Editor’s note: We sat down with Sam King, author of “Tiger Beat: Covering LSU Sports for 35 Years” and a former sportswriter for The Advocate, to get him to answer, instead of asking, a few questions.
How did you get into sportswriting?
All the years I was playing ball it never crossed my mind I would be one. I guess when I started wanting to was when I started at the Advocate (part time) in the dispatch department in ’56. After a week or so I moved up to the wire desk. … The main reason was they needed a right fielder for the softball team. “Here, come on and play softball for us. You want to go cover a game?” … I was making 55 cents an hour in dispatch. I got an increase to 75 cents when I moved upstairs working nights.
Do you remember any of your first stories?
I guess in ’57 I’d been in the newsroom helping, and they had a desk man named Jerry Hutto. I’m over there one night and he said, “Come on over and knock me out something on LSU. They’re playing baskethall.” Nobody cared, then. I knocked out something on that game. … The next day I came in and Jim Johnson, worked on news side, said, “Hey, you had a byline this morning?” I said, “What did I do wrong?” He said, “No, a byline — By Sam King.” I didn’t even know what one was, and I had it.
What was the best sports moment in your career?
Every night when Pete (Maravich) played. That was awesome. The most meaningful was Warren Morris’ home run (which won the 1996 College World Series for LSU). One of the most emotional was in ’86 when LSU (basketball) upset Kentucky, and I followed Dale (Brown) into the dressing room, and he and Marty Broussard were kneeling down and praying, giving thanks.
What do most sports fans not understand about sportswriting?
They think all of it is the greatest — going to the game — and forget all the other work, having to hunt for hidden stuff that you don’t find, to investigate and that type stuff. I think they get very little credit for that. Now, it’s a pain getting to games. You waste a day and a half just doing that.
What was the best thing about being a sportswriter?
I would say writing stuff and knowing that you captured what happened. Sometimes you write and might have been asleep at the wheel and didn’t really capture everything exactly right, but to write a story that comes out the way you thought it was going to.
You mention in the book pulling pranks on Dick Vitale and Tommy Lasorda. What was the best prank you ever pulled on a sports figure?
King, who put nearly as much effort into his pranks as he did his writing, had several examples, one of which involved calling former LSU football coach Charles McClendon in the early morning hours of New Years Day, 1983, claiming to be a Tampa, Fla. sportswriter working on a story that McClendon would be hired to coach in the United States Football League, which was to have its first season that year.
I said, “I understand the Arizona Outlaws want to pay you $100,000 — which was a lot of money then — to become the head coach.” (McClendon said) “Oh, no, no.” I said, ‘That’s not all, coach. They’re going to give you $100,000 if you make the playoffs.” (McClendon said) “What team was that?”
King kept making the Arizona offer so lucrative that McClendon said, “This is starting to sound like something Sam King would do.”