The shock factor is slowly going away. Reality is starting to set in.
Somewhere in the flood of memories and sadness these last three days, I realized I will never be on the receiving end of a Solomon Shrug again – and I’m really going to miss that.
If I had been thinking, I would have counted the number of times I saw that shrug over the past 26 years. I should have kept a log. The shrug was a common part of any conversation with Dave Solomon. It was practically a form of punctuation for the sports columnist for the New Haven Register. Dave would tilt his head, raise his shoulders and contort his face to express himself a certain way.
He made it work in any situation. Most often the shrug came with a smile. Perhaps he had just fired a zinger in your direction. Or maybe you had countered his zinger with one of your own. Perhaps he had just asked a question and was awaiting a response. Or maybe he just stated something he believed to be a fact.
Whatever the reason, the shrug always worked. That was Dave.
And now the shrug is gone.
Wednesday morning we will gather to tell Dave Solomon goodbye. The longtime writer/columnist for the Register died Saturday evening in a single-car accident on Interstate 91. He was almost back home in Meriden after covering the first football practice of the season at UConn.
Dave was 59. Taken away much too soon. It’s one of those things that makes no sense.
I received the news at midnight Saturday, through the magical new world of social media. I was headed to bed and had just put my iPhone on the nightstand when the signal of a text message got my attention. It was from my son Joe, who just graduated from the University of Kansas and is living and working in Kansas City.
“David Solomon died….”
It was downright surreal.
“Dave Solomon from New Haven?”
“Yes. In a car crash.”
“How did u hear?”
“On twitter… Search for Dave Solomon on twitter.”
I didn’t want to believe it. Then I found the tweet from the Register, where Sean Barker had posted the news. It was on Facebook too. “Toughest six inch story I’ll ever have to write,” Sean wrote. “Rest in Peace my good friend.”
The reactions started pouring in on Twitter. I cried. Tears and then more tears. My heart started to ache. As several friends have said this week, you just can’t get your head around this. I couldn’t go back to bed. I was up half the night. Didn’t go to sleep until well after 3 a.m. and then it was just restlessness after that.
I had planned on going to that UConn practice Saturday. But at some point in the morning I decided against it. I didn’t have an official reason to be there, and I had gone to Big East media day earlier in the week. I decided I would read the accounts from all the beat writers on Sunday.
Part of me wishes I had stuck to the original plan. I would have seen Dave one last time. But who could have known it was the last time? Most likely, we would have headed to our cars. I would have said, “See ya, David.” He would have said, “Bye Kenneth.”
Dave was one of the few people who could get away with calling me Kenneth. I prefer Ken. Certain people can call me Kenny. My mother is really the only person who routinely calls me Kenneth and I can’t change that. Dave could do it and it didn’t bother me. Not sure why. Randy Smith of the Journal Inquirer used to do it too. Maybe it’s a columnist thing. Or maybe Dave just had to mess with everyone’s names.
That was just Dave.
Randy passed away a little over three years ago. I still miss his laugh, his questions, his undeniable style and I miss it every time I’m on press row or in the press box at a sporting event in Connecticut.
It’s going to be that way with David too. I don’t remember the first time I met Dave. It must have been September or October of 1985, when I was hired by The Hartford Courant to cover the UConn men’s basketball team. I’m from Kansas and I came to Hartford after stops in St. Joseph, Mo., Binghamton, N.Y., and Baltimore. I was 27 and I didn’t know anyone in Connecticut when I arrived. I knew of Owen Canfield and Woody Anderson from reading the Courant when I covered the 1982 Big East tournament at the Hartford Civic Center. That was it.
I do know this: Dave Solomon was one of the few people who didn’t treat me like an outsider when I arrived in 1985. He was one of the few that tried to make me feel at home.
We spent a lot of time together on the UConn beat. That involves planes, trains and automobiles. That involves pre-game dinners on the road. It involves a lot of time watching practice and waiting for interviews. Connecticut writers know how to compete, but most have realized life is lot easier if you get along. Dave and I weren’t friends who got together away from the games and the press boxes. But we certainly were friends.
Dave spoke Bronx. I get a lot of questions about Dorothy, Toto and the Wizard of Oz. He was a UConn grad. He knew I was proud of being a Kansas grad. He knew I could become defensive if someone spoke poorly of the Jayhawks. More than once, David would look at me in the press room, or on press row during a UConn game, and he’d say, “Is that how they do it at Kansas?”
How could you get mad at that? He was just messing with you. It was priceless.
I always respected Dave as a journalist. In December 1998, when UConn football coach Skip Holtz left the Huskies to become offensive coordinator at South Carolina, I received my marching orders from the Courant. I was told to cover the search for the new coach and I was told it would be unacceptable to be beaten by any other outlet. That’s pressure, but that’s the newspaper business. It’s what we all live for, I think.
On Dec. 19, the Courant sports section led with my story: “It’s Edsall’s Job; UConn to Hire Ga. Tech Assistant.” I had worked my butt off, worked all my sources, made calls all over the country. I had the details of the four-year contract. I had talked to Edsall earlier and he had denied any contact with UConn. When my sources told me Edsall was the guy, I dug out Edsall’s home number. Randy and his wife guarded their privacy closely and when he arrived in Storrs the next week his first question was how I had gotten the unlisted number. Classified information, I said.
In those days, we didn’t post stories on Twitter. We didn’t have web sites for our newspapers. I went to bed on Dec. 18, thinking I had the big scoop. I did. Everything was correct and I had not been beaten.
The next morning I learned that the Register had news of Edsall’s hiring too. David had the story. Who else? I had my sources. He had his sources. We took different routes but both got the story. So we tied. It wasn’t an easy task for either of us. But we both did our jobs. My respect for Dave rose to another level that day. (I always kidded him that my story had more details, but a tie is a tie.)
Since Sunday morning, I keep having this memory. Dave and I are sitting in an airport. Our connection to somewhere for a UConn game has been delayed. We spend the whole time talking about our families. This really happened. I just can’t remember where. The location of the airport in this memory is fuzzy.
Dave has Judy. I have Nancy. Dave has two daughters. I have two sons. We shared family stories and progress notes quite often along press row. Judy, Lisa and Abby already know this, but Dave loved them very much. He was a proud father and family meant everything to him. We came from different backgrounds, but we held those values in common. The last six years, since I left the Courant, we have had a chance to sit closer together on press row. That gave me a chance to know him even better.
Dave has been praised for his reporting and writing ability in so many tributes this week. I salute him for always putting family first.
The last time I saw Dave was in Storrs, back in April, at the press conference when Kemba Walker announced he was turning pro. After the formal session, Dave engaged Jim Calhoun in a lively discussion of academic standards, the NCAA, and the Academic Progress Rate. Phil Chardis and I joined in. Dave wasn’t trying to be negative about anything related to UConn’s graduation rate, but Calhoun and Solomon simply weren’t on the same page. It was one of those classic conversations, the kind that took place much more often when Calhoun was in the early years of his tenure at UConn.
I never saw Dave’s column. Not sure if he ever wrote one on the topic.
But he did do a lot of shrugging that day, mostly out of frustration.
Boy, I’m going to miss that.
Goodbye Dave. Thanks for being such a good writer. Thanks for being such a good person. And thanks for being my friend.
We’re all going to miss you.