A farewell to a journalist, a farewell to a man | Local columns
I used to work with a newspaper columnist whose ability to enrage his audience was only overwhelmed by his ability to get them to read to the last word.
You would probably call it a love-hate relationship, except that with Richard Stevens, it was always hate-love. And he was cool with it. He pushed his way through 24.25 inch copy, torching sacred cows and holy New Mexico Lobos along the way, then walked out the door like he had just, I don’t know, cleaned his glasses. .
It looked easy. It must have felt that way too, because Stevens knew he would always bring them back for more.
I wish I could read another of his columns today. Unfortunately, I can’t. Stevens, longtime sports columnist for the Albuquerque Grandstand, died Wednesday at the age of 70.
The echo in the New Mexico journalism world runs deep.
He had taught or influenced some of America’s brightest young sports-writing talents as he meandered through the state. In many ways, he was Crash Davis, the tired and wise hero of the movie. Durham Bull. The kids he counseled were of the Nuke LaLoosh type – all wild fastballs and raging energy, just waiting to be helped or developed or put in their place.
You’re probably watching a guy named Jeremy Fowler talk about the NFL on ESPN. He used to sit in the same office with Stevens. Rick Maese is a star and devotee of the Washington postthe sports team of. Trained with Stevens. Edgar Thompson covers the athletics department at the University of Florida at Orlando Sentry. Stevens educated him. Iliana LimÃ³n Romero, deputy sports editor of the Los Angeles Times, says a lot of what she knows she got from the guy some of us called “Slick”.
There are others, too many to list. But from the shock and pain in their voices and lyrics, it was obvious that there was something about Stevens that attracted people – readers, colleagues, friends – to him, and not just his talent. He could write with relentless clarity and with two fists, but he was also kind and sensitive to those who needed or deserved a little help.
I can’t count how many thin-skinned, thick-headed coaches at the University of New Mexico told him to go straight to hell, swearing they’d never talk to him after he had them emulsified in a glass column with a writing style that could be described as elegantly vicious – and absolutely true.
And then, a day or two or ten later, the same men and women were looking for Stevens, asking him for a chance to draw him to their way of thinking.
Such was his talent. And maybe, the power.
I have known him for decades, first as a competitor, then as a colleague, then as a boss. I still marvel at the ease with which words and thoughts came to him. After a game he could sit at a computer, stare across the newsroom for maybe 10 seconds, then strafe a column that would often be the best – or certainly the most moving – thing in the newspaper. Chat around a water cooler for a day or two.
For many years, The tribe edited a weekly article during high school football season called The Lindsey Line and later just The Linz.
It was meant to be a chronicle of predictions – you know, Albuquerque Manzano 22, Las Cruces Mayfield 16 – but Stevens turned The Linz into his imaginary friend, an alter ego who was more about humor, a rim shot, than preparatory football. Linz would offer the loser of an Albuquerque High-Santa Fe High game a weekend in Gallup, or nearly as appetizing, an all-expenses-paid meal at Allsup’s in Deming. People were screaming with laughter.
I know a few high school coaches who wanted to punch Stevens in the mouth for things he would write in The Linz. I have known many others who would leave their locker rooms to rush to Circle K when The Tribe, an afternoon newspaper, arrived in store around 10:30 a.m.
When The gallery folded in 2008, I kind of lost track of Slick. He went to work for the athletics department at the University of New Mexico for a while – oh, the irony – and worked on another publication. I suspect the times he cherished the most, the reason he lived, were the days spent with his two children, Trevor and Kelsey. He was a superior father.
What interested me most about Stevens was his unique ability to find an almost undetectable crack in your ego and magnify it for a laugh. No one was safe. Not the governor. Not a university president. Not a $ 500,000-a-year coach who couldn’t understand the last two minutes of a football game. Not even a 22-year-old rookie at the sports desk.
Anyone else does that, and they eat alone on Thanksgiving. Believe me: Stevens always had somewhere to go. Columnist was just a role he played, a talent he had. It didn’t have much to do with who he was.
No, the guy people loved – the guy people came back to – was a father to two, a friend to many. He was a guy who offered his colleagues a little bit of advice, and maybe a little bit of humility that we all need from time to time.
Phill Casaus is editor-in-chief of The New Mexican.