(ABC4) – Sports stories often times make some of the best stories, and the latest entries to Jessop’s Journal on this Sunday’s episode are no exception.
One of the latest signees into Doug Jessop’s old and weathered journal, Wesley Ruff, has been one of the leading ‘faces’ of the Utah sports scene for years. The other entry, Jon Absey, also delighted thousands of sports fans for decades, but nearly all of them enjoyed his athletic feats without knowing his name or seeing his face.
Both Ruff and Absey could easily be considered sporting legends in the state, but for wildly different reasons.
“I can do that!”
ABC4 Sports Director Wes Ruff has had a storied career in broadcasting, winning state sportscaster of the year five times, in addition to numerous accolades and honors from the local golf community.
However, it wasn’t always his dream to work as a sportscaster, he originally studied International Business with hopes of working for an company with an office in Japan. However, one night while watching late broadcasting legend Bill Marcroft on TV, it dawned on him that talking about sports could be an actual career.
“I went down and changed my major the next day,” he remembers of his decision to enroll in broadcast journalism classes. “I didn’t know anything about it. I wouldn’t have done it yet because I would have been too afraid. But I was just so stupid and so naive. I just thought ‘I can do that.'”
The kid from Springville took his first job in sportscasting in Fargo, North Dakota, where he nearly froze to death for a spell while driving around the state, covering high school volleyball games. Still, he was elated to be doing what he was doing.
“I would drive home at night and think ‘This is awesome! I get to do this. This is so cool.’ I loved it.”
When Arnold Palmer passed away, I called all of [my kids] and said, ‘I want you to if anybody ever asked you who your dad idolized, and respected, I want you to say Arnold Palmer, really, because of just the way he treated people and the way he looked people in the eye and the way he just was a gentleman in all aspects of the game and life.’ I wanted them to know that there was some that was somebody that I looked up to. I hope I’ve taught them hard work.Wesley Ruff on what he wants to pass down to his kids
A ‘bear’-y good time working in the NBA
Jessop’s Journal may have a lot of scars, but chances are it doesn’t have nearly as many as Jon Absey.
“I’ve had 10 surgeries and 27 torn ligaments, tendons, and muscles, and 158 staples and stitches,” Absey explains in a shockingly casual tone to Jessop.
Where did all these injuries come from? Well, for 25 seasons Absey thrilled the crowds at the home court of the Utah Jazz as the team’s mascot, the Jazz Bear. For Absey, thinking outside the box and pushing his body to incredible – if not sometimes dangerous – limits, was what made him an icon in the state and a Hall of Fame mascot (yes, there is a Hall of Fame for mascots, believe it or not).
Although he made his name with a number of stunts, such as riding his motorcycle to charity events in full costume, sledding down the lower bowl staircase onto the court, and rappelling onto the hardwood from the rafters, one of Absey’s most memorable moves as the Bear came on the giant ladders he would use as props.
“It started out where I was on the ladder and holding signs, and then other mascots started copying it, so then I was like, ‘Okay, I gotta do something better,'” Absey recalls “So I did a handstand and then I caught on that a couple of other mascots were doing it. So then I was like, ‘I’ll do a one arm handstand.'”
That drive to be the craziest, most unique mascot in sports made Absey’s time as the team’s mascot a cherished memory. Although not all of his stunts were successful – as evidenced by his laundry list of injuries – he was grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the community, especially in charity work. He still operates a mascot-outfitting company that regularly brings mascots to youth charity events all over the state and nation.
When I got this job, I just needed to give back. I wanted to say thank you to the fans, and the community for embracing it. I mean, seriously, I mean, it was it was kind of shocking how many people just said, ‘Okay, you’re our guy.’ And I wanted to give back by doing charity work. Now that I’m done, I still want to continue that. And I think the biggest thing about living life is giving back and knowing that when I leave this earth, I left a footprint on it.Jon Absey on how he wants to leave his mark
Jessop’s Journal airs each Sunday at 10 a.m. on ABC4 Utah.