My SI experience, by Mike Towle

We here at jeffpearlman.com enjoy bringing other voices to the table. After reading yesterday’s post on my hiring at Sports Illustrated, writer Mike Towle told me his own interesting saga. He agreed to share it here …

Reading Jeff’s blog about how he got his gig with SI and how it made him cry with joy when he got the offer touched a nerve with me. I have a somewhat similar story, although the ending to my story was bittersweet.

First some background: I got my first subscription to SI when I was 10-years old and can remember one of the first covers I saw, miler Jim Ryun. Sometime between then and when I started sportswriting for a local Vermont paper at age 15, my dream of working for SI came into view. By the time I was out of high school and headed to Notre Dame, it was full-throttle a career dream. I applied once or twice in the early ’80s while in the Army (I was in Army ROTC at ND), only to get a rejection letter back from the chief of reporters, who I believe was Linda Ann Marsh at the time. Somewhere in there, I also remember having a phone call with young SI veteran Craig Neff, and I was pretty much tongue-tied because in my mind I was talking to a celebrity. Even though I was in my mid-20’s by then, I practically worshipped all the SI folks and had seen Craig’s byline a bunch, back when he was writing of course. I had read some info about him, and he and I were about the same age, and I sort of saw him as the me I wanted to be.

Fast forward to 1997, by which time I had had stints writing for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The National, but had since segued into book publishing and writing books. It was like a day or two before Princess Diana died, when I got a call from SI senior editor Jim Herre, who I had worked for years earlier as a contributor to Golf World. Jim asked me if I was interested in coming to work for SI with the idea I would soon be GolfPlus senior editor if hired. ARE YOU FREAKIN’ KIDDING ME???!!! I eventually went to New York in early December to interview naively thinking (hoping?) I was the only candidate, but ended up losing out to a talented guy named Kevin Cook. I was absolutely heartbroken, and it still stings just writing about it. I found out I didn’t get the job just a few days before Christmas that year, and the personal circumstances were pretty incredible. I had just moved to Nashville two years prior, and between the time I had interviewed in New York and gotten the verdict, I was driving home from work one night on I-40, when it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Several days earlier, my mom had called and told me that doctors had found some spots on her colon and they were going to need to do an MRI to see if she had cancer. While driving home, what hit me so vividly was, I believe, God asking me (not some audible voice experience, but very clear in my head), “Mike, if you had a choice, which will it be, your mom gets a clean bill of health or you get the SI job?” Without hesitating, I asked Him to take care of my mom, please heal her. This had been my dream job for 30 years and it would have been covering golf, my favorite beat! It’s no wonder I drove home the rest of way with tears in my eyes. But no question. Within about 48 hours of each other, and I don’t remember which came first, I got a call from Mom telling me they had found nothing and the doctor said he couldn’t explain it; and Jim Herre called me breaking the news to me I didn’t get the SI job.

Yes, I was heartbroken, but it was something I could live with. Mom, too.

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