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Craig Sager, Willie the Wildcat and me



With Thursday's awful news that basketball announcer Craig Sager has died at the age of 65, you'll see and hear plenty of stories about his colorful wardrobe, and what a good man he was.

So here's mine.

The hottest I've ever been in my entire life was in the summer of 2007, when I was interning at the Tulsa World newspaper before my senior year at Northwestern University. I spent seven long days sweating in the 100-degree heat, covering the PGA Championship at Southern Hills. It was awesome.

But it was also unbearably hot. I found shade under trees when I could, and I wore a hat to try to keep cool. For practical reasons, I chose a white cap rather than a dark one. It had a Northwestern logo on it.

During one of the rounds, a tall man walked up to me between the ropes, where only golfers, caddies and reporters are allowed to roam. It was Craig Sager, who was covering the tournament as a broadcaster. No, he was not wearing one of his loud suits. I mentioned it was hot, right?

Mr. Sager noticed my cap and pointed to it. He asked if I went to school there, and I said I did. He mentioned that he did, too. Then he went a step farther. Did you know there's a picture of me in the athletic offices?
No, I said. Thirty seconds ago, I didn't even know he went to school there.

Then delivered the kicker: He was the mascot, Willie the Wildcat.

Craig Sager as Willie the Wildcat. Huh. Because I'm a journalist, I looked it up later. It checks out. Maybe that explains his later wardrobe choices. What else can you expect from a guy who dressed up like a giant, gray cat?

Anyway, Mr. Sager and I walked a hole or two together. We fist-bumped, then went our separate ways.

I don't pretend to know Mr. Sager because of our brief encounter. It lasted a few minutes, at most.

But I do know that Mr. Sager was the kind of guy who would take a break from his big-time job, in the middle of one of the last great runs of Tiger Woods' historic career, to chat with a sweaty, 21-year-old intern in a white, Willie the Wildcat cap and share a moment he'll never forget. 

And that says more about Mr. Sager than his wardrobe ever could.

[Last modified: Thursday, December 15, 2016 9:42pm]


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