Rushin grew up in Bloomington, Minnesota, the third in a family of five kids. "Beer has long been in my blood, and not just in the literal sense," he wrote. "My ancestors were much practiced at naming bars." In 1946, his father's father, Jack Rushin, opened a saloon on Market Street in San Francisco he called Jack's. But the neon sign Jack Rushin ordered came back misspelled. Faced with a costly correction, he installed it unaltered, which is why San Francisco had...under different ownership...a famous nightclub of the '50s called Fack's. On Steve's mother's side, he comes from a long line of big-league baseball players, firefighters, and bar owners named Boyle. His grandfather Jimmy Boyle played catcher for the New York Giants in 1926 and his brother Buzz Boyle was an outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Their uncle, Jack Boyle, had a long career with the Phillies, then became nearly as renowned as the owner of a bar in downtown Cincinnati. In 1954 Steve's father, Don, was a blocking back for Johnny Majors at the University of Tennessee. And Steve's older brother, Jim, was a forward on the Providence hockey team that reached the Final Four in 1983.
He recalled his businessman father making him look up words in their big red dictionary so he could report on what they meant. His mother, Jane, was a teacher who thought his love of reading and writing meant he should become a lawyer. After her abrupt death on Sept. 5, 1991, of a disease called amyloidosis, Don took up golf at 57. "He and my mother had always played tennis -- a couples' game of mixed doubles and tennis bracelets and Love-Love," Steve wrote. "But in mourning, Dad turned Job-like to golf, a game of frustration and golf widows and solitary hours on the range. On his first visit to a driving range, my father struck a steel stall divider with one of his drives, and the ball rocketed back into his privates, beginning a long history of violence and comedy -- often combined -- in the Rushin golf game." In Bloomington, young Steve watched baseball and football games at Metropolitan Stadium, where he sold hot dogs and soft drinks to Twins and Vikings fans (for one year he also took in hockey in the pine-green polyester worn by vendors at the Met Center, home of the Minnesota North Stars).
"When I was 16, my father, with Wite-Out, rolled forward the odometer on my birth certificate so that I could sell beer at Minnesota Twins games, where the official brand was Schmidt, whose brewery, in St. Paul, bore enormous, electrified letters that lit up at night," he wrote. "On those unfortunate evenings when every second letter failed to illuminate, you could drive by and see, like a beacon on the side of the brewery, a brazenly honest bit of beer advertising: SCHMIDT." He is a graduate of John F. Kennedy Senior High School in Bloomington, and Marquette University in Milwaukee. In college, he once recalled, he "did not bring down the Berlin Wall as my summer job. No, on my summer job, I worked at a Tom Thumb convenience store and wondered what would become of my life, and if that life would involve Slurpees. Standing behind the counter in a red smock, I envied the hot dogs as they rode all day on that little hot dog Ferris wheel."
An inveterate reader of cereal-box side panels, Rushin cites as his earliest literary influences the copywriters at Kellogg's and General Mills, as well as the New York sportswriter Oscar Madison. After reading a story by Sports Illustrated writer Alexander Wolff on the annual Gus Macker three-on-three tournament in Michigan, Rushin struck up a correspondence with Wolff. He ended up writing an anthology of sports nicknames. From A-Train to Yogi, with Wolff and Chuck Wielgus. He joined the staff of S.I. in 1988, two weeks after graduating from Marquette. Within three years, at age 25, he became the youngest Senior Writer on the SI staff. In 1991, he was shuffled back to the Twin Cities to cover hometown reaction to the North Stars' first appearance in a Stanley Cup final in 10 years. The 15,000-plus crowds that jammed the Met Center for Cup games were a shock to Rushin, who hadn't seen a crowd that large in the arena in years...and certainly not when he and the rest of the Kennedy High Class of '84 held their graduation exercises there.
Three years later Rushin spent four months writing an epic feature for S.I.'s 40th Anniversary issue. The story of his journey was divided into five parts, each exploring an essential aspect of sports in America. One section was a lament for recently razed Metropolitan Stadium, whose site became the Mall of America and housed more than 800 stores, making it the largest shopping center in the United States. "It's nauseating to think that above where Fran Tarkenton once scrambled, there's going to be an Orange Julius or a Gap," he said. Rushin's essay -- How We Got Here -- spanned 24 pages and remains the longest-ever article published in a single issue of S.I.At the magazine, he filed stories from Java, Greenland, the India-Pakistan border and other far- and near-flung locales. He covered the World Series, the World Cup and Wimbledon. (And those were just the Ws). He ate his way around America's ballparks ("I had watched a fat man in a minor league ballpark in Colorado Springs spoon chopped onions and pickle relish onto his jumbo frank, then turn to me, a complete stranger, and say, "Vegetables") and rode a dozen rollercoasters in a day. (Happily, those assignments were not consecutive). His weekly column, Air & Space, ran from 1998 to 2007, and was often about sports. Rushin was named the 2005 National Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, and has been nominated for three National Magazine Awards.
He left S.I. in February, 2007. He has since found a niche as an occasional contributor to Golf Digest and Time magazine, for which he writes back-page essays.He is the author of the billiards guide Pool Cool (1990), the travelogue Road Swing: One Fan's Journey Into the Soul of America's Sports (1998), the collection The Caddie Was a Reindeer (2004) and the novel The Pint Man (2010). He has written numerous essays for The New York Times with memoirist and former Sports Illustrated colleague Franz Lidz. Three of them appear under the title Piscopo Agonistes in the 2000 collection Mirth of a Nation: The Best Contemporary Humor.
Rushin is married to college basketball analyst and former basketball player Rebecca Lobo. In S.I., Rushin had written how he had slept with 10,000 women one night. He was referring, of course, to a WNBA game he watched and subsequently fell asleep. Rushin later recalled how Lobo confronted him in a Manhattan bar after reading that story. "She asked if I was the scribe who once mocked, in Sports Illustrated, women's professional basketball," he wrote. "Reluctantly, I said that I was. She asked how many games I'd actually attended. I hung my head and said, "None." And so Rebecca Lobo invited me to watch her team, the New York Liberty, play at Madison Square Garden. We both reeked of secondhand Camels. (And, quite possibly, of secondhand camels: It was that kind of a dive.) But my insult had been forgiven. It was...for me, anyway...love at first slight." He added: "She had the longest legs, the whitest teeth, the best-sown cornrows I had ever seen, and I imagined us to have much in common. I ate Frosted Flakes right out of the box, and she was on boxes of Frosted Flakes. I am ludicrous, and she was name-dropped in a rap by Ludacris. We were, I thought, made for each other."
Rushin and Lobo live with their three children in Western Connecticut. In May, 2007, he was the Commencement Day speaker at Marquette, where he was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters for "his unique gift of documenting the human condition through his writing." "Nineteen years ago, my commencement speaker was the honorable William H. Rehnquist, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court." he said. "And while I don't remember what he said that day, I do vividly recall being inspired by his example, and I vowed then and there that I too would pursue a career that allowed me to spend all day in a robe. And so I became a writer."