Get to know columnist Bob Wojnowski: He once was a short-order cook; now, he just writes long

The Detroit News

Editor's note: As coronavirus sweeps the globe, shutting down so many entertainment options including sports, we thought this would be a good opportunity for you to get to know a little bit about us. Up today: Sports columnist Bob Wojnowski, who can be followed on Twitter @bobwojnowski and also can be heard weekdays, from 6-8 p.m., on 97.1 The Ticket.

1. I’m not afraid of much, except crowded elevators, snakes and colleague Angelique Chengelis when she’s hunting for a Diet Coke. Horror is my favorite film genre. That said, I have a sufficient fear of this virus, as everyone should. It’s a new world and I have no idea how we got here. I only know it’ll be a while before we can go back.

Bob Wojnowski with his first love, Burger King.

2. Where am I from? Ahh, good question. Born in Buffalo, N.Y., lived in Detroit, Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Hickory Corners, Mich., Battle Creek, Cocoa Beach, Fla., Novi and Farmington Hills. I lived in 15 different houses before the age of 32, five in Ann Arbor. Large family, restless parents looking for something bigger, sometimes finding it. I’ve been in my current home for 20 years, unable to move again because of a gigantic newspaper and memorabilia collection in the basement that may or may not be completely worthless.

3. I went to high school at Battle Creek Lakeview and college at the University of Michigan. I planned to be a lawyer but started writing at the Michigan Daily partly at the urging of Drew Sharp, the late, great Free Press columnist, with whom I shared many pitchers of beer. You want to blame someone, blame him.

4. I hate getting up early. Shocker, I know. Worst thing I ever did was refuse to get out of bed for church one Sunday morning. By the time we finally got ready — two brothers, one sister, two cousins, six kids total — we were late and my mom got pulled over for speeding. Church no longer was a weekly requirement.

5. I was a short-order cook at my parents’ restaurant in Battle Creek. I was extraordinarily average. One of my many recurring nightmares: Staring at a full wheel of orders, unable to flip the eggs and sausage fast enough, people yelling. (Cold sweat.)

6. Second recurring nightmare: My senior year at Michigan, needing three credits to graduate, racing through empty corridors to find the classroom. Again, rooted in reality. I had taken a Hemingway course that began at 8 a.m., and because I worked so diligently at the Daily, I slept through virtually every class. The professor was rightly offended. I needed a C- (pass-fail course) on the final exam to graduate. I went to his office to get my grade and he snapped, “I’m giving you a C-, but it’s a gift!” I thanked him. He shut the door. (Cold sweat II.)

A recent shot of Wojo's cupboard. Hmmm, we would've thought Oatmeal Creme Pies would've been considered too healthy for Wojo.

7. My first car was a 1972 green-and-rust-colored Chevy Vega. I totaled it in an accident on the way to school while taking a shortcut through Bumblebee Hollow. (Battle Creek reference, don’t worry about it). My favorite car: 1978 Monte Carlo. Favorite movie: “Fargo.” Favorite food: Pizza, double pepperoni. Favorite stadium: Tiger Stadium. Favorite binge-able shows: “Breaking Bad” and “Dexter,” do not force me to choose.

8. My senior year working at the Daily was 1982, and one of my duties as sports editor was to go to the dorms and sell subscriptions as students moved in. I remember walking the halls of South and West Quad, knocking on doors. One door was open. Inside, I recognized Michigan’s touted freshman quarterback, sitting with his parents. I did my subscription pitch and the quarterback listened intently. Then he bombarded me with questions: What time does the paper arrive? Every morning? Under the door or outside in the hallway? What about weekends? Ha. Thirty-eight years later, I’m the one firing annoying questions at Jim Harbaugh.

9. I worked at my parents’ hotel-restaurant in Cocoa Beach after graduating from UM in 1983. I also began writing for a small weekly paper, the Melbourne Times, before I made the big leap to Cocoa Today. I covered the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for four years, not realizing their 13-50 record would prepare me for working in Detroit.

10. The first team I covered at The Detroit News was Michigan basketball in 1989. Trial by fire, or trial by Frieder. Bill Frieder accepted the Arizona State job right before the NCAA Tournament and was promptly fired by Bo Schembechler. Steve Fisher took over and Michigan won the national title. I think I worked 100 consecutive days.

Wojo back in the day -- we're just not authorized to say what day that was.

11. I’ve covered almost every major sporting event — six Olympics (Lillehammer, Norway was my favorite), 12 Super Bowls, NBA and NHL Finals, World Series, Final Fours, Daytona 500, the Masters, the U.S. Open, the Citrus Bowl (too many times). Some people assume I primarily cover college football because our looonnnggtime Michigan beat writer loves to tell stories about her days with Bo, Bump and Bennie, and falsely lumps me in. I will say, I’ve gotten lost driving through many Big Ten towns with the Angel of the Big House, and I’d conservatively say it was her fault 100 percent of the time.

12. Lions coach Bobby Ross once wanted to fight me after I questioned how he handled injured Charlie Batch during a loss. Oh, the look on his face as he was held back while yelling, “Where is that Wom-nowski??! Let me go!” Oddly, it’s difficult to build good relationships with Lions head coaches. 

13. After 30 years in newspaper and radio (and yes, that’s my fat face on Fox 2 occasionally), I’m often asked which I prefer. Tough question, like choosing between pizza and gin. Radio is faster-paced and requires no editing, and interaction with callers on 97.1 the Ticket is invigorating, when it’s not confusing. Writing is rewarding, but only after you’re done torturing yourself trying to come up with the right lede, or the right ending, or the right joke.

14. Most dramatic game I’ve ever covered: March 26, 1997 brawlfest between the Red Wings and Avalanche. I’d written a column the day before suggesting the Wings either needed to exact retribution from Claude Lemieux or move on. Shortly after Darren McCarty took matters into his own fists, I was writing in the Joe Louis Arena press box when I felt a shove. It was Avalanche GM Pierre Lacroix, perhaps thinking I incited the fight, and as he pushed past me, he shouted, “Get out of my way you (bleeping) (bleep)!”

15. Game I’m most looking forward to: The next one. Reminiscing is fun and isolating is necessary, but I miss the clank of a puck off the post, the squeak of sneakers and whistles, the tension of a blown save, the agony of a touchdown-nullifying penalty. We’ve complained a lot about the Detroit teams’ woes. I suspect when the games return, we’ll complain a little less.

Wojo after making deadline with one minute to spare. Those drinks should've been for the copy editors.

Previous installments

Get to know columnist John Niyo: His newspaper career began as Johnny Orr's delivery boy

Get to know UM football beat writer Angelique S. Chengelis: She starred in 'Hoffa', or so she thinks

Get to know Red Wings beat writer Ted Kulfan: He can't skate, seriously (though if Brooke Shields asked...)

Get to know Pistons beat writer Rod Beard: #StartWriting was wrong just this one time

Get to know UM beat writer James Hawkins: No, he's not related to Jim Hawkins

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