Published on March 16, 2017
Video package: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4klrANE4VSQ&feature=youtu.be
Story, photos, video and audio by Jon Cerio
Additional photos by Bridget Chavez
Scribe – (noun) – writer; specifically: journalist – Merriam-Webster Dictionary
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — It only happens once a year. For athletes, it’s once in a lifetime – well, maybe twice in a lifetime, for the occasional grad student. On this year’s Senior Day, 30,448 paying fans greeted Syracuse men’s basketball’s graduating class before the game with Georgia Tech, March 4. Players soaked in the cheers and applause, hoping to remember the roar of the crowd one last time.
A few rows behind one of the baskets, another team looked on. Syracuse.com and Post-Standard beat reporters Mike Waters and Donna Ditota watched alongside senior columnist Bud Poliquin. For Poliquin, it was a scene all too familiar. After all, he had been to more than 30 senior days in his time.
“I’ve been around enough so that, ‘Jeez, I’ve seen this before, I’ve asked this question before, I’ve heard this answer before,'” he says.
The faces and numbers have changed over the years, but their stories seem to blur together for Poliquin.
Different day, same stuff
Sitting in on his radio show, “Bud and the Manchild” in the ESPN Radio Syracuse studio in Armory Square several days later, that same sentiment comes through when discussing the Syracuse Orange’s tournament chances.
Filling in for regular co-host Jim “Manchild” Lerch, producer Paul “Boy Green” Esden, Jr. tries to get Poliquin to hammer home a point he had already nailed into place several times during the broadcast.
“This is a cyclical conversation,” Poliquin says. “The redundancy is numbing.”
After the show, Poliquin sits down for an interview one room over and gives some perspective.
Full audio interview: https://soundcloud.com/user-857188699/full-bud-poliquin-interview
Coast to Cold
The native Chicagoan, who worked in blissful San Diego, says he gave up sunshine and sit-down interviews for blustery Syracuse, New York because his bride Kathleen is from the area. The community gained a writer who had had one-on-one interviews with the likes of Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Mickey Mantle, and Michael Jordan .
“I find myself going from interviewing professional men, to 18 and 19-year-old young men, boys dare I say,” Poliquin says. “I’m not saying they bore me. They’re just not as interesting. I wasn’t interesting when I was 20-years-old. I’m far more interesting now, I hope to goodness I am.”
Poliquin also notes that with each passing year he gets older, while the players stay the same age and there is a growing disconnect between himself and his subjects. But he knows that doesn’t excuse him from generating good content.
Sitting in a box of a room with antiquated recording equipment filling a space smaller than your typical Central New York kitchen, Poliquin says he must constantly write himself outside of the proverbial box.
“The onus is on me,” he says.
Though the athletes may not have changed much over the years, Poliquin says that’s not the case for his industry.
“The thing that I most mourn in the business is the absence of these one-on-one conversations. Nowadays, everything is presented in press conference fashion. It’s antiseptic. There is no such thing as real intimate conversation.”
Poliquin recalls a time when he could go up to an athlete, and ask him or her to talk, without anyone facilitating the conversation. He says that’s the way he interviewed some of the all-time sports greats.
“Nowadays, you have quarterbacks that say ‘Oh, I only talk on Wednesdays.’ And they talk to a room full of 40 people. And you’re supposed to get something out of that?”
On the periphery
In the fall, Poliquin sticks to the periphery, finding the football players no one else is engaging in conversation. You’ll notice in photos from press conferences and locker room media scrums (a term that shows up often in his columns), Poliquin is either in the background, or not present at all.
Don’t think it goes unnoticed. Earlier in the season, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim called into question some of Poliquin’s tactics in one of his articles. In a room filled with dozens of media reporters, their exclusive exchange lasted the better part of seven and a half minutes.
“I like it when you come, because usually you don’t come and I don’t have anyone to talk to.” Boeheim joked with the veteran writer.
Poliquin says that’s by design, and that the current setup affects the way he pursues an angle.
“I very rarely ask a question in a press conference, because I don’t like the idea that if I’m asking a question that I think has some meat on the bone, and he says something, now everyone’s got it. I’ve given away my trade secrets so to speak. I’ve given away my piece.”
The Golden Age
Poliquin says if today’s standards had existed back when he was starting out in his career, he might not have stuck with it.
“I might not have lasted this long, I wouldn’t have liked it at all. It would be so unfulfilling to me.”
“I lived in what I think will be the golden age of sports writing,” he adds. “We, the industry, we held off radio when it came. We held off TV when it came. We lost to the Internet, the Internet beat us, and there’s no win in that. We’re done, in the way that we were.”
A Re-imagined State
Poliquin knows the clock is ticking down toward his own Senior Day.
“As to how long I’m going to do it, it’ll probably be a shorter amount of time than a lot of people think,” he says. “There’s a thing out there called life that I might want to take a look at.”
Still, at 64, the idea of retirement scares him.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever be a retired gentleman, but I’ll be a fellow in a re-imagined state,” Poliquin says with a smile.