Parting gift: Memories of bombing, Barkley, protest

Terry Foster
The Detroit News

She was a tall, thin girl lurking in the background, waiting her turn to approach.

It was career day at Macomb Community College in Warren, and after some students had left my table, a girl dressed in black boots and a black dress and wearing black makeup came up to me.

“Are you Terry Foster?” she asked.

I told her I was.

She mentioned a column I wrote about a girl named Lisa Gunn, a student from Regina High who attended Michigan State. She was young and bright, and talked about becoming president of the United States. Things, however, didn’t work out, and when she came home, she tried to commit suicide.

“I read your column,” the girl said. “And I thought of killing myself. But I decided to give life another chance.”

As quickly as she appeared, the young girl disappeared.

In a journalism career spanning 33 years and three newspapers, I’ve enjoyed beers with former Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood, been cursed at by former Lions player Brett Perriman and coach Rod Marinelli, gave $40 to troubled basketball star Roy Tarpley so he could get cable, and covered events from London to Lansing.

I led a walkout at Super Bowl XXVIII in Atlanta to protest the Confederate flag flying over the Georgia Dome, was part of ESPN’s Bad Boys documentary and covered the aftermath of the Rodney King trial in Los Angeles and the execution of Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City.

But that column on Lisa Gunn might have been my most important. It saved a life.

I didn’t get into this business to simply write stories. I wanted to be a difference-maker. My motivations to become a sports writer were Joe Falls and Jerry Green.

But now, I’m handing the ball to the manager and taking a shower after 27 years at The Detroit News ...

And I hope another young kid is ready to take the challenge.

My life has changed. My business has changed. And my priorities changed.

I also work for 97.1, and that is the primary reason why my run with the Grand Rapids Press, Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News is over. I’m a radio guy, and it’s the career I’ve chosen to pursue.

I was asked to make writing for a newspaper — and its digital future — the priority. But I couldn’t, and simply asked for early retirement.

At age 56, I believe I still have plenty to offer, and am talking to people about writing blogs and columns for their websites, which includes 97.1 and Oakland University.

So you haven’t heard the last of me.

But as I go, here a few final tidbits that made this job a blast.

The meeting

Isiah Thomas and I stood toe-to-toe, spewing profanities at each other. He thought I was spreading rumors about him.

Vinnie Johnson grabbed us and led us into the Pistons bathroom and told us we needed to hash things out.

A few days later, we spoke for about two hours in a hotel suite. Thomas said some surprising things, including that media members and players need to know one another better. He told me to “not be a walking notepad.” In other words, a simple “how ya doing?” or “how are the kids?” works a long way toward building a relationship.

Miami vs. Detroit

Following a Lions game in Tampa, angry Lions fans threw vegetables at the team as they walked off the field.

I wrote that most of the anger should be directed at wide receiver Brett Perriman, who asked to be a bigger part of the offense but fumbled during a late drive against the Buccaneers. He didn’t like my words and angrily told me he was going to have his boys from Miami come and beat me up.

I told him to bring it. I’d get my boys from Detroit and I’d place my money on the “D” over Miami any day. We hugged it out a week later.

Late night with Grant Hill

Grant Hill often was frustrated with how his career went with the Pistons. We sometimes talked until 1 a.m. about the Pistons, politics, women — all kinds of stuff.

We had a late session one evening when my wife came storming into the basement.

“Are you talking to Grant again?” she asked. “You come to bed.”

We hung up.

Olympic close call

Bob Wojnowski and I were at a concert in Olympic Park in Atlanta, exhausted from another day of work. We were hungry and walked to “The Underground” for dinner.

But when I got to my hotel, I had 10 messages from family and friends.

“Are you OK?!”

There was a bombing, and when I saw the spot, estimated Bob and I were a few dozen yards from the tragedy.

Bo kicks me out

Sometimes, my inside information about the Michigan football program came from inside Fraser’s Pub, where coaches and students met.

Bo Schembechler didn’t like that I found out he was going to have a very conservative game plan for quarterback Michael Taylor when Michigan played at Notre Dame. He called and said, “I will kick you out of the Michigan program.”

I was nervous, but got up enough nerve to tell him I didn’t play for him. He didn’t like that.

Parting shots

I gave Robert “Tractor” Traylor his nickname, met with Clippers owner Donald Sterling, had a 20-minute interview with Michael Jordan, kicked it with Charles Barkley in Philadelphia, celebrated a Pistons championship in Portland and Los Angeles, and was the guy Tigers owner Mike Ilitch trusted with the “I am ready to spend” story.

Now, I leave with a smile on my face.

I appreciate the time I had before you. Thank you for the support — and for the jeers.