It was 1992 and I was a senior at ASU working as the men's basketball beat writer for the campus newspaper, the State Press. I was young and not great -- as young, inexperienced writers tend to be -- but was able to break a story that a player on the team had been dismissed for off-court issues.
This was pre-internet and pre-social media, so breaking a story in a college paper only got you so far (the whole if-a-tree-falls-in-a-forest-and-no-one-is-there-to-hear-it-does-it-make-a-sound thing.) But a week or so later, the beat writer for the Arizona Republic saw me at a game. "Hey," Kent Somers said, "I was looking through some clips and saw you broke that story. Nice job."
That, as you can tell as I repeat it all these years later, meant a lot to a kid trying to get where Kent was going. I had no idea at that point we'd end up close friends.
Somers, the long-time Republic scribe who spent most of that time as a beat writer covering the Cardinals, is retiring. Now a columnist, his last day was Friday, his last game was the Super Bowl, and his final week included a new coach for the Cardinals and a Kevin Durant press conference. Well played.
But it isn't what Kent covered that made him what he was, although he was excellent at that. It was the way he went about his business. He was able to do the job -- which, especially as a columnist, means criticism -- all while building a credibility for himself that meant he was respected by all. He earned the right to be critical with (most of) those he covered understanding why. He praised too. The point is he was fair, and his subjects knew it.
I knew Kent from my college days but it was in 2000, when I was first put on the Cardinals beat by the East Valley Tribune and he returned to the Cardinals beat with the Republic after a few years away, when we truly became friends. Beat writing is a funny business; you are competing with someone else for stories and scoops, and that can lead to strained relationships. But while Kent and I wanted to beat the other on a story, we were friends first. (Once, at the Scouting combine, Dirk Koetter had been interviewed the day before by the two of us, introducing ourselves from our competing papers. The next day, he saw us hanging out and getting coffee together, and he was perplexed we'd be doing such a thing.)
He'll argue otherwise, but when all was said and done, there was no better Cardinals beat guy.
Over the years there were basketball games and beers, early Monday morning flights and those glorious couple of seasons where we still got upgraded to first class. We watched a lot of football practice. Not a game, not a game -- practice. He took this (expletive) serious, as Derek Anderson can attest. Kent didn't flinch when my son, maybe 8 at the time, called his car "jank" when we were at training camp in Flagstaff. And Kent lent his ear -- and advice -- when I considered very carefully back in 2007 whether to leave newspapers and come write for azcardinals.com.
I could go on and on, but a) we don't want to tl;dr this post and b) Kent's not dying. He is, in the immortal words of that other recent retiree Larry Fitzgerald, "simply just turning the page to the next chapter of my life." In which case, there's only one thing I can say, Kent.
Ku-Doos to you.