Wright Thompson at home in Oxford

Wright Thompson of Oxford will moderate a "Meet The Authors" football forum at Off Square Books Friday at 6:30 p.m., sponsored by ESPN Books, Square Books, and The Ole Miss Spirit. He will be joined by Bruce Feldman, John Ed Bradley, Clay Travis, Warren St. John, and Pableaux Johnson.

Talk about being born a Rebel. Wright Thompson almost came into the world at an Ole Miss football game.

It was early September, 1976.

"My mom was very pregnant with me," said Thompson, Senior Writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine, of his mother, Mary.

But his father, the late Walter Thompson, had no intentions of missing the season opener against Memphis State in Memphis.

"My dad made my mom ride a bus to the game," said Thompson, reliving a part of his life he's obviously heard about quite a few times over the years. "She had to stand up on the bus. She had to walk up like a million stairs. It's really hot. My mom looks at my dad and says ‘I don't think this is a very good idea.' And he says, ‘Wouldn't it be awesome if the Ole Miss team doctors delivered him in the locker room?' I think she said no it would not be awesome."

Wright wasn't born then. That occurred a few days later on Sept. 9. A couple of days after that, Ole Miss beat Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide 10-7.

"So the first game I was alive, Ole Miss beat Alabama," Thompson said while sitting at his desk inside the Oxford house he and his wife, Sonia, have lived in since May. "See, this was all destiny."

And so maybe it was. Thompson, 31, began charting a course years ago that while not knowing exactly where it would lead, he knew it was a journey he wanted to make.

"In tenth grade I had mono, so I had time to read everything in the house," the Clarksdale native said. "My mom's a writing teacher, an English teacher. I read North Toward Home by Willie Morris. Read it straight through. I wanted to live that life. That sounded interesting to me. I realized then that this is an actual thing you could do. This is a path, a plan. This is possible. And so pretty much every decision I made from then on was to be able to try to do that."

He put his heart and soul into it. After high school he chose the University of Missouri, which has one of the country's best journalism schools.

"The best three journalism schools are Missouri, Northwestern, and Columbia," he said. "My parents didn't want me running around in New York City. I got in enough trouble in Clarksdale. I might be in prison now if they'd sent me to New York or Chicago. Missouri was about as far north as I wanted to go."

Even that was different for a kid from the Mississippi Delta.

"I arrived on campus and didn't know a soul. I was thinking, what in the hell have I done? And I talk funny. But it was wonderful."

And it was obviously the next step on a career path that led him to cover some big-time events, even while in college.

"I covered (Mizzou) baseball the first year, then football the second year, then wrote columns the next two years – mostly responsibly," he said, laughing. "When I was a junior, four of us (Missouri journalism students) went to cover the Super Bowl. Of those four, three of us are now at ESPN The Magazine, and one is a Division I beat writer. It (Missouri) draws people who are ambitious. Ambition spurs more ambition. It was a highly competitive situation."

And it afforded Wright opportunities to meet some people who would be key to his future. Some of that "right place, right time" stuff.

He interned at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans the summer between his junior and senior years and later was the LSU beat writer there. He was at the Kansas City Star after that, covering Super Bowls, Final Fours, The Masters, The Kentucky Derby, U.S. Open golf and tennis.

Then he interviewed at ESPN.

"Bristol (Conn.). That's an intimidating place. It's humbling to work there because there are so many people who are really good at what they do."

And now he has what many consider to be one of the best sports journalism jobs in the country. He basically writes 12 stories a year, most of them lengthy, all of them with an abundance of research and travel.

Since he's lived in Oxford, Thompson's been to China, Japan, and Mexico twice. It's back to China in November. A trip to Russia is in his future.

The Summer Olympics next August are in China. He's been doing some advance stories there.

"I took a road trip down Highway 108, which would be like taking Highway 61 through the Delta. It's through the heartland of China. China's industrial revolution is taking place now, like what was happening here 150 years ago. It's really interesting to see this change."

He may not actually be assigned to cover the games themselves. And after all, it'll be getting pretty close to football season here about that time.

Wright's loving this season. He's living in Oxford. His alma mater, having its best season in years, played the Rebels here on Sept. 8. He was able to host and entertain Missouri friends Ole Miss style.

Wright says he likes the buildup to the games actually more than the games themselves.

"I like the goose bumps right before kickoff," he said passionately.

He then showed me one of his favorite college football moments, a clip from a televised game at Virginia Tech prior to kickoff. As a college football fan, I know where he's coming from as we watch it.

Ironically, the last game he covered on the Times-Picayune's LSU beat was at Virginia Tech.

His Ole Miss memories are many, and now that he's back he adds to them. He recalls being at the game when Chucky Mullins was injured.

"Exactly where on the field was it?" he asks, being a kid of 13 at the time maybe not quite recalling the exact spot.

I point it out to him as he draws on a piece of paper where he thinks it happened.

"Bruce Newman's got the only picture of the actual moment," I said of the Spirit photographer. Wright knows Bruce. They're both Clarksdale natives.

He mentions going to Alpine Camp and his "The Hit" t-shirt, the one with Chris Mitchell stopping Arkansas at the 1-yard line for victory in 1990, being soiled.

"It mildewed," he said. "I wore it anyway.

"I remember when they allowed cars in the Grove, and trying to avoid hitting a bumper going out for a pass. I've got an autographed John Fourcade picture thanking me for my support."

He was five when Fourcade's career at Ole Miss came to a close with a dramatic win over Mississippi State.

He and Sonia met in New York. They were Missouri students at the same time but didn't know each other then. They were married in Columbia, Mo., May 28, 2006.

They lived in Memphis until moving to Oxford. Sonia works for the University Foundation. Their move here depended on her getting the job, according to Wright.

"The most nervous I've ever been was when she was on her interview, because I wanted to live here so bad," he said.

The plan from way back in tenth grade, the path he saw that was out there for the taking, stays right on course for Wright Thompson.


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