In 1991, at the age of 25, Bloomington, MN native Steve Rushin became the youngest Senior Writer on the Sports Illustrated staff. This was after having been with the magazine all of three years.
He spent the final nine years (1998-2007) of his S.I. career penning a weekly column entitled Air & Space. I was bummed when I learned that Rushin would be leaving the magazine. It was because of him I subscribed to S.I. again in the early 2000s. Then a fortuitous concatenation of events led me to cross paths with Mike McCollow, who happened to be Steve's best friend since Kindergarten. I mentioned to Mike on several occasions that I wanted to meet Steve one day when he came back to his old stomping grounds.
Thursday evening, I had that chance.
Steve was in town to promote his new novel The Pint Man, a fictional account about a 34-year old bachelor who is an unassuming lover of wordplay and television sports. Given the setting is an Irish Pub in New York, many of Steve's acquaintances surmised that certain aspects of the story are autobiographical. In fact, Steve met his wife-to-be, ESPN analyst and former NCAA basketball All-American Rebecca Lobo, at an Irish Pub in Manhattan.
I saw Steve as soon as I walked into O'Gara's Bar & Grill Thursday evening. He seemed a little disoriented when I introduced myself and I soon learned why. After a book signing in Tulsa, OK on Wednesday, he and Mike were planning on taking a flight to Minneapolis. However, severe storms resulted in the cancellation of said flight. Their only other option appeared to be to fly to Atlanta Thursday morning and then take an afternoon flight to the Twin Cities. However, they were concerned that would have made them late to Thursday evening's event at O'Gara's. They ended up renting a car in Tulsa, driving 250 miles south to Dallas and catching a 6:00 am flight to Minneapolis. As soon as they arrived at MSP, Mike and Steve went directly to the KFAN studios for a one-hour radio interview which was to start at 11:00. So by the time the meet-n-greet (or "booze -n- schmooze" as Steve called it) began at 7:00 pm, the guys had been awake for close to 36 consecutive hours!
The event started out with Steve sharing humorous accounts of the famous people he had encountered during his years of writing. He spun yarns of President Clinton offering Steve marital advice and how President Bush, who couldn't remember Steve's name, merely referred to him as "Mr. Sports Illustrated."
The evening also featured some local celebs who formed a musical act. Star Tribune sports columnist Jim Souhan (guitar, vocals), AM 1500 news guy John Heidt (guitar, vocals) and WCCO radio personality Tommy Mischke (keyboard, vocals) performed upon completion of Steve's "monologue."
With a gift for wordplay, Steve had some hilarious suggestions for the band's name. Given the group was comprised of middle-aged men, Steve offered up such gems as "Cialis in Chains" and "Counting Crows Feet."
And if all that fun and frivolity weren't enough, I had heard that a former O'Gara's bartender would be making an impromptu appearance at about 9:00. Big deal, you say? Well, several years ago when this guy was tending bar, he had stars in his eyes and was desperate to become a big-time writer himself. Knowing that Mike was best friends with Steve Rushin, the bartender asked Mike to introduce him to Steve so he could pick his brain and maybe get some inroads into the industry.
So whatever became of the bartender? Well, for the past thirteen years, best-selling author Vince Flynn has become a titan in the arena of political thrillers!
It's an invaluable life experience to be able to talk to people who have accomplished so much in their lives and yet remain humble enough to share the wisdom gained on their respective journeys. And here all I expected going into the evening was to grab a bite to eat, have a few beers, get my book signed and go home! OK, I accomplished all that, too. But I definitely left with more than a full stomach and a slight buzz.