Most entertainers or media members adhere to a simple recipe for success. “Stay true to yourself.” And in Nebraska you might add, “show humility.”
After 33 years at the Lincoln Journal Star and becoming arguably the most read sportswriter in the state, Steve Sipple followed those two mantras like a fish to water.
Sipple retired from the newspaper on May 5 and shared the past third of a century of insights and stories with Executive Club members on Monday at their weekly luncheon at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Lincoln.
“This job has been challenging for me. The magnitude of Nebraska football and what it entails and what’s scary is you guys know as much as I do most of the time, and some of you know more than I do,” Sipple allowed to his audience. “And that was always on my mind when I wrote. You can’t pull the wool over people’s eyes here, because they know and have been following it for years. They follow it closely and read everything.”
Through his writing and time on radio broadcasts, Sipple reflected a persona of unsophistication, unassuming and with an unpretentious approach toward those who digested his media. Thus the genuine article out of Columbus, Nebraska, showed how he was one of them and they kept reading and listening.
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“Knowing how much people take in with Nebraska football, it made it hard sometimes,” Sipple shared. “So, my strategy was to know just a little bit more than most people. It got to be that I knew too much.”
After coming back to the newspaper in 1990, Sipple said he drew the beats of bowling, horse racing and volleyball before landing on the Husker football beat just when Tom Osborne’s drum started rolling in the mid-‘90s.
“It was along that time in 1994 when they came to me and said, ‘We’re switching you to football.’ I always thought it happened organically. At the time, I didn’t think it was a big deal, but it was,” recollected Sipple. “They (Husker football) were in their run in ’94 and ‘95, Tom (Osborne) was doing really well and I became the beat writer from ’95 to 2007, and that’s when they elevated me to columnist.”
Sipple said that 33 years went by like a blur.
“I always tell young journalists, it goes by fast, try to enjoy it, it goes by really fast. Thirty-three years … it felt like 13.”
At the same time he was shifting into being a columnist, Nebraska football made a shift into the unforgettable era of Bo Pelini with Sipple side-by-side exchanging blows.
“I remember a time Bo (Pelini) was yelling at me and I was yelling at him – I remember this distinctly,” Sipple said with a bit of a knowing chuckle. “I was walking my dog in my neighborhood and on my phone, and we’re yelling and a little girl went and got her dad because there was this strange guy walking around the neighborhood, yelling into his phone. But it wasn’t always like that. My wife would say, ‘You guys are nuts.’”
And at this time, Sipple became philosophical and shared more insight into his days as a columnist.
“When you’re a writer and you’re writing your opinion, you get crossways with coaches. I mean, that’s what happens,” Sipple said. “You don’t get into this business to be friends with the coaches. But, me and Pelini had a comfortable relationship. Which means, anytime anybody wrote something he didn’t like, like (Tom) Shatel, I’m the first person to hear about it.”
Then Sipple segued into his “simple” relationship with former NU basketball head coach Danny Nee.
“I covered Danny Nee. You think Bo was crazy … Danny (Nee) tested me, too. I was pretty young, and he was hard on me,” Sipple said about Nee, who coached for the Huskers from 1986 to 2000. “I called for his job. I called him a used car salesman. It cost the Journal Star $60,000. I thought I’d lose my job no matter what that day. I go into the office and they (sports staff) were calling me the 60,000-dollar man because when I called Nee a used car salesman, all of ‘em pulled their ads from the newspaper. And there were some pretty notable car salesmen that got ahold of me.”
Sipple reveled in his relationships with coaches across the years, but there was one that was beyond comparison and became better with age.
“I’ll never compare anybody to Osborne. Since I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate him for the level at which he operated,” Sipple said about the three-time national championship coach who coached for 25 years at Nebraska, compiling 255 wins. “It was extraordinary. What he did was extraordinary and what he was, was unique.”
Osborne was one of many who contacted Sipple after his retirement from the paper was announced, according to Sipple. He said it all was very amicable.
“If you work someplace for 33 years, it’s not easy to leave in any way,” Sipple said. “In leaving the Journal Star, it was a very good parting. It worked out very well. When I finally did it, it felt very good.”
Even after some time had elapsed from his departure, the sense of ending was evident. But, Sipple said his future will be announced June 1.
The author, Tim Brusnahan, is program chair for Lincoln Executive Club and employed by Marco.