Thirty-year vacation produces myriad memories

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•I saw Norfolk native Curtis Strange win his second consecutive U.S. Open in 1989, covered the Ryder Cup team he captained in England in 2002 and attended his 2007 induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame. But he was never more impressive than after the 1985 Masters, when his two shots into Rae's Creek on Sunday gift-wrapped the tournament for Bernhard Langer.

Strange called the morning after and answered every question.

•My mother used to have a cousin/spy in Hampton who mailed all of my stories to her in Baltimore. Safe to say, I was not the family's best grammarian.

•Hampton's Mike Smith, the winningest high school football coach in Virginia history, is 18 years my senior. But for an all-access week in 1999, as the Crabbers prepared for what we would be his 300th career victory, Smith wore me out from before dawn until after dark.

The King of Queen Street is 72 now, poised for his 44th year as the program's big whistle. He's yet to endure a .500 season, let alone a losing one.

•Dale Earnhardt's death at the 2001 Daytona 500 devastated racing, the degree to which I learned a few days later. That's when I met Ed Saunders, a Newport News carpenter who in 1998, on his honeymoon no less, saw Earnhardt win the 500 for the first time.

The day after Earnhardt's victory, Saunders met his favorite driver at a promotional appearance. They posed for a photo, which Saunders emblazoned on a T-shirt.

The memory, he said, "is worth a million dollars to me."

•In the fall of 1993, then-Virginia basketball coach Jeff Jones told me about the brain surgery his infant son, Jeff Jr., had shortly after his August birth. Jones the player and coach always had been self-assured. On that afternoon, Jones the dad was, naturally, confused and concerned.

Today Jones coaches at Old Dominion, and this season he watched from afar as Jeff Jr. made the U.Va. team as a walk-on, and the Cavaliers won their first ACC tournament since 1976.

•Detachment is essential in this racket, but as South Africa's Josia Thugwane outkicked South Korea's Lee Bong-Ju to win the 1996 Olympic marathon in Atlanta, I couldn't help but smile.

"I win this medal for my country," said Thugwane, the first black South African to wear Olympic gold since the end of apartheid. "I win this medal for my president (Nelson Mandela)."

•Marathons were a stroll for Cheryl Lager, the Newport News runner I encountered in 2010. Twice she had completed 100-mile races in less than 24 hours.

"It's easy to accept that kind of pain," she said, "when you know it's temporary and the satisfaction is permanent."

As someone who detests even a hangnail, I cannot relate.

•The evening before Virginia Tech's 2005 basketball game at North Carolina State, I sat in the lobby of the Hokies' hotel with head coach Seth Greenberg and his top assistant/older brother Brad. Talk about a New York-flavored hoops history lesson.

Tales of Clair Bee, Hubie Brown, Jim Valvano, the old Madison Square Garden and Nassau County Coliseum flowed well into the night.

•With the fourth pick of the 1993 Major League draft, the Philadelphia Phillies selected pitcher Wayne Gomes from Phoebus High and ODU. Sitting in his parents' living room that afternoon, Gomes was in no hurry to celebrate elsewhere.

"This," he said, "is a good family day."

•I'm a numbers guy, but Taylor Heinicke's Division I-record 730 passing yards and overall NCAA standard of 791 yards total offense in ODU's 64-61 victory over New Hampshire two years ago paralyzed me at the keyboard.

•That Super Bowl I covered five years ago? 'Twas an epic as Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger threw the winning touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes in the final minute to make Tomlin, then 36, the youngest coach to win football's ultimate game.

It was almost as good as Springsteen's halftime show.

•As the husband of a former high school and college athlete, and the father of a 2-year-old daughter, I would be remiss if I didn't mention some of the Hall of Fame women I've been privileged to write about: Pat Summitt, Debbie Ryan, Dawn Staley, Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez, Kathy Whitworth, Mia Hamm, Kerri Strug and Chris Evert.

•I had hoped to write much of this column Monday night at home. Laura thought it would be more fun to play catch in the living room.

Daddy couldn't have agreed more.

David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.

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