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From Len Shapiro: Many thanks and countless memories

Sports talk in Washington? Warner Wolf did it first on WTOP Radio in the '60s, and Ken "yaw next" Beatrice came along in the '70s to host the most popular sports talk show in local radio history, even if some of his sources and resources were a tad specious. And sorry Junks, Kornheiser still has the most entertaining radio show in town.

These days, we've got two all-sports radio stations yakking 24/7 and two all sports regional cable outlets providing games and more games. They also give cable viewers slickly produced nightly sports news and highlight programs that provide far more information on our local teams than the two to three minutes allotted on the traditional local news operations at 6 and 11 p.m.

We're in an era of all sports, all the time, with every major pro league, a number of college conferences and the golf, tennis and speed channels providing sport-specific programming around the clock. And if you live in the nation's capital and root for the Vancouver Canucks, for a price you can see your favorite team play every game on its schedule, courtesy of that other great television development - satellite service around the globe.

ESPN has grown exponentially from its humble beginnings into a sports juggernaut with multiple channels and an Internet presence that often dominates the sports conversation nationally, and in local markets where its bureaus give hometown newspapers formidable daily competition. The Worldwide Leader was rightfully slammed in all corners, including by its own ombudsman, for its far over-the-top and terribly clumsy handling of the LeBron James free agent signing, but would anyone be surprised if it happened again?

Not really.

I always tell young journalists that nothing should ever surprise them, and there is no such thing as a dumb question, especially if you don't know the answer. I'll be saying it again in a few weeks when I head out to the University of Wisconsin to teach a course in sports journalism. That will truly be another labor of love, and so too has been the one and only full-time job I've ever held in my adult life. For that, many thanks to Washington Post Chairman Donald Graham, once a brilliant sports editor himself.

It's mostly been a magical ride, providing me a catbird's seat to every Super Bowl since 1972, all of Tiger Woods's major championship victories, the U.S. hockey team's "Miracle on Ice" at the 1980 Winter Olympics and countless other events, large and small. And now, it's time to keep moving in a slightly different direction, maybe write another book or two and finally watch a sporting event without ever having to take a note on what I just saw or heard.

It's been a delight sharing some of those notes, gooey good and assassin bad, with so many readers for so many years, even the occasional hate mailers. To steal an old catchphrase, courtesy of the Beach Boys, from my annual end-of-the-year columns, wouldn't it be nice now to take the opportunity to wish one and all a very happy new year. And, as always, stay tuned.

Leonard Shapiro can be reached at badgerlen@aol.com.


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