TAMPA, Fla. – This blog usually deals with issues, news or a multitude of other items about college football or basketball. Today, sadly, it does not.
Instead it’s my opportunity to publicly thank Tom McEwen. For those not familiar with the Tampa Bay sports scene, you might not have heard of or ever dealt with McEwen, the former sports editor of The Tampa Tribune. Believe me, that was your loss.
Tom McEwen died Sunday morning. He was 88.
What Tom did for Tampa as a city never can be fully appreciated. Quite simply: If not for Tom, Tampa would have never been awarded an NFL franchise (and then most likely Tampa Bay would have also been bypassed by Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League if the Bucs weren’t here). Not only do the Bucs owe Tom for their existence, but so do the Rays and Lightning. Tom also was instrumental in Tampa getting three Super Bowls.
Without Tom, Tampa would be Orlando – without the NBA franchise and the traffic.
Lee Roy Selmon is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame because he was one of the most dominating defensive linemen of his era. But it’s no secret Selmon is in the Hall of Fame because Tom made it a priority to get Selmon in the Hall of Fame. Selmon deserved to be in it, but without Tom's impassioned speech to the Hall of Fame voters, Selmon may never have received the necessary votes to get in.
That’s one thing I learned while I had the privilege to work for Tom at the Tribune: When Tom wanted something to get done, it did.
The best thing about Tom is he was always there for you. He was arguably one of the most powerful, influential individuals in the sports world yet he treated every one he knew the same. He never big-timed anyone and was always willing to help however possible.
Several of my former co-workers at the Tribune would joke that whenever we covered an event -- no matter where in the world it was -- when you mentioned you were from Tampa, the first response most of the time was: “Do you know Tom McEwen? How is my buddy Tom doing?”
Joey Johnston, who wrote this wonderful piece on Tom, was on the West Coast several years ago. He had gone through all the proper channels/PR types to set up an interview with Al Davis, but was denied each time. Johnston, though, happened to run into Davis at the Raiders’ facility and mentioned he worked with Tom. Al Davis immediately welcomed Johnston into his office and gave him all the time he needed. The power of Tom.
That is only one example of what made Tom so special. The man who was best friends with George Steinbrenner; who former Bucs coach John McKay once called “A--hole,” to which McEwen replied “That’s Mr. A--hole;” who won the Red Smith Award and was a record 19-time Florida Sportswriter of the Year but was never too big to help out the little guy. I mean how many other big city sports editors had their home numbers listed in the phone book?
Even Steve Spurrier said he owed his coaching career to McEwen.
He was always great with a quip. He gave me this gem for my New York Times story in February on Derek Jeter’s monstrous 30,875-square-foot Tampa home, located a mile south of McEwen on Hillsborough Bay.
“I just think [Jeter’s home] is wonderful,” McEwen said. “I haven’t heard any complaints about it. My view is just as good as Jeter’s — there’s just not as much of it.”
When I joined CBSSports.com a couple of weeks ago, Tom and his wife, Linda, were among the first to send me an email congratulating me on my new job. Battling cancer, Tom’s health had been deteriorating the past few years. Last year a group of the Tribune’s former and current sports writers met at his Davis Islands home. We had lunch, talked about old times, traded old stories and laughed. Boy, did we laugh.
It was our small way to show our appreciation for Tom and what he’s meant to us. So “Hey Tom,” thanks for everything. This short piece doesn’t do justice for what you meant to Tampa or to me. I would not be where I am today if not for Tom -- so you have him to thank or blame for that.
Several years ago, Tampa named a street next to Raymond James Stadium “Tom McEwen Boulevard.”
Perhaps in his honor for one day they should call the city Tompa because it really does owe him that much. Come to think of it, those of us that were fortunate enough to work with also him owe him so much.