Brown: It's time to say goodbye. Thanks for the ride, Iowa

Rick Brown

I can’t tell you the specific day, but it wasn’t that long ago. I looked over to my partner in crime, Randy Peterson, and asked, “When did we become the old guys?”

Rick Brown worked his last day at the Register on Thursday, ending a career here that started in 1978.

I came to the Des Moines Register, my dream destination, in the fall of 1978. I walked into a newsroom that was home to three of my idols: Maury White, Ron Maly and Buck Turnbull. I read their work religiously as a youngster. Football and basketball games were rarely on television back then. But their words, in the Big Peach, made those games come to life.

Nine sports editors later, my present-tense newspaper career is now in the past. I accepted a buyout offer from Gannett, the Register’s parent company. I leave with a lot of friends and even more memories.

What kept me going? Not the money, I assure you. Or making so many trips to Iowa City and back that I can reel off the exit numbers on Interstate 80 in my sleep. And not the time away from a supportive wife, Karon, and two wonderful kids, Ben and Blair, who I love so much.

Mine was a career that crossed the intersection of love and passion on a daily basis. I loved sports and had a passion for writing about it.

My mentor was my father, Bob, a sportswriting icon at the Fort Dodge Messenger. I tagged along to games as a kid, with my own scorebook that was an annual Christmas gift. I was hooked.

Dad gave me the best advice I ever received. I came back to the office one night after covering a high school game, all excited about what I had witnessed.

“It was the greatest game I’ve ever seen,” I told him.

He looked up from his typewriter and said, “What was the second-greatest?” I never forgot that.

Iowa played a basketball game at Michigan State on Jan. 10, 2012. It is best remembered as the night coach Fran McCaffery slammed his chair into the floor during the 34-point wipeout, trying to teach his team a thing or two about toughness. Minutes after filing my story I got a call from my brother, Roger, to tell me dad had passed away. There’s no doubt in my mind that he held on until I made deadline.

I’ve spent part of the last five decades bringing truth to Bob Seger’s line in “Against the Wind." Deadlines and commitments, what to leave in, what to leave out.

The newspaper business has changed dramatically in the time it has dominated my life. But I leave with so many friends and memories. I got to hang with Chris Street, Mr. Emotion in Motion. The Mayor, Fred Hoiberg. Zach Johnson, the greatest golfer this state has ever produced. And so many more.

I got to experience places like Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan., Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., and the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga.

There were the unforgettable Johnny Orr and Dr. Tom Davis; Tim Floyd and George Raveling; Ben Jacobson and Greg McDermott. And most recently Kirk Ferentz and Fran McCaffery, two of the most genuine people I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with. Listening to their off-the-record stories and seeing a side of them the public never does, when the tape recorder is turned off, is one of the perks of the profession.

My career was, essentially, stories. The stories I wrote and the stories I listened to. I’m going to miss hearing the ageless Bob Brooks talk about watching Nile Kinnick play. I’m going to miss sharing Orr stories with Iowa State’s Mike Green, one of the best human beings on the face of this world. I’ve spent more time with Steve Roe and Matt Weitzel of Iowa’s media relations department than I have my family, it seems.

Thanks to you all.

This will be the first time in seven decades my father or I won’t have a byline in the paper. My mom, Nan, is still upset at me for bailing. But 2015 is the perfect time for a swan song.

I saw Iowa’s basketball team win an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in 14 years. There was Johnson’s victory at the British Open — thanks for letting me hold the Claret Jug, Z.  And having a front-row seat for the Hawkeye football team’s perfect regular season and appearance in the Big Ten championship was the perfect nightcap.

Retired Register columnist Rick Brown spends a moment with Zach Johnson's Claret Jug.

As I left Carver-Hawkeye Arena after covering my last game Monday, a Daily Iowan reporter wished me well and told me he had read me growing up. I guess things have gone full circle.

I had a one-on-one interview with Ferentz in October, when his 7-0 team had a bye week. I asked if he enjoyed a sense of redemption after the fast start had cooled all the hot-seat talk. He told a story involving a retired coach, a cowboy hat, a horse and a one-finger salute.

Your secret is good with me, coach. Next man in.

Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. His last day at the Register was Thursday. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.