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In terms of sheer output, Earl Zukerman may very well be the Stephen King of University sports information officers.
Like the prolific horrormeister, Earl the Pearl has produced a massive body of work over his 29-year career, ranging from thousands of bite-sized press releases and game reports to full-fledged historical tracts celebrating the history of McGill Athletics.
If, over the last three decades, you’ve read something about McGill jocks, chances are Zukerman penned it.
On the surface, it sounds like the kind of gig that would have most sports buffs making like Pavlov’s dogs.
In reality, it is a job that would come back to bite all but the truest fans.
By his own estimation, Zukerman works between 12 and 18 hours a day, seven days a week while varsity sports are in season.
“You have to really love this job or you just won’t last,” he said during an interview he could only schedule after the last skate was unlaced. “Most sports information officers don’t make it much past seven years.”
Covering no less than McGill’s 48 varsity teams, Zukerman’s job really begins when the final whistle of each game sounds.
After verifying the game sheet to make sure there are no errors, Zukerman must report the score and stats to the Canadian Interuniversity Sports body and respective leagues, call a variety of print and electronic media outlets, update the McGill website and write a game story.
When the sports seasons are in full swing, his nightly workload is multiplied many times over as it is not unheard of to have a basketball doubleheader (Redmen and Martlets) the same night as a soccer twin-bill.
“Homecoming is the craziest,” he said.
“We usually host tournaments for basketball and volleyball, a football game and have men and women’s games in hockey and soccer,” he said. “It’s somewhere between 35-40 events over the weekend.”
Ironically, Zukerman’s job often precludes him from attending many of the actual games.
“There are just too many things going on at the same time,” he said. “You have to pick and choose which events to go to.”
Instead, he sits in his office, preparing his copy from brief game reports and stats sheets. Growing up in the 1960s and 70s, Zukerman’s love of sport was fostered by the great Montreal Canadiens dynasties of the era.
An avid follower of Montreal pro sports teams, he didn’t get turned on to amateur athletics until he attended his first Redmen hockey game while doing his undergraduate degree in sociology.
“I had so much fun it gave me the urge to get involved,” he said.
He became the hockey team’s statistician for seven years. Zukerman lucked out in his very first semester as sports information officer in 1987, the year the Redmen football team shocked the nation by winning the Vanier Cup.
“It was by far my greatest McGill moment,” he said. “I’ve never seen the campus more vibrant.”
For Zukerman, the source of that vibrancy can be traced directly back to the student athletes themselves.
“They aren’t paid and they try so hard,” he said.
“For most of them this is the highlight of their sporting life and, unlike so many pro athletes, they play each game like it really matters,” he said. “It makes me feel young again and keeps me coming back. You end up building relationships with some of the athletes and that just enhances the whole spectator experience. If you know the person who scores three goals or sinks a crucial free throw it makes you feel proud, like they’re your brother or son.”