In an evolving industry, with people and parameters constantly changing, Tim Sassone represented a bastion of stability. For more than a quarter-century, he wrote about one team, the Blackhawks, for one newspaper, The Daily Herald.
Because he was a professional, Tim of course occasionally strayed from the rink to report on other sports. Baseball, golf, whatever. But when hockey season arrived, his loyal readers knew where to go for scoops, insights and facts.
Tim Sassone did not just cover the Blackhawks as well as anyone ever. Tim Sassone surrounded the Blackhawks. For longevity and excellence, he was the dean of Chicago hockey scribes. He had an instinct to spot trends, a keen eye for talent and a knack for detecting when he was being told something that didn’t quite mesh with reality.
In raw form, the relationship between a journalist and his or her subject is adversarial. Management always possesses information that it wishes to keep private. Tim had a way of peeling away layers, injecting the truth serum into his pieces, always in a firm yet fair manner.
Simply put, Tim had the beat nailed, and if you were among the many who competed against him over the years, you were best served to take your lumps and promise to try harder. You were not going to outwork him; that was a given. It was routine for Tim to show up for a morning skate at the Stadium or United Center, then hang in there until game time. The hours were long, and that doesn’t include those glamorous 6 a.m. flights to escape Winnipeg.
If Tim aspired to another calling—a different assignment, a radio or TV gig, maybe being an editor of some sort—he kept it a secret. We should all love our jobs like Tim loved his. As the seasons passed, he never digressed from “gee whiz” to “aw nuts,” even when witnessing some wayward hockey by rancid teams.
One can’t speak for Tim, but one suspects his devotion to duty was such that he felt bound to watch the Blackhawks so you didn’t have to. John McDonough, President & CEO of this rejuvenated franchise, is properly credited for commissioning statues of legends Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita. Alas, during lean winters, Sassone filed nightly accounts of statues in Blackhawk uniforms. Regrettably, they were on the ice. Yet, that was when Tim did his finest community service, caring about the team while much of Chicago and Herald City did not.
When Rocky Wirtz took over as chairman in 2007, hired McDonough and put the franchise back on the map, Sassone responded with even more copy. His editors sought increased coverage, as did his readers. Tim was all over it. He was a fan of the game and the team, but not to the point of compromising his values. Like any other reporter, he understood that he had the hot story. Suffice it to say, Tim rose to the occasion.
After the Blackhawks earned the 2010 Stanley Cup in Philadelphia, Tim tiptoed onto the rink to record the revelry. A sleepless night at the computer awaited him, but not before Patrick Sharp paused for a gesture of sincere appreciation. He skated over to shake Tim’s hand. Thanks for being there. Thanks for being a good guy.
Again, athletes and the media are not in this together. But Tim’s knowledge and passion for hockey engendered a respect among players, even when he scolded instead of praised. The rest of us could be relied upon to pose a dumb question, to be greeted by the perfunctory eye roll. Then there was Tim, unobtrusive in the postgame scrum, asking exactly the right thing in precisely the right manner.
Last season, the Blackhawks front office summoned Tim to the back of the press box—his second home—and graciously presented him a sweater with his name on the back, along with a “25” for his 25 years of honest labor. Tim was touched. Also, he was probably thinking, “This is swell, but what about the game?” Only minutes before, he huddled with an old-timer to discuss hybrid icing.
That was Tim. When Pat Foley mentioned on TV that “it was never about him,” truer words were never spoken. Tim danced to background music. He did not imagine that games were being staged for his gratification, and he was quite aware that hockey had been played for decades before he was assigned to chronicle it. In a modern era of self-absorption, Tim was a throwback: a print guy who didn’t need extracurricular platforms to complete his resume, and proud of it.
Tim left his family, his newspaper and his readers too soon at age 58. He also left a hole in the press box. As the Blackhawks pursue another Stanley Cup, those of us along for the ride are a man short.