Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Anthony Shadid, who distinguished himself with amazing coverage from the fighting in the Persian Gulf for over a decade for the Washington Post and New York Times, succumbed to a fatal asthma attack on Thursday at the age of 43. Shadid suffered the attack while covering an insurrection against the Syrian government. It was a sad and somewhat ironic end for a man who so often put himself directly in the face of danger for a deeper version of the story in a very dangerous part of the world.
Shadid was shot during a demonstration in 2002, and he was one of several Times reporters detained in 2011 by forces loyal to Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi. He survived those dramas with extreme distinction, and his coverage was a beacon for those who wish to get to the very heart of a story, no matter the circumstances.
In his rare off-times, Shadid had a very interesting passion -- he was obsessed with the Green Bay Packers. In a recounting for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in 2011, Shadid explained how he came to love the team, to the point where he racked up outlandish telephone bills, using a satellite phone to pick up Packers games by radio.
I realized it had become a problem in Baghdad. 2003 wasn't even that great of a season, at least early on. (The glories of Brett Favre on Monday night in Oakland and Al Harris' pick in overtime in the playoffs against Seattle awaited, as did the post-traumatic stress I still bear from fourth-and-26 in Philadelphia.)
For a fan, though, loyalty is never about wins and losses. It's about being there, and from thousands of miles away I managed to be, by way of a breathtakingly expensive satellite phone that brought me the radio broadcast.
"You're not going to believe the phone bill," my bureau chief, as alarmed as he was unknowing, declared to me right around the time the Packers had a 4-4 record.
I looked at him, shaking my head in insincere sympathy.
"Can they tell which computer ran up the bill?" I asked.
Perhaps his love for the Packers gave Shadid, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a sense of home away from home. Whatever the reason, as he told it himself, he took his football team with him wherever he went.
I've worked as a foreign correspondent for 15 years, and I feel like the Packers were there on every assignment, from Cairo to Islamabad. On my way back from Egypt, after landing at JFK in New York, I listened in disbelief to the radio in the taxi as Terrell Owens snagged the game-winning pass with three seconds left. Three. In a brutal winter in Kabul, I logged on to the slowest Internet connection in the history of the Afghan capital to see that we had lost to the St. Louis Rams, 45-17. Next to a wood-burning stove, still in my sleeping bag, I asked myself whether Favre really could have thrown six picks. Six.
In 1995, Shadid would spend a few hundred dollars to stay at whatever five-star hotels had the kind of transmissions that would beam the Packers to him. When he won his first Pulitzer, his Washington Post bureau chief gave him tickets to a Redskins contest. His response? "Forget the Pulitzer! I'm going to the game!"
Shadid, as he put it, "dragged" his wife and two children to Lambeau Field in December of 2010 for a Packers-49ers game. His family didn't lock in, but the journalist remembered the scene as only a journalist of his kind could.
I then sat by myself, basking in frigid temperatures, gazing at the occasional flurry and sipping the tastiest beer ever, as time seemed to slow, just a little.
In the end, Shadid seemed to see his Packers fandom as he saw his work and art. It was better to take the hard way if necessary -- perhaps the difficulty even added to the experience when the game (or the story) finally came through.
It's not so hard to watch the game these days abroad, as long as you set your alarm for the occasional 3 a.m. You can actually stream them on the Internet from anywhere in the world. I even have a satellite dish that offers ESPN and Fox Sports. But I guess I feel a little less worthy as a fan. Without all the effort, losses don't hurt as much. Wins are not as jubilant. It all feels a little more ordinary.
One senses that watching a game with Anthony Shadid would have been anything but "ordinary." When a person spends his life searching down the marrow for every possible experience ... well, life is made more extraordinary in the presence of such people. We can only hope to echo such legacies through time, in their honor.
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- Anthony Shadid