Remembering the enormous legacy of Sid Hartman

Peter King

This was some bad news in a year of it, learning Sunday afternoon that Sid Hartman, after 76 years a desk man, sportswriter and columnist at Minneapolis newspapers—mostly the Minneapolis Star Tribunedied peacefully at his Minnesota home Sunday. As if that career wasn’t enough, he hosted shows on WCCO radio in Minneapolis for 65 years.

I think it’s not right, though, to cry over Hartman’s death. He should be celebrated. His ethos, his drive, was singular in this business. Aided by two home health assistants (he was slowed by a broken hip and hearing loss in recent years) and his assistant of the last 15 years, Star Tribune copy editor Jeff Day, Hartman finished his last column, with an interview of Vikings receiver Adam Thielen, late Thursday night, and it ran on page two of the sports section Sunday, hours before his death.

It was his 199th column of the year.

“What a life,” Kirk Cousins, one of Sid’s recent go-to guys. “What a legacy he left.”

The legacy was work. As his best friend Bud Grant, the former Vikings coach, told me last March on the occasion of Hartman’s 100th birthday: “How many people do you know who write three days a week and do a radio show—at 100! He has stuff in those columns from every team in town! He knows everybody!”

Recent columns became a collaboration between Hartman and Day, who began working with him inside the Star Tribune’s newsroom 15 years ago. Day became his confidant, and when Hartman’s hearing largely failed in recent months, Day would work with Hartman on what questions he’d want to ask that day’s subject—Thielen, for instance, was interviewed on Thursday for the final Sunday column—and then Day would ask them and record and transcribe the interview. He and Hartman would then collaborate on the copy. His last column was finished Thursday night around 9.

The column often reads like a church bulletin, full of nuggets from the pros and colleges and high schools around the state. It was cheery, most often, and mostly supportive of the locals. This note from his last column, for instance: “Coach P.J. Fleck and the Gophers will have a huge challenge opening the season with Michigan at TCF Bank Stadium next week, but Las Vegas oddsmakers have the Gophers as 2½-point favorites.” Minnesotans loved his writing; his columns consistently got the most traffic at the paper.

“Sid had this drive that is hard to describe,” Day told me Sunday evening. “He would write a column, a great column, and walk away and say, ‘I just can’t do this!’ He had such great respect for the business—he wanted every column to be great.”

Hartman knew he wasn’t a wordsmith. Reporting was his thing. For years he carried around an old cassette tape recorder with a microphone and would invade anyone’s space, respectfully, and just start firing away. Randy Moss disliked many of the locals, but he loved Hartman—who, in turn, loved Moss for his great talent and giving him scoops. In the last couple of years, he learned to record with an iPhone, but in the age of COVID, he couldn’t go out to do interviews anymore. Everything was done by phone. He had a good relationship with Fleck, the Gophers’ football coach, and last May, Fleck met Hartman and talked to him through a door, just to be safe.

Hartman told me last spring there was nothing else he wanted to do in life than be a reporter and write and talk sports. Once, he got a winter place in Fort Lauderdale, but he tired of just watching sports on TV. He wanted to be in the middle of things, back in his home. So he stayed in the Twin Cities full time. He wasn’t a drinker or carouser. “I live a healthy life,” he said last March. “I don’t break any rules.” Hartman thought if he quit what he loved, he’d die. And good for him—he died doing what he loved.

“He really was wonderful to me,” Day said. I couldn’t tell for sure, but I thought he was choking up a bit over the phone. “We were exchanging video messages by phone during the Vikings game in Seattle [last Sunday]. His last one said, ‘I love you. I hope I can see you tomorrow.’”

Read more from Peter King’s Football Morning in America column here.