It was the spring of 2016 and I desperately needed a change of scenery.
At the still rather tender age of 41, I was starting my third decade on the crime and justice beat. And I was worn out, having become somewhat numb to a never-ending deluge of gloom and doom.
Murders. Sexual abuse. Gang-related violent crime. Deadly and drunken driving. Child and animal neglect. I’d had a front-row seat to the worst society had to offer since stepping out of journalism school into full-time newspaper employment in 1995.
After writing thousands of stories, along with six true crime books and hosting a syndicated radio show for 10 years, the sadness was really starting to catch up to me.
And so I pitched an idea to the powers at the Free Press, something I’d long wanted to do but had never felt the timing was right.
I wanted to move into our sports department.
My amazing, supportive wife had returned to work full-time after years of staying home with our two young kids, who were now all grown up and very independent. The prospect of occasional time away to travel was no longer something I dreaded. And there happened to be some vacancies, with three longtime staples in sports having left the newspaper (Gary Lawless to TSN and later the Vegas Golden Knights, Ed Tait to the Bombers and Tim Campbell to NHL.com).
And so it came to be that summer, and I was first introduced to sports editor Steve Lyons.
At first, we started somewhat small, as I dipped my toes in the toy department mostly covering the Winnipeg Goldeyes while still writing some news stories and features. But after a few months we mutually decided to jump right in with both feet.
A second career was born. It really was the best thing that could have happened to me.
My duties expanded to the Winnipeg Jets beat by 2017, and, in late 2018, taking on the additional role of sports columnist following the retirement of Paul Wiecek.
Steve’s advice, which I’ve always strived to stay true to: “Don’t try to be someone else. Just be Mike McIntyre.”
For me, that’s always meant treating others with respect. Trying to see all sides/angles of a story or issue. Working my tail off. Not deviating from my core values. Staying humble. Cultivating relationships. Having some fun. (Unlike my previous career, this really isn’t life-and-death). Beating deadlines with clean, clear copy. Generating interesting and unique content. And keeping everything in perspective and not sweating the small stuff.
Steve and I would chat almost daily over these past five years, discussing all the latest events in the sports world along with ideas for stories and opinion pieces I would pen. We didn’t always agree on whatever subject was on the table, but that usually made the conversations a lot more fun. They also helped me become a better writer.
Steve’s fondness for fitness was also an inspiration and helped in my own journey that has resulted in losing more than 100 pounds over the last 18 months. He also got me going on this newsletter, which I’ve enjoyed immensely as a unique way to connect with you folks out there.
Two years ago, we started bringing some of those lively chats to a bigger audience in our Jetcetera podcast, with 82 weekly (sometimes bi-weekly) episodes in the can. They were a weekly personal highlight, both in what we said during the usual 30-minute recorded conversations, but also the lively banter that would happen before, and after, we hit record.
Whether it was the state of the Jets and Bombers, discussing our travel-related stories or having heated debates about our favourite foods — Steve (wrongly) insists ice cream belongs on pie, I believe that should be a felony — there was rarely a dull moment.
Sadly, we won’t hit Episode 83.
Steve is off on his next big adventure in life, having elected for a well-deserved retirement. He’ll tell you all about it in his final Playbook newsletter, found here, putting a bow on a terrific 34-year career at the paper which began, and ended, with Grey Cup victories by the Blue & Gold.
I’ll miss those regular talks, although I have no doubt we’ll keep in touch. I’ll always be thankful for the opportunity he gave me.
Please join me in wishing Steve all the best. Just be sure remind him that dairy products and hot pastry should be kept far, far apart.
Mike McIntyre, Sports columnist