Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Gheorghe By Any Other Name

Dave Fairbank will not like this very much. Because it's about him.

The longtime Daily Press scribe filed his final column yesterday, capping a three-decade career chronicling Hampton Roads sports. (He probably won't like the 'longtime' thing, either, even as his own Twitter bio casts him as a relic from another age.) In an era where it seems the prime directive of sportswriters across the land is to get as much face time as possible, and the hot take is the currency of the day, Fairbank is an ego-less throwback to an earlier time, when a well-turned phrase and a killer lede were the coin of the sportswriting realm.

Glamour Shot!
I first met Dave in 1991 (or '92 - most of the events of that era blur together for me), though I doubt either one of us remembers it very well. He covered William & Mary football, and I worked in the press box for W&M's Sports Information Office, responsible for preparing drive charts and huffing mimeograph fluid fumes. After a late-season game, several of our staff retired to a local drinking establishment with some of the reporters on the Tribe beat. It was the first, but not last time Fairbank drank me under a table.

We reconnected nearly two decades later via the magic of Twitter and the resurgence (well, surgence, maybe. 're' sort of implies a previous golden era) of Tribe hoops. At some point during the 2012 CAA Basketball Tournament, I wandered down to press row and reintroduced myself.  At some very different point during the 2014 CAA Basketball Tournament, Teejay and I found ourselves stumbling around Baltimore at 2:30 in the morning with a bemused scribe in tow. It seems Dave Fairbank has a soft spot for dipshittery and the proponents thereof.

Fairbank is oft-described here as a FOG:TB, and it's true that he's become part of our community -Marls and I hung out with him at the year's CAA hoops tourney, he always stops by our Homecoming football tailgate, and the last two years he's joined our merry band of idiots for lunch at Tortuga's Lie during the Outer Banks Fishing Trip.

Marls offered this when I asked him about Fairbank, "I had a long talk with him over too many scotches at this year’s CAA tourney.  As the conversation turned from basketball, to general sports, to politics, to history, to religion; Dave’s intellect, breadth of knowledge, graciousness, and personal decency became all the more apparent.  In short, he is a really good guy in a world that all too often lacks them." I couldn't really say it much better than that, even if I don't remember that conversation (reference the aforementioned sub-table drinking). 

On a selfish note, he's sent me emails on more than one occasion with kind words in reference to something we wrote. That's meaningful to me personally, because I deeply respect the man's own writing talent. He's both a consummate journalistic professional and a gifted wit. Two of my favorite recent Fairbank pieces show his range.

He was honored with a 2013 Associated Press Sports Editor (APSE) first-place award for Feature Writing for his piece on William & Mary assistant baseball coach Josh Tutwiler's incredible survival story. How do you like this for a lede?

WILLIAMSBURG — As Josh Tutwiler plummeted through the fall Missouri air, the sheer rock face racing past and the ledge from which he fell rapidly receding, he felt his conscious mind split in two.

On the other end of the spectrum entirely, here's Fairbank previewing Old Dominion football's 2014 season:

Growing up in rural Maine, young Bobby Wilder was often alone with his thoughts, a common occurrence for residents of the least populous state east of the Mississippi. Little was given to Wilder, who subsisted on snow and deer jerky for the first 15 years of his life. 

As he grew older, he began to question whether an abundance of timber and lobster adequately compensated for the harsh winters and crushing isolation of the lower 48's Gateway to New Brunswick. He saw the toll it exacted on those around him. You think fellow Mainer Stephen King dreamed up all the twisted, horrific stuff he writes? Heck no. He was simply relaying friends' and neighbors' vacations and family gatherings. Anyway, Wilder took to football and football to him. He loved the competition, but even more the game provided the kind of human interaction and camaraderie he was permitted to see only Thursdays on the family Magnavox and in dog-eared issues of People magazine he stashed in his locker. 

Wilder viewed football as a vessel and vowed that when he could no longer play, he would remain in the game and share its lessons with others like himself. He served a 17-year apprenticeship at his alma mater, the University of Maine, which was a little like a Trappist monastery without the robes and abbey ale. When he finally had the opportunity to venture south and begin his own program at Old Dominion, he would defy convention. He would onside kick as if it were a contract incentive. He would be true to the spirit of native Algonquin tribes and follow their credo of "behanem papoose kickit wuss" — which translates roughly to "only women and children punt inside their opponents' 40." 

ODU's program soared to great heights more quickly than anyone could imagine, but now faces an even greater challenge: a program that didn't exist seven years ago competes in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Well, when you've doused yourself in whale oil and set yourself on fire to get warm, Conference USA doesn't seem so tough. There's snow in the icebox and deer jerky in the bottom left desk drawer.

I mean, read that again. It's amazing. That piece led to a round of emails in the G:TB and extended community, most of which combined a sense of awe, and the belief the Daily Press editorial staff viewed Fairbank like the brothers of Delta House saw Bluto: 'Forget it, he's rolling'. That one writer could pen both of those offerings, well, that's worth celebrating. Whether Dave likes it or not. 

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We're not the only people on the interwebs that dig Dave Fairbank and his work. Michael Litos, another FOG:TB and erstwhile CAA hoops community member, offered this (in about 30 minutes, which speaks to his fondness for Fairbank) when asked for memories of the man's work:

Dave Fairbank made me nervous, that first time he acknowledged me. We passed each other in the tunnel that connects the Richmond Marriott to the Richmond Coliseum at the 2004, maybe 2005, CAA tournament.

There were head nods, but mine was filled with anxiety. I mean, this was Dave Fairbank. An actual beat guy whose stuff I read. I wanted to talk #caahoops for my very average blog, and was new to this part of the show.

"Hey."

"Hey."

We eventually got to know each other, and my admiration for his writing style only increased. He's retiring, and that's a loss for anyone who reads his stuff.

Fairbank would not want some long, gushy tome. That's not his style. Dave's dry wit makes the Sahara thirst, and he'd probably prefer you wake up one day in October when The Tribe begins practice again and wonder "what happened to Fairbank? I haven't read his stuff in awhile."

However he is worthy of something for his great career and sensational writing, so I'll let his writing do the talking. This is from a piece he wrote on former Tribe center Tim Rusthoven (#Beasthoven in our hearts), which I've had bookmarked in my browser for more than two years.

The lead is glorious--poking fun at the town, the coach, and oh by the way establishing what he will talk about:

There's a saying around William and Mary Basketball World Headquarters: Do your work early. It has nothing to do with the town's glut of pancake houses or a latent Amish streak in head coach Tony Shaver.

Towards the middle you get a spot-on and descriptive overview of Beasthoven's impact on the floor:

Rusthoven isn't the Tribe's most gifted player, which he readily admits. He is W&M's most important player. He provides a post presence for a team that plays outside-in, that spreads the floor and attempts to create space for passers and cutters and perimeter shooters. He forces opponents to defend honestly and not simply concentrate on the Tribe's wings and guards.

And then he summarizes with a behind-the-scenes anecdote, which brings you closer to the action and ties the piece together--and he manages to work in "three different kinds of cheesed off:"

In a recent loss at Northeastern, Shaver was three different kinds of cheesed off at the Tribe's dismal first-half performance. He demanded that Rusthoven get a touch on every possession of the second half. The players didn't quite comply, but the message was delivered. He finished with a career-high 25 points and 11 rebounds as the Tribe came back and took the league leaders to double overtime.

There’s so much more. I admit I had to Ghoogle (Editor's Note: We see what you did there, MGL) this one, but I remember Fairbank flashing his wordsmith prowess in a hilarious way--placing a Hampden-Sydney quarterback in a romance novel. Flat out brilliant:

The Tigers of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference showcase a remarkably versatile passing attack. Their leader, Nash Nance, sounds like either a quarterback, the lead in a Southern romance novel, or the alter ego of a crimefighting superhero. Perhaps all three.

[Excerpt from the soon-to-be-released novel: Quarterback's Diablo Heart

Nance coolly surveyed the field as the comely Sabrina Wickersham stood alongside him, her milky white hands trembling with anticipation, a forelock of her auburn hair masking the fear in her eyes.

"Nash, you mustn't throw into double coverage. It's too dangerous."

"Sabrina, my little doe, don't worry. The safety's cheating too far forward and he won't be able to help the corner over the top."

Nance let fly, then took Sabrina into his arms for a deep kiss. He never saw the pass drop into Walker's hands 55 yards downfield. He didn't have to. There was work to be done and a city to be saved.]

Putting all of that into context: you know those folks who post links to their writing on twitter, and you stop what you are doing to read them? That’s Dave Fairbank, a stop-and-read quality writer.


Salut.

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We count ourselves fortunate here at G:TB to have turned more than a few online acquaintances into real-world friendships. The aforementioned MGL is one of them. LeBron James another. And we're really pleased to count Dave Fairbank in that number. Given his choice of beachside (semi?)retirement venues, we're quite certain that we've not seen the last of him.

And we're still working on getting him to write that comprehensive history of William & Mary basketball. We'll write the chapter on G:TB's influence on the Tribe's recent success.

Godspeed, Dave. We'll see you at the beach.

41 comments:

Danimal said...

What the FIFA?!

rob said...

until they get blatter, it's all just noise.

T.J. said...

nicely done, tiny

Marls said...

The arrested the head of the Concacaf? That's like doing a gang sweep and arresting a Cub Scout.

Marls said...

Rumor has it that Blatter just married his mistress in his personal bunker while ordering his people to get back to business as usual.

Danimal said...

Have completed reading this post - yes rob, very well done. Thanks for the intro, albeit a late one, to Dave.
I'm guessing there's a novel to be written in his near future, if not already about completed.

Whitney said...

Well done. Writing that celebrates writing is rarely done exceptionally, but you've nailed it, little buddy. And Dave Fairbank will be missed for sure.

Once he gets bored in retirement, how about some celebrity guestie appearances here? Among other things, I'd be curious about his take on the present and future of print dailies in America. Our local ragsheet pink-slipped most of its columnists last year (including the oft-maligned Molinaro) to much public hue and cry... that lasted slightly longer than a sneeze. Then they freelance outsourced much of the column work (including to Moli, who hasn't approached the cut and carat of Mr. Fairbank's work in a dog's age). Our paper can't seem to find its proper place, though I have some suggestions. But I defer to someone like Dave in the know.

zman said...

We need more writers with unique voices like Dave's.

zman said...

That was an awful sentence. I should have said "We need more writers who, like Dave, have unique voices." Because if more writers have Dave's voice then none of them are unique. Further proof that writing well is really hard, and writing well and entertainingly is a rare skill.

TR said...

Looking forward to the Bruce Rader tribute...

Marls said...

Bruce's plaque is in the ladies room downstairs.

Danimal said...

Airport travel tip...own a sling? If so, wear it to the airport for early boarding and better seat assignments.

TR said...

I got the once-a-year upgrade to First Class today. Was sitting first row. After plane landed (30 mins early) and folks got up to get their stuff, a 50-something dude in 5th or 6th row just started barreling through folks. I stood in his way to get my bag down and said "you must be in a big rush" in a smart-ass way to let all of first class know somebody was going to make a comment about the clown. He barreled around me and muttered something about having to catch a flight.

He was first one off plane. I was third and watched him. He was lying. I stayed close behind him (b/c we were going the same way, not b/c I'm a stalker). He kept eying me as we walked to rental cars and I kept smiling at him in an "I know you're a dickhead" kinda way. Eventually I passed him.

So I would say no to the sling, Danimal. It's bad karma.

mayhugh said...

Airport etiquette basically does not exist now, if it ever did. Folks try to recline their seat all the way back without looking or asking (several people have had their backward momentum suddenly stopped by my knees, then they keep trying to slam their seat back, they look back and realize the issue, then they turn around without an apology).

And it is unbelievable how many people decide to ignore the simple process of deboarding starting from the front aisles to the back. We need a good social shaming remedy for this.

T.J. said...

I have had several meltdown rants on the ol' tweet machine about people's inability to board/deboard a plane WITHOUT BEING FUCKING MORONS

Danimal said...

For the record, the sling is on through tomorrow by dr.s. orders and not due to douchebaggery. Come on!!!!!

TR said...

I totally forgot about the legit injury, D-train. My bad. Use it if needed, fer sure.

Danimal said...

I'm dining at an Outback while on road this eve TR. Top that!

Clarence said...

Get the bloomin' onion. I hear it's good for you.

zman said...

I lived a block from an outback in NYC. First time zfather visited he was all excited about it. "Have you been yet? I hear that the waiter sits down in the booth with you when you order!" Note that this was around 2010.

zman said...

Plane etiquette is atrocious these days. I jammed a guy en route to vegas and he continued to fight in the bathroom.

Danimal said...

I took my family to the Outback on the wkd I broke my clavicle. That was the first time in years I had been to one. And then again tonight. They've done a nice job with their menus and facilities. And they still serve cold beer in big chilled mugs. They have my endorsement.

TR said...

My wife really likes Cheesecake Factory. I kinda hate it, but kinda like it. Lucky for me, it's her spot for meeting up w/ a girlfriend, sparing me.

I followed Mark's sushi pick. Decent grub in what is otherwise a cultural cesspool. But Grand Bohemian bar is nice.

Danimal said...

USA Ultimate Frisbee College Championship on ESPNU. Oregon Ducks just dispatched the Seminoles. UNC vs UCF next. Who knew?

Marls said...

So the NCAA announced that 5 FCS teams are ineligible for the postseason in 2015. 4 of 5 are HBCU's. Way to take a stand against the economically weak schools that don't add anything to the NCAA coffers. The NCAA needs to get the FIFA treatment.

zman said...

Is the FIFA treatment kinda like getting a little Tiger Woodsy?

Sony defeated Jack Urbont's motion for reconsideration today, getting GFK off the hook in the process. The little guy, he always loses.

Mark said...

There are a few good drinking spots in downtown Orlando but as TR intimated its mostly touristy club or brotastic bars. Grand Bohemian bar is a strong to quite strong hotel bar. Although, they no longer have Pacifico Clara on tap which is a bummer.

zman said...

Sharapova/Diatchenko is riveting. The tennis is good too.

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Marls said...

Zoan Andreas is a big Fairbank fan, but where is the love from Blogspt Amal?

zman said...

Or Almighty Yojo?

Marls said...

And Mr. Truck

Whitney said...

Today is National Hamburger Day. Just so you know.

Dave said...

what happened to mr. truck?

my son alex celebrates the hamburger any day he possibly can.

Marls said...

Rumor has it that Mr. Truck died choking on an impossibly large chicken finger sandwich.

zman said...

I took zwoman to Sushi Nakazawa tonight for her 40th birthday. Turns out I really like cuttlefish. It's like calamari only softer and more lemony. I also ate something called a "tuna hand roll" which sounds pervy but might be the tastiest thing I've ever eaten. It's a 4-5 inch square of seaweed wrapped around rice, minced fatty tuna, and some mind-blowing seasonings and sauces. The reservation is a pain to get but well worth the effort. Close to the Christopher Street PATH station so unwashed Jerseyites like me can get there easily.

TR said...

My first real date w/ future Mrs. TR was at a West Village sushi joint. Good meal, good post-drink cocktail, then a short walk to Christopher St PATH stop for her to go back to Hoboken. It was all good...except it was the Thursday night of Gay Pride weekend. Christopher St was a gaypaloozatastic event. Typical poor planning by TR.

Hard to give a good goodnight kiss at the end of a successful date when there is a transvestite a foot away.

zman said...

Was this the date when you told her that you make audio recordings of your farts? Or did you save that for date two?

rob said...

any recommendations for places to stay for one night between, say, west point and albany? bonus points for sightseeing value, 'cause we'll get there pretty early in the day.

zman said...

The Swiss Chalet in Tannersville is the worst hotel I've ever stayed in. Don't stay there.

Dave said...

hole gheorghies!

the hotel we stayed in near the badlands had a treble hooked fishing lure in the bed. no stars. stay somewhere else.