Maybe sports were bigger then. It’s certain that sports columnists were.
For 27 years, Hubert Mizell was the most recognizable face in the employ of the St. Petersburg Times. In a time before the Internet or cable TV channels, his was the voice that guided Tampa Bay through the arrival of hockey and baseball, through the days when the Bucs became presentable, through the great seasons of Florida and FSU. Few others cast a shadow as large as his in the press boxes of Tampa Bay.
Mizell, 76, died Wednesday from cancer of the blood, kidney failure and congestive heart failure.
In a career of writing, Mizell knew most of the greats: Bobby Knight was a favorite. So were Steve Spurrier and Bobby Bowden and Don Shula. He covered 42 college bowl games, 33 Masters golf tournaments, 10 Olympics and eight Wimbledons.
Once, as FSU came behind to tie Florida in the “Choke at the Doak,” Mizell was assigned to do the FSU column. Fine, he said. I’m going to do it on quarterback Danny Kanell, who had been terrific in the comeback.
But when Mizell arrived at the FSU news conference, something bigger grabbed his attention. When Bowden went to sit at the head of the room, his chair slipped off the back of the stage. He tumbled and almost fell. In the video, you can hear Mizell’s booming laughter.
“Don’t laugh at me, Hubert,” Bowden said.
Right there on the spot, Mizell changed tactics. Others could pick up the Kanell stuff. Mizell wrote about Bowden, and the near-catastrophe that had befallen him. It was probably the most-read piece in the newspaper.
He was there when there was an earthquake during the World Series. He was there when Lee Roy Selmon entered the Hall of Fame. He was there when the Lightning and Rays were born.
And so Mizell went about his job, crafting every day. He left once to go to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution — he covered Princess Diana‘s wedding — then came back. (I joined him on staff in 1990 and as a co-columnist in 1992).
He was boisterous, proud of his position on the staff and in the state.
There were not many columnists who mattered more.
Mizell was an unapologetic supporter of sports in Florida and in the Tampa Bay area. In Barcelona at the Olympics, he referred to the day the Giants were sold to St. Petersburg as one of the great days of his life.
Of course, Mizell didn’t have many bad days, not from his first day in a press box to the farewell dinner thrown for him by the Times – and attended by Spurrier, Bowden, Tony Dungy and others.
He laughed louder than most sports columnists. He wrote that way, too.
The joy of the games never faded for Mizell. There was always one more game, and one more press pass around his belt. That’s how a life was spent, from going from one field to another.
Those who read him will remember.