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Many of us stumbled around for a while before we found our calling in life. John Grisham was a lawyer before he wrote best-sellers. Vince Lombardi was a bill collector before he tried coaching.
My colleague and friend John Adams was never afflicted with indecision. As a schoolboy of 12 in Clinton, La., John wrote an essay vowing to become a sportswriter when he grew up.
In fact, John didn’t even wait until he grew up. He joined the local paper, The Watchman, at 15.
By 19, he was the editor.
He never strayed from the business, even when he was drafted by Uncle Sam. John defended democracy as the editor of the post newspaper at Fort Riley.
A circuitous path through papers in five states eventually led to Knoxville in 1987. Finally, he put down roots.
Thursday, 26 years after his debut column at the News Sentinel, John Adams enters the Tennessee Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame.
Unfortunately, he won’t be at the ceremony in Lebanon to crack wise. If you’ve been missing John’s mug shot lately it’s because he’s recovering from knee-replacement surgery.
There are readers (and perhaps a coach or two) who might relish replacing more of John’s body parts. You don’t offer your opinion in the same town for 26 years without displeasing segments of your audience.
With John, it was always thus.
The young editor of The Watchman — he was studying journalism at nearby LSU at the time — was never afraid to throw a well-placed barb.
“It was a lot of John Adams in there every week,’’ he said. “I had a general column, a sports column. Sometimes I had an editorial.’’
He once took on the local post office, suggesting a return to the Pony Express would be more efficient.
“It was a year before the postmaster spoke to my mom again,’’ he said with a laugh.
“I had no filter. I’d just unload.’’
He still doesn’t have much of a filter. How many other metropolitan sports sections include cats and dogs on their college football picks panels?
I’ve always enjoyed John’s eye for the unusual angle. Like the column he wrote from the top row of an empty section of the upper deck at Thompson-Boling Arena during the worst days of Wade Houston’s worst season.
That goes for off the job, too. John’s Las Vegas wedding was one for the books. Melinda, his bride, knew the minister was going to be an Elvis. She didn’t know until she made her entrance that John would be waiting at the altar in full Elvis regalia. He even sang her a song.
John’s career has pretty much checked all the boxes: World Series, Olympics, Super Bowl, Masters, U.S. Open, Kentucky Derby, Final Four, heavyweight title fights, Daytona 500.
But he knows where his bread is buttered. His audience wants college football, and in particular, Tennessee football.
I promise you, that’s fine with him. He watches virtually every snap of every college game that’s on TV, even those late-night West Coast kickoffs.
(You’d think such a diligent student of the game wouldn’t have picked the Vols 18th in his preseason Associated Press vote last year.)
Back in ’95, a fractured elbow and a humongous cast couldn’t keep him away from Neyland Stadium. He dictated columns to a typist on press row.
A couple of years ago, he fell down steps at The Swamp, but filed a column before heading to the ER.
There is a reason John has won a wall full of awards.
His lead on UT’s season-opening 62-3 cleaving of UNLV in ’96:
“What do you call 60 Runnin’ Rebels buried in the middle of Neyland Stadium?
“A good start.’’
Or the 41-14 stunner in ’95, the Vols’ first win over Alabama in a decade:
“It was a Manning against boys Saturday night at Legion Field.’’
After the most memorable play of that most memorable 1998 championship season, John wrote:
“What will you tell your children you were doing when Arkansas quarterback Clint Stoerner fumbled the ball with 1:47 to play? Crying? Cursing? Praying?”
Those words stand the test of time.
So does John.
Mike Strange may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44