I didn’t work closely with Caulton Tudor until I’d been at The News & Observer for almost six months. The second game we covered together was Game 4 of the Carolina Hurricanes’ playoff series in 2001, and when that game went to overtime, a few of us took our stuff downstairs to the media room to await the conclusion.
Tudor was already there, and when Chip Alexander told him he was going to walk out to the ice to watch the end, Tudor looked up from his laptop, face glazed with panic, perhaps still a little shell-shocked from that double-overtime game in Greensboro in 1999, and cried, “What makes you think it’s gonna end?”
Tudor’s career was kind of like that. You never thought it was going to end. You figured you’d come back 20 years from now and he’d still be holding court in the hospitality room at the ACC tournament, telling stories about coaches and players and writers long departed, just as he did 20 years and a few thousand or so unerringly honest columns earlier.
I have been fortunate, in my 12-plus years at The N&O, to work closely with Tudor on a number of occasions: ACC and NCAA tournaments, the NHL playoffs, the Carolina Panthers’ Super Bowl and the parade of golf tournaments that have come through the sandhills over the past decade, all the while being introduced by Tudor to everyone from security guards to banking millionaires, ACC legends to ACC forgotten-by-everyone-but-Tudors.
Being in his shadow was an ongoing education in not only how to do this job but how to treat people. I can’t thank him enough for that.
You could learn so much watching him work: The way people responded to him, because of the way he gave everyone an equal amount of respect; the way everything he wrote was truly from the heart, so he truly didn’t care at all what anyone else thought of it, laughing off any criticism; the way he could settle into a white-tablecloth restaurant or a Jersey bar called “Bazookas” and be just as comfortable in either.
For many years, he labored with a company-issue laptop that lacked a working on/off button. The only way to get it started was to insert a paper match through a narrow rectangular hole in the back, which somehow roused the creaking machine to action. Tudor was the most likely – and sometimes only – writer in the press room to be carrying a matchbook.
That wasn’t always the case. He started out in an era when arenas were filled with smoke, games played under a cloudy blue haze under the rafters at places like Reynolds Coliseum, stealing smokes with Dean Smith, back when writers like Tudor helped make the ACC what it is today. Even now, when I read one of his columns about the conference, I can hear the voice of the ACC in it – its conscience, perhaps, or maybe just what it sounds like when institutional memory speaks and has its say on the issues of the day.
In his smoking days, his halftime adventures would take him places few ever got to go. In Montreal, he found a hidden-away hallway where he could sneak a cigarette during intermissions. An unmarked door opened into some back warren of the Canadiens’ locker room, and taped to the inside was a cardboard box marked “Gino’s Butts.” Tudor and Montreal tough guy Gino Odjick – an Algonquin and a guy from Angier – spent the series together, puffing away with the French writers.
So many of his one-time peers were replaced by a younger generation of joggers and non-smokers, but he always treated us the same, never condescending, never acting superior when he had every right. (And eventually joining us in the smoke-free world.) Maybe that’s why it always seemed like he’d go on writing forever – the last of the old lions of the ACC – but in the space of only a few months, both Lenox Rawlings of the Winston-Salem Journal and Tudor have retired.
And then there was the time in a hockey press box when someone opined that the Canadian national anthem had a bit more poetry and pizzazz than our own. Tudor immediately objected.
“You want to talk about a deadline, Frankie Scott Key wrote that thing with bullets whizzing over his head in a firefight,” Tudor said. “The guy from Canada was making maple syrup and had all the time in the world.”
That’s Tudor: Ever in defense of his brethren on deadline, always the funniest man in the room.
DeCock: email@example.com, @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947