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01-12-06 From Celina to Super Bowls: Purdy keeps on writing

By Gary R. Rasberry

  The schedule for Mark Purdy on Wednesday was a pretty basic one: Wake up, go to a meeting, do some office work, attend that night's Golden State Warriors game against the Miami Heat and write about the game.

  Certainly it's different from going to a high school football game and not knowing who was who on the field.

  The Celina native and former Daily Standard sports writer has shined in his work as a sports columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, becoming one of the nation's top columnists.

  During a breakfast time -- on the West Coast -- telephone interview from his house, the memories about his time as a 17-year old rookie flowed as he remembered his first game.

  "It was in the fall of 1969 and it was a Parkway football game," said Purdy. "They were playing a team from Indiana. ... There were no programs. Nobody had a roster. I was thinking, 'who were these guys?' I found a couple of dads who were real nice guys. I remember one dad asking if I could put his son's name in the story. I asked what he played and he said offensive guard. I said I would try.  "I remember coming back and telling Bob (then sports editor Bob Sharluka) the whole story. He said 'Welcome to the world of journalism.' Those Friday nights are really fond memories for me. It would be Bob and me and couple of other guys. Then Parker (longtime publisher Parker Snyder) would come in around 1 a.m. and remind us to put out the cigarettes."

  Instead of covering the gridiron wars of Mercer County, Purdy spends his time writing about subjects ranging from Barry Bonds to whether San Jose needs to build a stadium for its Major League Soccer franchise.

  "You think that one day, you'll be covering nine Olympics (including the "Miracle on Ice" in 1980), over 20 Super Bowls (with Super Bowl XL on his schedule) and numerous Final Fours, you'd ask that 17-year old kid that night if it would lead to that," said Purdy. "He would say 'Are you nuts?' "

  "I remember how much I got for covering games: 15 dollars. Gas was 30 cents a gallon back then. That was a pretty good deal."

  Purdy's notoriety has gone beyond the Bay Area. The Wall Street Journal's Web site named him one of the best sports columnists in the country for his article on the death of 49ers rookie Thomas Herrion during the preseason.

  Being in an area with two pro football teams, two pro baseball teams, pro hockey and pro basketball along with several Division I college programs, there's a lot to write about.

  "It's a real challenging job, but I never thought it was more challenging than other jobs," said Purdy. "It's an interesting place to write sports, that's for sure. ... It's hard to keep up with everything, but that's what I'm paid to do. It still comes down to what draws people to sports, be it Celina and Mercer County or here, that's the people stories. Sports is a regularly scheduled drama. Every game is a little chapter in that drama."

  The role of a columnist for a major paper has grown with the influx of television and radio shows that feature sports reporters and columnists. Purdy has appeared on a few shows, most recently ESPN's Outside the Lines, but prefers to let his words, not his voice, do his talking.

  "Lumps of paper on people's porches are not the only delivery system people seek anymore," said Purdy. "The bosses have encouraged people to be multi-platformed. On the Web site I have a blog and answer questions. Believe me, I did not get into this business to have someone look at my ugly mug on television. It's become part of it for marketing reasons. I'm not the biggest fan of sports writers shouting at each other on television. I've been asked occasionally, but it's not what I think is best."

  Soon, Purdy will use his experience to train the next generation of reporters when he teaches a class at Santa Clara University in the spring.

  "I have a little notebook I'm trying to keep as I think of this stuff. It might be stuff I want to talk about," said Purdy. "I suppose (this interview) is one of them."

  The locales that Purdy receives his notes -- be it complements, complaints or clarification -- stretch beyond the Bay Area.

  "From Vietnam to England. Who would have thought that to be the case?" said Purdy about the locales some of his letters have come from. "I say this with all sincerity: For all the time people have in their day to do what they do, for someone to take 3-5 minutes to read what I have to say and then respond to it by e-mail or however, that's the most remarkable and flattering thing and I never take it for granted. I don't think anyone could have predicted that to happen 25 years ago."

  "I've been fortunate that my curiosity has led me to places that interesting things happen."


  To read some of Purdy's columns, go to mld/mercurynews/sports/columnists/mark_purdy/


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