From Len Shapiro: Many thanks and countless memories

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Thursday, December 30, 2010; 4:26 PM

After 41 years and more than 7,400 bylines, it's time to blow a farewell smooch to the newspaper and its Web site that kept me gainfully and so happily employed since the day in 1969 I walked in the door as a part-timer and began taking high school football scores over the telephone on Friday nights.

Not long after his smart and sassy non-sports talk show began airing on the then-fledgling WTEM radio, my friend and longtime sports department colleague Tony Kornheiser branded me "Lenny The Assassin" for a now long-forgotten column I'd written under the "Sports Waves" banner.

Maybe it was a shot I'd taken that morning at Chris Berman or Dick Vitale or George Michael or Ken Beatrice, all frequent targets over the years. But on this day, we'll set aside an assassin's verbal daggers and try to accentuate the positive.

This wouldn't be a fitting farewell column without mentioning some of the more important people in my life at The Washington Post, starting with Martie Zad, the lovingly combustible and multitasking sports editor who took a chance on a 22-year-old kid fresh out of Missouri's graduate school of journalism. He also assigned me a desk not far from Bill Gildea and Ken Denlinger, the best possible writing and reporting role models for all my working life and more important, still treasured friends.

Of course, the hire had to be approved by Ben Bradlee, the greatest editor of his generation, and, I eventually discovered, among the most ardent followers of the Washington Redskins, my first big-time beat when I covered the George Allen teams of the 1970s. Bradlee's unwavering support when Allen occasionally threatened to throw me out of Redskins Park, even as Watergate was consuming his own life, will never be forgotten.

Nor will Shirley Povich, The Post's legendary sports columnist all those mornings who also had to sign off on my employment. A man who had been a Washington must-read institution since the 1920s nevertheless always had the time to offer a word of encouragement, a bit of advice, a better way to say it. The greatest honor and one of the proudest accomplishments of my career was writing Shirley's obituary in advance of his death in 1998 at the age of 92. It was a piece I never, ever wanted to see in print.

The man who assigned me that task was George Solomon, the paper's longtime sports editor and my immediate superior when I left the full-time writing life myself in 1979 to join the paper's editing ranks for a dozen years. In addition to having a great eye for talent and producing the finest sports section in America, George eventually allowed me to go back to my first love, writing and reporting, in 1991, and offered me three of the best assignments sportswriter could ever ask for - covering the national NFL beat and professional golf and the weekly Sports Waves column for most of the past 20 years. Many thanks George, for your passion, your guidance and your friendship.

There are far too many more to acknowledge and to thank in this modest space, from so many friends inside and outside the newsroom, coaches and athletes, team owners and league officials, network executives and all the people in front of and behind the cameras. And of course, a special thanks as well, to my wife and children, for putting up with the all-consuming deadlines and far too many days on the road, in press boxes on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's, in media tents on birthdays and anniversaries.

And now, back to the sports media business.

I first started occasionally covering it back in the early 1980s, at about the same time ESPN had roughly 16 viewers, most of them Chris Berman's relatives. The Big Three networks (NBC, ABC and CBS) , not cable television, ruled the sports television business. Obviously, that's no longer the case, though we are still fortunate that many of the mega-events on the crammed sports calendar - Super Bowls, Olympics and the major championships in golf - are still available on free, over-the-air television, including another relatively new network player, Fox. How long that will last is anyone's guess, though I suspect by the end of the decade, watching some or all of the above will also include a price tag.

Over the years, I've also written about some memorable broadcasting moments.

I was prepared to do a TV column for the Wednesday paper on the opening Monday night game of the 1983 NFL season between the Redskins and Cowboys, at least until Howard Cosell described elusive Washington wide receiver Alvin Garrett, an African American, as "that little monkey" after a particularly splendid catch and run. Within minutes, the office called to say it had been deluged with angry telephone calls from irate viewers and that I needed to get a comment from Cosell, usually not a problem.


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