Being greedy has become a cliche in our sports world. Everywhere you turn, money is being swapped for happiness. In New York, money brought George Steinbrenner a World Series title. In Minneapolis, greed will give millionaire Twins owner Carl Pohlad a stadium to house his team at the expense of taxpayers. Here at the University, the higher-ups have tried to buy its football team fans.
They’ve tried everything, even giving away tickets. Once, they even threw in some Converse sneakers. What a bargain.
I understand the University athletics department’s plan. The execution is right, but the theory is askew. Buying fans may put butts in seats but it doesn’t buy fan loyalty.
Last Saturday, as 41,000 Jim Wacker backers booed the team as it sauntered to the locker room at halftime, one longtime fan had seen enough and he left, too.
Sid Hartman is an anomaly in today’s sportswriting world. Left to jaded and skeptical middle-aged men, Hartman is a reminder of what used to be.
When Hartman began his career at a Minneapolis newspaper, the writers were tight with everyone from players to coaches to general managers. Some writers even refereed games that they were covering. Now that’s being objective.
Hartman was no different. And through the years, he has become a star in the Twin Cities not so much for what he knows, but who he knows. His personal phone directory is miles long, and if there’s anyone in sports journalism who’s in the know, it’s Sid.
Sid learned in his early days that becoming friends with the coaches, and a fan of the team, was the best way to get the quote and the story. He has known every coach and manager of the Vikings, Twins and, yes, Gophers since sometime around the 1940’s.
What’s truly astounding is Sid’s staying power. The turnover in sportswriting is tremendous, typically. But in a confined and homey metropolis like Minneapolis-St. Paul, Sid fits like no other.
He also knows the power of a positive word. It’s arguable that Sid put the “h” in “homer.” Year after year, fellow scribes have ridden Sid about his philosophy on journalism. But in this town, it works. Gullible fans? Maybe. To most of them, though, what Sid says is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Those fans may read Sid, but few see him. At least not in the pressbox. He is just like Joe Fan screaming at the TV on Saturday afternoons.
Maybe that’s what makes Sid such a hero in this state. When it comes down to it, Sid is just a regular guy watching and pulling for his team. It just so happens that he’s got his own newspaper column.
Nowadays the fun is taken out of sportswriting, at least for dinosaurs like Hartman. Guys are a lot more cynical than they used to be. The millions that are earned now — as compared to the blue-collar wages of yesteryear — has torn down the bridge of camaraderie between the athletes and writers.
Even still, Sid is able to keep some of his ties. Take the Gophers, for example. You must count Sid as a Wacker backer because even through the disheartening losses, he has always kept a positive eye.
That’s why Saturday’s loss was so symbolic of the Gophers football program. At halftime, the Gophers were sputtering (down 27-7 to Michigan) and making mistakes like fans here have grown accustomed to. Only, the most loyal — Sid — had seen enough.
He threw his notes aside. A mumble was heard as he slipped into his overcoat. And then he was gone.
Sid had seen enough. It’s strange, Gophers have been saying that for some time. But let this be a warning sign to the Gophers men’s athletics department. Fans have been begging you for a winner, and it hasn’t changed one bit.
Forty-one thousand fans is one thing. But when Sid leaves, you better take heed. No amount of free sneakers will help you there.
— Kristian Pope’s column appears Wednesday in the Daily. He can be reached at [email protected]