Bradley’s Buzz: Forty years at the AJC. I can’t believe it, either

The old Journal-Constitution newsroom at 72 Marietta Street in Atlanta as it appeared 40 years ago when Mark Bradley joined the staff as a sportswriter in March 1984. AJC file photo

The old Journal-Constitution newsroom at 72 Marietta Street in Atlanta as it appeared 40 years ago when Mark Bradley joined the staff as a sportswriter in March 1984. AJC file photo

On Feb. 9, 1976, Penny and I saw Joni Mitchell at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Ky. It was our first date. I guess it went OK. On Feb. 9, 2024, we saw our granddaughter as The Grinch in “Seussical.”

I’m one who remembers dates. My first day at the Lexington Herald-Leader was Jan. 8, 1978. I was late. Major snowstorm. My last day was March 1, 1984. I covered Kentucky’s victory over Ole Miss. I wrote about Sam Bowie.

Four days later, I reported for work at 72 Marietta Street. Late again. Atlanta traffic.

I clicked on my AJC bio yesterday. Under “length of service,” it showed, “40 years, 0 months, 0 days.” That hit me harder than I’d expected. Back in ‘84, my focus was on getting to “1 year, 0 months, 0 days.” A year at this paper would look good on a resume, I figured. And why, you ask, would I need another job?

Because I was afraid I was in over my head.

I could have stayed in Lexington. I grew up 64 miles away. Penny and I met at UK. The Herald-Leader was a good paper that had been great to me. But ...

I got ambitious. I wanted to work in a big city. Every youngish sportswriter aspired to be part of what Van McKenzie was building in Atlanta. For reasons unclear, Van hired me.

This time a year ago, I mentioned my interview with AJC editor Jim Minter and my fear I’d blown it. Mr. Minter sent an email saying, “You had the job before you walked through my door,” which was nice to hear — Mr. Minter has always been kind — but, had he told me as much that day, I wouldn’t have believed it.

I’m not a glass-half-full person. I’m more apt to think, “That glass will break and you’ll cut yourself and bleed to death.” Just before the start of the 1983 Final Four — my first big event — I scanned the many press rows at The Pit in Albuquerque and had what you might call a crisis of confidence. You might also call it a borderline nervous breakdown.

I saw all the big names from all the big papers — Bisher, Kindred, Murray, Anderson, Whicker. I told myself, “You’ll blow this. You don’t belong in this company. You’re the worst writer here.”

At that moment, the man to my left — from a midwestern state that begins and ends with a vowel — nodded toward the court. “Georgia,” he said of the team about to face N.C. State. “Aren’t they from the SEC?”

“OK,” I thought. “Second-worst.”

A year later, I was with the AJC. My second month on the job, I made an egregious error. Advancing a steeplechase in Cumming, I got the day wrong. (It was Saturday. I had Sunday. Yes, Mr. I-Remember-Dates nearly got himself fired over a date.)

Van was not pleased. The office phones rang every 10 seconds with readers seeking clarification — or just tut-tutting over my epic howler. From across the room, I heard a desk person mention the steeplechase. To which another desk person said, “Rookie mistake.”

That marked the lowest moment of my working life. Then I heard Glenn Hannigan — Van’s eventual successor — say: “Yeah, but one of us vets should have caught it.” I felt less awful.

The steeplechase botch made me try even harder. I took a piece of paper. On it I drew boxes for weeks and months. At the end of every week, I’d unfold it and make note of what I’d done each day — covered a game, did these interviews, wrote this feature, started on the next. My aim was never to have a did-nothing day. I still have that piece of paper somewhere.

Van kept me around. He even let me start doing the occasional column. What can I say? I’ve been outrageously lucky. I’ve had the job I wanted at the place I wanted to be.

I thank all the AJC folks for bearing with me. I thank you readers for indulging not just this trip down memory lane but everything I’ve ever written. I thank Penny for saying yes to that first date, which surprised me so much I said, “Really?” (And she said, “Was I supposed to say no?”)

Some days I tell myself, “You can’t keep doing this forever.” On Day 1 of Year 41, I’m thinking maybe I can.

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