Gintonio, Sitton left unique marks on Arizona sports

I lost two from my iPhone address book in about a 12-hour span.  My phone feels as heavy as my heart right about now.

I used to pick on Jim Gintonio. I never let him slide. And I did it because I think he loved it. He loved to laugh. I can’t remember a text or a tweet or a conversation that didn’t start or end with a punchline.
He was forever getting in my way during press conferences. He led the league in dropped pens at the worst possible time.

And ask any camera operator that has ever worked for us about “the guy holding his notebook in front of the coach’s or player’s face.” It happened so much we actually did a parody of it on the air one night. It was like the total eclipse of the sun.

Jim was always running a little late on his game story when he covered the Phoenix Coyotes, and he was always a little late on technology. That combination was one of the funniest things that I have ever witnessed in my career. I can still see him racing down the elevator from a random rink, laptop open, pens flying, looking for a place to finish his lead before gathering quotes. We used to have a collection of Jim Gintonio pictures as he was working literally on any number of rinkside items. ranging from garbage cans to work benches to extra chairs. He was always cursing about filing a story for the expletive-deleted “online” edition of the paper. Then, after all that, after he made deadline, he would laugh. It was infectious.
Hockey isn’t an easy sport to cover when it isn’t a part of your sports DNA.

Jim tackled it. And, if you happened to hear Shane Doan call into KTAR yesterday afternoon to explain just how much the players appreciated his efforts and his way, you know what I mean. They accepted him. They helped him.

And Jim helped me. And I won’t ever forget it. When I was trying to reinvent my sportscasting career, he was the radio and TV columnist for the Republic. This was after his predecessor had scorched the earth around here. Trust me when I tell you that the thought of the Republic writing about your on-air exploits wasn’t always a warm and fuzzy feeling. Fox Sports Arizona took a leap of faith and hired me to replace Barry Buetel, who had helped launch the network. I was at the time sporting a mullet and carrying a ton of baggage while hosting PM Drive at rock station KDKB. It was a reach.

Jim wanted to do a story about it all. I was reluctant. But I met him at McDuffy’s in Tempe, and we ate and talked and laughed. I was scared to death about what he we would put to print. He told the story with a heart and a conscience and was fair, which was all I could ask for. I went into our meeting with a rather large ax to grind. He put me at ease, and before the “Extra Point” burger arrived I had fallen on that ax and let it go for the first time. He helped me move on and grow up. I don’t think I ever told him that. I’d love to text him right now, but I can’t. He’s not on the other end of that phone, and it hurts.
Nor is Dave Sitton on his. And that boggles my mind. Dave was larger than life in Tucson. He was the face of the University of Arizona in a few hundred ways. He was the voice of southern Arizona in a few hundred more. I have never met anyone quite like Dave.

I don’t think I ever will, and, I don’t want to. I want Dave to have his own place in my heart and in my mind.  

Dave gave me one of my first big breaks in broadcasting and I didn’t even know it for about, oh, 20 years. I was one year into working at KNST radio in Tucson, the Wildcats flagship station, when he managed to secure the radio rights to the Tucson Toros. He asked if I would do play-by-play with him. I was 24. This would mean some pretty stressful afternoons and evenings. I would do PM Drive sports, race over to Hi Corbett Field to host a one-hour talk show, take a break for ABC News at the top of the hour, and then somehow start calling a baseball game.

Our arrangement was for Dave to show up in the fourth inning and call the rest of the game. Well, if you knew Dave on any level, you know where this story is going. He was forever late, and I, a few hundred miles over my skis, was forever mad. I left Tucson for Phoenix and KTAR and I was STILL mad.

Then, one day, while working a UA game, the angry young man approached the happiest man and said, “It’s been so long that I don’t even remember why I am mad.” We hugged. All felt right with the world. Holding a grudge with Dave Sitton was like being mad at Santa Claus. It made no sense.
A few years down the road because of the NHL lockout I had a chance to work Wildcat basketball with Dave and Bob Elliott. That was 2004. That was the team that should have played in the Final Four, if not for that debacle versus Illinois.

It was the best few months of my career. And it started and ended with Dave. I was never as proud of a show as I was with those. It was home. And he was the guy inviting all of us to come sit by the fire and watch TV with the rest of Tucson. There was no stress. No ego. No agenda. It was a team covering a team.
We stood on the goal line of an ASU-UA game as fans one afternoon. The mere fact that we weren’t arrested for the things we said and probably felt about Sam Keller and his last-minute attempt at history is shocking. It was a blast to let loose and be next to Dave. I can still feel the embrace as that last pass fell to the ground, rally sniffed, rivalry game won. I’m glad I was with him that afternoon in November.

Some of the best text messages I have ever received came by way of Dave Sitton, usually in November, about the time of that particular confrontation between those two schools. I would always laugh and fire back a few rounds. The kind of texts you can only send to a friend, a peer, fellow alum, and the last one was always the same: “Bear Down.” Or “Bear (expletive-deleted) Down.” That was probably me, come to think of it.

This November, as that game approaches, I will look to my phone and I know that something and someone will be missing. But Dave Sitton was more than a fired-up text around the ASU-UA game. He was a driving force, the face, the voice, the energy and the soul of time and a very special place. You can’t replace that or him.

I lost two phone numbers from my address book this week. It’s funny, because the energy that they brought to it and to my life is still there. And I dare say will always be there.

Forgive me if I don’t delete them.

I just can’t.