Hack

Cohen: Hack reflects on end of hectic formative years, ‘Hell of a ride’

My career at The Daily Orange officially ended well past 3 a.m. on the morning of April 10. I stepped out of Nate Shron’s car, gathered my luggage from the trunk and realized the greatest ride of my life — one I’m struggling to put into words — was over.

Five months earlier, Nate and I had been on an aircraft carrier in California, pushing the limits of our credentials for behind-the-scenes coverage of the most unique basketball game Syracuse has ever played. But as we returned home from the Final Four in Atlanta, where an unforgettable season came to an end on the sport’s grandest stage, there were no more trips to look forward to.

The end had finally arrived.

“Hell of a ride,” Nate said, a tinge of disappointment in his voice.

Of course he was right. But that was only one year.

In my time at The D.O., I was fortunate to be a part of some unforgettable experiences and events that were more than I could ever ask for as an aspiring writer. Journalism came to define my life as my college years passed, and it was the perfect four-year stretch in which to be a sports scribe.

As a sophomore, I found myself buried in research and reporting for an investigative story that was never even published. There were dozens of meetings with editors, multiple Freedom of Information Law requests and a few nerve-wracking phone calls with lawyers that tested my gumption as well as my guts. My work spanned four months, then a year, then fell apart.

But the lessons I learned from that non-story were as important as the ones I learned from any real story. And it instilled in me some of the qualities necessary to embrace the hailstorm that rocked Syracuse in the fall of my junior year: the Bernie Fine scandal.

In hindsight, the timing was impeccable, as myself and two other D.O. journalists had just returned from Penn State when ESPN published its story on Bobby Davis. We were, by that point, well versed in Scandal Coverage 101 after a week on Joe Paterno’s front lawn.

To this day, I am incredibly proud of the work our paper did in the immediate aftermath of the news breaking, even if some relationships were damaged in the process. That first week — the live interviews I did on CNN and HLN (plus the one I slept through), the eight-page “Fine Fired” special section, the cans and cans of soda since I don’t drink coffee — could never be forgotten.

Nor could the impromptu trip to Maine to visit Zach Tomaselli. For four hours in a hotel conference room, I listened as he explained in horrifying detail the things he alleged had been done to him by Fine, as well as the things Tomaselli had done to an underage boy that got him arrested.

In the end, it was another story that never ran in its entirety. Tomaselli, as it turned out, was a pathological liar. But yet another set of valuable lessons was learned in the process.

The year was defined by unforgettable breaking news, and the sports gods rewarded me with unforgettable games as a senior. Me and fellow beat writers Chris Iseman and Ryne Gery were treated to a football season that ended in a bowl game and a basketball season that ended in the Final Four. At Syracuse, that’s like catching lightning in a bottle.

I crisscrossed the country this year, covering games in Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin, California (twice), Georgia, Washington, D.C., Rhode Island and more. But of all the flights, trips, Jim Boeheim rants and seedy hotels, three moments stand out to me as truly unforgettable.

The first was my trip to San Diego for the Battle on the Midway, where the comical image of Syracuse basketball players shooting free throws into the wind continues to make me chuckle. The second was the last Big East tournament, when Chris and I covered four games in four days, including an all-time classic between Syracuse and Georgetown. And the third was at a hotel bar during the Final Four in Atlanta, where I had drinks with some of my sports writing idols in a series of pinch-me moments complete with ice-cold beer.

So when I returned to Syracuse in the early morning hours of April 10, after the Orange had climbed all the way back against Michigan, only to lose in the final seconds, I was equal parts sad and nostalgic. The D.O. had given me my greatest college memories, and I struggled to come to grips with the fact it was finally time to say goodbye.

I sat in my apartment as the clock approached 4 a.m. that morning, thinking back on the places I had been and the people I met while episodes of “Friends” aired monotonously in the background. Again and again, I came to the same conclusion, my thoughts unable to end up anywhere else: Nate was absolutely right.

It really was a hell of a ride.

Michael Cohen is a former sports editor at The Daily Orange, where his columns no longer appear. You can reach him at mjcohen13@gmail.com.

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