The state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger,
fear, or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence, and resolution;
bravery. That's how Merriam-Webster describes courage in its
SPORTSWRITER GONE – Mike Rowan, who spent the last 35 years
covering sports for the Jersey Journal, died last Saturday at
the age of 56.
But those words also ring true in describing a local legend who left us
all too soon last weekend.
In my eyes, courage was personified in one special human being - Mike
Rowan, who was a fixture in Hudson County sports for the last 35 years, as
a hard-working and dedicated sportswriter for the Jersey Journal, died
last Saturday afternoon after a long and grueling battle with cancer. At
age 56, Mike was too young to leave us. He had columns to write and games
to report on. There were track meets to cover and St. Peter's College
games to enjoy. He shouldn't have had to die.
Rowan wasn't an athlete. In fact, he wasn't even athletic. But he was far
more courageous than any athlete he covered during his storied career.
Athletes who recover from knee surgeries and return to the field of
play are considered courageous. They pale in comparison to the courage
Mike Rowan showed on a daily basis in recent years.
From the minute he was given a death sentence more than five years ago,
when doctors told him that he had inoperable cancer in his spine, Rowan's
spirit and determination never wavered an ounce. He was always upbeat,
always so sure that he was going to beat that hideous and despicable
murderer named cancer, which has snuffed out so many people in my life in
the past, including my own father, two beloved aunts, and too many friends
to even begin to count.
Sure, the prognosis wasn't rosy and the outlook was certainly bleak, but
Mike Rowan never let on. Never. He was always planning ahead, always
talking about the next event, the next vacation he was going to take with
his loving wife, Marilyn, about getting back to the job he most certainly
adored, perhaps even more than his wonderful wife.
And as painful and as invasive as the radiation and chemotherapy was to
him, Mike Rowan never once complained. I would speak to him on a fairly
regular basis and ask him how he was doing and feeling. He was so
remarkably upbeat, telling me he felt fine, saying how much he looked
forward to the next event we would cover together.
I marveled at his courage and strength. I know that if I was faced with
the same set of horrific circumstances, I could never handle it the same
way. I would probably crawl up into a ball and wait for my time to come.
Mike Rowan, who was affectionately called "Scoop," for his
reporting prowess, never wanted that time to come.
Mike was always worried about getting the work done, making sure that the
track meets were covered properly, making sure that his All-County teams
were done, his end of the year stories, his in-depth columns. In fact, he
started writing a weekly high school football column just last season
which included some of his finest work ever.
There were two things in his life that Mike truly loved - his wife and his
And anyone who was a friend to Mike Rowan - present company included for
the last 27 years or so - knew that meeting Marilyn was the best thing
that ever happened to Mike. When they were married seven years ago, after
meeting each other via AOL, they were the happiest couple I had ever
witnessed. They absolutely glowed, beamed on their wedding day, as they
cut a cake that was made into the shape of a computer. It was a wonderful
Before he met Marilyn, Mike was a consummate bachelor, going to work and
then going home. He didn't pay too much attention to his wardrobe. His car
was littered with empty Coke cans and Diet Snapple bottles. But Marilyn
changed him to the point where he actually donned Izod sweaters and khaki
slacks. In his later years, he was a thing of beauty - and I told him that
every time I saw him. Marilyn Rowan deserves all the credit for the total
His lone diversion was traveling on vacation to exotic lands, vacation
spots that no one ever would dream of. I waited every summer for the
postcard from Mike that had him in Russia, China, Egypt, all over the
He also made a habit of getting credentials to cover all the Olympic
Games, with the cost of the travel coming out of his own pocket. He
spanned the world to bring Hudson County the variety of Olympic spirit,
covering at least seven Olympics that I can count. I would get postcards
from those places as well. Mike never forgot me when it came to sending
those postcards. That's just another sign of his impeccable loyalty.
We never did get a chance to work for the same newspaper and for the last
20 years, we were supposed to be rivals, with Mike at the Jersey Journal
and me at first the Hudson Dispatch and now the Hudson Reporter. But we
were never rivals. We were always friends.
In fact, I knew of Mike Rowan before he knew of Jim Hague. He had a job,
writing sports for the local newspaper, that I craved when I was younger.
I always wanted to be a sportswriter and read the sports pages of the
Jersey Journal and the Hudson Dispatch like they were the Bible back then.
I envied and admired Mike Rowan before I ever knew him.
Then, in 1977, when I was working for the Jersey Indians minor league
baseball team, I had the fortune of meeting Mike for the first time, when
he came to cover the Indians' games. We've been good friends ever since.
When I first became a sportswriter for the Morristown Daily Record in
1983, Mike and I covered many events together, especially the New Jersey
Nets games and Rutgers football. It was always a joy, these two guys from
Jersey City, working side-by-side.
Proud as a peacock
When I later became the Sports Information Director at St. Peter's
College in 1986, Mike covered every single Peacock and Peahen game
possible. He would travel with the teams on the road and sometimes even
traveled with us on the team buses to help defray the costs. There were
many times that he ended up staying with me on the road.
Mike experienced practically every single high moment we enjoyed during my
five years at SPC. I can't begin to count how many MAAC Tournaments Rowan
covered in places like Albany and Buffalo. He was also there for both SPC
appearances in the men's NCAA Tournament (against Texas in Dayton in 1991
and against UMass in Albany in 1995) and traveled with Mike Granelli and
the Peahens to several of their NCAA appearances.
I've always said that there has never been a bigger supporter of St.
Peter's College athletics than Mike Rowan. Maybe the late Jack Finn and
Judge Harry Byrne come close, but Rowan was true blue to his collegiate
alma mater and expressed those sentiments many times over the years in his
reporting and columns.
"He had a job to do and he had to be fair," SPC athletic
director Bill Stein said. "But Mike was always very good to St.
St. Peter's showed its appreciation to Mike by inducting him into their
Athletic Hall of Fame a few years ago. He was also inducted into the
Dickinson High School Hall of Fame, the Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame,
and the Hudson County Track Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Mike was also Hudson County's resident proponent of track and field. No
one covered more local track and field and cross country meets. He would
stand in the pouring rain, dodging the mud puddles, at cross country meets
and chart everyone's times. He would endure the scorching sun at outdoor
meets and made sure that every single result was recorded properly.
"His absolute dedication to the profession is what I will
remember," long-time Secaucus athletic director and track coach Stan
Fryczynski said. "Mike was a true friend to track and field and cross
country. There was never anyone who knew the facts that he did. I was very
fortunate to become friends with Mike away from track and that was icing
on the cake. He was a great guy. Although this was inevitable, it's a sad,
After leaving SPC, I went on to have a host of other jobs, including
bartending at the West Side Avenue establishment known as Dohoney's. Every
Wednesday night, after putting the sports pages to bed, Mike would call
Dohoney's first, see if it was OK for him to stop by. He would then
meander in, nurse his one beer and along with fellow sportswriter (and
current Ferris baseball coach) Mike Hogan - as well as some unexpected
guests from time to time - we'd settle the sports world.
It was a late-night think-tank that sometimes stretched out into the wee
hours of the morning. The conversations sometimes got heated and
opinionated, but I now wish that someone was videotaping those days,
because they were priceless.
Since I joined the Hudson Reporter in 1991 and other publications
thereafter, Mike Rowan has been one of my biggest fans. He would
compliment me on a job well done and criticize me when he thought I was
wrong. He would point out the times that he thought I made a factual error
(imagine that!), but he made sure to read every single word. Oh, we had
our moments where the conversations and criticisms got intense, but he was
always my friend, first and foremost.
Loyalty? No one had more loyalty, to his profession, to his newspaper
(which he defended like a soldier defends his country), to his favorite
sports, to his friends, to his family, to his loving wife. Mike Rowan was
as loyal and as true as they come. He was a true loyal friend to me and
that I will never forget.
Four years ago, on the occasion of my 40th birthday, Mike made sure he
came to the party, although the agonizing process of the chemotherapy had
already begun. He showed up at the party carrying a bag of assorted gifts,
all pertaining to my favorite football team, the St. Louis Rams.
I received a Ram mug, pennant, beach towel, pen holder, stationery, you
name it. There had to be about 25 Ram-related gifts in this huge bag. That
was unbelievable thoughtful generosity, which was typical Mike.
Mike and Marilyn didn't stay long that day. He said he had another party
to get to. He probably brought a boat-load of gifts to that party as well.
But the thing I will remember more about my friend Mike "Scoop"
Rowan is this. No one had more courage in facing his demise. No one.
Even the last time I spoke to him, which was Super Bowl Sunday, he was
talking about his plans for the summer and about getting back to work. It
was amazing. He had to know the end was near, but he wasn't ever giving
in. One day, during this horrific ordeal that stretched through five years
- sending him to several doctors and countless amounts of treatments -
Mike told me about his plan.
"I hope that the day before I die, I'm at the paper helping to put
the pages out and putting it to bed," Mike said. He didn't get that
chance. But he certainly fought off dying longer than anyone could have
ever imagined when he was first diagnosed.
A true hero
In that respect, Mike Rowan is a hero. He's more of a hero than the
athletes he covered over the last 35 years. He's stronger, he's tougher,
he's braver. He may be gone now, but he's a hero to me. And he should be
I don't know if I can walk into Yanitelli Center without thinking Mike is
sitting there at press row. When I would see him, I'd bellow, "Scooooop-de-doooooo"
at the top of my lungs. He would then roll his eyes, and eventually smile.
This is loss for all of Hudson County. No one will ever pick up the torch
and carry it for the sport of track and field ever again. He was a patriot
for the sport and he had no peers. To call Mike Rowan irreplaceable when
it comes to the sport of track and field is a gross understatement. He was
beyond one of a kind.
It's a loss for local sports reporting, because no one was more dedicated
to his job. That dedication isn't found often.
And finally, it's a personal loss, because he was my friend and there
wasn't a more loyal friend. God forbid anyone ever say a negative thing
about me in Mike Rowan's presence, because that would be the last thing
the person would say. He might stutter a bit in getting the words out, but
he would have lambasted that person, because he was true and loyal to me
to the very end.
That end occurred last weekend. His pain and suffering is over, thank God.
However, I found it very fitting that on the day he died, the St. Peter's
College Peacocks team defeated UNC-Greensboro, while the Winter Olympics
were going on in Italy. It was like the quintessential send-off.
Now, we all suffer the pain that comes when that horrendous killer known
as cancer claims another victory. Only this victory didn't come as easy as
expected. The courageous Mike Rowan saw to that. He didn't win, but he
didn't go down without a major fight. That is what I call courage. That is
what Mike Rowan was. Courageous, with no peers, to the very end.
Rest in peace, my friend. I'll try to carry the torch in your memory. It
certainly won't be easy.