I don’t know of anybody who’s sung the praises of Star sports columnist Sam Mellinger more than I. From the get go, I saw things in Sam that foretold of a bright future.
Allow me to remind.
When he started the column two years ago, Sam He Am had big shoes to fill.
Amidst third degree belt tightening and rather awkward circumstances, the newspaper had lost its two top sports guns, Joe Posnanski and Jason Whitlock.
And Whitlock on his way out had unleashed a scandal involving the paper’s newly minted main editor with an attractive, highly placed female sports editor who worked under him. Whitlock publically accused the two of having an improper relationship.
It was plenty ugly and mum was the word on the subject at 18th and Grand.
And having worked there until late the previous year, I can tell you Whitlock was far from alone in his belief as to what went on and the bogusness of it. The woman editor in question – fresh off a divorce – skedaddled with little to no explanation as to exactly why and it was a rocky, uncertain time at best.
Enter Mellinger buoyed by youth, local connects and a way with words that positioned him somewhere between the oft overwraughten, prosaic Posnanski and the undisputed king-of-newspaper-reader-pimpers Whitlock.
Sam had the writing chops to play the JoPo card – which Whitlock obviously never had – but he appeared far less likely to deal out race cards and stir up thinly thought out controversies that were Whitlock’s bread and butter.
As many said four years back of President Barack Obama, Sam was a blank slate.
Readers of the Star could look forward to watching him grow and mature as he found his voice as the one, true sports columnist at 18th and Grand.
I liked what I saw then and I continue to like much of what I see today.
But I’d like to see less of the stereotypical, hand wringing columns Posnaski flooded the sport universe with.
I’d like to see Sam take out his crayon sharpener, give it a few deft twists on his you-know-what and put some growl in his game.
Is that too much to ask?
The impetus for my critique is Mellinger’s formulaic column about the NCAA tourney loss by the highly-ranked Missouri Tigers basketball team. To the ever so lowly Norfolk State whatever-they-ares.
Look, anybody who cared either saw or heard the game and/or the highlight clips showing devastated MU players and jubilant Norfolk Staters. And even if they didn’t, it doesn’t take a wordsmith to hammer home the agony of defeat in a game that big or the ecstasy of a once-in-a-lifetime victory.
Tell us something we don’t know.
Or maybe even bring your gun to the knife fight and shock our sports monkeys.
Here’s what we got instead.
"The tears started almost immediately, beaten only by the cussing," Mellinger begins. "Missouri basketball players range from stunned to ticked, staring into the distance or slamming punches into chairs, fresh victims of one the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history."
To which I’d like to add, oh the anguish.
"Maybe 30 feet away from them, pandemonium. Norfolk State, 21-point underdogs, sprinting around in circles around midcourt, hamming it up for the TV cameras, making sure everyone watching remembers the fifth team in 28 years to win an NCAA Tournament game as a No. 15 seed."
That’s a surprise. A nobody team wins a huge upset and they’re loving life. Who knew?
Oh but Sam’s not even done milking this tear stained Hallmark Moment.
"Phil Pressey, who took the final shot in Missouri’s 86-84 loss, falls to the court. He doesn’t get up, doesn’t move, hides his head under his jersey until Kyle O’Quinn — now Missouri’s version of Ali Farokhmanesh, with 26 points and 14 rebounds for Norfolk State — offers a hug. ‘He looked like he needed a helping hand,’ O’Quinn later said."
Is it possible Mellinger was actually crying as he wrote those moving words?
So how original was Mellinger’s soft shoe?
Oh I dunno, check out MU beat writer Terez Paylor‘s lead sentence on his game story and you tell me:
"Kim English slumped back in his locker, the bright camera lights illuminating his solemn face. His quad hurt, his dreams dashed."
See what I mean? Who isn’t choking out this kinda sports schlock?
Now here’s my take:
It was only a college basketball game, nobody died in a tornado. Move on.
"This isn’t how it was supposed to happen," Mellinger continues. "This isn’t the way dream seasons end, one of the most successful years in MU basketball history suddenly washed away in disappointment."
You can read the rest of the column if you wish.
But that’s one of the easiest columns a guy as gifted as Sam ever wrote. And frankly not everybody is as gifted as Sam in the writing department. You want me to get Glaze to paraphrase Sam’s column so you can compare?
Hey, it’s not my place to put words into Sam’s mouth, but surely he could come up with something edgier or more imaginative.
Channel a little Whitlock even, for old times sake.
They blew it…
No two ways about it, faced with the college sports opportunity of a lifetime – in the most important game in the school’s history – the Missouri Tiger basketball team curled up and died.
And in doing so, MU gifted its former friends in the Big 12 with a going away gift they could only dream of.
Instead of triumphantly marching, heads held high, into the SEC, Missouri ended its days in the Big 12 with an embarassment of squandered riches and crawled off like wailing babies. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the enduring, indelible image KU and K-State fans will savor and take to their graves.
They’ll die with smiles on their faces, because instead of having to sulk over MU’s arguably lucky Big 12 tourney win over Baylor following KU’s unlikely collapse the day before, they’ll now be able to jest about K-State’s twin pounding of the Tigers and KU’s winning the team’s final meeting and the Big 12 championship.
So long, Missouri. Don’t let Norfolk State’s goofy Spartan mascot stab you in the butt.
Plus KU won’t have to play MU in football off campus anymore, and that’s a going away gift money can’t buy!
There are a million ways Sam could’ve skinned this cat, but he opted for the schlocky one.
My advice; put away the Kleenex, Sam. Everybody who wanted to cry already got it out of their system long before you choked your sentimental chicken.
If Kleenex need be involved, bust out the entire whole box, wad it up in whichever hand’s the strongest and stuff it into that imaginary, writer’s erotic zone before you start the next column.