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Mike Penner: From SALT II to the Salt Lake City Olympics, he had it covered

November 30, 2009 | 11:00 pm
My friend is gone and this hole can never be filled, not in my life, not in this newspaper.

Mike Penner was what sports writing needs to be: intelligent.

Jokes about sports being a newspaper’s “toy department” and stereotypes about pudgy hacks banging out cliche after cliche (see Dickie Dunn in “Slap Shot”) were easily defanged by one Penner column.

When China was awarded the Olympics despite continuing censorship and oppression, Mike laid it at the feet of the International Olympic Committee:

This is what happens when one totalitarian regime, the one ruled by Generalissimo Juan Antonio Samaranch, decides to do a favor for another.

As Super Bowl XXIX approached, he surveyed the scene:

“At Friday night's annual NFL Super Bowl bash--another ‘Throwbacks’ promotion; Caligula Rome seemed to be the theme--one jaded reveler complained about how dull and hopeless the Chargers are, actually moaning, ‘We need the Bills.’

No, we don't.

Let me repeat:

No. No. No. No.

The Bills were to the Super Bowl what Watergate was to the Presidency. Across America, suspicions were raised and expectations lowered--and it has been that way ever since.”

Caligula and Watergate in a Super Bowl story? Mike was brains all over the brawn.

Whether you wanted to discuss music, politics, movies, current events, or just wanted to know a good place to eat in Madrid, Mike and a bottle of wine was a full evening (By the way, in Madrid, Botin’s was his recommendation).

I will miss my friend and the conversations we had, whether it was about the Rams' collapse in Minnesota in 1974 and the Angels' collapse in 1986, or Michael Dukakis’ collapse in 1988 and the Berlin Wall’s collapse in 1990.

Los Angeles Times readers will miss a writer who could analyze himself as thoroughly as he did others. Of his obsession with soccer, Mike wrote:

"There are times when I open the trunk of my car and spot the four soccer balls, the two soccer nets, the soccer coach's diagram board, the mini pop-up soccer goals, the plastic soccer practice cones, the empty water bottles and the stray jar of Mineral Ice and I flash to that old Talking Heads lyric:

And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?"

Appropriately, that’s from “Once in a Lifetime.” Goodbye, Mike.

--Chris Foster