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Tuesday, December 19, 2017


   After 30+ years in this weird, wonderful industry, I’ve pinpointed an undeniable, common thread running through every professional writer:
   They all started out as amateur writers.
   The other day I was doing some mundane grocery shopping when a 20-something recognized me. "Hey, how do I get started?"
   Other than, "How in the heck do you land Sybil?!", it's the question I've been asked more than any other over my career. My answer, invariably, is simple:
   Start writing.
   You’ll likely need a couple breaks to become a professional writer – a friend of a friend already in the business or perhaps just being at the right place at the right time. But something you can’t short-cut is the act of writing. Again. Again. And some more again. If you don’t love it - and if you haven’t done a lot of it - you might as well attempt to open a Lemonade Stand without a single lemon.
   Yes, the demonstrated ability to consistently observe, opine and write is your currency. It's your product. Your main asset.
   So now that I’ve totally empowered you, go get ‘em! Good luck and never give up and … Oh, my story? Well, sure okay.
   Allow me to, um, write it for you.
   No way around it, I was born with the tools essential for writing – creativity, curiosity and a vivid imagination. Mom says I often stretch the truth yet I simply rebut that characterization, based on the fact that she herself has a vivid imagination. While my younger brother would merely dab some peanut butter between two slices and enjoy lunch, I’d get out a piece of paper and spin a yarn about how exactly it came to be that Mrs. Baird herself happened to deliver a loaf of bread to our house. I dunno, somehow it made my sandwich taste better.
   Meanwhile, Dad led me into sports as soon as I could walk. I was always fascinated by big words, which facilitated a decent vocabulary and, voila, my foundation as a writer. So when did I begin?
   When I was about 7 years old I’d go in the backyard with my baseball glove and a tennis ball (I initially used a real baseball, but one shattered window later I involuntarily downsized the danger). I’d throw that ball off the side of the house, off the roof, off the barbecue grill, off the neighbor’s latticework. All the while producing a running commentary in my head, as if watching real baseball players throwing, hitting and fielding.
   After an hour or so I’d go inside and write the story of the “game” I’d just played.
   Hello, amateur writer.
   In high school I idolized Isiah Thomas and Bjorn Borg. But despite my finely-tuned vivid imagination, I eventually realized my 5-foot-8 frame wouldn’t be garnering me millions of dollars playing sports. So, I reasoned, why not get paid instead to go to games writing sports?
   I grew up reading Blackie Sherrod in the Dallas Morning News, Skip Bayless in the Dallas Times Herald and Rick Reilly and Gary Smith in Sports Illustrated. I was the editor of my high-school newspaper in Duncanville, majored in Journalism at UT-Arlington and, upon graduating in 1986, landed an entry-level job at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. (My first assignment was to write a story about a sport I had barely heard of and never seen or attended - Dallas Sidekicks indoor soccer. Imagination, activate!) I’ve been writing – for newspapers, magazines, blogs, books and even radio and TV websites since.
   And, yes, I’m the dork who will still – in lieu of buying a gift – simply write a poem or a story for a friend’s, or my wife’s birthday or special occasion. (Trust me fellas, that trick will come in handy.)
   To me there’s nothing as rewarding as writing. The feeling after nailing a story is the equivalent of a runner’s high. The process of having a thought, processing and refining it in your brain and through your creative filters, bringing it to life through your fingertips, and then having a total stranger both read it and “get it”? Priceless.
   It’s the reason I write.
   So you’re willing to write. On your own time. With zero compensation, for now. But at some point you’ll want to advance your hobby into job, and hopefully a career. From my experience, here are a few things to consider:
   Be Your Own Boss – If you’re resourceful and organized and motivated, you can make a decent living as a freelance writer. Get on the Internet and search job posts. “Writing Jobs” is a simple, solid search to begin with. Spend an entire day doing it. Maybe two. Make a list of contacts. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many websites, blogs, magazines, etc. have a need for unique, original content. No matter fast and far our communication advances, content remains king. Every platform - whether it be cute 140-character takes to long-form 14,000-word exposes - needs fuel to run its engine. And that fuel is content, written by - tuh-dah! - writers.
   You can write about sports, food, electronics, concerts, the likelihood of a major earthquake taking down Dallas. Anything. And you should write about them all, as long as you don’t compromise your quality with too much quantity. Individually, each gig won’t make you rich. But cumulatively, you’ll be able to keep the lights on. The great thing about freelancing is that you’ll also be honing your skills, building your portfolio and making invaluable contacts in the literary world.
   Don’t Hire An Agent – Unless you are an accomplished writer looking to move to a new city (like say, ahem, Hollywood), my experience is that it’s not worth it. Nobody knows you better than you. And nobody will fight harder for you, than you.
   Pay Your Dues – If you’d rather wedge your foot into the door of a newspaper than try to go it alone, it’s doable as well. Most publications accept interns and there are certainly entry-level, fresh-outta-college jobs. Just be prepared to get coffee in the morning and to cover wacky, irrelevant assignments at night. At the Star-Telegram my rookie year included writing stories about a darts tournament, a high-school power-lifting meet and even a tractor pull. But within three years I was at Texas Stadium covering Cowboys games. Was it worth it? You know that answer. When initially commencing your career, nothing is more valuable than sweat equity.
   Degrees of Experience – I loved my college years and I wouldn’t trade my UTA education. Obviously I’d recommend working at your college newspaper and earning a degree in Journalism. A degree will open a lot of doors. But, honestly, you can trump that piece of paper with a quality portfolio of your writing. Most of my editors have cherished experience over education.
   Pad Your Portfolio – Blogs, websites, magazines, etc. are looking for versatility. You'll open more eyes - and doors - if you can write both copy (scripts, ads, marketing brochures, etc.) and content (blogs, stories, features, etc.). The more topics you can write about, the better your chance of landing a gig. So fill your portfolio with variety: Long-form stories. Short featurettes. Opinion pieces. Poems. Maybe even your favorite Tweet.
   Popularity Contest – If you’re a freelancer, it can be difficult to achieve a very important goal en route to becoming a successful writer: Building an audience. These days you can do this via Facebook with some intriguing posts and corresponding “Likes.” But I recommend starting your own blog. I know, but hear me out. It’s cheaper – and easier – than you think. It looks great on a resume. And it’s a way to earn a following of fans that dig what you’re delivering. Don’t go into with grandiose, irrational visions. Just write what you’re passionate about, shove it out via your social media and watch the saplings sprout into Redwoods. Yep, that’s how it starts. Who knows, maybe that blog – at first just a vehicle to tote your writing – will develop and mature into the career you were searching for in the first place.
   Dream Of Success, Prepare For Rejection – One of the most important arrows in your quiver is a thick skin. You will get rejected. You will write horrible stories. You will make embarrassing typos. Writing isn’t for the faint of heart or fragile of ego. Learn from your mistakes. Experiment with your style. Stay true to your passion.
   Because, after all, the best part about amateur writers?
   They grow up to be professional writers.

Monday, December 18, 2017


   Three opponents' touchdowns nullified by penalty or replay.
   A missed 39-yard field goal.
   A game-losing touchdown transformed into a game-winning touchback via the opposing quarterback's fumble inches from the goal line.
   And, of course, the NFL's first ever 1st-'n-10 decided by a 3x5.
   You can root for a sports team an entire season - a decade? even a lifetime? - and never benefit from all of the above. But on an unprecedented, unforgettable night Oakland, the Cowboys were gift-wrapped all of them in one of the wildest wins in franchise history.

   10. Cowboys 34, at Rams 31 (9.18.14) - You know you've had a frenetic ride when the largest comeback in franchise history barely makes the list. Dallas trails in St. Louis, 21-0, before Bruce Carter's interception return for a touchdown with 5:58 remaining seals the deal.

   9. Cowboys 31, at Redskins 30 (9.15.83) - Trailing 23-3 at halftime, Danny White rallies Dallas to an electrifying season-opening win at old RFK Stadium behind three second-half touchdown passes, two to Tony Hill and the game-winner to Doug Cosbie with 1:49 remaining.

   8. at Cowboys 35, Redskins 34 (12.17.79) - Down 17-0 early and 34-21 late, the Cowboys and Roger Staubach stage a rally that gives them the NFC East title and knocks their bitter rivals out of the playoffs. Ignited by a critical third-down tackle of John Riggins by Larry Cole, Staubach throws two touchdowns in the final 2:20 and completes the comeback with a score to Hill with :39 remaining.

   7. at Cowboys 24, Redskins 23 (11.29.74) - All but eliminated from the playoffs, the Cowboys trail 16-3 and are suddenly without an injured Staubach on a bleak Thanksgiving at Texas Stadium. Enter Abilene Christian rookie Clint Longley, making his first regular-season appearance in an NFL game. Down six points with :28 remaining, he finds an inexplicably wide-open Drew Pearson for a 50-yard touchdown that literally nobody saw coming.

   6. at Cowboys 27, Giants 26 (9.13.15) - Can't get much more desperate than trailing by three, out of timeouts and your opponent at your 1-yard line with 1:43 remaining. The Giants deliver a huge assist by stopping the clock with a third-down pass, and settling for a field goal and a 26-20 lead. But the Cowboys - without a timeout or spike or injured Dez Bryant - drive 72 yards in six plays and win when Tony Romo (after corralling a bad, bouncing shotgun snap) finds Jason Witten at the goal line with :07. It's the latest game-winning touchdown pass in franchise history.

   5. Cowboys 30, at 49ers 28 (12.23.72) - This playoff game at Candlestick Park is the unveiling of Captain America. The Cowboys trail 28-13 after three quarters (it could be worse had San Francisco not missed two field goals inside of 40 yards), prompting head coach Tom Landry to replace veteran quarterback Craig Morton with Staubach. He responds with two late touchdown passes in a span of :43, sandwiched around an onside-kick recovered by Mel Renfro. Staubach sets up the final score with a 21-yard scramble and hits Ron Sellers with a 10-yard post pass for the unlikely game winner.

   4. Cowboys 25, at Bills 24 (10.8.07) - The first MNF game in Buffalo in 13 years is impossibly unscripted. The Cowboys trail 24-13 entering the 4th quarter because of six Romo turnovers (1 fumble and 5 interceptions, 2 returned for touchdowns). Romo hits Patrick Crayton for a short touchdown, but Terrell Owens is stripped of a 2-point conversion pass to leave Dallas trailing 24-22 with :20 remaining. After a carom off of Sam Hurd, Cowboys’ tight end Tony Curtis then recovers the onside kick. Rookie Nick Folk boots a 53-yard field goal at the gun for a dramatic win, only to have Buffalo call the last-millisecond timeout. But on the second attempt, Folk is good again. Nine points in :20 will get any heartbeat racing.

   3. at Cowboys 21, Eagles 20 (9.15.97) - Inarguably the luckiest win in team history, Dallas survives when Philadelphia holder Tom Hutton bobbles the snap and aborts what would have been Chris Boniol's chip-shot, game-winning field from the 12-yard line with :04 remaining.

   2. Cowboys 20, at Raiders 17 (12.17.17) - It isn't just the three Raiders' negated touchdowns and the fake punt and the dropped interception by Anthony Brown and the 55-yard interference penalty and the dramatic, folded-card first down. The thing that makes Sunday night so dazzling is that even after all those wacky plays the Cowboys need Derek Carr to fumble into - and out of - the end zone to survive.

   1. Cowboys 17, at Vikings 14 (12.28.75) - Staubach's "Hail Mary" 50-yard touchdown pass to Pearson with :24 remaining won the game, but it was only possible after an improbable series of events in the epic playoff game. Leading, 14-10, with 2:00 remaining the Vikings seemed destined to run out the clock at midfield but instead attempt a pass on 3rd-and-2 and fail when Charlie Waters sacks Fran Tarkenton. The ensuing punt leaves Dallas at its 15 with 1:51 remaining. At that point, Pearson had not caught a pass in the game. On a 4th-and-16, Pearson leaps and catches Staubach's 25-yard pass on the sideline, his feet clearly landing out of bounds. However, in 1975 there is a "force out" rule in play, which gives an automatic reception to any receiver who is shoved out of bounds while his feet are in the air. In today's NFL, the Hail Mary would have never even had a chance to be thrown. Two plays later Pearson catches history. He punctuates the touchdown by throwing the ball over the scoreboard, out of the stadium and into the parking lot. The ball - one of the most iconic plays in NFL history - has never been accounted for.

Friday, December 1, 2017

WHITT'S END: 12.1.17

   Whether you're at the end of your coffee, your day, your week or even your rope, welcome to Whitt's end:

   *From the Dept. of Too-Little-Too-Late, the Cowboys last night were ... lucky to be playing the hapless Redskins. Washington committed four turnovers, Dez Bryant crawled out of his grave and even a flimsy rookie draft class looked like Pro Bowl players in a 38-14 victory. Ryan Switzer, Taco Charlton and Chidobe Awuzie all produced positive plays. One win won't turn around a season, but it will temporarily warp expectations. With the awful Giants and reeling Raiders next on the schedule and then Zeke Elliott comes back and if they can only ... Stop it. No. Even 10-6 doesn't guarantee a Wild Card berth in this year's NFC, but it is a guarantee that the Cowboys won't win out.

   *Dez may have lost a step in speed, but his leaping touchdown catch proved he hasn't lost an inch on his vertical.

   *It was only 10 months ago that national NBA pundits were applauding the Mavs for "stealing" center Nerlens Noel from the Sixers in a trade for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut and a first-round pick. Noel, the 6th overall pick in '13, is young and wiry and athletic. He was acquired to both protect the rim defensively and attack it on offense, giving Dallas an aggressive alley-oop option it hasn't had since forever. Noel produced 16 points and 11 rebounds in the season opener. Now? Buried deep in Rick Carlisle's doghouse. Noel, who turned down a $70 million contract offer in the offseason, didn't play in Wednesday's loss to the Nets. That's right, the Mavs' center of the future is now behind Maximilian Kleber, Salah Mejri and Jeff Withey in the rotation. This season is officially all about saying goodbye to Dirk Nowitzki, hello to Dennis Smith Jr., and somehow salvaging Noel.

   *The Mavericks will make the postseason in 2018. My Mavericks, that is. UTA has two legit stars in Erick Neal and Kevin Hervey and will punch its own ticket March Madness.

   *These days I'm semi-retired and - I'll admit - getting real bored, real quick. I mean, I can only play so much golf and tennis. I'm ghostwriting a book. I'm a Senior Consultant at On-Air Media, helping companies launch podcasts with our old radio friend Jagger. But if you have something sorta interesting, then sorta let me know.

   *After a horrible three games and an ugly first quarter, No. 4 suddenly found his Dakuracy.

   *Why Whitt's End now? I dunno (see above?). Maybe it's only because Mike Fisher drew me a fancy logo. Is it back for good, on a regular basis? Probably not. Have I missed writing it? Um, ask me again after about 20 bullet points.

   *If you're wondering about Wally Lynn and missed my update, it's right here. Be warned, though, it may not be the Christmas-spirit pick-me-up you're looking for.

   *Hang in there DFW sports fans, this nightmare year only has one month left. What did the StarsRangersMavsCowboys bring us in 2017? How about a combined record of 151-177 and one - count 'em, 1 - playoff game. And, boy, was it a doozy. On January 15th the Cowboys fell behind 21-3 to the Packers, rallied, but eventually lost 34-31 when Green Bay nailed field goals of 56 and 51 yards in the final 1:33. Otherwise ... hurry 2018.

   *Some days you're on top of the world. Some days you can't open your car door without a bloody incident.

   *To get an idea of where America is and where it's headed, watch the movie Idiocracy. I know, it's horrible. But also telling. We've forgotten how to reason, while perfecting the art of reaction. Rational decisions have replaced by blind tribal loyalty. And where does the decline start? Lack of reading. With Twitter and Facebook and audio books and Netflix and satellite radio and ... everything, our society has simply run out of time to have time. Our attention spans have shrunk as our options have expanded. The 24-hour news cycle has deteriorated into 24 seconds. Where once writers had a couple paragraphs to hook readers, now they have a couple of characters. I still love long-form, in-depth writing. But I also realize that literary foreplay is about as trendy as head lice. Reading is learning. And learning helps us reason, not merely react. Do it. For the good of our future. Otherwise, we'll someday elect a President that doesn't know the nuance between your and you're. Wait ... oops.



   *It is Dec. 1. The Cowboys+Mavs have 11 wins. The Eagles+Sixers have 22.

   *I'm all for equality for females and it's justice that all these women are now coming forward with their tales of being sexually harassed. I hope it is indeed a tipping point, and that the women with momentum help the men in charge to re-draw the lines of acceptable, civil behavior. The bottom line will be less unwanted touching and decreased penis flashes. But - you knew that was coming didn't you? - I fear the reverse chill. The unintended consequence. The sex drives in male CEOs, politicians, Hollywood stars and lower-level employers will not decrease, but their releases will be re-directed. Don't get me wrong. It's a good thing. A great thing. But somewhere soon, if it hasn't already happened, an attractive female will be denied a promotion - or perhaps even an internship - because of her looks. Because of what will be perceived as her danger factor. Attractive females are now Kryptonite to lazy men still in power. To the men, it'll be easier to remove the temptation rather than refuse it. In other words, buy stock in companies that provide escort services. Business will soon be booming.

   *I like blondes. And curves. And fish. And calendars. But I do not want this for Christmas. Because it's weird AF.

   *My better half (Sybil Summers) is twice as good-looking as me and way more than half the writer I am. Add it all up and I win. By losing.

   *Tiger Woods shot a 3-under round. Roger Federer won two Grand Slam tournaments and is No. 2 in the world. Gregg Popovich and Tom Brady are at the top of their professions. 2017 sure looks a lot like 2007.

   *Feel like these days there's more traffic on the roads and less room for your elbows? Here's why: Every day on this planet there are 360,000 births ... and only 151,000 deaths. Every. Single. Day. Scooch a bit, will ya?

   *I babbled earlier about our shrinking free time, but is it just an excuse? If you have a typical 9-5 job you work 40 hours a week, or 2,080 hours a year. Add an hour commute and your "work" load increases to 2,340 hours annually. Sleep eight hours a night? You're up to 5,260 of committed time. Bewildering, right? But, there are 8,760 hours in a year. That leaves you 3,500 hours of totally free time per year. Sooo get to gettin'. By the way, you've wasted about six minutes reading down this far.

   *LaVar Ball deserves Donald Trump. And vice-versa. Watching them Twittfight is like watching the Eagles play the Redskins. You hope it ends in a scoreless tie with numerous injuries.

   *In six years since leaving the Big 12, Texas A&M is 25-23 in the SEC. It has had only one season with a winning conference record and has yet to play in a SEC title game, much less win a conference championship. My question is, therefore, where are all the riled-up Aggies that promised I'd eat crow for writing this?

   *We have a pussy grabber in the White House and we'll soon having a crotch grabber winning the Heisman Trophy. 2017 can't get outta here fast enough.

   *One of the paintings below cost $200 at Pier One. One was done by Sybil and hangs in our dining room. One recently sold for $46 million. Quick, tell me which is which. In a related story, we all chose the wrong profession.


   *You can have one wreck and not be a bad driver. You can be momentarily reprehensible with a woman without being a predator. And you can blurt out a flippant racial comment without being a racist. It's habits and patterns, people. Not one-offs. America has totally lost the art of "context."

   *As I mentioned earlier, On-Air Media is our new media production company. Over by Love Field. 3 studios, complete with 4k cameras, state-of-the-art audio, green-screen backgrounds and A-to-Z podcasting/webcasting. If you or your company wants some attention, hit me up.

   *Recently moved from McKinney to the White Rock Lake area of Dallas. Best thing about it: Lack of traffic. You get accustomed - see: numb - to stop-and-go commutes. But once your 49-minute drive turns into a 9-minute drive, you realize how bad it sucked.

   *If the Tryptophan in your Thanksgiving turkey makes you sleepy, why don't we use turkey pills as sleeping aides? It's as though turkey is a healthy choice for a vibrant lifestyle ... every day of the year except for the third Thursday in November.

   *Similarly to how I feel about Jeff Heath and the Cowboys, I just don't think the Mavs will ever be a legit contender while giving quality playing time to Yogi Ferrell. Both are great guys and try-hard players, but ... no. Just no.

   *I'll never understand our your fascination with British royalty, in particular royal weddings. I think it's the female fantasy of An Officer and a Gentleman, on Molly.

   *Re: Artwork, Sybil's gem is on the left and the middle mishmash - "Ketchup on Canvas" - sold for almost $50 million.Without knowing the value, I wouldn't trade. You?

   *This weekend? Maybe a bike ride around the lake. Maybe put up a Christmas tree. Maybe I'll No way I'm going to pen another Whitt's End. Don't be a stranger.