE – The Johnny Cash song “I’ve Been Everywhere” could serve as the soundtrack for many a sportswriting career.
I certainly can rattle off an assortment of datelines in the same manner as the man in black
My career spans four decades and includes four different business addresses in three time zones. This accounting only begins to describe my odyssey. After perusing an old, dogeared Atlas, I realized just how much ground I’ve covered. I’ve set foot in 49 of the 50 states and covered sporting events in 44 of them. Visited several, including Hawaii, on multiple occasions in the call of duty.
I’ve been to Alaska in the perpetual gloaming of December and to Barcelona for the 1992 Olympics during the height of an arid Spanish summer.
My trips to Colorado, which I wrote about on Sunday, have evolved into pleasure. They began as business. The first visit came on the Big Eight Skywriters tour in 1983. Instead of all the media gathering in one location, as they do today, we traveled to all eight schools individually for preseason football interviews. Bill Hancock, who went on to become director of the college football playoff, was our guide.
Thinking back, the concept seems excessive. The camaraderie was exceptional, however. Climbing aboard a bus with my colleagues approximated the feeling of being a minor league baseball team or, better yet, a touring rock band.
The Colorado stop always was scheduled in the middle of the tour and involved flights in and out of Denver. The first trip there for me included a cookout somewhere above Boulder, Colo., I scrambled up to a view point and watched a soaring bird carving circles in the Rocky Mountain air – somewhere below me. With that, I was hooked on getting high, regarding altitude of course.
In adding up the states, I realized that most of my working tour involved covering the Tennessee women’s basketball team for the Knoxville News Sentinel. UT coaching legend Pat Summitt enjoyed traveling as much as I did, maybe more.
For example, Tennessee’s trip to the University of Vermont’s Howard Bank Classic in November of 1996 largely was Summitt’s doing. She broached the idea two summers earlier during a summer conversation at an AAU tournament with then-Catamounts assistant coach Karen Caires. At the time, Vermont was one of five states Summitt had never visited.
“I really kind of invited myself,” Summitt said then.
The places that team went to play games and, in turn, promote women’s basketball would’ve made Marco Polo proud. Nearly a half page of the team’s media guide is needed to list the neutral sites visited. The Lady Vols have been to Europe, South America, the Caribbean and countless points on the U.S. map.
My last great junket on the beat came in March of 2016. My then-colleague John Adams and I outraced a spring snowstorm to reach an NCAA regional in South Dakota, the 49th state of my life’s tour.
With the snow swirling in a stiff breeze, we checked in at Sioux Falls. It was another stop on the everywhere tour.
* * *
Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org