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Temple: Journalist of the year had long journey

August 23, 2003

pictureYou know him as Sam Adams, our sports columnist.

Local comedy club fans may know him as Samuel.

But few know what a long, strange trip he's taken to get where he is today.

Sam reached a milestone last weekend when he was named print journalist of the year by the Colorado Association of Black Journalists.

It was a day that he never could have imagined when he arrived in Denver aboard a Greyhound bus from Cleveland in 1984.

I speak to so many young people who dream of having their own byline. Many of us have had to struggle to get our name in print, me included. But Sam's story is one of the best.

Sam spent two years at Kent State University, where he "majored in dropping out." The best thing about college was the late-night radio show he stumbled into: "Sammy Dee - the midnight master of mellow madness."

Eventually, he really did drop out and went to work doing odd jobs until he heard good things about Denver and got on a bus heading West.

Greyhound lost his bag with his good clothes, so when he went to a temp agency to find work he was wearing the only things he owned: a blue sweat suit and tennis shoes. But he promised them he could type. And type he did, faster than anybody in the office.

Sam could type so fast that he could get his insurance company work done in six hours, which left him another two to work on his own little sports newsletter, something to share with the guys he talked sports with at lunch.

In 1986, he predicted the New York Mets would beat the Boston Red Sox in the World Series and one of his buddies dared him, "You think you know so much, why don't you go write for a newspaper?"

His next job happened to be right across the street from the old Denver Post building and one day during his lunch hour he found his way to the sports department.

"Somebody told me I should be a sportswriter," he told Jim Herre, then the deputy sports editor.

"We just don't hire people off the street," Herre told him. But after reading Sam's newsletter, he gave him his card with the high school sports editor's phone number scrawled on the back.

Sam carries that card in his wallet to this day.

For two or three months at night, Sam went to the paper and compiled box scores.

"I'm thinking I don't need this," Sam recalled of the yelling and pressure. He wanted to be a writer. Not a clerk.

But on the day he had made up his mind to quit, they sent him to a high school basketball game, Highland High School vs. Jefferson High School at the old McNichols Arena.

He was told that they just wanted to see what he could do. But the next day, to his great surprise, his story was in the newspaper, his first byline.

That was 1986. It would take him another six years to get a full-time job.

In 1990, when the Post's Denver Nuggets beat reporter job came open, Sam applied to then-Sports Editor Woody Paige.

"I like what you're doing, kid," Paige told Sam. "But don't quit your day job."

He couldn't pass up the challenge. On the day before New Year's Eve 1990, the father of a 20-month-old son, Andrew, came home to his wife, Valerie, and told her, "This check might be the last one."

By 1992, Sam was about to give up his dream. But then Paige called with the offer of a full-time job. The next year the Post named him the backup Broncos beat writer. The next he was the lead. And then came a call out of the blue from the Charlotte Observer, which wanted him to cover his first love, basketball.

(Sam tells me the last time he dunked himself was two years ago. This from a 43-year-old sports columnist, so I don't know what to believe.)

But Sam wouldn't be gone for long. He realized he'd made a mistake, and we needed a Broncos writer.

He arrived on a Friday, moved in to his apartment on a Saturday and covered the first regular-season game of 1996 on Sunday.

When he came to the office to have his picture taken the day he arrived, editors asked about his NFL notes column, the one they needed that night.

This after he'd driven for more than 24 hours.

"I'm going to do this because I don't think I have a choice," he remembers thinking. "But I don't like you people."

Three weeks later he got pneumonia and the caring of his colleagues taught him that maybe there were a few that were OK after all.

It didn't take long for the writer with the winning smile and an easy way with people to get his own column. And then two years ago he started doing stand-up comedy.

When Sam was hoping to become a reporter, he kept looking for a break. Now he's just having fun.

"If you ever turn the TV on and see me on Letterman, I'll be shocked."

Still, he is on TV twice a week giving his opinions on Fox Sports Net Rocky Mountain.

"If I had to do it all over again, I would go to school. I would pay attention. When you're 26 and you don't know what you want to do, that's scary."

That was Sam.

Look at him now.

I'm proud to call him my colleague.

John Temple can be reached at or by mail at 100 Gene Amole Way, Denver, CO 80204.


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