Sometimes it takes a while to find what a person truly loves to do as a profession. In the case of PewterReport.com editor-in-chief Mark Cook, the journey was 40 years long. No matter how long it took to get there, Cook loves where the journey ended.
“I had grand plans growing up to do this or do that,” Cook said. “My initial goal was to be a teacher, so that I could have summers off to hang at the beach. But my passion for sports, radio and writing ended up distracting me from my pursuit of free time. I’m not complaining.”
While publisher Scott Reynolds is the most tenured of all local writers with 17 years of Buccaneers coverage, few can boast that they have witnessed the history of the franchise the way Cook has.
“I have attended, watched, or listened on the radio to every single Buccaneers game since late 1977, when I watched a terrible team in orange and white uniforms beat the Saints for its first win,” Cook said. “If that had been any game other than the first win, I might never have become interested in football or the Buccaneers. I might have saved myself years of frustration and misery.
"Some of my fondest childhood memories were from the late 70’s and early 80’s. We’d get the Tampa Tribune on Sunday mornings, and I’d fight my Dad to get the sports page,” Cook said. “I was blown away with the Lamar Sparkman artwork on game day and by Tom McEwen’s columns.
“Then after church – and sometimes during – I prayed that we wouldn’t go out to dinner. I had to get home to watch the games. If they weren’t on television, I would hole myself up in my room with Mark Champion on the radio and not come out until after the post-game wrap up."
Cook was obsessed with football from that point on, something that continues to this day.
“To me, football is the greatest sport, ever,” Cook said. “To paraphrase Vince Lombardi, football is ‘eleven guys working as one cohesive unit in military precision.’ Rarely in football can one person take over and carry a team on his back; you need all eleven working as one. If one person doesn’t carry out his assignment, then the whole play is usually doomed to failure.”
Admittedly not the most gifted of athletes, Cook’s own football career ended after high school. His love of sports and of teaching led him to coach at his high school alma mater, Plant City High School, from 1998 to 2004. Cook worked under Todd Long, who was Cook’s junior varsity coach in 1985.
“Coaching certainly put things in greater perspective than playing ever did,” Cook said. “As a player, you concentrate primarily on your own job. But to be successful as a coach you really must see the entire field. The game of football is often like a chess match. ‘If I do this, how will they react?’ Trying to stay one step ahead and getting into the mind of the other team is always fascinating to me.”
Cook’s journey into the field of journalism also began in high school, when he signed up for both a creative writing class and the school newspaper, although not for reasons of dedication to the craft.
“I figured that those would be the easiest of the elective choices; I had already burned up all my P.E. electives,” Cook said. “But I soon realized that it was fun and exciting to see that you could influence and inform someone with just words on paper.
“I was an avid reader even back then, so I knew how powerful words could be. I remembered the McEwen columns and was a big Lewis Grizzard fan, and I can still quote lines from both of them. I especially like articles that make you laugh, cry and get angry, all in the same column.”
As high school was ending, Cook took an opportunity to get into radio broadcasting.
“I started working for free at the old WPLA-910 in Plant City, learning the business and practice of radio,” Cook said. “It paid off. I ended up with a paying job the summer after graduation in 1988 at WWBF-1130.The Thornburg family, who owned the station, really took me under their wing and allowed me to grow.
“They even let me broadcast Dixie Youth League baseball games. On Tuesday nights, I lugged remote broadcast equipment up to the press box and pretended I was Vin Scully. There were maybe 100 people listening and 20 of those were at the ball park wearing those big earphone radios, and I occasionally got dirty looks from the stands when I mispronounced their child’s name.”
After a few years in the radio business Cook went back to school, and it was while working in Lakeland, and attending college, he met his future wife Erin Holt. Married in 1993, Mark and Erin are approaching 20 years together.
“She has always been my biggest fan,” Cook said. “Supportive, but honest and not afraid to hurt my feelings. She gave me the confidence to get back into journalism and encouraged me to keep plugging at it.”
Over the next few years, Cook worked at a number of local radio stations, even becoming the football radio voice of the Lake Region Thunder, which was then led by former Florida Gators coach Charlie Pell. Cook soon joined Tampa’s first all sports station, WFNS-910, where he worked with former high school classmate Darek Sharp, Whitney Johnson, Jim Lighthall, former Buc Scot Brantley, and future Tampa radio fixture Steve Duemig.
“It was around that time that I was able to obtain media credentials to cover the Bucs,” Cook said. “At the old Sombrero, space in the press box was limited, but not so in the stands. So the Bucs’ public relations department gave me a credential. But I had to sit outside in the stands. In the fourth quarter, the media was allowed on the field. That is where Scott Reynolds and I became acquainted and became friends.
“I began covering the post-game locker room for Buccaneer Magazine, and afterwards we would head back to the office where Scott would spend hours putting it all together. Those lessons were invaluable to me and helped me land new opportunities.”
One such opportunity was becoming part of the Tampa Tribune family. In 1998, Cook was hired by former prep editor Rozel Swain as a correspondent to cover high school sports, eventually branching into outdoor writing. From 1998 until 2011, Cook worked for the Tribune on a freelance basis, while also writing for other local and national publications. One of Cook’s feature articles was about novelist and television creator and writer Earl Hamner, of The Walton’s fame. Cook and Hamner became friends and still speak on a regular basis, and Hamner continues to be a mentor and literary hero.
In 1999, a devastating twist took place in the Cook family’s life when Erin was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure. Many years of juvenile diabetes had taken a toll on her kidneys, and Erin needed dialysis to keep her alive. In 2001, a life-changing phone call came from Shands Hospital in Gainesville, and on October 23, 2001, Erin underwent a kidney and pancreas transplant that saved her life.
“That was a dark few years for us,” Mark said. “Not knowing if she would live to see the transplant or if it would be successful was certainly troubling; it was hard to keep my sanity. But last October made 10 years since the surgery, and not only does her new kidney continue to work, her 24 years of diabetes ended when she received the new pancreas.”
After her recovery, Mark and Erin discussed expanding the Cook family from two to three.
“With Erin’s diabetes and kidney failure, having children was not an option,” Cook said. “But we looked into adoption and decided to go through the foster-to-adoption route. In 2003, we were blessed to add our son Douglas to the family. He was 3 years old then and is now 11. Douglas has been one of the most amazing blessings we have ever received. Regardless of the biological laws of nature, he is my blood and my son.”
Over the years, Scott and Mark kept in touch, and in the summer of 2011, Reynolds called Cook to see if he was interested in joining PewterReport.com.
“Because of my longtime relationship with Scott, I assumed that I was ahead of the pack as far as getting the job,” Cook said. “But I was mistaken. He and Charlie Campbell put me through a grueling month-long interview process. But it was worth it. I was hired just before 2011 camp opened.
“Initially I was to spend a season under Charlie learning the ropes, but it didn’t work out that way. Unfortunately for me, and the readers, Charlie took another job, so I was thrust into a more prominent role. I still remember Scott pulling me to the side after Charlie announced he was leaving and telling me, ‘I need you to step up.’”
“I have tried over the last year to provide the best insight I can to the readers. Scott, Kim Roper, Hugh MacArthur and PR’s largely-unheralded support staff have helped me tremendously. I am especially attuned to the feedback from the readers, even the criticism, which makes me work harder and inspires me to improve.”
Reynolds appreciate what Cook brings to PewterReport.com.
"What sets him apart from a lot of the writers is his knowledge of this team since nearly the beginning," Reynolds said. "When someone talks about the Bucs beating the Eagles in 1979 Mark remembers it. He saw it. Just having that perspective is really unique. No one can question his passion in covering this team and we are happy he came aboard last season."
As Cook heads into his second season with Pewter Report, he is excited about the future.
“Those who transformed Buccaneer Magazine into PewterReport.com were really visionaries in the future of sports journalism,” Cook said. “I’m an old school newspaper guy, but I have seen firsthand how media has changed, and we’re not heading back. While I am biased, I don’t think anyone does it better than we do. That isn’t to say we can’t get better. We must become better, and we will. That is part of what makes our jobs so exciting.
“I appreciate my job and always try to remember to say a prayer of thanks at least once a day. Even on those long game days, when everyone is going to bed and we are still in the press box working, I remind myself how blessed I truly am. Not many people can say that they make a living doing what they are passionate about. Fortunately I am one who can.”
See our other staff bios:Scott Reynolds: A Life Covering The Buccaneers
Copyright © 2011 Pewter Report, PewterReport.com and Pewter Insider. All rights reserved. PewterReport.com, the official site of Pewter Report, is an independent source of news and commentary and is not affiliated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the NFL.