Friday, June 15, 2012

What a lucky schlub I've been

It's a big year for personal anniversaries ...


I first cultivated my sense of adventure ... as captured in this Aug. 1, 1962 story in my hometown Milford Citizen:

Little 20-month-old Michael Nadel decided to go for a walk this afternoon at 5 o'clock and wasn't missed until the family saw his chair empty at dinner time.

Just as the family of Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Nadel, of 59 Wheeler Avenue, went out to look for the boy, he rode up to the house a proud passenger in a police car.

Sgt. Frank Polizzi, who lives about a half mile away from the Nadels, explained he saw sun-suited Michael walking along Milford Point Road and didn't recognize him as being from the neighborhood. A few youngsters nearer the Nadels' home told the policeman where the boy lived.

My parents should have been soooo embarrassed. I mean ... a sunsuit?


The fall of '72 was incredibly thrilling as my team, the Miami Dolphins, became the first -- and still the only -- NFL squad to go through an entire season (including playoffs) unbeaten and untied.

How did a kid from Connecticut come to like the Dolphins instead of the Patriots, Giants or Jets?

Well, I was a late bloomer when it came to sports. In fact, I kind of hated them. But as I approached adolescence, I got to be good friends with a kid named Dave Kirschner, who was a huge sports fan. He convinced me to like his favorite basketball team, the Knicks, but I wasn't about to like the Jets because, well, they pretty much sucked.

No, I was an impressionable kid and I wanted to root for a great team, and the Dolphins were coming off a Super Bowl season (they lost to the Cowboys). Plus, they had the coolest aquamarine and orange uniforms. Larry Csonka was my favorite player.

So I became a Dolphins fanatic. Eventually, a Knicks and Yankees fanatic, too. And I started keeping scrapbooks on those teams, as well as the Rangers in hockey. Which, in turn, made me fall in love with writing.

And the rest, as they say, is history.


Marquette won the '77 national basketball title in Al McGuire's final game as coach.

Not long after that, I went to a college fair and the Marquette representative was very persuasive. She had to be to get a Jewish kid from Connecticut who had never been east of Lancaster, Pa., to agree to freeze his keister off in freakin' Milwaukee. Why I didn't go to Arizona State or Miami or Hawaii or UCLA, I'll never know!

There are those in academia who claim that the success of athletic programs doesn't really help a university's profile. Well, I wouldn't even have known Marquette existed if not for the Warriors -- and I'm guessing thousands of others who chose to matriculate there say the same thing.

After becoming a professional sportswriter, I gave up my allegiances to the Dolphins and Knicks and Yankees and Rangers. But I always will root for Marquette hoops.

Bottom line: I was never a Dolphin or a Yankee. I'll be a Warrior forever.


I graduated from Marquette and began my career with the AP in Milwaukee.

These days, it's tough for graduates to get a job. How difficult is it? In article after article, the authors almost always write something like: "This is the most difficult job market for college graduates since 1982."

Yep, the 1982 recession was a rough one. I was one of only a few Marquette J-school grads to get a job in the profession. I'd love to say it was because I was the best, but I know better. It was at least 75 percent luck.

How I got that first job with AP is a great story ... and maybe you'll read about it someday if I ever write that book!


I covered my first Stanley Cup Finals in 1987 -- Oilers vs. Flyers -- beginning a long stretch as AP's de facto national hockey writer.

Was I chosen because I was a hockey expert? Hardly. I was working in Minnesota, so I simply was closer to Canada than anybody else. "Hey, they have lots of ice in Minnesota, right? Let's send Nadel to Edmonton."

The association with hockey worked nicely for me, as I went on to cover seven more Stanley Cups and four Olympic hockey tournaments for AP. The only two national writing awards I received were for hockey-related stories.

These days, I'm not sure I could name a dozen NHL players. Is Chris Chelios still in the league?


I covered my first NBA Finals -- Bulls vs. Trail Blazers.

One of my favorite keepsakes is a Portland newspaper photo of a media session. Michael Jordan is looking up at me, answering one of my questions.

Someday, one of my grandkids will ask: "Who's that guy in the picture with grandpa?" That'll be cool.

I still had hair in 1992, though it was thinning rapidly. I also had my trusty Bic 4-color pen in hand ... and I still buy them by the multi-pack.


Jordan had his incredible "food-poisoning game" against the Jazz in the '97 NBA Finals.

It was the only playoff game during the Bulls' Jordan Era II that I didn't cover.

While in Utah for Game 4, I got the word that my mom had died. After that game, I flew to Philadelphia for the funeral. I watched Game 5 -- the sickness game -- while sitting on my brother's sofa a few hours after we buried my mom.


As a freshman, my daughter Katie helped her high school team win the city championship in its division. She was the leading scorer in the playoffs and made the title-clinching steal.

Katie would go on to be the first athlete in Walter Payton College Prep history to win four varsity letters in one sport.

I still display a great framed photo, snapped by a Chicago Tribune photographer during her freshman year. The one time in her life she drove left, it was captured for all eternity.

Obviously, I was proud of Katie's exploits ... and equally proud of my boy Ben's many, many athletic triumphs. Today, both are in their mid-20s, employed and on their own -- which also makes me very proud.

For a guy who never rooted for the teams he covered, being able to cheer on my kids' teams was huge. After Ben played his last high school baseball game in 2006, I went through withdrawal. Seriously. It took me a year to get over that void.

If you have young kids and they are into sports or acting or music or whatever, enjoy the hell out of it, because the time will go by far too fast!


GateHouse Media bought the Copley newspapers in Illinois.

That was the beginning of the end for me, because I knew it was only a matter of time before the weasels there deemed me a luxury they no longer could afford. After all, they needed to have plenty of money on hand to give themselves bonuses and double-digit raises. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

Thankfully, 2007 also was the year we sold our last Chicago home, an overpriced condo that we never should have bought in the first place.

Despite its glorious rooftop deck that provided a sterling view of the skyline, the condo didn't sell easily. It took six full months and the process caused lots of angst. Little did we know that the housing market was in the early stages of a total freefall and we were lucky to sell at all.

We moved into an apartment with the idea that we'd buy a house, maybe in the suburbs. But the market just kept getting worse ... and then I got laid off. It sure was nice knowing we didn't have a house we couldn't afford. That "temporary" apartment ended up being home for 3 1/2 years until we moved to Charlotte.

Wow. Lots of anniversaries. Next year's the biggie, though: 30 years of wedded bliss to my wonderful Roberta. Who'da thunk a schlub like me would be lucky enough to land and keep a babe like that?

You know, despite a bad break or two, I really have lived a charmed life.


  1. Looks like chapter ideas for a book you should be writing. :-) Thank you again for putting some things in perspective. My daughter is already 13. We only have about 5 years left with her at home. Sean

  2. Mike - great writing. TJ just turned 12. Not sure where the time is going, but it's going fast. Hoping to see you and your much much better half soon.

  3. Nice box of chocolates, Mike.

    What is/was a sunsuit?

  4. Kathy White BonettiJune 15, 2012 at 8:48 PM

    Mike, I don't know responder #1, but I absolutely agree ... you need to write a book. I am in tears over your piece -- as I know exactly the places you are talking about (Milford Point Road?! Wheeler Ave??!!!). If you do write a book, you must, however, include a chapter on the muscular dystrophy 'carnivals' we had in your yard over a few Septembers. Thanks for a great column, Mike. Struck a heart-chord for me.

    And yes, I do know what a sunsuit is and can picture you in one -- on Milford Point Road.

  5. I bet that sunsuit was comfy. I should get another!

    Muscular dystrophy carnivals ... you're a hoot, Kath. I might have to hire you as a guest writer because, while I remember having them, I don't know if I remember enough to write a paragraph on them, let alone a chapter! At the very least, you have to provide one of the quotes for the book cover. Something like: "Mike didn't turn out half bad for a dork with lazy eye and hand-me-down clothes that dated back to the Korean War."

    I'm marking all of you down as full-price purchasers of that book. All I need is about 10,000 more like-minded folks, and it'll be a go!

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  7. Tell the people what you do with those 4-color pens these days. LOTS of color-coded analysis and decision-making going on! And, I have the article you wrote about my last game at Payton framed on my wall. Makes me cry every time.