TAMPA — He arrived nearly 40 years ago, a young broadcaster who cut his professional teeth when the Tampa Bay area’s sports scene was just beginning to hit its stride.
He loved sports.
He loved people.
Nearly a lifetime later, not much has changed for Scott Lynn, who began as Dick Crippen’s apprentice at WTSP, Channel 10, then evolved into Oregon’s three-time Sportscaster of the Year while becoming one of that state’s most-respected voices for college and professional sports.
He has returned to Tampa Bay, older, wiser, a Stage 3 colon cancer survivor, a casualty of the modern media’s belt-tightening philosophy, a two-time author, a man who spends his semi-retirement far from the limelight he once knew.
With the same enthusiasm he brought to coverage of John McKay’s early Bucs teams, the old Rowdies, the Portland Trail Blazers or Oregon State athletics, Lynn now does play-by-play for the University of Tampa’s basketball and baseball teams, occasionally teaming with Jack Eick, in live streaming broadcasts on the school’s website.
Lynn’s latest book — “Sports Idols’ Idols: First Heroes Of Our Heroes’’ — is a 569-page exploration into the genesis of a shared experience.
It began with one question: Who was your first childhood idol?
Lynn asked it to 146 sports luminaries — everyone from Phil Esposito to Brittany Lincicome to Ken Griffey Jr. to Alex Morgan to Stephen Curry to Joe Torre to Mike Krzyzewski to Nancy Lopez to A.J. Foyt to Steve Garvey — in what became a window into the motivation for his own career.
A love of sports.
A love of people.
“I think it boils down to this: Most of us have a dream of playing under the bright lights and we all pretend to be somebody else, whether we’re playing whiffle ball or shooting baskets in the driveway,’’ said Lynn, 61. “We all think we have a shot. Eventually, you figure out those guys just have God-given talent or they worked harder, but you never forget the people you once idolized.
“And that’s true of anyone, even the people who made it to the pinnacle of sports. Once, they were youngsters with just a dream and they had heroes, too. In a way, you hesitate to use the word ‘hero’ because that should be reserved for the people who protect us and are putting their lives on the line. But you grow up as fans of what athletes do, how awesome they seem and you imagine you could be like that, too.’’
Lynn’s book documents how Esposito, the Lightning’s founder and broadcaster, was enamored with Gordie Howe. In his second NHL game, Esposito tangled with Howe after a faceoff, taking a right elbow below the nose, which required six stitches.
Both players received a penalty. In the box, while Esposito tried to stop the bleeding, he leaned over to Howe and said, “And you used to be my (bleeping) idol.’’
Years later, Howe told Esposito, “I tested everybody that came into the league. Everybody! And if you didn’t respond, I owned you. You responded.’’
Esposito said Howe never bothered him again and they became good friends.
“It’s a storytelling book,’’ Lynn said. “It’s done in such a way that you feel like you’re in a room with these people telling you about their first sports idol. I’m glad it turned out that way, because you feel like you get close to the people.’’
When Lynn examines his career, it’s always more about the people than the sport.
He heard Crippen’s tenets — “Be nice and fair to people’’ — and adopted them as his own. Before leaving the Tampa Bay area for Portland in 1980, he fondly remembers being summoned to McKay’s office at One Buc Place, bracing himself for something unexpected. The coach simply wished him luck, telling him he enjoyed his work.
Whether it was reporting on the Blazers, doing sports-talk radio or play-by-play, the Oregon years are a mishmash of memories.
None was greater than the time he worked Oregon State at Maryland in men’s basketball, when the Beavers’ coach was Craig Robinson, the brother of Michelle Obama, the First Lady. He got the “A-list White House tour,’’ meeting President Obama in the Oval Office, then handled play-by-play while the president sat one row behind, cheering for his brother-in-law.
“This is a guy at the top of his profession and we’re unbelievably fortunate to have him doing our games,’’ University of Tampa athletic director Larry Marfise said. “He’s really good sitting down with our players. You can tell he’s sincerely interested in them. The quality of Scott’s work is tremendous and we’re grateful for whatever quirk of fate brought him to us.’’
Whether it’s broadcasting or life, Lynn said he has learned to handle his own fate, along with the accompanying curveballs.
On Christmas 2008, he thought he had food poisoning. Two days later, he was diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent nearly eight hours of surgery.
During six months of chemotherapy, instead of feeling sorry for himself, he immersed himself in working on his first book — “Thornridge: The Perfect Season in Black White’’ — about the Thornridge High School team of 1971-72, a Quinn Buckner-led unit from Lynn’s home state of Illinois that is still considered one of the top boys basketball teams of all time.
Cancer treatments also taught him perspective. After a lifetime of the edginess and insecurities brought about by a high-wire broadcasting career, constantly worrying about the job, Lynn decided he was done with that. When his radio sports director position was eliminated as he approached age 60, he moved on.
Why not return to Tampa Bay, an area he and wife Sharon loved?
Why not broadcast UT sports, largely for the fun of it?
Why not write another book?
“I’m enjoying things as much as I ever have,’’ said Lynn, whose own boyhood sports idol was Stan Musial, the St. Louis Cardinals’ baseball Hall of Famer. “That was a big takeaway from doing interviews for the book. As big and complicated as things can get, there’s the time for all of us when we were kids and following sports was just plain fun. That’s not a bad way to look at it.’’