Rushin takes elevating skills to top

As sleep becomes an afterthought and running late to class becomes as obligatory as taking finals, one Marquette alumnus has an insight that could be even more beneficial than cramming.

When Steve Rushin lived in (Carpenter) Tower Hall in 1985-'86, he and the other guys living on the top floor discovered the elevator had a bypass button.

"I don't know if it's still the case, but I imagine it would be, that the elevator had an override button so if you just held in like the lobby button you'd bypass all the floors on the way down," he said.

"It would slow down at the 15th floor, you'd hear the ping, but the doors wouldn't open, and you'd hear 'God damn it you mother f—–' as you were bypassing their floor. Because you were late for class, nobody wanted to stop."

Roughly 20 years later Rushin is still sparking people's emotions, but now they laugh at his column in "Sports Illustrated" instead of cussing him out for his elevator shenanigans.

Thanks in part to his rich humor, Rushin's career has been in overdrive, and he's overridden the customary path to the top.

While at Marquette, Rushin wrote "From A-Train to Yogi: The Fan's Book to Sports Nicknames" with Chuck Wielgus and Alexander Wolff, a "Sports Illustrated" writer he'd corresponded with since growing up in Minnesota.

According to his Marquette roommate Mike Hodan, Rushin pounded out a second book on his typewriter while attending school in Milwaukee.

"He also wrote 'Pool Cool' and he gets credit for that," Hodan said. "One time the phone was for Steve and I asked 'Who may I say is calling?' He said, 'William Mosconi (a legendary pool player).' I almost said 'Yeah right' and then I remembered."

A few weeks after graduation in the spring of 1988, Rushin joined "Sports Illustrated" as a fact checker, and in 1991 he became the magazine's youngest senior writer.

Now Rushin writes the "Air and Space" column for the magazine and his fourth book, a compilation of his best feature stories and columns titled "The Caddie Was A Reindeer: And Other Tales of Extreme Recreation," was recently published.

"It's difficult enough to sell books now, but if they can have something to do with Christmas and golf just before Christmas, well then God bless them for thinking of that," he said.

The title comes from a headline that appeared above one of Rushin's articles, and the subhead accurately connotes the travel theme that is central to all of the feature stories in the collection.

During his recent book tour stop in the "Eden" that he calls Milwaukee, Rushin reminisced about some of the adventures he's encountered on his life journey.

"I went to Finland with the Mississippi State basketball team, which was a weird culture clash," he said. "But I've got a story in there, golfing in Finland, and another story golfing in Greenland, so you can only take so much without making it a Scandinavian travel log."

The only thing that beats slicing up the world's northern most golf course, vacationing in Bali for a swimsuit-issue story or taking a spin around the Nurburgring — a racetrack Germans frequent when the autobahn becomes too facile — in James Bond's convertible, is the trip there.

"I mention in the introduction (of the book) that when you're seated next to a guy clipping his toenails on a plane and the little half-moons go flying right past your field of vision you know you think there's got to be more dignified ways to make a living," he said

Rushin's exploits at The Marquette Tribune were just as auspicious.

"My first story I ever wrote was on flag football, intramural flag football," he said. "It got completely rewritten in editing and I thought that's what editing was."

Rushin estimates he wrote eight to 10 articles for this paper, including a story on an economist speaking at the Varsity Theater.

"I had no idea what he was talking about," Rushin said. "But I kind of wrote a story about it as if I did. It was a serious news story."

Who knew that experience would lead him on an express elevator ride to the top.

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Dec. 9 2004.