From Recruiting Dinner to JailBreakBlitz
I met Garry Paskwietz on January 12, 2005. WeAreSC.com was one of the most comprehensive websites covering the USC football team at the time, and I was just excited to be attending his famous recruiting dinner at the Papadakis Taverna in San Pedro. Garry was a rockstar even then, with everyone including John Papadakis clamoring around him to get the latest insider information on the incoming recruits. I remember blurting out to him when we were introduced that I was a USC fanatic, that I used to write for the Daily Trojan, and that I loved his site and its in-depth coverage of the football team.
Two weeks after the recruiting dinner, Garry took me to a “recruiting lunch” near the law firm I worked at and asked if I would consider contributing some articles to WeAreSC. Initially I was skeptical about whether his overwhelmingly male readership would appreciate sports takes from a woman. He assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem, but if I felt more comfortable, that I could do what another writer named Greg Katz did, and go by a pseudonym. Taking a cue from “23blast,” I went with “JailBreakBlitz,” and my first article for WeAreSC came out that April, a feature story on a then-relatively unknown running back named Chauncey Washington.
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That Time That Garry Helped Start Up a Law Office
There is a long list of individuals who can attribute their breaks in sports media to Garry. A lesser known fact is that, in addition to helping to launch these media careers, Garry can also be credited with helping to open up a small law office in Pasadena.
To say Garry means a lot to me professionally would be an understatement. Garry not only inspired me to hang up my own shingle after just a few years of private practice, he also literally made it happen. It was the perfect storm in the fall of 2007, ESPN wanted to ramp up its online presence and had handpicked a few of the highest- trafficked college sports sites around the country to advance this endeavor, including WeAreSC and similar college fan sites from Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Oklahoma.
By joining the four-letter sports media giant, WeAreSC was going to need additional content as well as help with the transition. Garry knew that I wanted to open up my own law office “one day,” and be my own boss just like him. “You should start up your own law firm. You should do it now,” I remember Garry telling me early in the 2007 football season. “WeAreSC will be your first client.” Garry laid out his plan to hire me to work full-time for WeAreSC and provide substantially more content including video reports, while I grew my fledgling law practice on the side. He told me he believed in me, and that he fully expected that over time, if everything worked out right, my work balance would shift to where I would be spending more time on my law firm’s cases, and doing WeAreSC on the side.
During those first couple of years with ESPN, we even became officemates, WeAreSC and Singian Law sharing a three-room, 600-square feet suite across the street from Pasadena City College. That office space was renovated by Ryan Paskwietz, Garry’s talented younger brother. When the office renovation was complete, Garry surprised me with a beautiful matching desktop set including a personalized business card holder, desktop name plate, and desk clock, etched in silver plating and set against the backdrop of “USC colored” cherry-red wood. Every detail thought out well.
As it has turned out, thanks in large part to Garry and the support that a stable job at WeAreSC provided those first two years, which can often make or break a business, I was able to grow my practice over time, while continuing to contribute to WeAreSC on the side. Just as Garry had predicted back in 2007. I am forever grateful to Garry, not only for his friendship, but also for what he did for me and my career.
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About That Andre Rucker and Joe and Emily Danelo Senior Tunnel Run
It’s no secret that Pete Carroll, Strength and Conditioning Coach Chris Carlisle and other coaches over the years often looked to Garry to get insight into high school athletes and incoming players. And why wouldn’t they? You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who could on the fly rattle out any given athlete’s pertinent statistics, injury history, name of their favorite uncle’s first dog, the correct way to pronounce their name no matter how long it was, and their phone number, all off of the top of their head, like Garry did. Rumor has it Garry had an IQ of 163.
But Garry was so much more than just numbers, statistics, and a “Walking USC Encyclopedia.” What many people don’t know, because he’d never brag about it, is that you could attribute the beginnings of many of the feel-good USC football stories that made the front page news to him and WeAreSC and his subtle way of getting those ideas, and the ideas of some of his message board posters (as in the Danelo Missing Kicker Formation), to the right people.
In the middle of November 2007, Garry and I drove to San Bernardino to meet with Andre Rucker, the father of the late Drean Rucker, inside linebacker and USC commit who tragically drowned before even starting at USC in the summer of 2003. I needed to interview Rucker for a follow up feature story I was doing on him and his family. Garry tagged along because he just wanted to spend time with Rucker, one of the many parents he had come to know well. In one of the more emotional interviews I can remember ever working on, we listened to Rucker talk about his late son, how he and his family never got to see Drean suit up in a USC jersey, never got to see him run out of the Coliseum tunnel, and never got to see him play even one down as a Trojan. Garry was visibly shaken by the interview, and on the drive back to Pasadena, we wondered if we could do anything. Drean possibly would have been a redshirt senior that year. The last home game and senior tunnel run hadn’t happened yet. He never got the chance to suit up and run out of the tunnel for USC… But maybe his father could do that on what might have been his last game as senior?… Come to think of it, Mario Danelo would have been a senior that year as well.
Just before Thanksgiving we made our way to the USC Football Operations office. We had gotten to know Carroll’s Director of Football Operations Dennis Slutak and Director of Player Personnel Jared Blank because we coordinated with them on various other off the field feel-good stories, like visits from Ryan Davidson and his family and the Holiday Drive for USC superfan Ricky Rosas. Garry and I made our pitch for a Rucker-Danelo family senior tunnel run to Slutak and Blank, who in turn brought the idea to Carroll. And the rest as they say is history, and this beautiful Senior Tunnel Run Trojan moment.
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That Time We Were Almost Trampled Over By The Baker Family
Back in the days of the the Carroll era as fan sites like WeAreSC began to shake up the sporting news industry, the USC Sports Information Department was still adjusting to websites like us covering the football team. Let’s just say we were not treated as favorably as some of the the more “traditional” media made up of printed newspapers and TV. You could argue that the person online sports reporters feared most at the Coliseum on any given Saturday wasn’t any linebacker from the visiting team. It was USC Sports Information Director Tim Tessalone. Tessalone and his army of SID associates had the power of the scarce commodities that were press credentials, and they were always there to let you know if you were standing in the wrong spot.
It was during these times that Garry and I found ourselves on the Coliseum sidelines December 1, 2007 at USC’s last home game of the season, versus UCLA. Truth be told, we were just happy to have the press credentials to be on the field. But this game was special, because it would feature the Senior Tunnel Run that would include Andre Rucker and Joe and Emily Danelo running out the tunnel in place of their late sons Drean Rucker and Mario Danelo.
Relatively new to receiving press sideline passes, Garry and I were still trying to figure out the rules of where the press was or wasn’t allowed to go. Were we allowed to get close to the Senior Tunnel Run? As the departing seniors’ family members began to leave the sidelines to form the senior tunnel end at the 50-yard line, Arena Football League Commissioner and buddy of Garry, David Baker, who also happened to be departing senior Sam Baker’s father, gathered-corralled Garry and I into joining him and the other families on the field. “Let’s go, Garry!” David Baker shouted. And when the Commissioner tells you to go, you go. As we made our way with the Baker Family to the developing tunnel of family members, again, not sure if we were even allowed to be on the field, Garry shouted at me to “stay behind the Bakers!” As in the 6’9” Commissioner, his other son, 6’7” Ben Baker, and the rest of his tall family who all seemed to be at the front of the line when the height genes were handed out.
What an experience it was from both a media and pure fan perspective, high-fiving players like Chauncey Washington, Mackey Award Winner Fred Davis and Hershel Dennis, who we came to know and cheer for as they ran by to their loved ones. We even got to high five the Danelos and Andre Rucker in the end.
But one of the side-effects of “hiding out” in the midst of the tall and looming Baker Family during this time was still being in the midst of the tall and looming Baker Family when 6’5” 305 lbs. Sam Baker reached the end of his tunnel run and full-speed rammed himself into his family. Who we had been practically glued to. Garry and I nearly got trampled over by the Baker Giants at this point, we sort of got bounced off of their backs on Sam Baker’s impact. Luckily we caught ourselves in time to run and avoid being turned into pancakes. I will never forget the look of sheer joy, fear, and relief in Garry’s eyes, having been right there to share in that emotionally-charged, yet at the same time terrorizing “we are going to get tackled” moment. “SO worth it!!!” he shouted.
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How I Will Remember Garry
I have been so blessed to have known and been friends with Garry as long as I have. I have also been blessed to have the height of my involvement with WeAreSC be during the “glory years” of the Pete Carroll era. Wow was that a ride. It has been a hard few weeks really trying to wrap my head around what has happened. How unfair life can be. A kind, gentle person who meant so much to so many, myself included, taken too soon. They say people live on in the memories of others. Here are some more memories I have of Garry to help keep his light going:
* Garry had no shame in using his little brother. When we were officemates, there was another tenant on our floor who never once smiled or said a friendly word to either me or Garry. But once Ryan Paskwietz came around and started renovating the office, she suddenly started stopping by to say hi, and was all smiles. On more than one occasion Garry sent Ryan to her office just before we walked over to ask if we could borrow her extra parking space so another staff member like Erik McKinney or Greg Katz could park. Worked like a charm.
* The first time I ever saw an Elvis impersonator live and in person wasn’t in Las Vegas. It was at Garry’s 40th Birthday Party. At this birthday party, I gave him a yellow Tommy Bahama shirt, which I have to say has impressively stood the test of time, as he has worn it frequently over the years.
* From going on road-trips with him I can say he particularly liked to listen to Elvis’ “Burning Love,” and “Suspicious Minds.” I can still see him half belting out the high-pitched “Suspicious Minds!” part.
* Garry was a bit of a font snob, and his font of choice was Times New Roman. “A classic,” he’d say. Although he also liked Cambria, because it was the name of his sister Kambria, who he was very close to, “even though she is a Sun-Devil.”
* The last text message I got from Garry came just a couple of days before he passed, after I had done my regular check-in, asking him if he wanted us to post an update to the message boards. I was excited to get a text message back from him saying he himself would make a post on the boards “early next week.” I told him the WeAreSC posters would be “stoked” to hear from him… And while he never got to make that post to his loyal readers, Erik McKinney, Greg Katz, Joe Andras, Darrell Rideaux, Kevin Bruce, Chris Arledge, and the rest of us will be here to continue the site he loved so much, in his honor, because that is what we know he’d want us to do.
I love and will miss you Garry. Fight on forever, my dear friend.
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GARRY PASKWIETZ PHOTO GALLERY
Click HERE for Photo Gallery of Garry Paskwietz, as compiled by WeAreSC Photographer Joe Andras.