Thursday, December 14, 2017
Opinion

Bill Stevens retires after 37 years with Times

All these years later, it's clear to me where this started. My third-grade teacher in Texas, Mrs. Bishop, liked my stories and read them out loud to the class.

Kids react to such positive reinforcement. At age 9, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: a sports writer. I dreamed of someday covering my hero Johnny Unitas.

A dozen years later, I left the Army and landed a job reporting on high school sports in West Palm Beach. The editor gave in to my begging and let me cover a late-season game in Miami between the Dolphins and the Baltimore Colts.

It was a gray, cold day, odd for South Florida. On the Colts sideline, No. 19 stood in his trademark black high tops. Age and injuries had taken their toll and the greatest quarterback ever was now a backup on a bad team.

Suddenly, late in the one-sided game, the Colts' starter went down. Unitas threw off his jacket and ran on the field. High above in the Orange Bowl press box, my heart beat faster. As Johnny pulled his helmet upward, the sun broke through the clouds for the first time all day. Whether this really happened or it was just the imagination of a 9-year-old boy who still hadn't fully grown up, I can't say for sure. But I turned to the writer next to me and asked, "Did you see that?''

"No, what?''

"That flash. Did you see that flash?''

The sunlight had caught the horseshoe on the side of Johnny U.'s famous helmet. Even the hometown fans cheered the legend.

But reality can be cruel. Unitas limped off the field after one play. Later in the locker room as a trainer helped him out of his uniform, he looked much like any other mortal man. I can't remember what I asked him — probably something stupid. But as I drove up the turnpike toward home, I recall exactly what I was thinking: "I can't believe they're paying me to do this.''

Forty-two years later, 37 of them at this newspaper, I still feel the same way. But now my heroes are people like Pauline Shaver, who founded a home to comfort the profoundly handicapped, or Dave Parris, the Rotarian racing against time and cancer to construct a Christmas wonderland for children.

It pleases me greatly that my final columns highlighted their good deeds.

This is my last day at the Tampa Bay Times. I'm retiring.

It feels weird but also refreshing, less like the end of something and more like the first day of the rest of my life.

My dad spent 33 years in the Army and when people asked him why, he just smiled and said, "I kept waiting for it to get better.'' I never felt that way. On the contrary, I have always felt privileged to work around so many smart, interesting people.

Some might call my career with the Times accidental, since it began when I got fired from a small newspaper in Brooksville. The folks who ran the town didn't like what I wrote about the teachers' union. The Times threw me a lifeline and a year later sent me to Hernando County to run its bureau.

Ancient history, I know, but my source of loyalty to a newspaper that never backs down in the face of such pressure, a place devoted to accuracy and honesty.

So now what?

Well, first and foremost, I look forward to traveling with my best friend and bride of 42 years. And we both can't wait to double-team in the spoiling of our first granddaughter, 8-month-old Violet whose big smile and baby jabbering melts my heart.

Naturally I have a book in mind.

And you'll likely see my smiling face on some columns the Times has graciously invited me to write after I've had some time to decompress. I'll keep a lookout for inspirational stories that help balance what often seems like a world of bad news.

It also occurs to me that while I might be the elder statesman in this newsroom and the only guy who remembers manual typewriters, I'm still relatively young. Just the other day, I ran into Dominic DeMariano, "Mickey D'' to all his friends.

He turned 100 recently and I wrote about how he routinely wins the money from his golfing buddies, shooting 20 strokes below his age.

He's heading back up north for the summer.

"I'll be back in the fall, young fella,'' he said. "I'll call you to set up a game.''

I'm thinking I'll have plenty of time to practice.

Comments
Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Timing is everything, and Sen. Bill Nelson seized the right moment this week to call on his colleagues to pass legislation he filed earlier this year that would block the Trump administration from opening additional areas to offshore drilling. With t...
Updated: 9 hours ago

Another voice: Alabama picks an honorable man

THANK YOU, Alabama.In Tuesdayís special election, the state by a narrow margin chose to spare the nation the indignity of seating an accused child molester in the U.S. Senate. Though the stain of electing Republican Roy Moore would have sullied Alaba...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Editorial: Tax cuts arenít worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts arenít worth harm to Tampa Bay

As congressional negotiators hammer out the details on an enormous, unnecessary tax cut, the potential negative impact on Tampa Bay and Florida is becoming clearer. The harmful consequences stretch far beyond adding more than $1.4 trillion to the fed...
Published: 12/12/17

Another voice: Privacy in the internet age

How much information about you is on your cellphone? Likely the most intimate details of your life: photographs, internet searches, text and email conversations with friends and colleagues. And though you might not know it, your phone is constantly c...
Published: 12/10/17
Updated: 12/11/17
Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Confronted with documentation of sanctioned brutality and sexual abuse in Floridaís juvenile detention centers, the reaction from Gov. Rick Scottís administration was defensive and obtuse. So itís welcome news that Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/11/17

Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over stateís rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week wonít make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, itís obvious that Jeff Vinikís plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

It is dangerous and illegal to text while driving in Florida, and police should be able to pull over and ticket those lawbreakers without witnessing another violation first. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has lent his powerful voice to legislation th...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Editorial: Outsourcing common sense on St. Petersburg Pier naming rights

St. Petersburg officials predict that selling the naming rights to parts of the new Pier could generate $100,000 in annual revenue. But first the city wants to pay a consultant to tell it how and to whom to sell the rights. Why do city officials need...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17