tampabay.com

This job is a trip

While Tom Jones is on vacation, we've asked our beat writers to help fill the void on our 2C page in the newspaper. Today its NFL beat writer Stephen F. Holder.

By STEPHEN F. HOLDER
Published August 6, 2007


It was a glorious season for the University of Miami football team in 2001, capped with a whipping of Nebraska in the national championship game in the Rose Bowl Classic.

I was there to document it all for the Miami Herald, for which I worked as a sports writer for eight years. But when the game ended, my job as a beat writer was hardly over. When a team is as good as those Hurricanes were, there were going to be some tense days after the season during which several underclassman stars contemplated entering the NFL draft.

That class had some big names, eventual first-round picks Jeremy Shockey and Phillip Buchanon among them.

But none of the others brought as much pizzazz as one Clinton Portis. Yes, the same player who now conducts news conferences in unpredictable outfits and who is prone to say just about anything regarding any topic.

I called Portis, then a junior and the Rose Bowl's most valuable player, in the days after the game to get a sense of which way he was leaning. As I sat down in a restaurant to eat a seafood dinner one evening back home, he called back (why do all my sources seem to call in the middle of meals?). Of course, he thought I was graduate assistant Rob Holder leaving annoying messages on his cell phone.

Once I clarified that I was just the pesty reporter with the same surname, Portis gave it up: He was declaring for the draft, and I had the exclusive.

"I'm out," Portis said, as I scribbled what I could on a paper napkin. "I've done all I can do."

And, for good measure, he threw in the fact that Buchanon had decided to leave early, too. Portis gave me Buchanon's phone number and I eventually called him and confirmed his departure. Later in the conversation, I asked Portis what advice he got from the NFL's draft advisory committee, which counsels underclassmen by projecting where they will potentially be drafted. In his charming way, Portis said, "Obviously it must have been pretty good, don't you think?"

Guess it was a dumb question.

I ended the conversation with one final question: What did coach Larry Coker say when informed of the news?

Portis said, "Oh, ummm, I haven't told him yet. I haven't gotten a chance to talk to him."

At that point, I could picture Coker picking up his morning paper and learning for the first time that his most potent offensive weapon was going to the next level. I felt like he deserved better. So, I gave Portis a little advice. "Please call him and tell him as soon as you get off the phone with me," I said.

I'm convinced Portis never told him. And, the following morning, Coker probably choked on his Cheerios.

Favorite event I've covered

NCAA Tournament

Not a big college basketball fan, but during the tourney I get goose bumps.

 

Favorite stadiums

Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.

A rare feeling that I was part of history.

Reliant Stadium, Houston

When it's 105 outside, football's best indoors.

Staples Center, Los Angeles

Nothing special, but great for people watching.

 

Least-favorite stadiums

Orange Bowl, Miami

Hottest press box in America.

Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.

Way past its prime.

Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas

Basketball just doesn't work in a football stadium.

 

Best road cities

New York

So much culture, food and nightlife there's barely time left to actually work.

Toronto

Just as much to offer as New York minus the smelly alleys and cat-sized rats.

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Once did a vacation, ahem, college basketball tournament there.

 

Worst road cities

East Rutherford, N.J.

Once had a hotel room with a cemetery for a view.

Jacksonville

Better eat before the game because everything's closed afterward.

Greensboro, N.C.

Can't the ACC stage its basketball tournament anyplace else?

 

Favorite people I've covered

Shaquille O'Neal, Heat center

Nothing but a (very) big kid.

Larry Coker, former University of Miami football coach

Never met a nicer guy in such a nasty biz.

Pat Riley, Heat coach

A reporter's dream. Can fill up a notebook in minutes.

 

Favorite restaurants on the road

Metropolitan Grill, Seattle

Wild salmon so fresh it tastes like they caught it in the kitchen.

Justin's, Atlanta

Rapper Diddy's Afro-Caribbean spot in Buckhead is a must.

Prime 112, South Beach

Come on, Pat Riley frequents the place; it must be good.

Best airport

Fort Lauderdale

Why anyone actually uses Miami International is beyond me.

Worst airport

New York LaGuardia

You'd agree if you spent 75 minutes taxiing for takeoff like I once did.

Favorite sport to cover

Pro basketball

Favorite sport to watch

Pro basketball

One athlete I've never interviewed but want to

Muhammad Ali (in his prime)