The estimable Dan Jenkins, the sportswriter's sportswriter for a whole generation of us, wrote a novel about the trade once upon a time. The title was "You Gotta Play Hurt."
But, you know, he didn't mean it literally.
He didn't mean some poor put-upon scribe should ever wind up on the IR with a busted leg the way Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register did last night. Peterson made it through some four decades of deadlines and oh-jesus-my-mind-just-went-blank terror only to get knocked down and trampled when Iowa State fans rushed the floor in the wake of a come-from-behind, last-second win over in-state rival Iowa. He wound up in the hospital, still wearing his press pass, with a compound fracture of the leg that will require surgery.
There but for the grace of God, and all that.
I did the sportswriting thing for nearly as long as Peterson has, and I suppose it's only dumb luck that the only injuries I ever incurred were a few scrapes the night I had to climb an 8-foot fence to get out of the football field at Heritage High School. Someone had gone off and locked me in as I labored over my gamer in the pressbox. I remember, as I teetered atop the fence (my marginal athletic days were a distant memory by that time) that I was getting way too old for such adventures.
Although the word I used wasn't "adventures."
Peterson got it way worse than I did, injury added to the usual indignities of the gig. And to be honest, I'm surprised this sort of thing hasn't happened more often.
If I've learned anything else over the years (the jury remains hung on that one) it's there is indeed a living, breathing entity called Crowd, and that it is mindless and heedless. And that's especially the case in college basketball, where the rushing-the-court phenomenon has gotten completely out of hand -- to such an extent that Iowa State's fans rushed the floor not because the Cyclones pulled an upset but because they avoided one.
After which Iowa State's coach actually defended them.
Something, however, has to be done about this. More responsible individuals have been saying for years that someone was going to get seriously hurt if college hoops didn't rein in this rushing-the-court business, and now someone has. And, of course, it was a sportswriter.
So how do you rein it in?
I don't know. Better security. More arrests. Real jail time for the offenders. And even then, Crowd might still win.
I was, for instance, in the press section in Assembly Hall the day Bob Knight threw the chair, and the fans reacted by throwing pennies on the floor. I remember hearing something that sounded like bees whizzing past my head -- "Pennies! They're throwing pennies!" I remember finally thinking, more amazed than afraid -- and that Gene Keady's wife, Pat, got hit in the eye with one. It was the only time in my four decades covering sports that Crowd became -- for a few moments, anyway -- Mob.
And I have no earthly idea how anyone could have kept that from happening.
I do know this, though: Randy Peterson is my newest hero.
That's because, in a filing time-stamped 10:17 p.m., he had the presence of mind to tweet this: Ouch.
Now that's a pro, baby.