It was the summer before I transferred to the University of Missouri after attending a year at North Carolina State. My dad (Jay Jennings) and I were about to embark on a week-long road trip to the northeast, one last father-son trek before I moved out of state for the first time.
We had a lot of the trip pretty well mapped out: our first game at Fenway Park, trips to the baseball and basketball halls of fame, etc.
A few days before we left, Dad contacted Stuart Scott.
As many of you know, Stuart worked at WRAL with Dad, who has been a photographer at the station since 1980. What you may not know (and Dad would be too humble to mention) was how big a fan Stuart always was of Dad’s. Every time I saw Stuart, he would always ask about Dad and say how Dad’s photoessays inspired him to get into the business. After Stuart left WRAL for WESH in Orlando, we visited the station and popped by an edit bay where Stuart was anxious to get Dad’s feedback on some of his recent work. In an ESPN the Magazine interview years later, he even named Dad and the members of the WRAL sports department as his earliest TV heroes.
But back to 2001.
Dad emailed Stuart to see if we would be able to see ESPN during our trip because we would be nearby. We thought, at best, he would give us a quick 30-minute tour of the offices and studio and send us on our way.
That would have been plenty. More than plenty.
Instead, Stuart told us to show up at a certain time. Probably around 3:30-4pm. He greeted us in the lobby after his workout (Stuart? Working out? Shocker.), and took us to his office.
Little did we realize Stuart was going to let us hang out with him for his entire shift!!!
It started with meet-and-greets with every single person who dropped by his office (And he had lots of visitors. Another shocker.). Then we popped into some offices with a few of his fellow anchors. When stopping to see Linda Cohn, who’s always easy to make laugh, Stuart opened her door and just did a face-first pratfall as a “hello.”
Obviously, he was gushing about Dad to the people we met. When he introduced me, he couldn’t wait to share an anecdote I told him shortly after we arrived that day.
Yes, I used to hate UNC. And of course, no one openly bled light blue like Stuart. To let him know where I was coming from, I told Stuart that when I was coming out of high school, I applied to Carolina. Not so I could get in. Quite the opposite. I didn’t want anyone from UNC to tell me I went to NC State just because I couldn’t get in to Carolina. So I applied to UNC just so I could get in, and turn them down!
Well, I got accepted to UNC, turned them down, went to State, and relayed this shallow but true tale to Stuart.
He couldn’t stop laughing. “Man, that is cold!” he said. Then, whether it was Linda Cohn or Dan Patrick, or a product assistant just interning for the summer, Stuart introduced me, “And this is Jay’s son Jason. Get this! He applied to Carolina, just so he could turn them down!” He was such a good sport.
Stuart also took us by the ESPN Radio studios where Bob Stevens was on the air. In typical Stuart fashion, he barged in, was greeted delightfully by Bob, said a couple things into the mic and left. Just a surprise cameo for our, and the listeners’, entertainment.
Later, we followed Stuart to the ESPN dining room made famous from all the This Is Sportscenter commercials. He got dinner. I grabbed an apple, didn’t realize until he got to the register that you had to pay, so I pocketed the apple for some reason.
We got back to Stuart’s office. He was doing the 11pm show with Dan Patrick (my on air idol at the time). Stuart opened the rundown. “Oh man, I’ve got wear pants tonight!” he bemoaned. Back in the old Sportscenter days, anchors rarely had to stand and be shot head-to-toe. Unfortunately for Stuart, this was one of those nights. He couldn’t wear jeans or shorts and just stay behind the desk.
Then, he started to write, and something happened for which I was far from prepared.
Stuart spouted out, “Jason, what should I write about this Keyshawn Johnson story?”
“Ummm, uuhh, ummm…,” I stuttered, quickly realizing what was happening. Stuart Scott—one of the most prominent faces on the network—was going to let me write an intro for him?!? This was an incredible (and possibly risky) gesture. But because he knew I was interested in getting into the TV business, he found opportunities to let me get a taste of it. Unreal.
Now, to this day, I have trouble writing in someone’s voice other than my own. Writing for Stuart? The most unique voice in the history of ESPN? I was on the Budweiser hot seat.
Luckily, Dad is a better writer than me, so it really became a three-man think tank where Stuart added his typical Stuart Scott sizzle. We wrote a story on Keyshawn Johnson getting pissy at Bucs training camp, an intro to a Tim Kurkjian package on Dave Winfield going into the Hall of Fame, and maybe another story or two.
Show time was approaching.
Stuart headed down to makeup. Surprise surprise, he treated the makeup lady like family.
Meanwhile, I stood slack-jawed in the newsroom in awe of Dan Patrick while he and Trey Wingo talked about how they couldn’t go back and do local sports like their old colleague Larry Biel had recently done.
Then, we made the walk down that iconic long hallway to the studio: me, Dad, Stuart Scott and Dan Patrick. I didn’t say a word. What could I add to this conversation?
Having been back to ESPN one time since, I’m pretty sure post-9/11, you can’t have visitors in the studio during show time. But this was six weeks before the towers fell, so we walked right in. Stuart told us to sit at a desk off to the side where interviews were taped.
Baseball Tonight was just wrapping up and was in its final commercial break. At the time, both shows shared the studio at different desks. It was trade deadline day so BBTN’s A-team was on the set: Karl Ravech, Peter Gammons and Harold Reynolds. I probably watched BBTN more than Sportscenter during this era, so imagine my thrill when Stuart yelled, “Hey guys, say ‘hello’ to Jay and Jason from North Carolina!”
“Hey, Jay and Jason from North Carolina!” they all immediately replied.
Finally, Sportscenter started.
There was Patrick, calling baseball highlights and giving that signature smooth, “the whiiiffff”.
Then, the Keyshawn story.
“He was complaining when they didn’t give him the damn ball. Now, they’ve given him the damn ball, and he’s still complaining…” No one ever said it was award-winning. But there were my words (and four-letter ones, at that!) being read on Sportscenter by Stuart Scott. I couldn’t believe it.
During a commercial, he asked Dad and me to come up and take a picture on the set. That picture has been framed at every place I’ve lived ever since I got the film developed.
There are other long stories from that day I’ll make shorter: like getting Dan Patrick to sign a copy of his book and meeting John Anderson where he referred to Dad as a Mizzou “legend” (100 percent true).
But the day all happened because of Stuart. He gave me a copy of his scripts from the show, autographed it and wrote “Boo-yow!” underneath. Remember, Stuart didn’t say, “Booyah.” Listen to his pronunciation. It’s “BOO-yow.” There was once a time he tried to tell people this, but obviously, it wasn’t worth the argument.
Stuart Scott will be remembered for more than Booyah. First and foremost, his legacy will be his battle with cancer and how he approached it with courage while staying his usual positive self for the last seven years of his life.
It’s amazing to me that 26 years after first meeting him in Raleigh and 13 years after that day in Bristol, the President of the United States and Michael Jordan would be releasing statements about Stuart’s death.
But that also shows what an impact he made in his short time here. Stuart Scott lived life to the fullest, always stayed true to himself, put others first, made everyone around him happier and left a mark on this world.
That’s something we all should aspire to do.
Jason Jennings is a freelance videographer based in Knoxville, TN. He previously spent more than a decade covering sports for television stations in Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Missouri.