Another Way of Seeing: “USA Today’s” Eddie Timanus

“USA Today” sportswriter Eddie Timanus has never watched a game—but that’s not stopping him.

By: Greg Rosenstein

As the clock struck 0:00 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, last May 28, the Loyola University Maryland men’s lacrosse team sprinted to the far end of the field. Players jumped into one another’s arms. It was the Greyhounds’ first Division I national title in any sport, and Eddie Timanus, 44, a longtime sportswriter covering the event for USA Today, didn’t see any of it. He’s never seen a lacrosse game—despite having covered scores of them. Timanus has been blind since before he was three.

His father, Chuck Timanus, a sports broadcaster, sat by his side that day for the pair’s 20th consecutive NCAA Final Four. Chuck provided play-by-play and painted the scene that Eddie needed in order to write the story.

“At first you’re just so in awe of the guy,” says lacrosse coach Bill Tierney, who between the University of Denver and Princeton has won six national championships and reached 11 Final Fours. “He really gets it when you talk to him about the game. And he’s blind. It’s amazing.”

Timanus’s path to sports began while he tagged along at his father’s broadcasts. After the family moved from South Dakota to Reston in 1981, Chuck began calling American University basketball. Eddie helped him keep statistics by using an abacus and a couple of pegboards. The key to doing his job was listening closely to how his dad described the action. “If there’s a big flurry at the offensive end where there’s a couple of tips, you might lose track a little bit,” Eddie says. “But I was pretty accurate for most of the games.”

Graduating from college in 1990 with an economics degree, Timanus planned to attend grad school for sports management at the University of Maryland. He interned at the Supreme Court the summer before he was set to arrive in College Park. Then something unexpected happened: “The public-information officer at the court had put the word out that I was interested in working in sports. A reporter let her know that there was an opening at the USA Today sports department for a part-time news aide who would take reader phone calls and things like that.”

Timanus accepted the position and in 1995 was named to the full-time staff. He has essentially had the same job ever since—with a little more responsibility. Along with editing and writing the occasional story, he oversees the influential USA Today sports polls. Each Sunday in the fall, for example, he compiles the top-25 ranking based on selections by the college football coaches. The list has an effect on who does or doesn’t play in the BCS national championship game. It also provides instant water-cooler discussion topics when it’s released Monday morning. “Our credibility is tied to those polls,” says assistant managing editor of sports Tom O’Toole. “We have to monitor them, and we have to make sure there aren’t any things out of whack. He’s our first line of defense for that.”

Sports isn’t all Timanus knows: In fall 1999, he became the first legally blind contestant on Jeopardy!, according to the show. Using a Braille card with the category names, he won five consecutive shows before the rules forced him to retire. His final earnings were $69,700 and two Chevrolet Camaros. He also appeared on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, taking home $50,000.

Timanus says his trivia days are all but over, but that won’t be the case with sports coverage. He’ll once again sit with his father in the press box for the 2013 men’s lacrosse Final Four this spring. Another team will jump for joy on the field, and Eddie won’t be able to see anything. But you can be sure his readers will.

This article appears in the February 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.