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How A Star Got A Start (Don Ward)

By: Don Ward
By: Don Ward

One NFL player turned NFL broadcaster who earned every bit of it.

A CONNECTION  TO A CLASS ACT

In January of 1989 I watched Superbowl XXIII on TV in St. Louis.  I was going to a broadcasting school there having earned a degree in English from the University of Colorado in Boulder. 

Superbowl XXIII was that amazing game between Cincinnati and San Fransisco, remember?  The 49ers won a thriller 20 to 16.  I paid particular attention to Bengals defensive back Solomon Wilcots.  He was a Buff.  He played in the CU secondary while I was at school there. We were even both in the same English Literature class for a week one time. I had to drop the class because of a scheduling conflict.  I remembered him from the class...he would never have remembered me!  Watching that incredible Superbowl I had no idea I would cross paths again with Solomon because of the career I was working to start....he would soon be too.

Solomon Wilcots finished out a pretty good NFL career with the Vikings and the Steelers..then he needed to do something else. He chose broadcasting. 

Fast forward about 8 years or so. I was working in Louisville, Kentucky. I was sent to Lexington to do some story about basketball fans, or the Kentucky basketball team, maybe it was even when Rick Pitino was leaving the program. Anyway..I was in the giant media cluster..and there was Solomon!  I was stunned and very pleased.  He was working for a Cincinnati station.  I went up to him and introduced myself.  I told him what a pleasure it had been to watch him and the CU Buffs start to really turn around what had been a struggling program.  We talked about that for a few minutes and he couldn't have been more friendly.

Fast forward another year or so, and I got my next job..Weekend Morning Anchor and reporter at the NBC station in Cincinnati, WLWT, the same station where Solomon worked!  I saw him when I started and he remembered me from our conversation that day in Lexington.  From then on Solomon and I would have frequent conversations about the Buffs any time we saw each other around the newsroom. I learned a lot about the team from him...and I learned a lot about Solomon from our Cincinnati colleagues.

Lots of NFL players move into broadcasting when they leave the sport.  Most of them don't do it the way he did.  Solomon Wilcots was the Weekend Sports Anchor by the time I got to WLWT...but that's not how he started.  From what I understand he went from NFL player to sports intern. Probably never on the air, probably performing lots of other tasks for other sports guys.  It's not a glamorous position.  Few NFL players would have the patience and the humility to start from scratch in broadcasting and work their way up.  Solomon did just that. 

Here are some pictures of the two of us in March, 1998. We both went to Lexington to cover Kentucky basketball.  The Wildcats were headed to the Sweet 16.  I did a news story about fans and ticket sales. Solly covered the team and its chances. It was great to work directly with someone I admired.

         

All this time Solomon was slowly getting some freelance gigs..doing sideline reports at college games for one of the cable networks.  Eventually he left Cincinnati to work for ESPN, and then CBS and the NFL Network.  He's done very well for himself in this second career...and he has earned it.  I couldn't be more pleased for an old friend and one of the good guys. Here he is doing the Broncos season opener for CBS a couple of weeks ago.

 Hopefully we'll all see and hear Solomon Wilcots on the job for years to come.  When you do, now you'll know he didn't just get into the booth on his name and his NFL resume...he got there with hard work and dedication.  That's something we can all admire.

As for that Superbowl in 1989, Solomon told me once, with a smile, that he felt like he spent a good part of that game just chasing Jerry Rice into the end zone!

We'll talk again soon.

Don Ward

 

 

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