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Korcek: Saying goodbye to NIU grad Sassone

Naperville sportswriter Dan Verdun, author of the “NIU Football” book that was released last year, will publish “EIU Football” – his second in his planned series of state college football history publications – in August.
Naperville sportswriter Dan Verdun, author of the “NIU Football” book that was released last year, will publish “EIU Football” – his second in his planned series of state college football history publications – in August.

Just typing out loud.

Thought No. 1: If you’re a die-hard Blackhawks fan, by now you have probably heard about the untimely passing Tuesday of Arlington Heights Daily Herald beat writer Tim Sassone, 58.

Poignant tributes to Tim and his encyclopedic National Hockey League knowledge from players, Chicago media peers, and loyal readers flooded both the mainstream and social media this week. 

Before the the Hawks-Dallas game Tuesday night at the United Center, the defending Stanley Cup champions observed a moment of silence “...for a cherished member of the Blackhawks’ family.”

Pretty impressive statement, in this day and age, when professional franchises and their media outlets sometimes do not see eye-to-eye.

“It’s a sad day. Tim, we like to consider him a friend of everybody’s ...” Blackhawks’ winger and alternate captain Patrick Sharp told the Chicago Tribune. “He was very fair, very honest. We could tell he had a passion for the Blackhawks and cared a lot about the players on the team.” 

The ultimate tribute came from Chicago Tribune sportswriter Chris Kuc, who called Sassone “the dean of Blackhawks beat writers.” 

“He was the authority on this beat,” said Kuc in the Tribune obituary. “It was a fun dynamic to be in direct competition with somebody and be friends with them at the same time. Tim was really able to balance that very well.”

Trib columnist David Haugh commented “the beat won’t be the same.”

I’m not too proud to say that Sassone was one of our “own.”  

A 1978 Northern Illinois University journalism grad, three-semester sports editor of the Northern Star, and former NIU sports information student assistant, Tim was not only the senior scribe on the Blackhawks’ beat (since 1988), but the best in the Chicago market, and one of the most respected in the NHL.

In 2007, Sassone was nominated for the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Elmer Ferguson Award “in recognition of (a) distinguished member of the hockey-writing profession whose words have brought honor to journalism and hockey.” A year later, Tim received a Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism from the Chicago Headline Club. When the Hawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, his Game 6 recap won a national Associated Press award.

Back in the day, Tim and I were working the late-night shift in our Chick Evans Field House office and I asked him what his post-graduation plans were. Without hesitation, the 20-something Sassone replied: “Someday, I’d like to be an NHL writer.” Sassone was a quiet student with a self-effacing sense of humor.

Upon his induction into the Northern Star Alumni Hall of Fame last spring, I discovered that as a kid – after watching the Blackhawks on TV or listening on the radio – Tim would write his own pretend game coverage stories, “filing” on his mom’s kitchen table. It is rare for someone to make his / her living at something they truly love – and he loved everybody wearing the indian head jersey.

For every young 21st Century journalist doubting their career choice, there cannot be a more inspirational climb-the-ladder story than Tim Sassone. My condolences to family and friends.

Thought No. 2: Naperville sportswriter Dan Verdun – author of the well-received “NIU Football” book that came out last year – releases the second one in his planned series of state college grid history publications this August.

Titled “EIU Football” (with a foreward by long-time Panthers head coach Bob Spoo) and published by the NIU Press, Verdun’s latest literary effort follows the same basic format of his Huskie book with numerous interviews, voluminous research, program history, and hundreds of pictures.

Interviews of local interest include DeKalb natives such as NIU Hall of Famer Jack Dean (former EIU head coach) and the late Mike Heimerdinger (long-time NFL assistant coach), Sycamore product John Smith (ex-defensive coordinator at EIU and WIU), former EIU All-America wide receiver Jerry Wright (now the NIU Director of Student Support Services), and 2013 Walter Payton Award recipient and NFL prospect Jimmy Garoppolo.

Verdun’s original intent was to incorporate the football histories of NIU, EIU, WIU, and SIU-Carbondale into one giant book, but realized, once working with the Huskie version, that there was enough material for four separate ones.

As I’ve said many times, the NIU book ranks as a “must have” for any serious Northern Illinois grid buff (and still available on and Barnes and Noble). I’m sure Verdun’s new Eastern Illinois book won’t be any different. 

Thought No. 3: Belated happy 90th birthday to NIU Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach John McDougal. “Johnny Mac” celebrated with family and friends on March 16 in the suburbs, plus received many recent phone calls and cards from former players and well-wishers.  

Slowed a bit by macular degeneration and a hearing problem, McDougal is still mentally sharp as a tack and can deliver those famous one-liners. Happy 90th and many more, coach.

Thought No. 4: UMass football to leave the Mid-American Conference after 2015.  That’s news? That might’ve been the worst “marriage” since Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. 

Replacements for the Minutemen? With the horrendous winter we’ve had, how about Southwest Bahamas State or Atlantis Paradise Island State? Great road trips. Why not? Who needs Middle Tennessee State or Western Kentucky or James Madison?

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