• Buy the book: SHATEL: Tom's Take on 20 Unforgettable Years in Sports
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Where does a book come from? Maybe on a drive to see some ghosts.
One day last year I found myself near Ak-Sar-Ben Village. For some reason, I entered the time tunnel.
I drove down Pine Street, which is where the Thoroughbreds used to thunder down the backstretch.
Then I had to find the spot where the old barn, Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum, once stood. Hot Lancer nights. Friday nights at the races. Once upon a time, the hub of our universe.
It made me think of a story. In 1993, I was on Gary Java's sports talk show on KKAR. I had written something about Ak or the Lancers or something that a caller didn't like. He called into the show as "Mike from Omaha." He went off for a good 15 minutes, then finally said, "I'll be in Omaha a lot longer than you will."
It occurred to me, 20 years later, that I'm still here.
It was 20 years ago this week when my friends thought I had lost my mind. Omaha? I was lost, period. I drove into town and couldn't find The World-Herald building. Little did I know I was standing next to it. I thought it was the post office.
I was here to start my dream job, sports columnist. What had I gotten myself into? I had no idea.
None of us did.
Three national championships for Tom Osborne and everyone else in red. Osborne retires. Steve Pederson. Bill Callahan. Osborne's back.
The greatest era in Creighton basketball history. Seven NCAA tournaments in nine years. Five Valley tourney titles and two regular-season crowns.
UNO adds Division I hockey. UNO drops football and wrestling. UNO goes Division I, period.
Nebraska goes to the College World Series. Three times.
Qwest Center Omaha. Creighton sellouts. NCAA hoops. Michael Phelps swims in our town.
Goodbye to Rosenblatt. Hello, TD Ameritrade Park. You, too, Werner Park.
The Big Eight. The Big 12. The Big Ten.
It's been the greatest sports era in our history. You can quote me on that.
Sounds like a good book, huh?
I hope you like "SHATEL." The book, that is. It's the wonderful work of The World-Herald's Dan Sullivan and Christine Zueck, the editor and designer of the book. For the record, I didn't come up with the title. I suggested "Not Mike Royko" or "You Misspelled a Word.'' But those didn't make the cut.
This book isn't about the big galoot on the cover. It's about you. It's about all of the games you've watched, the stories you've read, the characters you've followed. It's about this unbelievable era of sports that we all experienced together.
It's told through my eyes and ears, and occasionally my stomach. It's told through my columns. I'm your narrator, your storyteller. That's been my role the past 20 years, one that I've cherished. It was my idea to add my personal stories behind the stories. I hope you enjoy that.
It's about the two Omahas during my time here. The one that a generation grew up with, an Omaha that was innocent and pure. There's another that became bold and empowered with its potential, the Omaha that we know today, the one that blows your mind occasionally. This book is about how we got from one to the other.
It's about a journey, our journey, one that I've now made twice. Sullivan and I separately went through every column I've written the past 20 years to pick out the best pieces that would tell the story. Two things immediately came to mind. One, I'm old. Two, I've seen a lot of amazing stuff.
Here's a glimpse of some things I found interesting, and had totally forgotten about:
• Before the 1992 Orange Bowl, Osborne wondered if he would get fired. Seriously.
• Bob Devaney talking conference realignment before he retired in 1992. Cool stuff.
• My critique of a dying Ak-Sar-Ben race track, and the "old men at the grade-school desks." Have they forgiven me yet?
• Going out to meet Tom Kropp in Kearney the summer of 1993. My hand still hurts from the handshake. And, going out to Scott Frost's house in Wood River in the summer of 1992. There's a classic photo of Frost and his family in this book.
• I wrote that Omaha needed a new arena July 9, 1995. Who knew then what would happen?
• A couple of memorable columns for me. Taking Osborne to task over Lawrence Phillips. And going after Frost following the 1996 Arizona State loss. The fallout, and the lessons learned, will be interesting to read, I think.
• The history is just relentless and hits you in the face page after page. For instance, on page 102 is Frost's triumphant win at Washington in 1997. Turn the page, and there's UNO's first-ever hockey game two weeks later.
• The column where I called Osborne's retirement, then felt so sure about it I left town the next day — the day he stepped down.
• Lots of fun Creighton hoops memories from the Dana Altman run. And a column about Creighton losing the NCAA championship game in soccer. Creighton played for the national championship?
• My favorite two pages in the book. On page 194, my column titled, "Solich Deserves Another Year.'' On page 195, "Firing Solich is the Right Move.'' Ah, memories.
• The day of Pederson's hiring as A.D. I hailed it as a great day. Hey, a lot of people did.
• Altman leaves. Greg McDermott hired. Nebraska goes to the Big Ten. The last CWS game at Rosenblatt. All within three months, and three pages of the book.
There's so much more. It's 300 pages. Osborne was nice enough to do the foreword. That's something neither one of us would have envisioned 20 years ago. But this book is about growth, of relationships, of a sports columnist, too. I came out swinging in 1991. Gotta make a name for myself. You may think I've mellowed. I prefer the term "seasoned." I've learned a lot from you. There's a way to treat people.
This book is for you, the people who make the games, the stories and the memories possible. The people who make being a sports columnist the greatest job in the history of the world.
Thanks for sharing the ride. It's been a great one, but it's not over. What's next?
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