Michael Katz

Michael Katz

Within two weeks of moving to Laramie, the temperature dropped down to negative-10 degrees with wind chill. Had I made a terrible mistake?

I came to Wyoming having only stepped foot in the state on one prior occasion. I’m from California. I’m used to sunshine, beaches and never having to look at a weather report. I did a stint in Boise, Idaho, and learned what snowstorms were. But it didn’t exactly prepare me for Wyoming cold.

My journey in cowboy country started Oct. 14, 2019. A few days prior, I drove 10 hours with my mom from Boise to Laramie, unsure of what I was getting myself into. I took this job because I wanted to be back in college football. I dabbled in breaking news for a couple of years and learned a lot from the experiences, but my heart wasn’t fully in it.

Ultimately, I didn’t care where I was covering college athletics. All that mattered is that I was covering them. In this business, all you can do is ask for a chance.

October through March was a whirlwind, to say the least. My first day of work was a Monday. I filled out some paperwork and immediately headed to UW for coach and player interviews, having met no one in that room previously. But sometimes the best thing you can do is learn on the fly and get thrown directly into the fire.

That was basically my first five months on the job: a scramble of figuring out how a new town worked while building relationships with coaches and players. I wouldn’t trade a second of the chaos for anything. Meeting new people is one of the greatest joys of this job, and determining the best way to tell stories is why I wake up each morning with a smile on my face.

People in Wyoming were accommodating from the moment I announced on Twitter I was taking over for the legendary Robert Gagliardi. There is a tremendous sense of community in this state. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in it for five months, five years or five decades. Once you are in the Equality State, you’re family. I didn’t know you could feel like you were home when you’re 1,000 miles and a time zone away from family and loved ones.

So when the University of Wyoming’s football season was initially postponed in August, I was gutted. Not just because it meant my work was going to be different and that I wouldn’t get to spend chilly fall nights watching the best sport on Earth. I grieved for a city, community and state that had embraced me and made me feel like I belonged.

If you spend more than a few hours in Laramie, you quickly learn how intricately the university and city are connected. Every corner of every street has some connection to UW. Whether it’s a store on Third Street selling Cowboys gear, a flag hanging off a light pole or a restaurant off of Grand Avenue that depends on post-game crowds to survive, you can’t separate city from school. Laramie is the quintessential college town.

Over the past 12 months, I learned how important the Cowboys are to everyone in Laramie (and most of the state, for that matter). It’s not just about local economy or how full the bars are on a Saturday night. When there’s football being played at War Memorial Stadium, the energy in town is just different. It is palpable. There is a sense of joy, a sense of purpose.

A lot of my friends and family from back home have asked me, some joking and some dead serious, how on Earth I adapted to Wyoming so quickly. I tell them it’s made a lot easier by a few things: 1) A really, really heavy overcoat and a damn solid heater; 2) Working with great people who support your ideas; and 3) Living among a community that genuinely appreciates you, professionally and as a person.

I grew up in the shadows of the Rose Bowl. I attended USC and spent many Saturdays watching some of the all-time great college football programs take the field. And I can safely say there is nowhere you would rather be than Laramie during a college football season. There is something special about a university that can’t be differentiated from the city it resides in.

From March through early August, I remained optimistic there would be football this fall. Sometimes all we have is hope, even if it isn’t rooted in anything logical. When the news came that it wouldn’t be the case, I thought about all of the local businesses I enjoyed going to. Many were already struggling due to COVID-19 restrictions from the previous months. There was a chance some of my favorite places might not make it. And something about that hurt.

As journalists, we are taught to be impartial. We report news and take pride in accuracy. We don’t root for things, per se. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t rooting for Laramie to be OK once the dust settled. Because it wasn’t just a place I wrote about. It was my community, too.

A month later, the world turned on a dime, as it has so many times in the last few months. The Mountain West’s fate had been reversed, and for the first time in months, I had something to truly be happy about. Not just for me, but for the people of a city and state that had embraced this transplant.

There’s something about normalcy that we, as humans, can’t help but crave, and that is particularly true right now as life continues to change in ways we never thought possible. For a solid month or so, I wondered what my Saturdays in October and November would look like without football. I’m used to waking up to “College Gameday,” watching games throughout the day and then heading to a press box to do the coolest job in the world. Without that schedule, I honestly felt a bit lost. In a year that had been brutal, I craved one thing to look forward to, and that had been taken away, too.

So as I sit at my desk writing this stream of consciousness, it’s hard for me to feel anything but thankful right now. A year ago, I took a job and followed my heart. A year has passed, and a lot has happened since then, but my passion has only grown greater for the work I do and the people I do it for.

I’m fully aware it’s about to get cold here. I am going to complain about it on social media, as always. But I do so with a love I didn’t have when I first got here. I’m looking forward to bundling up again, to wearing a heavy coat. Because it means football season is here, and it means that we made it through hell and came out on the other side.

In some ways, it feels like I’ve only been in Wyoming for a few months. In other ways, it feels like it’s been years. It turns out a pandemic will skew your concept of time here and there. But as we all embark on this warp-speed version of a college football season, I have a new sense of gratitude for the people I work with and the people who consume my work.

It’s one thing to take a chance for a job. Being rewarded for that blind faith is not guaranteed, however. And every time I write a new story, big or small, I am thankful I have the chance to do so. And that is in no small part because Wyoming welcomed me as one of its own. And for that, I can’t give enough thank-yous.

Let’s enjoy this college football season. We all deserve it.

Michael Katz covers the University of Wyoming for WyoSports. He can be reached at mkatz@wyosports.net or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @michaellkatz.

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