ESCANABA - Lou Holtz was once asked about the open position at Ohio State in the wake of Woody Hayes being fired. Hayes, a Buckeye legend, was revered in Columbus and is still to this day. Holtz famously replied "I don't want to be the guy who follows Woody Hayes. I want to be the guy who follows the guy who followed Woody Hayes."
Throughout sports history, there have been moments when a legend steps down and someone is inevitably chosen to fill those shoes.
Aaron Rodgers did it with a flair that went over and beyond most expectations, taking over for NFL record holder Brett Favre. Nick Lidstrom was the first Red Wing not named Steve Yzerman to wear the captain's C on Detroit in over two decades, but he did so with grace and respect.
Over the past couple weeks, I've found myself wondering how those that followed icons felt before stepping into those shoes for the first time. Each time a new face has replaced a legend, they stared down those expectations before them and rose to meet them.
I took over the position of sports editor at the Escanaba Daily Press on Sunday, filling a chasm left by the esteemed Denny Grall.
I'd first like to make one thing clear. I'm not replacing Denny Grall. I'm succeeding Denny Grall.
There is no replacing, because that would be impossible. The man has achieved more in this position than most would have thought possible and I have more respect for what he has done here than to simply say, I'm replacing him.
I am appreciative of the opportunity to have studied under this professor of sports for the last two years. When I first arrived at the Daily Press in August of 2010, I was eight months an alum of Northern Michigan University and had gone through a reputably difficult major under the teachings of Karyn and Don Rybacki. I thought I knew it all. I didn't know anything.
There was unlearning to be done, quite a bit of it. Denny drilled the correct way to write into me to the point that with each story I write, I can hear his voice inside my head saying "write tighter!"
He taught me to always emphasize the positive and minimize the negative. We deal mostly with high school athletes at this newspaper. We want to recognize and record their accomplishments, not call them out after a bad game, although sometimes mention of a key play is necessary to telling the story accurately.
I've come to the conclusion that in order to both do this job to the best of my ability, while respecting the standard that has been put into place over the last half-century, I have to come to a balance.
A balance between carving my own path, while striving for the same near-perfection that Denny did.
There were times, dating back to when Denny first told me his plans at the beginning of the year, that I felt intimidated. I knew then and there that if the position became open, I wanted it, but I also was well aware of the incredible responsibility and standard of excellence that came with it.
If ever I have a moment of doubt as to the standard I will strive to uphold, I need only open those file cabinets sitting beside my desk. Within holds over 40 years of pristine records and information, the result of tireless commitment and dedication. It is something unique to the Daily Press and it makes me proud to have learned from the best, but also brings with it a twinge of uncertainty.
In my favorite television show, Game of Thrones, there is an episode dealing with the weight of expectations and roles. The character in question is told "If you are afraid, it means you aren't stupid."
I take that as realizing what is expected of you, and in the face of that weight, upholding and meeting those expectations.
Over the past two years, I have witnessed many great games, seen dozens of outstanding performances, watched a handful of All-U.P. athletes come and go, and revered every bit of it. Like Denny before me, this job has rarely felt like work. It's rewarding and every day brings something new.
I look forward to being your sports editor and carrying on a tradition of excellence.