Farewell: Grateful For Covering 27 Years Of Unprecedented Success And All The People

Trags pens goodbye to New England by recalling the memories of covering the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics and Boston College.

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It’s time.

For the past 27 years I’ve written and spoken about Boston and New England sports during an unprecedentedly successful time in the region’s history. Never has the region and its incredibly passionate fan base been treated to such dominance or success year in and year out.

I’ve been truly blessed to witness so much in person.

It started with a Red Sox game at Fenway in August 1993 as they played the Kansas City Royals. I frankly don’t remember much about that Saturday afternoon game. Then there was the first Patriots game I remember, a 19-16 overtime loss on Sept. 12, 1993 in the first home game of the Bill Parcells era at Foxboro Stadium. It was the second game in the career of Drew Bledsoe.

Six Vince Lombardi Trophies hoisted by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, the greatest football coach and quarterback the sport has ever seen. Five other trips to the game, including the first Super Bowl I ever covered in the 1996 season featuring Bledsoe against Brett Favre.

Then Super Bowl XXXVI, a fairytale 20-17 victory that kicked off an 18-year run of championships. Two years later the Patriots won again.

I have so many vivid memories. Watching from the sideline as David Gordon’s field goal sailed through the uprights under Touchdown Jesus, as Boston College knocked off No. 1 Notre Dame, 41-39, at the final gun. Desmond Howard’s TD return against the Pats in Super Bowl XXXI. Feeling Fenway Park vibrate and trembling in fear as a flyover was a little too low during the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway. Watching a mass of current All Stars enclose Ted Williams before the first pitch on that same night. Watching Pedro Martinez strike out five of six to open the game.

Being in the press box and muttering to MLB.com colleague Ian Browne, “What is he doing?!” as Grady Little left in a tiring Pedro Martinez in the bottom of the eighth of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Three innings later, Aaron Boone drove a Tim Wakefield knuckleball into the stands in left for the greatest heartbreaking sports moment to that point that I had ever covered. The Red Sox clubhouse was understandably funereal. I’ll always remember teammates surrounding a devastated Wakefield, offering support.

Trags was on the field in 1993 when Boston College beat No. 1 Notre Dame. (WBZ-TV)

Then came 2004, July 24 to be exact. I was in the back of the press box at Fenway, returning from getting a drink when I reached my perch in the third row just as Alex Rodriguez and Jason Varitek were shoving each other in a spat that would kick off the greatest comeback story in baseball history.

The ALCS that year was the most surreal baseball event I’ve ever covered, and I can’t imagine anyone who covered all seven games who would put another above it. The sense I had leaving after Game 3 and what happened the next night was the greatest turning point in Red Sox history. I remember being in Yankee Stadium for Games 6 and 7 and never have I felt a fan base so nervous, and for very good reason. The moment Johnny Damon’s grand slam landed in the right field seats, Game 7 was over. The Red Sox were the first baseball team to erase a 3-0 hole and a win a best-of-7 series, and I was lucky enough to cover it all. The rest of the game was a formality. And so, too, was the World Series against St. Louis. The Cardinals had no chance. I spent the cold winter months following the “Trophy Tour” around New England, as Red Sox owners rightfully showed off the trophy that fans waited 86 years to savor.

World Series triumphs would follow in 2007, 2013 and 2018. In 2013, I missed the Game 6 clincher at Fenway, as I was back in Cincinnati, moving my dad out of the same house I grew up in. I watched the final out from the very same living room that I witnessed Game 7 of the 1975 Series, the last time Fenway hosted a World Series clincher. In 2018, I was in Dodger Stadium for the first time as the Red Sox completed their historic run to a title with their 119th win in Game 5. The carpet on the visitor’s clubhouse was doused with two inches of various beverages. That scene along with the view of LA and my walk around the warning track around the field will be with me for the rest of my life. Just surreal.

As for the Celtics, two moments come to mind, both relating to their longtime nemesis. In 2008, the Celtics ended their 21-year drought with a Game 6 blowout of Phil Jackson’s Lakers on the parquet. I remember waiting outside the Celtics locker room with two of my very closest friends in the business, Louise Cornetta and Jessica Camerato, to enter the drenching wet locker room, watching Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins shower each other with all sorts of alcohol.

Two years later, I stood on the Staples Center floor before Game 7, thinking of the last time the Celtics and Lakers played a Game 7 in 1984. It was the night I graduated Indian Hill High School and I watched it with two high school buddies in my basement in suburban Cincinnati. I remember the crowd rushing the parquet. Well, that night in 2010 yielded a different result. And the postgame in the Celtics locker room after that loss was as hot and uncomfortable an environment as I remember.

A month earlier I watched as the Bruins flipped the 2004 Red Sox script and blew a 3-0 series lead against the Flyers – and a 3-0 lead in Game 7 – and lost 4-3 on a Simon Gagne power play goal as the Bruins were caught for too many men on the ice. A year later, redemption was theirs as the Bruins won three Game 7s, including nerve-wracking affairs against Montreal and Tampa Bay, on their way to hoisting the Stanley Cup in Vancouver.

As heart-breaking as Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS was, as shocking as the Super Bowl XLII loss to the Giants was, postgame in the Bruins dressing room after their 4-1 loss in Game 7 to the St. Louis Blues is right there with the most devastated and stunned I’ve seen over my three decades.

The sports memories were incredible but it’s the people that made the last 27 years truly unforgettable.

At the top of the list is the aforementioned Louise Cornetta. Her guidance, direction and wisdom kept me on my toes and instilled traits that will be with me for the rest of my life. “Are you sure?” is a question that she would always raise. It’s a question that – early on – would strike fear, fear of being wrong. It may seem like three simple words but they are three words, as we all know, that every journalist should ask themselves as they write or say something that someone else will consume as truth. I cannot express enough my sincere gratitude to you for the years of counseling in the Fenway press box but it’s a start.

Louise Cornetta provided Mike with countless moments of guidance and inspiration.

The next person is Patriots coach Bill Belichick. I can’t decide which I value more, covering the obvious unprecedented run of success in the Super Bowl era or observing how he handled each and every situation on and off the field. Both are remarkable. My coverage of Belichick dates to 1992, when I covered his second season as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. The one thing I always felt I related to Tom Brady was his respect for his head coach. I felt I got it. It’s because Belichick had a way of commanding respect through his preparation for every situation. How would you handle adversity? Prepare for as many challenges before they arise in real life and you’re chances of success greatly increase. This is precisely why his best answers at press conferences often came from those who did their research and asked a question that showed some degree of prior preparation.

This is what constantly comes to mind when thinking about being in the press box and watching the miraculous comeback from 28-3 down with 2:12 left in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI. I was sitting next to the esteemed Mike Reiss of ESPN and we were looking at each other as Dont’a Hightower broke through for a strip sack of Matt Ryan. I remember saying to him, “here it comes.” Watching that game stands out as one of the more remarkable events that I’ve ever witnessed in person. But really the 34-28 final shouldn’t have surprised me. It’s what the Patriots did under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. They intimidate through preparation.

The people who gave me my first access to the games, like the legendary Dick Bresciani with the Red Sox, Heidi Holland and Nate Greenberg with the Bruins, Jeff Twiss with the Celtics and the incredibly gracious Reid Oslin and the late, great Dick Kelley, someone who had an incredibly powerful and genuine impact on every person he met.

Patriots Vice President of Media Relations Stacey James and his staff have handled more challenging circumstances and navigated the often-choppy channel between media and football operations as professionally as anyone could possibly expect. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that media relations isn’t media relations until there’s a challenge or crisis that needs managing. No one could have possibly handled it better. Kudos to his staff that includes Aaron Salkin, Michael Jurovaty and Anne Noland.

Today, there’s Jason Baum at Boston College, Christian Megliola, Jeff Twiss, Brian Olive, Brandon Chinn and Heather Walker with the Celtics, Matt Chmura, Brandon McNelis, Travis Basciotta with the Bruins, Kevin Gregg, Justin Long, Abby Murphy, Kyle Montemagno at the Red Sox. All of those listed above do their job tirelessly and help me to do my job while granting access to best serve as the conduit between team and fan. It’s sometimes a thankless job but without them, I wouldn’t have been able to do my job.

Of course, there are countless colleagues with whom I’ve developed lifelong friendships. This is probably dangerous, but I’ll try to point out some. In TV, there’s the folks like Dan Roche and producer Joe Giza, Mike Giardi, Tom Curran, all the photographers including Pablo Cortez, Glenn Gleason and Bill Messina (The Camera Guys) and Walt McGraw.

Special props out to Mike Reiss, Doug Kyed, Chris Price all of whom taught me so much on the Patriots beat. My current colleague Evan Lazar has been a revelation in terms of the way he watches games and breaks down film. It’s been so much fun talking football with him because he believes in “the game’s the thing,” something that has been a mantra of mine since 1993. I got into the business because I wanted to watch games and write and talk about them.

I want to single out Rob Bradford of WEEI and WEEI.com, a true friend who helped me at a critical time in 2008 as WEEI.com was getting up and started. Without his help, I wouldn’t have had the experiences in Boston sports over the last 10 years.

Chris Price and Ryan Hannable deserve special mention as they tolerated many a drive to Patriots road games. All is appreciated. Oneida! Thanks to Alan Segel for listening to my occasional press box rants.

Mike holds court with CLNS colleagues Josue Pavon (middle) and Sierra Goodwill (left).

Then there’s the irrepressible Nick Gelso, the visionary founder of CLNS Media, who brought me on board in 2017 and gave me the chance to succeed in the ever-growing space of podcasting and video while also continuing to encourage me to promote my voice with the written word. Thanks to John Zannis, whose vision is helping expand CLNS into an even greater market by hiring great, great talents like Evan Lazar, Evan Marinofsky and Sierra Goodwill. I’ve developed great relationships in my three short years at CLNS, including those with the likes of my Patriots Beat producer Mike Alongi and Guy Neer and Alex Barth, now with 98.5 The Sports Hub.

There are the friendships I developed over the years with wonderful souls who are no longer with us, and at the top of that list is Carl Beane, the great voice of Fenway Park. Carl was one of the first people I met covering Boston sports (and occasionally Hartford Whalers) back in the day. He brought in me in and showed me the ropes and the people to know to help me do my job. I was devastated in 2012 when he was taken from us at a far too young age. He was my first mentor in Boston, and his lessons of work ethic as well as being direct and concise stick with me today. I have a personalized picture of Tom Brady in my office. It’s not signed by the quarterback but rather by the author of the game story after the Patriots beat the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX, the late Nick Cafardo.

I have one more debt of gratitude. To everyone who has read or heard me for nearly three decades, my sincerest, most heartfelt thanks. Without you all caring about all of the sports, none of this would have really mattered. You are the most passionate fans out there and we as journalists are incredibly blessed to have an audience as engaged as you are in the games we cover.

I began this column writing “it’s time” and indeed it is. After 27 years, it’s time for me to leave New England for Cincinnati, where I grew up and a very short drive to Oxford, where my older daughter Janie attends Miami University. My younger daughter Emma is a writer and a high school senior trying to navigate the pandemic. In between unpacking boxes of memories, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed as she plans for college.

As for me, I plan on speaking my mind in some shape or form in Southwest Ohio, where the fans would be grateful for a tiny fraction of the success I’ve seen and covered over the last 27 years. But, as I’ve seen and to quote Kevin Garnett, anything is possible.