By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (Feb. 24, 2014) — Since 1990, Dave Hyde has been composing thought-provoking, insightful columns for the Sun-Sentinel, a South Florida newspaper.
His work has not gone unnoticed.
Hyde’s online biography sums it up quite well: “He has won 15 awards from the Associated Press Sports Editors in annual judging, including being voted the nation’s third-best columnist in 2012. He also has won for top investigative story and five second-place finishes in column and feature writing. He has been featured in the anthology, ‘Best American Sports Writing.’ “
Recognizing Hyde’s general excellence over the years, I pursued an interview with him to learn more about his thoughts on being a sports columnist, South Florida sports and his career in general.
What follows is our Q&A exchange last week.
Who were a few of the sports (and news) journalists you admired or idolized when you made plans to pursue a career in this business? And what made their work appealing to you?
I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and enjoyed reading the newspapers — and especially the sports pages. This was the Dark Ages before the Internet, remember, so I didn’t have access to much beyond my physical. So many of the people I read growing up aren’t big names today. Many were Columbus Dispatch writers like Bob Hunter, Bob Baptist, Dick Fenlon. I then went to college at Miami (Ohio) University, where I read Mark Purdy of the Cincinnati Enquirer (now with the San Jose Mercury News). I joke with Mark now how my college roommate, Clark Spencer, now with the Miami Herald, and I would read aloud his column that we especially liked.
As you’ve become recognized for journalism excellence many times by the APSE and others, can you pinpoint, say, five or six five columns, stories or projects that have meant a lot to you after the fact? I’m thinking of published material you think back on and tell yourself “good job, Dave.” And can you give a basic rundown on how you planned and executed those projects?
Most of the columns or stories I remember are the perfect storm of a good idea meeting a good subject to show a different world. And they all involve something we columnists sometimes shy from – reporting. So here are five:
1) No doubt the one I remember most because of its odd elements are going to Hawaii to find recluse and former Dolphin Jake Scott. He hadn’t talked to media in decades (he wasn’t in great demand to talk for a while, granted) and had a story to tell. I ended up spending parts of a couple of days with him and the resulting story had a of interesting elements. To me, this was as much about a sports editor, Brian White, taking the chance on the throwing travel money down the drain, as there was no guarantee Jake would talk when I flew out there.
2) Dolphins executive Bill Parcells struck up a relationship with a homeless man. I went out a few mornings at 5 a.m. to where the homeless man was said to have spent part of the day, finally found him and talked about their unusual relationship that began when the homeless man was selling newspapers on the street corner and Parcells would drive by on his way to work and buy one.
3) When Pat Riley came to the Heat, one of the talking points was he received a $300 per diem. I did a column eating at restaurants, telling how difficult it was to eat $300 worth of food in a day – much less every day.
4) At the Sydney Olympics, I went with a member of the ’72 Israeli Olympic team to the movie, “One Day In September.” It took days of finding this athlete, but the result was a rewarding and unusual column of her memories of that tragedy.
5) A long story on University of Miami football coach Randy Shannon involved weeks of reporting — he grew up on the meanest streets of Miami and where three siblings died of AIDS in a hospital where his mother worked, he became a success story.
At its most basic definition, what are necessary ingredients you believe are required to write a good column?
The basic ingredients of a column are information, passion, opinion, good writing, reporting — but the magic of column writing is the weight of each one varies from column to column and columnist to columnist. There is no formula for column writing. It’s whatever works. Some great columnists are highly opinionated. Others are funnier or more feature-oriented. It’s like giving a few chefs the same ingredients and watching them make different foods that can all taste good.
In collaborating with Bob Griese on the 1972 Dolphins book (“Undefeated: The Inside Story of the 1972 Miami Dolphins”), did you set out to create a definitive account of that season? Or was your mission more to tell the story of what those who were on that team thought and did during that magical season?
The idea in writing the book with Bob Griese was to tell the story of those players and coaches through the prism of the great season. Many had amazing stories — Marlin Briscoe, the first black quarterback in pro football; Bob Kuechenberg, who was playing semi-pro football; and, of course, Joe Robbie, the owner, who virtually mortgaged everything he had to buy the Dolphins, withstood a few years of serious financial problems and quickly built a championship team.
Would you say that most, or all, of your column ideas come from you or those who pass them on to you? Or is there a large percentage of them that are assigned commentary by the sports editor?
I’d say 95 percent of the column ideas come from me, for better or worse. I love it when someone suggests a good idea. But at this point in my career I tend to know what would be a column idea I can make work and what wouldn’t.
In your own words, what are a few phrases that describe your trademarks or signature traits as a columnist?
I’d hope my signature trait is bringing dollops of perspective and some rational thoughts to what is sometimes a loud process. Sometimes that’s not true. Sometimes I mix the pot, too. But in general I hear people say I’m a “voice of reason.”
Because of their longevity and past greatness in the Don Shula years, do you find more significance attached to commentary that compares eras, seasons or players about the Dolphins than, say, the Heat, Panthers or Marlins?
Let’s start here on this question: Sports is about the moment. It’s about the game today. So you have to pick and choose when to write about yesterday. I tend to write more about the past – say, the ’72 Dolphins – simply because I have a lot of information to bring to the table that I find interesting. And the past Dolphins teams with Don Shula or Dan Marino were a big part of South Florida sports. They’re big names, too. So you can get away with writing about them if there’s a reason. The other franchises in town are either so new or have such few lasting memories that they’re more difficult to write about in that regard.
Do you regularly watch and re-watch entire Dolphins game tape and/or segments of them to provide anecdotes for your columns? Or is the live game usually the main – or only – time you see the team’s games to give you column material? I guess part of what I’m wondering is this: Do you stick to more of a gut feeling and instant reactions in your columns, or do you find yourself also striving to avoid over-analyzing something?
I record the Dolphins games. And I should go home and watch all of them considering you miss plays watching them live. But I’d say I get around to re-watching half of them. On the game-day column, there’s just not time to re-watch them, so that’s not an option. Often, too, by the next day the story is already moving on to something else. But I should re-watch all of them – and don’t – because you learn a lot the second time around.
Apart from quarterback, which NFL position do you believe requires the most meticulous preparation, football IQ and innate sense of where the other 21 players are on the gridiron at any given moment?
I’d say linebacker or safety requires the most knowledge of others on the field. This is different than saying they’re the most valuable on the field after quarterback. But they have to grasp the full field and react rather than just be in the telephone booth of their small responsibility of the field. Zach Thomas, for instance, spent hours studying the individual players and opposing formations each week to give a better chance of knowing what to expect was coming.
Who do you consider the five most underrated NFL players since 1990? And five best?
I’m not really qualified to answer this question. A general thought is people tend to underestimate some systems provide players better careers. For instance, take Zach Thomas and John Offerdahl. Both were great linebackers. Both were smaller than the prototype of a middle linebacker. Offerdahl played in a 3-4 system and so had to take on 300-pound guards every play. His body wore down from that and, after several good seasons, suffered too many injuries to go on. Thomas was in a 4-3 system — meaning the two defensive tackles in front of him took on the interior linemen and he was more free to make plays. That helped him stay healthier and have a longer career.
OK, let’s switch to basketball to wrap things up… If the NBA’s list of top 50 players of all time was released in 2014 instead of many years back, where on that list, factoring in all the players since the released list, would you put LeBron James and Dwyane Wade?
Absolutely LeBron and Wade go on the list. The question with LeBron by the end will be whether he was the greatest player. He’s the best player I’ve covered.