Remembering the night Page 2 was born
I will never forget the staredown with that evil, lifeless FAX machine.
For more than seven hours, I locked eyes with it from across the room, hoping to see a light come on, hear a magical beep or two, or -- please, dear God -- start to see some paper spit out of that stingy bastard.
It was the night of Sunday, Nov. 5, 2000, the hours before the dawn of a new ESPN.com section called Page 2 -- an initiative that I was becoming more and more convinced was going to be a failure.
"He will definitely file by 6. We'll just FAX it over," Hunter S. Thompson's assistant had assured me around noon that day, calling in just a few minutes before the NFL action kicked off. "We're just putting the finishing touches on the final draft."
GENESIS OF A PAGE
Jim Caple knows Page 2 is 10 years old, but the idea was born decades ago.
Now, this was before I'd learned many of the valuable lessons about the Good Doctor: Things like, it's always best to mix your own drink when you're a guest at his Woody Creek compound; if Hunter asks you to hold a samurai sword and whip during a photo shoot (don't ask), you need to comply; the word "swine" is the most valuable in the English language; "morning" begins around 1 p.m.; and only a fool wagers on Al Davis' Raiders. (Later, I'd learn to never ever "edit" any of HST's capitalization or punctuation, and that you might spend hours helping him research a column on one topic, only to have him file a piece on an entirely different topic the next day.)
But, even then, I was well aware of Hunter's habit for treating hard-and-fast deadlines as "suggestions." He was notorious for sending editors on benders. ESPN Executive Editor John Walsh, a veteran HST handler, had spent much of the week sprinkling his sentences with phrases such as "IF he files" and "backup plan."
Still, I was convinced this was one deadline HST was going to hit. A week earlier, I'd seen a draft of his column. It was an anti-baseball screed, a topic near and dear to the good doc's heart, and one that had sent him off on a rant when I'd met him face-to-face for the first time in Aspen, Colo., a month earlier. Heck, ESPN had even put out a press release about the launch with Hunter's name in it.
And my name in it.
The launch of Page 2 had consumed my life for months, so much that co-workers were joking with my pregnant wife that our soon-to-be-born child would be named either Paige (for a girl) or Deuce (for a boy). Now, this mystery project was going to become the digital Hindenburg.
Around 6:30, I went to grab dinner, under the guise of "his column will be here when I return."
Around 8, I started fiddling with a few other sidebar elements for the first page. At least, this page would have great sidebar elements, dammit.
Around 10, I e-mailed his assistant under the subject line of "Just checking in."
The pacing started around 11.
A few minutes later, my colleague Jay Lovinger, who had been (and always would be) my voice of reason, decided to head back to his hotel, leaving me alone with my panic, doomed to embarrass myself with more follow-up e-mails with subject lines like "How's it going?" and "Getting close?"
The "backup plan" was hatched around midnight, as I called Jim Caple out in Seattle and asked him to give me something on the Bush-Gore election, which was two days away.
Around 1, I nodded off in my chair ... I was not awakened by the sound of a FAX.
At 1:30, I decided to go home, set my alarm for 5:15, and be back in the office by 6 a.m.
When I stumbled back in four and a half hours later, there it was.
A little less than 900 words, starting with "Hi, folks. My name is Thompson," and ending with Res Ipsa Loquitor (damn, why didn't I ever take Latin?).
It had come across 20 minutes earlier. In a way, he had filed by 6.
It would go down as the earliest he ever filed.
Hard to believe it has been 10 years.
R.I.P., Doc, Ralph and David.
ESPN.com Executive Editor Kevin Jackson oversaw the launch of Page 2 on Nov. 6, 2000 ... and the many months leading up to that date.