Kolpack: Before politics, Eddie took local sports media to another level
The small plane took off from Hays, Kan., and Ed Schultz took his customary seat toward the back. He was quiet, legs crossed, looking out the window often and jotting a few things down on a piece of paper.
He just finished broadcasting the NCAA Division II North Central Regional men's basketball tournament in Hays, where the Bison lost to South Dakota State in the 1996 title game. It was a high-scoring contest that probably tested even the most vociferous pitch of Eddie's voice.
Something was up on the trip home, however.
It turns out he was compiling a list of requests for his next gig. Salary. Car. Plane trips. Sidekicks. Contract stuff. Eddie was in the midst of moving over to another station, yet another step in a career that reached unforeseen heights.
Local radio. Local TV. National radio. National TV. International TV. You thought the ascension would never end.
You thought he would never end.
The news that Eddie passed away at the age of 64 leaves people like me, those of us who have been in the business awhile, on the numb side. Eddie? You can't be serious.
Love him or hate him, the guy made all of us better. Just like the guy who brought him into the media world, former KXJB sportscaster Jim Adelson, made everybody better on the TV side better. Jimbo was a pioneer in the field of TV sports entertainment. Eddie took it to another level.
Man, did he take it to another level.
He took competition to another level.
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I'll never forget the headline in The Forum: "Eddie Schultz needs a gut-check."
Nov. 30, 1989. It was a column written by former Forum sports columnist Dave Kolpack, my older brother now working for the Associated Press. It was in reference to Schultz blaming a couple of sportswriters in Madison, Wis., for the downfall of former NDSU head football coach Don Morton in his tenure at the University of Wisconsin.
So brother came to the defense of his fellow print scribes. He pointed out the irony of Eddie's claim that the writers covering the Badgers were just looking for exposure, writing that's what Eddie does best. Ratings.
"That was the one that kicked it off really, that started our bantering," my brother said. "Frankly I enjoyed getting under his skin but at the end of the day, he would always joke with me and say, just spell my name right."
So the Forum columnist and the WDAY sports anchor made up, eventually hugging it out.
"Eddie was an incredible talent, and he wasn't afraid to let you know that," Dave added. "I think he really raised the bar on the entertainment aspect of sports journalism. He lowered the bar once in a while, too, but I'm sure the same could be said about me in our exchanges."
There were other exchanges, too. Another in-the-ring opponent in those days was the Grand Forks Herald's Ryan Bakken.
"I was not a big fan, I'll admit at the time but in retrospect, in looking back, he was one of the first non-newspaper media that really had strong opinions on things and he brought controversy to everything," said Bakken, now retired and living in Bemidji, Minn. "He was Eddie. He grew on me a bit. I saw where his calling came. He wasn't in the middle on anything. He was good at what he did. He got people to listen to him."
It was Bakken vs. Kolpack. Kolpack vs. Schultz. Bakken vs. Schultz. They all had their opinions and they were not weak at what they did. It was their word or the highway.
Bakken, like me, was in disbelief that Eddie left this world.
"You never think of him dying because he had so much energy and was always on the go," Bakken said. "He's an iconic person in the media business. Everyone knew Eddie."
Before he became a political guy, everyone knew Eddie as a sports guy. His list of credentials was endless, from Bison football on radio and TV, Sioux hockey on TV, UND football, Bison basketball, a top-notch outdoors show, Minnesota high school basketball playoff games, coaches shows or sports talk radio shows. In college, he was a gun-slinging quarterback at Minnesota State Moorhead who had a cup of coffee in pro football.
In a press conference, when he asked a question, you knew who was asking the question. On the radio, he made a five-yard gain sound like a touchdown.
"He was the storyteller for NDSU football during a magical time," tweeted Rice University (Texas) athletic director Joe Karlgaard. "Many of my favorite memories as a kid growing up in Bismarck involved listening to Ed beautifully describe the genius of Jeff Bentrim or Chris Simdorn. A sad day indeed."