Newspapers have a heart and soul. They are all different, personalized in a special and distinctive way. That's why, when one expires, the mourners gather around to sympathize with the bereaved survivors, otherwise known as the readers.

They even offer a toast or two in memory of the dearly departed, this thick roll of newsprint, a recycled tree, that so many times had become what the late syndicated columnist Bob Considine appropriately called the "daily miracle."

The Evening Sun represented our first job -- as a delivery boy -- so it all began with hands-on experience at age 13. Such a modest start was to lead to the greatest of adventures, an eventual involvement and responsibility in the gathering and reporting of sports news and being judgmental and opinionated about the initial and long-range impact of those stories.

From serving papers to becoming a sportswriter was like going from one stage of adolescence to another. Maybe someday we'll get around to growing up and getting a serious job. This approach is best explained by confessing that our goals were more modest than those of the rest of the old neighborhood and high school crowd.

First, there was close to a 40-year association with The Evening Sun's foremost competition, the newspaper that overlooked the harbor, the Baltimore News American (nee News-Post). It was called "blue collar," which was a compliment because it appealed to working-class citizens.

The Evening Sun, by many in the trade, was once considered Baltimore's best newspaper. It wasn't the paper of record, a distinction enjoyed by its older and staid morning counterpart, and it didn't pack the on-the-street wallop of the aggressive, enterprising News American, which led the state in circulation for decades.

What The Evening Sun represented, with few dissenters, was one of America's most interesting newspapers. It consistently presented as its daily fare the perfect blend of news and features. This, of course, was a credit to its leadership and by all means the editors who shaped the course, knew the direction they wanted to go and offered what the readership wanted.

The closing of The Evening Sun and before that The News American, in 1986, affords an opportunity to take retrospective inventory. If you ever hear we quit this business, don't believe it. There's too much happening to go off quietly into the night, to take a seat on the front porch to listen to the sound of crickets and the Chesapeake Bay waters lapping the shoreline.

From the overall press box view, in parts of six decades, it has been a panorama of excitement. There were World Series, Super Bowls, Masters Golf Tournaments, the Indianapolis 500-mile race, heavyweight championship bouts and Olympic Games. Assignments allowed us to witness personally the surpassing of three sacrosanct baseball records that were supposedly going to live for the ages:

* Henry Aaron's going past Babe Ruth's career home run total.

* Pete Rose's eclipsing Ty Cobb's all-time place on the hit parade.

* Cal Ripken's surpassing Lou Gehrig's standard for consecutive games played.

Who said the modern athlete doesn't compare to those of the golden yesteryears? He's larger, faster, stronger and smarter, but that doesn't mean any more skillful. The greats from the past would excel today and the standouts of the present would likewise have been just as proficient had they been on the scene way back then.

In Baltimore, as in all other places, there have been highs and lows. That's life and sports mirror that same wave of human emotion . . . joy or despair, depending upon whether your team wins or loses, or even runs off to another city.

Working on two Baltimore newspapers has put us close to looking in on the passing parade as it has moved, fast-paced, never pausing, in ongoing review. World championships in baseball, football, basketball and lacrosse have been a part of this vast web of athletic entertainment enjoyed for the benefit of Baltimore.

The Orioles' wipeout of the Los Angeles Dodgers in four straight while playing their first World Series in 1966 stunned the public. Only three years later, they lost to the New York Mets in a momentous upset that was just as surprising -- then and now.

When it came to severe shock, however, nothing equaled another New York team, the Jets, beating the Colts in Super Bowl III after Baltimore was installed a 16 1/2 -point favorite.

But in writing history, the Colts had their finest hour, plus 8 minutes and 15 seconds of overtime, in beating the New York Giants in 1958 in the first extra period of football ever played, known as "sudden death."

The next year, Baltimore had its only chance to host an NFL championship, again beating the Giants but within the space of regulation time.

Memorial Stadium was the place to be on Sundays in the fall, when the crowd created such a din that a visiting sportswriter, Cooper Rollow of the Chicago Tribune, called it the "world's largest outdoor insane asylum."

The same team was to supply the bulk of Baltimore's 12 representatives to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including the coach, Wilbur "Weeb" Ewbank and the most storied quarterback of all, John Unitas.

Before the Colts and Orioles became major-league teams, Baltimore was a two-event city -- the Preakness and, usually every other year, the Navy-Notre Dame football game.

Not much else of importance happened in Baltimore. It was referred to as a whistle stop between Philadelphia and Washington, or the "nickel city," where more nickels were exchanged than any place in the country. Some basis for fame.

The Baltimore Bullets came and went -- to Washington -- but not before furnishing such heroes as Buddy Jeannette, Paul Hoffman, Gene Shue, Earl Monroe, Gus Johnson and Wes Unseld. Lacrosse was a staple as Johns Hopkins dominated the sport for decades and the Preakness has been almost as much of a Baltimore landmark as the Washington Monument.

Joe Louis once fought a 10-round heavyweight bout with Jimmie Bivins in Memorial Stadium, another fond memory, and the Eastern Open, a stop on the Professional Golf Association tour, was played at Mount Pleasant and Pine Ridge for 13 years with a different winner in every tournament.

The Evening Sun, through all that time, excluding the early runnings of the Preakness, was present to chronicle the outcome, to paint word pictures of the personalities, to deliver the details and cover the complete story.

Oh, yes, that first job? It was demanding. Deliver 150 papers six days a week and be at the house of Sam Cooper, the route boss, on Saturday morning to recite the address of every subscriber on all the streets you served. It was hard work and there were back-straining editions to carry on Thursdays and Fridays . . . for the grand total of $1.

Even that didn't deter a newspaperboy from wanting to become a newspaperman. There's no better way to idle away one's life. And as a lasting farewell to The Evening Sun: Requiescat in pace. You'll never wrap fish again.

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