Vol. 9 No. 1 THE MAGAZINE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH Summer 1999
WAITING FOR MAJERUS
BY ANNE PALMER PETERSON
How could Rick Majerus have picked sportswriter Gene Wojciechowski from ESPN The Magazine over me to write his biography? The question gnaws at me as I wonder whether it is worth the perseverance it takes to get through to Majerus this time of year. Eager to feed our postseason basketball habits, my husband and I devoured the Majerus book, My Life On a Napkin. We took turns reading aloud as we alternated driving duties to and from Las Vegas for the WAC Basketball Tournament. Both of us were anxious to relive the drama from two years before, when senior Keith Van Horn helped Utah clinch the tournament title with two last-second plays. For Ute fans who haven't read it, we both give the book a hearty thumbs-up; there's plenty of Van Horn in it. What comes through most is the privilege of coaching Utah's unselfish players.
I was also intrigued by Majerus' illumination of his unlikely friendship with Jon Huntsman. His proceeds from the book's sales are devoted to research at the U's Huntsman Cancer Institute. I wanted to know more than the book revealed about these two and their evolving relationships with the University, and I wanted to make contact with the coach. Odd that it is easier these days to reach a multibillion-dollar chemical magnate than it is to talk with his friend, the Great American Somebody. This is all detailed in the afterword to the collection of playground dreams Majerus could have had me write.
I called Sports Information, curious to see how many national writers were ahead of the University's magazine in submitting requests for interviews. This was the morning after Utah was defeated by Miami of Ohio in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Sports Information Director Bruce Woodbury said that about all I could do was to leave a message on Majerus' hotel answering machine-and hope for a call back.
I recorded the message, then made plans to try to intercept Majerus at one of his book signings. For these chances at possible interaction, I was strangely grateful.
At Majerus' inaugural book event, the line was so long that bookstore employees began shooing people away an hour before the signing was over. Coach had to get to practice: if he hadn't, there was no telling what might have happened when Utah met Arkansas State.
Majerus was scheduled for another appearance that evening from 6:30 to 8:30 at a Barnes and Noble. I realized that besides being passed over as Majerus' co-author, I was also on par with everyone else in Salt Lake City who has to rely on CBS for a Rick fix. At the Sugarhouse bookstore, we passed a car ill the parking lot with the U of U license plate, "BigUFan." I eavesdropped on conversations between Majerus and devotees from behind a nonfiction rack. "We're season-ticket holders, Coach. Have been for years. The Utes really mean a lot to us. We really hope you'll stay," a man confided in Majerus, as if he were his shrink.
After 25 or 30 minutes in line it was our turn to be greeted by the coach. He stopped to shake my son Joe's hand. After I made my request for an interview for Continuum, we asked him to sign a book for my father-in-law, and in it he wrote, "To Lewis, a friend & fan. Go Utes! Rick Majerus P.S. Nice daughter you're both lucky. I blushed, in part because I am not Lewis' daughter, but his son's wife, and partly out of embarrassment because Majerus, looking so deflated, so tired, and so eager to please, knew the well-wishers standing in line were dubious about his loyalty to their beloved Runnin' Utes.
Were Majerus not such a cult hero and enigma, covering Utah basketball would be simpler but a lot less colorful. I probably would not have felt the sense of duty to feed readers the Utah boosters' view that I went to Vegas to report via Continuum online. I overheard Continuum publisher Ted Capener telling Ute color man Jeff Jonas BS'77, "I'm one of those people who turns off the sound on the TV and listens to you and Marcroft on the radio." I figure that if Capener, a consummate newsman, thrives on the homer perspective, we're in good company.
It's been three weeks since the NCAA tournament ended for Utah, and I still haven't heard from Majerus. My dad calls seeking advice for writer's block. The first issue of his club newsletter was such a success, it drew two letters and four E-mail responses. The pressure is on his sophomore effort. I tell him, just write about Rick Majerus. That's all anyone wants to read.
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