It was early evening and the snow was sticking to the highway. The road between Laramie and Fort Collins had turned icy. Ralph Zobell, a sports information officer for BYU, was driving when he hit a slick spot and momentarily veered.
Without batting an eye, he turned into the skid, straightened the car, and drove on unperturbed. Crammed into the vehicle were a few media people. We were hustling to get back to Denver after a Cougar game against Wyoming.
Someone had gasped when we hit the slick spot.
“Don’t worry,” I said above the howl of the wind. “Ralph’s in his element.”
A Wyoming native, I figured if anyone could get us through the storm, it was Ralph. He did, as promised.
Meanwhile, he saw BYU through a lot of stormy and sunny days alike.
Zobell worked his final day in BYU’s sports information office last Friday, after 41 years. He was there for almost all the great ones, from Jim McMahon, to Steve Young, to Ty Detmer, to Robbie Bosco, to now. If there was a Heisman or Outland candidate, Zobell was involved.
Meanwhile, if a reporter needed an interview lined up, Ralph was the contact. He remained helpful and resourceful even after some of his duties switched to online work and media guides.
There have been times in my career when I knew Ralph as well as our own staff writers, because I spent as much time around him. When I wrote two books on BYU athletics, it was Ralph that set me up in his office, found the old game programs, newspaper clips, media guides, video, etc.
He was the kind of sports information director that adroitly did what the job title indicates.
I’m convinced that without Ralph and his former boss, Dave Schulthess, BYU would never have had the success it did. They and others on staff got the word out on all their stars.Comment on this story
So naturally, Zobell’s retirement brings memories. I sat by Ralph on the concrete roof of Arizona State’s baseball stadium, in 110-degree temperatures, when BYU played in an NCAA Regional. And I rode with him through blizzards on the high plains of Wyoming. He even offered to summon the team doctor to my hotel room when I fell sick.
Throughout the years, his one constant assignment was BYU baseball. We sat together through doubleheaders, back when BYU had future major leaguers Cory Snyder, Wally Joyner and Scott Nielsen. A lot of the games were before BYU had a press box. We hunkered at a table down the first base line.
So here’s a high-five to Ralph, whose loyalty to BYU and his help with the media are legendary.
I’m hoping he's in his element in retirement, too.