ATHENS — I don’t know if you knew Norm Reilly, but I did, and I’m better for it.
Norm has been gone from UGA for a long time. Twenty-one years, to be exact. But to me, I’ll always associate him with the Georgia Bulldogs.
For the last 14 years, Reilly has been an associate AD and sports information director at UAB. But I met, or rather got to know him, while he was the publicist for Georgia basketball. That’s what he was doing, working alongside Hugh Durham, when I was starting out as cub reporter working for the Athens Banner-Herald in the late 1980s.
And, truthfully, he used to intimidate the heck out of me. Honestly, I didn’t know much at all about college basketball when I was starting out. I didn’t grow up watching the sport like I did football. And other than knowing Dominique Wilkins played there, I didn’t know much at all about Georgia basketball.
Norm set out to change all that. Granted, it was different in those days, but Norm gave me all the access I could stand to the basketball team. He encouraged me to come over and watch practices. He’d let me set up on press row, right next to the court, so I could work while the team was going through the paces. Afterward, he’d invite me to Durham’s office. We’d get the business of the day done, but then I was allowed to hang around as he and Durham and the veteran scribes of the day would swap stories about trips to Final Fours and SEC tournaments gone by and about confrontations with the officials.
Norm’s pregame notes were the stuff of legend. Let’s just say they were extensive and detailed, and he always made sure he got them done and he would get them to reporters a day or two before games, so we could wax eloquent like we knew everything there was to know about the upcoming game.
Truth is, it was Norm’s knowledge we were sharing. Gradually, though, it became our own, and I suspect that was his scheme all along.
When I showed up to cover basketball, we generally didn’t travel to away games. It wasn’t in the budget. But Norm worked it out with Durham to get me a seat on the team plane. Unheard of nowadays and we wouldn’t do it if we could, but he got me there and all it usually cost was room at the Holiday Inn. So I got to see for myself the places they talked about in their stories, like the Pete Maravich Center, Rupp Arena, Tad Smith Coliseum and Memorial Gym.
And before long, I had my own stories to tell.
I tell you that to tell you this: Norm Reilly died.
Norm passed away this past weekend after a long, long battle with cancer. It took nine years from the initial diagnosis, but that cruel disease finally got him. He was only 56.
A life celebration will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. at Southern Heritage Funeral Home in Pelham. I can’t be there and that makes me sad.
But a lot of people will be I’m sure. I just wanted to share the news of Norm’s passing because a lot of folks around here knew him and many of them knew him much better than me. I’m just one of many on which he made a profound impact.
Reilly is survived by his wife, Leslie, and two sons, Trey and Graham. My heart’s with them this weekend.