"Danger, Will Robinson ... Danger."
Ah, The Robot's famous words from "Lost in Space," the science fiction television series in the 1960s, forewarning Will Robinson, the rest of the Robinson family and Jupiter 2's other extraterrestrial castaways of evil alien presence.
On Earth, danger can loom on the sports beat.
As it was, somehow, I managed to survive many near-misses in nearly 23 years as The Evening Times' sports guru.
Admittedly, there were close calls. Some were very close calls.
If not for my cat-quick reaction and Lady Luck, yours truly might have been relegated to a grease spot on the floor of a high school gym in Bainbridge, N.Y.; a PennDOT accident statistic at the bottom of a ravine along Route 14 near Ralston, Pa.; or a permanent part of the door of an ESPN sideline pickup truck.
Or maybe a memorial wall plaque at a local high school.
As I recall, my first brush with bodily injury came in the early 1980s when I made my first-ever trek to Bainbridge to witness first-hand a much-ballyhooed clash of mat marvels — Waverly's Tod Northrup and Bainbridge-Guilford's Jeff Webb.
The dual-meet clash was a rematch of their meeting earlier that season in the Windsor Christmas Tournament.
That tournament bout, won by Northrup, 9-8, drew a lengthy standing ovation from the crowd and ranked by Waverly Wolverine Coach Jim McCloe "one of the best matches I've seen."
In the rematch, I recall they squared off at 167 pounds. I swear they looked more like lean / mean 225 pounders. Seated Indian-style at mat-side, I snapped away with the camera. Action was non-stop. I think there was a stoppage or two for a little blood.
Then came danger. While rewinding away in a film roll change, I looked away from the action just momentarily.
As luck would have it, the two combatants were rumbling and tumbling — toward me. How I escaped I still do not know to this day. I scooted like I had never scooted before. Thank goodness the gym floor had a slippery waxy finish. They landed right where I was sitting. Had I not moved; it would have been — Splat!
Fast forward several years to the autumn of 1984: Syracuse vs. Penn State football at Beaver Stadium.
It was a sunny Saturday, but earlier in the week heavy rain fell on Happy Valley. While the field was dry and picturesque, the photographer sideline area was a swampy quagmire. And for this clash the sideline was packed with shutterbugs. There wasn't much room to roam.
And so it was, Penn State's offense was on the move. There was a pitch to Nittany Lion running back D.J. Dozier. The play started on the far side, but soon my telephoto zoom was filled with a lot of Nittany Lion Blue. I zoomed out but it didn't help. He was getting closer — much closer, by the millisecond. Then, a dash of orange and white — stud Syracuse linebacker Bernard King — entered the picture, literally.
As they zeroed in the sideline, like two runaway freight cars, photographers bailed out and scrambled to safety. I, unfortunately, froze. A rear-guard escape was not an option; an ESPN truck providing field-level shots blocked my retreat.
There was no escape. Then ... Wham! Boom! Pow! Bam!
D.J. and Bernard not only crashed into the truck but delivered a glancing blow to me as well. Winged, I clipped the truck and flipped upside down. With my Canon AE-1 camera still in hand, I landed in the grassy muck. I escaped uninjured.
My camera was another story. My prize lens impaled itself in the soggy turf. Yanking it out brought with it a nice chunk of Penn State bluegrass, just about the size of a hockey puck. The chunk of sod went in my camera bag and back home to the Evening Times office. There, I nursed and nurtured it for quite some time. Then, one day it suddenly turned brown and croaked.
Waverly High School was the scene of another near-miss. A Wolverine boys hoops contest.
Perched against the wall underneath the basket, I snapped away. It was business as usual until Waverly star Joe Spencer — knocked off balanced on a fast break ± decided to play Skittle Bowl, and I was the pin. As Joltin' Joe skidded out-of-bounds, he bowled into me as I tried to jump. A half-summersault later, I landed on my camera bag.
To the relief of the crowd, and Joe, I suffered no serious injury — just momentary embarrassment.
Perhaps the closest call to death came during coverage of the District 4 Class AA wrestling tournament in Williamsport at the famed Magic Dome. Pressed for time heading back to the Valley with Friday night's results and photos, I neglected to remember that a warm winter afternoon can precipitate snow thaw.
Then, I committed the cardinal sin. I forgot that in the hills of Northeastern Pennsylvania, the sun does not always shine on some parts of roadways. The result: black ice.
South of Canton, I encountered a black ice patch tooling at probably 65 mph. All four tires on my little Honda CRX lost grip. We did a 540-degree spin. One-and-a-half times we went around.
Miraculously, the trusty CRX stayed on the road. It came to rest facing the wrong direction when it hit dry roadway — with my brake pedal virtually through the floorboard.
The engine stalled, but fired right up.
The only damage: a couple flat-spotted tires.
Another great escape!
Coincidentally, the first song as I continued back to the Valley was Johnny Rivers' "Secret Agent Man," and that verse ... "There's a man who leads a life of danger ..."
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