A Front-Row Seat with the Sportswriters Who Sat There

Sit down with host Todd Jones and other sportswriters who knew the greatest athletes and coaches, and experienced first-hand some of the biggest sports moments in the past 50 years. They’ll share stories behind the stories -- some they’ve only told to each other.

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Marla Ridenour: Savoring the Sights and Sounds

Marla Ridenour: Savoring the Sights and Sounds

Marla Ridenour has eagerly taken fans to the front lines of sports since the 1970s. Her enthusiasm for the task has never wavered, even when battling barriers against women sportswriters. Marla has maintained a keen appreciation for the moment, and it comes through as she recounts walking alongside Jack Nicklaus on the Old Course, serving as the eyes of Jim Murray at the Kentucky Derby, and witnessing the class of Earnest Byner after The Fumble. You’ll hear what it looked and sounded like when Cleveland fans literally dismantled Municipal Stadium, and when they filled downtown streets in celebration of a long-awaited championship. And, oh, Marla once hung up on Bill Belichick to end his harangue. Now that’s a special moment. Hear all about it – and more.

Marla Ridenour’s award-winning career in sports journalism spans 45 years, the last 22 with the Akron Beacon Journal. She’s still writing sports columns for that paper, and also serves as the newspaper’s NBA beat reporter covering the Cleveland Cavaliers. Marla has been writing about the Cleveland Browns for three Ohio newspapers since 1981, including stints at the Columbus Dispatch (1990-99) and the Dayton Daily News (1981-90). She was the first woman to cover that NFL team, helping break down barriers to locker room interviews before the league mandated such access. Born and raised in Louisville, Marla began her journalism career in her home state of Kentucky, writing about sports for the Lexington Herald-Leader from 1976-81. She was the first female sports editor at the Eastern Progress, the student newspaper at Eastern Kentucky University, where she earned degrees in journalism and marketing. In 2013, Marla was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame. She has received numerous writing awards from groups such as the Associated Press Sports Editors, the Pro Football Writers of America and the Golf Writers Association of America.

Read her latest columns and articles at: https://www.beaconjournal.com/staff/5796289002/marla-ridenour/

Come back on June 9th when we are talking to Mark Purdy!


Marla can be reached at [email protected]

You can follow her on Twitter: @MRidenourABJ

Follow our very own host, Todd Jones on Twitter@Todd_Jones

You can find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Press...

Contact us at [email protected]


Todd Jones:
I'm Todd Jones, recovering from 30 years as a sports writer. Thanks for joining me as I sit down with some of the best sports writers of our time, who knew the greatest athletes and coaches and experienced firsthand some of the biggest sports moments of the past half century. We'll share stories behind the stories, some we've only told each other. Pull up a seat on Press Box Access.

Todd Jones:
When Marla Ridenour began her journalism career in the mid-1970s she was told that a woman couldn't write about sports played by men. She helped knock down that ridiculous barrier, in fact, she's been covering the NFL since 1981. Nearly all of those 40 years have been spent writing about the Cleveland Browns, which means Marla deserves a Purple Heart. She covered numerous Super Bowls, Kentucky Derbys, and a final British Open played by Jack Nicholas. She's also been a long time friend and a bright light of enthusiasm in a cynical business. Hey, Marla, welcome to the show. I'm so happy you're joining us.

Marla Ridenour:
It's great to be here. It's an honor to join you, I love your idea.

Todd Jones:
I don't know if honor is the correct word, maybe dishonor, but we appreciate the honor if you want to go there. I want to know, though, I'm a little confused, is this the real Marla? Because most times when I'm with Marla Ridenour we are in a losing locker room interviewing losing NFL players about what went wrong. We've done that a lot in the last 25 years or so. So this is the real Marla, right?

Marla Ridenour:
Oh, yeah. But if you want to get into a contest about winning percentages or losing percentages I'm sure I probably still got you beat.

Todd Jones:
Well, you started covering the Browns in 1981. I was hanging around with the Bengals since the late '80s and I covered a lot of Brown stuff too although I actually wrote about the Browns, I didn't really cover them. But you and I were together with a lot of Ohio NFL teams, we saw a lot of losses. I mean, what is your career winning percentage, Marla?

Marla Ridenour:
Well, the last time I figured it up it was in the threes but I would say-

Todd Jones:
Threes?

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah, but I'd say the Browns are probably a reason that maybe the fours... When you go back to 1981 that's a lot of bad Browns right there.

Todd Jones:
A lot of Ls, a lot of Ls.

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah.

Todd Jones:
I mean, when you think about it we were like ATF agents and they would send us in to search for the black box and we have it figured out, what happened in this crash, so we were providing a service in that regard, right?

Marla Ridenour:
Right. And then when you add in the fact that when I was at the Dayton Daily News they took me off the Browns beat for like a year and a half so I missed the end of the '85 season and '86 when they were 12 and four so that skews me down even further.

Todd Jones:
I like the fact that when the Browns moved they sent you... You were in Columbus then they sent you to cover the Bengals and so you and I were on the same beat and Dave Schuler was the coach and, well, we all know how that went.

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah. But that was fun. I mean, I still look at that, how much fun we had and you can practically walk into assistant coaches' offices in Cincinnati, that's a thing of the past. I look upon those days fondly and standing with Mike Brown at practice and chatting with him and, you know what I mean?

Todd Jones:
Yeah, the access was great.

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah. I mean, I'll say that.

Todd Jones:
I do remember Jeff Blake the quarterback saying to me, "Why can't you write something positive?" And I said, "Well, you have to win some games. I mean, what do you want me to write?"

Marla Ridenour:
Right, right.

Todd Jones:
Again, we don't write about planes landing safely, so win some games. And you were my shrink in '96. You were always Paul McCartney is getting better all the time and I was I can't get any worse John Lennon so I appreciate all the money that I owe you for being my shrink.

Marla Ridenour:
Well, that's okay.

Todd Jones:
But hey, let's go to a more sunny time, a more sunny moment. We're going to have plenty of negativity to go over but let's go to the British Open. In 2005, you and I both got the cover Jack Nicklaus' final British Open at St. Andrews, Scotland. And we were there for that and I know it's a treasured moment in my own career. How does it stack up and what did you get to cover?

Marla Ridenour:
I'd say it's right up there with the biggest moments I've ever covered. I mean, you can talk about Affirmed and Alydar Triple Crown and The Drive and The Fumble, and we can talk about those later, but-

Todd Jones:
Oh, we will, don't worry.

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah, but just for the moment itself, I mean, although I did read a little bit of what I wrote this morning in a little diary I kept and I really wasn't as emotional as I thought I was going to be but it's obviously one of my most treasured memories from my career.

Todd Jones:
Yeah. I think at the time I used to play a lot of golf, that was back before I had kids and I had time. But just going to the old course itself, the birthplace of golf, and then you add it in and it was a major championship and then you add in that it was Jack's final open, there was just a lot of history swirling around there. Do you have any specific memories about that week?

Marla Ridenour:
Well, you and I probably have the favorite one and I did look this up, it was on the ninth hole and Jack's teeing off at the tees above our heads and you and I were crouched down below this hill and-

Todd Jones:
Oh, I know where you're going with this. Wait a minute, let me set this up. I was only there because Bob Baptist, our longtime golf writer at The Columbus Dispatch did not go and so Jack Nicklaus was always used to dealing with Bob Baptist. All right, go ahead, Jack hits his tee shot.

Marla Ridenour:
Jack hits his tee shot and he comes down off of this little hill and walks right beside us. And he looks over you and I and he says... Well, he's specifically looking at you and he says, "Where's Bob?" I mean, here he is in the most memorable round, you would think the most memorable round of his life and he's wondering where in the heck is Bob Baptist. I just, I will never forget that as long as I live. And the coolest thing about that too is there were a lot of people there that were there for the first three or four holes, then they didn't go out to the back nine which juts out into the water. So there weren't that many people out there and then they picked up 15, 16, they rejoined Jack. I felt like that was almost a private moment for you and I with Nicklaus that not a whole lot of people got.

Todd Jones:
Yeah, we got to walk... I think we walked all 18 holes. I mean, well, who wouldn't, it's Nicklaus, his playing partner was Tom Watson, it's the old course and you're going to sit in a media tent and not go out and walk and see the detail and experience it. I know I wasn't going to miss it. I remember too the course itself, you see it on television but when you're there it sounds crazy to say but it's not really impressive. I mean, it is because of the history but it doesn't look like an American golf course like we're used to, it just looks like this rolling, I don't want to say cow pasture but it's just real flat. I mean, rolling, but the grass is brownish and there's no trees, it's just there wasn't a lot of things that we're used to seeing, right?

Marla Ridenour:
No, I was struck with how brown it was. It's not like they're spending tons of money, it's a public course. I mean, they're not spending tons of money but there really aren't any trees, there wasn't much shade. I think I was sunburned even though I had sunscreen on but I think the beauty of it is the part that's when you get close to the water.

Todd Jones:
Yeah. And just seeing Nicklaus... And he played really well. I went back and looked at that I'm like, if he get putted well he would've made the cut. At his age it was an unbelievable. And even on the last hole he does a ceremonial on the bridge and I remember looking at that going, "This looks like something out of a movie." And then people are... Even Tom Watson was crying and they go up to fairway and then Watson had to make a putt to make the cut and he made it. And then Nicklaus hit a putt, probably a good 12 footer downhill, curved, and of course Jack being Jack, he made the putt.

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah. I think that's what made it perfect even though he didn't play lights out. It was just the perfect... The competitor finished it off perfectly.

Todd Jones:
Yeah. And you mentioned the town, what a great place. The course basically just sits as part of the town. You walk 30 yards off the 18th fairway and there's a street, there's cars, there's stores, there's pubs right on the fairway. Did you expect to see that? I mean, you've seen photos but to see it in person what kind of perspective did that give you?

Marla Ridenour:
Well, I guess I was most impressed or surprised by the fact that the town is small and it's all crowded in there and you can walk everywhere. I would highly recommend for anyone that wants to go somewhere that it's definitely worth it. But it was kind of a... I mean you've got the graveyard where Old Tom Morris is buried and-

Todd Jones:
Right, right.

Marla Ridenour:
All those churches that are partially destroyed but they're still there. I mean, it's just-

Todd Jones:
From the wars.

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah, from the wars and the bombings. I mean, the whole thing has got a magical quality to it, I think.

Todd Jones:
Yeah. It's funny, the only thing I was a little disappointed is we didn't really get the typical British Open weather, I think there was nine holes where it rained sideways and the wind was hurling. But you're right, we got a lot of sunshine and which was great and was fun but I was hoping to experience that off the North Sea where the storms coming in and the guys are hitting balls all over the place, but still what a magical place. And the town had a few pubs, right?

Marla Ridenour:
Oh, yeah. In fact, I think it was my last day there after the round was over, I went to one that was right by the 18th, right outside the course. And the locals treated me like a local, it was great. They were very friendly, it was really something.

Todd Jones:
Yeah. And then at night you would leave the pub and then you'd be walking back towards your dorm room at the university and you cut across the course and people are out walking around on a course, it's like a city park. Even during a tournament there were people walking their dogs on the 18th fairway.

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah. I mean, it's not like it's hallowed ground that you fear to tread on, it's part of everyday life there. I guess when I contrast it to the times I've been to the Masters in Augusta it's like you're afraid to mess up a blade of grass. Well, that's not the feeling at St Andrew's.

Todd Jones:
Well, that was one of the great moments that we share together. We also share a home state. I'm from Kentucky, although actually it's Northern Kentucky, I was five minutes from Cincinnati across the river. Cincinnati didn't like us, Kentucky didn't like us, but I'll say I'm from Kentucky. You're actually from Kentucky. You're from Louisville or as I say, Louisville, and you grew up there and then you went to Eastern Kentucky University and you started your career at the Lexington Herald Leader in 1976. What was it like to break into the business in your home state?

Marla Ridenour:
Well, I was lucky that I was one of the three finalists for the job. And even though I had one semester to go college I lucked out and got the offer so I had to do it. Nobody gets really to start their career at a major metropolitan daily so I really, really was in the right place at the right time. Now, I only covered women's sports basically-

Todd Jones:
Where's that?

Marla Ridenour:
They hired me to cover the Kentucky Lady Kats. That was my niche, they weren't ready for to put a woman on a major men's sport. But I did horse racing, I covered Keeneland, the Kentucky Derby, small college like Transylvania basketball, I did men's games there. But generally speaking I wrote about the Kentucky Lady Kats basketball team and I wrote columns about women in the area that were good athletes.

Todd Jones:
So they weren't quite ready to have you go do men's sports, that says with the late '70s, right?

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah. I mean, that's part of the reason I left there, was I thought I was ready and there were some things said behind the scenes that they didn't think women could do it. That's when I came to a Dayton Daily News in 1981, February of '81, and six months later I was covering the Browns.

Todd Jones:
So you did prove that you could do it, certainly you have throughout your career. But before you left there in Lexington you did get to cover horse racing, the Kentucky Derby, you covered Affirmed and Alydar, all three Triple Crown races in '78. What was that like especially that famous duel between Affirmed and Alydar, who couldn't quite get affirmed at the tape?

Marla Ridenour:
The coolest part was the Derby one because they wanted me inside the ropes by the finish line to capture the celebration after the race. i mean, you can't see the race all you see is the horses ears basically from that perspective. But being there at the end, there was no hint at the Derby that this was going to be a historic Triple Crown where these two are dueling it out, but it was really special to be inside there for the start of something. And then the Preakness doesn't stick out as a memory although it's cool because all the horses in the race are all in the same barn so it's very convenient. But Belmont Park, that is an eye opener, that's a city so it was really quite amazing to go to the Belmont.

Todd Jones:
What was it like for you to cover not just the race day but the week leading up to it?

Marla Ridenour:
Well, it's definitely an incredibly different experience because you have to be there on the backstretch between 6:00 and 7:00 in the morning, that's when all the interviews with the trainers and occasionally the jockeys will stop by. I remember I did a story on Steve Cauthen being harder to interview than the horse. He was the jockey for Affirmed-

Todd Jones:
He was tough, huh?

Marla Ridenour:
Well, there was a picture in Sports Illustrated of him in a car and I'm standing right by the window trying to get him to roll the window down and he wouldn't roll the window down, that's why I ended up writing a column about it. But you're work is done, your interviews are done between 6:00, 7:00, and 10:00 AM. But it is cool because back then you would see... I remember Jack Klugman used to own horses, I mean, you never knew what TV or movie star who was going to show up. You have these little scrums with the trainers at their barn and... I don't know. And then I would always go to some portage and change clothes to go to the press box.

Todd Jones:
Then you have a great moment with the famous L.A. Times columnist, Jim Murray, at a Kentucky Derby?

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah. And I can't remember what year this was but obviously, Jim, he had seriously issues with his eyesight. And it's the post parade and we had a little spot where you can sit out on the balcony, now I don't think that's where the press box is anymore but it was right there...

Todd Jones:
Ni, it's not.

Marla Ridenour:
It was overlooking the finish line. So he calls me out there and he tells me... He says, "I want you to be my eyes for this and tell me what you see."

Todd Jones:
Wow.

Marla Ridenour:
I'm saying while there's all these military people surrounding the track and this and that and he's like, "Well, what military branch?" And he's asking me questions, details, what color are their uniforms and what are they wearing? I feel so fortunate that I was introduced to him by my old boss, Si Burick, at the Dayton Daily that he trusted me enough to let me set the scene for him, so to speak. He's one of the legends of all time in this business.

Todd Jones:
And you helped him with a column?

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah, hopefully.

Todd Jones:
I'm sure it was a great column that Jim Murray wrote it and you helped with it I'd say it'd be great. You mentioned Dayton Daily News and you did go there in 1981 after five years in Lexington. And when you get the date and in 1981 they give you the beat to cover the Cleveland Browns and no woman had ever covered the Browns on a daily basis like that. Where you a story because of that?

Marla Ridenour:
Well, my boss, the sports editor, Ralph Morrow, said, "I don't want you in the headlines." I mean, basically he said, "You're not going to be the story." I mean, he told me that right off the bat. But when they first sent me to training camp, Sam Rutigliano was the coach, training camp was at Kent State. We're in this little tiny office of his and I mean, I swear to God, it was almost like a military base, it was so Spartan. But he lays out, he tells me our modal has given approval that you're going to be able to go in the locker room, but he laid out this is how you're going to have to behave. He says, "I expect you to-

Todd Jones:
What?

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah, he says, "I expect you to behave like I would expect my daughter to behave."

Todd Jones:
Oh, God.

Marla Ridenour:
He's lays out all this and he also says, "After games I want you to yell, 'Woman in the locker room," when-

Todd Jones:
He wanted you to yell that?

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah. Well, to set the scene for this at Cleveland Stadium there was a little post game thing where the coach talked. He stood up on a little soap box thing and everybody scrummed around. And then you open the door to that office and you go right into the locker, there was a door right into the locker room. It also opened right by the shower. Anyway, he said, "As soon as you walk through that door I want you to yell, "Woman in the locker room." I did that faithfully because that was the parameters, I was holding up my end of the bargain. If I ever write a book this'll be the first chapter.

Marla Ridenour:
Years later I'm on Venice beach with a couple of fellow journalists, one of them was my best friend from college. We run into a former Browns defensive lineman, Elvis Franks. And I mean, I didn't know him that well but the first words out of his mouth when I introduced him to my friends is, "Let me tell you a story about Marla."

Todd Jones:
Uh-oh.

Marla Ridenour:
I have no idea what he's going to say. And he proceeds to tell me that all the guys that had lockers right by that door banded together and as soon as they would hear me yell, "Woman in the locker room," they would drop their towels at the same time. But after several weeks of doing this they gave up because I never noticed.

Todd Jones:
Wasn't there a time where you're covering a Browns game in Cincinnati when somebody wasn't going to let you in but a Brown's equipment guy or somebody came to your defense?

Marla Ridenour:
That actually might've been my first season on the beat. Yeah, I'm in the Brown's locker room in Cincinnati and the guy, one of the cops, security guards, whatever he was, is trying to throw me out because the Bengals wouldn't let women in their side.

Todd Jones:
This was in Cincinnati, at the game?

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah, the game is in Cincinnati but the guy's like I said, is ready to toss me and then the equipment guy says, "She's with us."

Todd Jones:
Oh, wow.

Marla Ridenour:
His name was Chuck Cusick, I owe him forever. I mean, he really came to my defense because he saw what was happening. He's picking up the dirty towels and came right over there and said, "She's with us."

Todd Jones:
Oh, well, good for Chuck. I mean...

Marla Ridenour:
That was really good.

Todd Jones:
I mean, there were people that did see the absurdity of it all and just tried to help. And because of people like yourself and other women sports writers you did break down those walls and pave the way for so many female journalists today, which is great.

Marla Ridenour:
I will say this, though. I covered the Bengals Super Bowl in '81 and they wouldn't let me in the locker room so I was covering the opponents. That led to some memorable moments for, I think that was the Ice Bowl year two.

Todd Jones:
So even the Super Bowl itself they had different standards depending on which team it was, so you got to go in the 49ers locker room after they beat the Bengals but the Bengals wouldn't let you in the locker room-

Marla Ridenour:
Right.

Todd Jones:
... At the Super Bowl?

Marla Ridenour:
It turns out, and because I was working for an afternoon paper some of the other morning guys were still writing. I'm kneeling at Joe Montana's feet, I could barely practically touch him, I was so close because there weren't that many but now the Bengals wouldn't let me in. I remember when they played the Chargers I wasn't sure what the Charger's policy was so I just ducked in there before anybody said anything and Chuck Muncie gives me this look, raised eyebrow look, but he didn't say anything or holler for help or whatever I just dashed in there. So we were on our own, it was not a mandated league thing at that point.

Todd Jones:
Wow. So that first year in '81 ends, you cover the Browns but it ends with the Bengals being in the Super Bowl.

Marla Ridenour:
Right.

Todd Jones:
And, well, they lost, right?

Marla Ridenour:
Right.

Todd Jones:
But here's the thing, it's funny when you look back on the NFL in Ohio in the 1980s, that was a great decade. I mean, the Bengals went to two Super Bowls, the Browns went to three AFC Championship games. Now granted the teams combined to go for five in those games, but those are pretty good teams. You had Bernie and Boomer and there's a lot of talent, that must've been a fun time to cover the NFL in the 1980s, right?

Marla Ridenour:
Oh yeah. I mean, I can't even say that The Drive and The Fumble or that, I mean, yeah, they were bad, but you're still in the championship game...

Todd Jones:
Well, of course now because you're being so positive I got to drag you into negativity and you've already mentioned The Drive and The Fumble. And I want to know what it was like to be at those two historic games, 1986 AFC Championship Game, Broncos Browns in Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, what was it like to cover that particular game?

Marla Ridenour:
Well, The Drive was just... We were allowed to go down on the field for the final two minutes. So I'm watching that from the, let's just say the 30 yard line when the Broncos are driving my way.

Todd Jones:
Oh, you're behind the Brown's bench? Is that where you are?

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah, yeah. Well, you're on the brown side of the field but like I said the Broncos are coming towards you and there's that crucial third down, I think it was third and 16 or 18.

Todd Jones:
Third down, actually it was third and 18.

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah.

Todd Jones:
Less than two minutes ago, third and 18.

Marla Ridenour:
All of us in the media are thinking, like I said, we're going to the Superbowl. Even though you're seeing what Elway is doing but then that third down you go from the euphoria of getting the sack to set up third and 18 and then you see the past. And I was really good buddies with Carl Hairston. I mean, the ball just barely cleared his fingertips. He had his hands up. I mean, it's just almost frozen in time. I can see that ball coming over the defensive linemen and it's just... I don't know... I guess we were just as shocked as the players because we're standing there all giddy, not believing that this is going to happen.

Todd Jones:
Well, Elway, John Elway makes a third and 18 completion for 20 yards to Mark Jackson to keep the chains moving. What was the feeling like on the field? Could you feel the tension among the crowd, was it loud? What was it like on the field itself?

Marla Ridenour:
I don't remember it being very loud. I think everyone was sitting there in horror, but I'm not sure if I can remember exactly the sound. I'm sure it was loud when they're trying to make noise during the play but I just remember it being relatively everyone in shock.

Todd Jones:
And Elway completes the drive. He let it go 98 yards, 15 plays, touchdown pass to Jackson with 37 seconds left, forces over time and then of course the Broncos kicked the field gold.

Marla Ridenour:
I still I'm going play by play in the closet, so I'm not throwing that away.

Todd Jones:
If you'd taken it out and looked at it again, anything you note that jump out to you?

Marla Ridenour:
No, but I keep those things, God knows. Even when I cleaned out everything early in the pandemic I couldn't bear to throw that out.

Todd Jones:
Well, a year later, not even a full calendar year really, you're in Denver for the rematch in an AFC Championship game, Brown's at Broncos, and it really wasn't a good game the first half, but the Browns rallied and now you get down to the last and the Browns are driving to tie the game. And of course by the minute, 12 left, Ernest Byner, as he's going into the end zone fumbles the ball at the 1-yard line. Where you on the field for that also?

Marla Ridenour:
I don't remember that one being on the field, although I do remember at one time going down to the field and Denver where we were they were throwing beers on us so maybe we were. But that one, I mean, God, I felt horrible because Byner is such a good person, but...

Todd Jones:
And he played so well. And they came back in part because [crosstalk 00:27:23].

Marla Ridenour:
He and Bernie, they were played out of their minds in the second half. I mean at halftime I thought it was over, I thought the Browns were going to get drilled. So my biggest takeaway from that was interviewing Byner after the game. I mean...

Todd Jones:
What was that like?

Marla Ridenour:
Well, they brought them out of the locker room and we're standing by this concrete support thing at the stadium outside, and he was just so classy about it, I just can't imagine the pain. I got to give him credit. All those guys back in the day even going back to site, there were no post-game interview, you stand at a podium, it was waves after waves of seeing sometimes the reporters comment and Byner stood there and took every question and was just such a class act.

Todd Jones:
Well, you mentioned this guy's name, we talking Browns, Bill Belichick. Bill Belichick coached the Browns, what? For five seasons in the early '90s?

Marla Ridenour:
It was '91 to '95, yeah.

Todd Jones:
'95, yeah, yeah. So you're around Bill Belichick and the thing to remember is, well, first off the Browns fired Paul Brown and they fired Bill Belichick, which when you think about it, that's got to be some record fire. Paul Brown, the guy basically invented modern football and Bill Belichick, the guy who's dominated it in the last 20 years. But Bill Belichick was not the Bill Belichick we know now as a great success when he was coaching the Browns. Tell me about covering Bill Belichick in the early '90s with Cleveland.

Marla Ridenour:
Well, in a sense he was the Bill Belichick we know just because he was so tight-lipped. I was living in Columbus then and driving two hours and you could be in a great mood listening to Luther, I'd be all jacked up and 30 seconds into Belichick your day is short just because he just had a way of putting a damper on the day with his I only go by what I sees and I'm not a doctor, those kinds of comments. But the most classic moment, well, I actually have two, but the first one was when he's under fire and they're chanting, "Bill must go," outside the locker room after the games and-

Todd Jones:
You could hear it outside?

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah. Because it was that same little room where Sam Rutigliano talked where he was talking and it's just a wooden door separating it from the Concourse so people would stand out there and yell during the post game press conference at him.

Todd Jones:
It's like the French Revolution, they've got a guillotine up there ready.

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah. But it was during the week after that was all going on where I wrote a note in the Dispatch about how he had the Brecksville Police guarding his house. And back then the media room had a payphone, so one of the PR people comes up the next day and said, "Bill's going to call you on the payphone." So in the payphone we had a little room, I shut the door because I knew this wasn't going to be good and-

Todd Jones:
Is that were Superman would occasionally go in?

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah. Anyway, he's livid that I would write this and that the cops are guarding his house.

Todd Jones:
Wow, you did...

Marla Ridenour:
And I said, "Well, Bill, I didn't put your address in there and I really don't think anybody's going to drive up from Columbus and drive around Brecksville looking for the protective detail at your house. But this went on, I mean, I swear to God it felt like 30 minutes.

Todd Jones:
30 minutes?

Marla Ridenour:
I don't know how long it was but it felt like 30 minutes.

Todd Jones:
I don't think Belichick has talked for 30 minutes in the last decade, but I believe you, I believe you. He never says anything but he's haranguing you for 30 minutes?

Marla Ridenour:
It seemed like forever. All I know is I'm trying to figure out how am I going to get off the phone with him and be respectful. I just can't and I'm racking my brain, what do I do? So finally I say, "Well, Bill, I don't think you know me very well if you think that I would do anything to endanger your wife and kids." And I basically said something to the effect of, "I think we've said all we can say on this matter." I mean, technically I did hang up on him but I had to figure out a way.

Todd Jones:
Well, you hung up on Belichick?

Marla Ridenour:
Well, sort of yes and sort of... I mean, like I said-

Todd Jones:
No, no, no. Just say it. Marla Ridenour, you hung up the phone on Bill Belichick.

Marla Ridenour:
Well, I don't know but anyway, needless to say our relationship with all the Cleveland media was adversarial to say the least, but I think he might've warmed up to some of us since but it was very, very frosty when we were in the '90s together.

Todd Jones:
Well, I was at a Super Bowl Media Day once when it was, I think the Patriots and Panthers down in Houston, and I just spend most of the Media Day just trying to hang around Belichick's little stand where all the media are around just to see if he would crack. And I remember even tossing in a few odd ball questions and he would look at you like you had three heads and he just was not going to play the game. And all right, I got it, the NFL is making $9 billion, they don't need this guy to entertain you. And it's not even entertain you, it's just inform the fans who were reading these stories or watching the TV news or listening on radio, but he wasn't going to do it. And I guess you can't argue, look at all the Super Bowls he's won.

Marla Ridenour:
I will say this, after the last game in Cleveland Stadium in '95 was the most forthcoming he was. Maybe not after the game but he brought his family down on the field. I read back one of my stories after that, maybe it was a day or two later, he was very forthcoming about his emotions and what he was feeling a little with his family. That's the only time that I remember actually maybe seeing a little bit of the inside of Belichick.

Todd Jones:
So that was the day in December of 1995, it's a horrible day in Cleveland sports history and I'm sorry Browns fans I keep bringing up these bad things, but it was Marla, Marla was there. I can't help it, I got to ask her about it. But there in that season, the Brown's got off to a decent start and then news leaked that Art Modell was going to move the team to Baltimore and everything went to hell. And it led up to the final game at Memorial Stadium where the Browns... They ended up being the Bengals, of course. But you were there and at that time there was not this deal that the Browns were going to get to retain the colors and everything. In the history it was like this was the last game for the Cleveland Browns. What was it like of Memorial Stadium?

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah, and there was no deal done yet about... Everyone thought this was it. I mean, my most vivid memories of that are being down on the field at the end of the game. It was, people are throwing stuff, unscrewing seats and throwing stuff onto the field. And I mean, I really did think they were going to burn the place down.

Todd Jones:
Were things landing near you?

Marla Ridenour:
Well, I'm in the end zone and that kind of thing and when you think back to the day when they're throwing batteries, well, this was this could have hurt somebody. And I remember looking over in the tunnel areas on both sides of the dog pound, there were these chain link fences, that's all there between the field and the fans and I'm thinking they're going to bust this fence down. I mean, people snuck in tools and stuff. Are they're going to climb in?

Marla Ridenour:
I thought it was going to be utter mayhem at the end of that game, I really did. I literally was scared for what was going to happen to the players, to anyone who was out there. But then the players when it was over they went down to the dog pound and they all shook hands and talked to the people. I mean, that really diffused what I thought was going to be a very ugly situation.

Todd Jones:
Yeah. It ended up being a very touching scene because it really displayed the love between the players and the fans and I think you're right, I think it diffused the moment.

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah. I mean, it was almost every guy on the team was down there talking to these die-hard people who've been sitting there for so long. But I still have a piece of a broken seat that I picked up on the way out that day. It's got the number 16 on it and it's all cracked and broken and...

Todd Jones:
It's a wooden seat you're having?

Marla Ridenour:
It's a piece of a wooden... Just one slat of a seat with the number on it just because I wanted to remember the day. And I also have a thing framed from the mayor that... They even put these on our seats in the press box about, it was a little warning thing about how they wanted you to behave and don't disgrace the City of Cleveland by our behavior today and I have one-

Todd Jones:
Well, I think they disgraced the City of Cleveland by taking the team away.

Marla Ridenour:
Well, yeah. Had a lot to do with it. But anyway, I saved that, those are my two momentos. And then I also have after the place closed down, the PR department gave us a plaque where it's got light bulbs that were in the scoreboard.

Todd Jones:
Oh, wow.

Marla Ridenour:
It's kind of a score thing.

Todd Jones:
Oh, wow.

Marla Ridenour:
Those are all in my office. It's quite a cherished momentos from that day.

Todd Jones:
Yeah. I mean, you could actually hear people dismantling the stadium, you could hear saws.

Marla Ridenour:
Yeah, you could hear saws and people snuck... I guess I shouldn't be surprised because they used to sneak kegs of beer in little dog houses and take them to the dog pound so I'm not surprised that they snuck that stuff in, but I mean, yeah, it was dark and gray and eerie and frightening in my opinion.

Todd Jones:
And I think if anything, the love between Cleveland and the Browns is really something special. I mean, you've been covering that team, around that team pretty much every year just about since 1981. What is it about that relationship between that football team and that city?

Marla Ridenour:
Well, I think it's more about the blue collar work ethic, the battling this decades-long fight to get back to the Jim Brown glory days. I mean, there's always been that hard scrabble mentality around the team that they're not... There's been some divas but that's not the general mentality. But these people are so invested. I mean, I remember doing a story one time about a guy who punched a hole in his wall during the drive and it's still there.

Todd Jones:
Keeping the frame around like Keith Wright or something.

Marla Ridenour:
I think the girl who told me this said her dad hung a picture or a mirror or something over the hole but it was still there. I mean, just the passion that you don't want to squelch that passion and it's, I think the players appreciate that, the coaches appreciate that.

Todd Jones:
All right. So that gray eerie scene on the lakefront when the stadium is literally being dismantled, the team is being uprooted and moved away, that has to be the saddest day in Cleveland sports history. You were there for that, but years later you were also in Cleveland for probably the happiest day in the city's history at least in 52 years. You were there on June 22nd, 2016, when the Cavs had their victory parade three days after they won the NBA championship at Golden State. What was that scene like in Cleveland?

Marla Ridenour:
Well, I mean, I'm still amazed that there were no barricades on the street. I mean, I have to set this up because I wasn't the beat person, I was covering the team with Jason Lloyd but they would only allow a few of us to follow LeBron's car during the parade. And Jason decided he was going to stay at the end in this little media pen where they were having the ceremony and he let me follow LeBron's car. I walked, it took forever. I mean, it was so the car was inching along. But-

Todd Jones:
So you're right behind LeBron James' car like secret service or something?

Marla Ridenour:
Well, right. I mean, I have a picture in my office. I'm looking at it right now where I'm in the third row behind LeBron, the bumper of the car the whole way. But like I said there's no barricades at the beginning. They try to use cops with bicycles to keep the people back but that didn't even work for five minutes.

Todd Jones:
Now, that's darn. There was a million people there, think about that. First championship in 52 years, a million people turn out in downtown Cleveland.

Marla Ridenour:
It's a sea of humanity that was just following LeBron. The people got closer and closer and eventually they got somewhat, what are you doing here? I've bailed out right before he turned into the area where they were having a celebration for TV. But it was like everybody was so together as one, there was no... I mean, obviously they all wanted a picture of LeBron so it was no wonder there was such a crush. But there was people that came from Texas and, God, everywhere all over the country just for this moment. I mean, you could have had more than a million people if it had been a little bit better organized.

Marla Ridenour:
The whole thing was just the joy, just the scenes that you saw along the way. My favorite one was actually before it even started when the team got together in the... It was Quicken Loans Arena then, and then they came out to get on these cars and these floats and Ernest Byner is there. And then he talks to Ty Lue. Ty's like, "Well, what are you doing for the parade?" I think Byner had his wife with him too. Ty invites them to ride on their flatbed.

Todd Jones:
Oh, that's great.

Marla Ridenour:
I mean, that was just such a moment. I felt there were so many ghosts of Cleveland erased, The Drive and The Fumble and The Shot and I just felt like that when I was so cool to see Lue invite Byner up there for that, just to help him get over this and enjoy the euphoria that he really wanted in Cleveland. To me that was probably my favorite moment.

Todd Jones:
Right, yeah. That historic comeback down three wanted to come back like that and win that title, the first one in 52 years for the city. What a great moment. Marla, you're still doing it. You've been covering sports for what? This is your 45th year, I believe?

Marla Ridenour:
Oh, God. I'm past counting because, yeah, you don't want to remember.

Todd Jones:
Well, all right. But you know what? In all seriousness, what an amazing career where you got to cover some great moments, big time athletes and coaches, you got to go places. What keeps you going? You're still fighting the good fight for the Akron Beacon Journal, what keeps you going?

Marla Ridenour:
I hate to say this but I really want to the Browns get to the Super Bowl. I mean, not for the fan part of me but I feel I've spent since 1981 covering the NFL and you know how you always root for the good story, I'm rooting for the good story for me too.

Todd Jones:
Well, that was always the answer. Somebody said, "Do you root?" And you're like, "I root for myself."

Marla Ridenour:
Right, right.

Todd Jones:
Especially on deadline, whatever the best easiest story right now, that's all I'm rooting for.

Marla Ridenour:
But things do not come full circle in life. I know that but I don't want to walk away when they seem to finally be turning it around. So we'll see if all the demands of online journalism and late nights and everything, we'll see if I can make it.

Todd Jones:
Well, thanks a lot, Marla, we really appreciate it and we wish you all the best. It's been a lot of fun to recount some great moments in your career.

Marla Ridenour:
Thanks so much, it's great being here.

Todd Jones:
Thanks for listening to the Press Box Access. You can find us here with a new episode every other Wednesday. If you enjoyed this episode, please be sure to subscribe and follow us on Apple Podcast or on your favorite podcast app. We'd love for you to review us, five stars would be nice. Follow us on social media. Drop us an email at [email protected], and be sure to spread the word, everyone is welcomed here. This has been a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thank you to executive producers, Michael DeAloia, and Gerardo Orlando, Producer Sarah Willgrube, and our audio engineer, Dave Douglas. I'm your host, Todd Jones. It's closing time, rock on.

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