HOMEBioTHIRD DOWN AND A WAR TO GOOLYMPIC AFFAIR: HITLER'S SIREN AND AMERICA'S HEROTHE WITCH'S SEASON: A TEAM, A TOWN, THE TIMESHORNS, HOGS, AND NIXON COMING'77: DENVER, THE BRONCOS, AND A COMING OF AGEMarch 1939: Before the MadnessPLAYING PIANO IN A BROTHELA Selection of Terry Frei's writing about World War II heroes

 

March 2011
Marian E. Frei, 1924-2011

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The official obituary.  

Marian E. Frei, 87, passed away on March 19 in Lakewood, Colorado.

 

Known to multiple generations of her pre-school and elementary school students as “Teacher Marian,” she also was a musician and, in later life, a librarian, in keeping with her life-long love of books.

 

Born Marian Benson in Stoughton, Wisconsin, on January 24, 1924, she was a graduate of Stoughton High School and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She married her high school sweetheart, Gerald L. “Jerry” Frei, on Dec. 25, 1945. (Below, they are pictured as teenagers in 1943.) 

Following her graduation, she began her teaching career in Madison, Wisconsin, while Jerry, a decorated pilot in World War II, finished up his education and football career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She continued to teach wherever her husband’s career as a football coach took the family, primarily Oregon and Colorado, and eventually put down deep roots in Denver and continued to live in the area following the 2001 death of her husband, a long-time Broncos assistant coach, scout and administrator. She collected antiques and books, was proud of and studied her Norwegian heritage, and treasured her wide circle of friends.

 

MonandDadJackson1943.jpgShe is survived by her five children – David Frei, New York; Judy Kaplan, Beaverton, Ore.; Terry Frei, Denver; Susan Frei Earley, Tulsa; and Nancy McCormick, Wadsworth, Ill. – plus five grandchildren and one great-grandson.


 
As her family and friends knew, Mom was loving, caring, sharing supportive and, to an extent, a very private person. So there is only so much I feel comfortable disclosing and discussing in this forum, as personal as it is. So I'll say this much: She always was our friend.

   
Her father, Bertel, came to the U.S. from Norway at age 21, in 1912, settling in Stoughton, Wisconsin, which then had -- and to an extent, still has -- a decided Norwegian-American bent. He married Ella Aslakson and the couple had two children, Helen and Marian. The two sisters were extremely close. 

MeridianLibraryPlaque.jpgIn Stoughton, my father was a year ahead of what would have been his high school class -- that wasn't unusual for young men who began school in rural Wisconsin -- and so he was a year ahead of Mom in school after his family moved to Stoughton and they met. When Dad went to the nearby University of Wisconsin in the fall of 1941, he had just turned 17. The next year, Mom enrolled at what then was Whitewater State College -- now UW-Whitewater. Typically, there she made friendships that lasted a lifetime; she still was receiving "round-robin" letters from her college friends. 

After Dad left the UW late in his sophomore year to serve as a P-38 fighter pilot in the Pacific, Mom remained at Whitewater, workin in the summer in war industries in Milwaukee, assembling and packing parachutes, and graduated with her teaching degree. When Dad returned following the end and they were married following the end of the war, Dad went back to school on the GI Bill and played two more seasons of football for the Badgers. Yes, Uncle Sam was picking up the bill for school (there were no official athletic scholarships in those days), but that didn't take care of everything, so Mom supported the young couple. She taught fourth grade in Madison.

Rather than "Mrs. Frei," she always preferred "Teacher Marian." And that was the case after the couple loaded up the car and moved to Portland, Oregon, where my father began his coaching career at Grant High School. (It's where Mr. Holland's Opus was filmed.) Dad moved to Lincoln High, then to Willamette University in Salem, then to the University of Oregon in Eugene. In 1955, after the move to Eugene, Mom basically established and ran the pre-school/kindergarten program at our church, Central Lutheran, adjacent to the campus. The church even ended up building an education wing, in part because of the program's success and popularity.

Momandmekindergarten.jpgHere's what she said in a 1967 Eugene Register-Guard story: "I'm Teacher Marian to a lot of children in Eugene. Teaching has been a tremendous experience for me. There's a challenge to finding a niche for each child."

One of her challenges was teaching her own children. Her four youngest all were her students at Central Lutheran. That's Teacher Marian/Mom with me during my year. Of course, she was always my Teacher.  

We all were lucky, although we didn't know how rare it was at the time: Dad stayed at Oregon for 17 years. But then the moves started, and Mom -- and my younger sisters, who were the most affected -- handled them with dignity and aplomb. It helped that Denver became the second home, with Dad returning to the Broncos for a second stint in 1981, and that stay with the franchise lasted until his death in 2001. So Mom came to think of Denver as home. She taught pre-school in Jefferson County, and it was fun to see her putting together projects for young children long after her own children were grown. She and Dad lived in both Lakewood and Englewood, but after Dad passed away, she made the move back to Lakewood, where many of her friends lived. She was in study groups, an antique club, ran the Westland Meridian library and remained active in many ways, even when it became physically difficult.

I miss her.  

 

 

               

January 2011

Jack Elway and Jerry Frei:
Broncos missed them, too 

An announcement and news conference today confirmed John Elway's return to the Broncos' organization as vice president of football operations -- the unquestioned head of the football part of the business. 

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That Elway is, and will continue to be, a savvy football man is a given.

It's not just what he learned playing the game himself, and playing it so well.
 
It's in his blood.

For nearly ten years now, I've heard others pay our fathers -- Jack Elway and Jerry Frei -- compliments, saying not only what great guys and friends they were, but also that the Broncos' organization missed their veteran voices of knowledge and reason both as they wound down their careers in the sport and then after they died within two months of each other in early 2001. They both loved the game and were astute evaluators of talent, calling on decades of experience and knowledge and using more than stop watches and tape measures. They found football players

That's Jack & Jerry above, in the dressing room following the Broncos' second consecutive Super Bowl win in January 1999, in Miami. 

Here's what I wrote about them in The Elway Effect chapter in Playing Piano in a Brothel:

At the memorial gathering following my father’s February 16, 2001, death, Jack Elway was one of many who stood up and asked for the microphone. Jack told about how he and Jerry Frei always shared a golf cart and a dormitory suite at the Broncos’ training camp in Greeley and hosted the informal staff happy hour each night. (Like at TGI Friday’s, this happy hour could begin late and last until closing time.) Jack loved his Sky vodka; Jerry, who wasseventy-six when he passed away, was partial to Black Velvet.
  
Jack said, “Every morning I’d ask Jerry, ‘How many people do I have to 
apologize to?’ And he always had a list ready for me.”
  
At the Broncos, nobody had to use their last names, and they tended to 
be mentioned in tandem, so much so, that they deserved an ampersand.
  
Jack & Jerry.
  
They became close friends fairly late in life, although they had known 
each other for many years and their shared background as former Pacific 8/10 head coaches -- Jack at Stanford, Jerry at Oregon -- and their many common friends gave them a natural starting point for discussion. Jack came into the Broncos organization as a pro scout, evaluating and judging talent on other teams around the NFL, and eventually added the title of pro scouting director before retiring in 1999. Jerry was semiretired and working part time when Mike Shanahan asked him to become director of college scouting and to groom his successor, Ted Sundquist, which he did for a couple of years before stepping back again and becoming a consultant. He couldn’t walk away from the game completely, 
and he enjoyed the consultant’s role, too.
  
When Jack and Jerry both were working during those years, they shared 
an office on the second floor of the team’s Dove Valley headquarters, and other staffers became accustomed to hearing big band music—they were big fans of Rick Crandall’s popular “Breakfast Club” on Denver’s KEZW-AM—and 
laughter coming from the office. When they could, they took road trips with
 the Broncos and sat together in the press box. If they were in town for home games, they sat together in the second row of the Mile High Stadium press box or sometimes in one of the tiny coaches boxes on the front of the top deck. I sat with them one game, and while I prided myself in understanding football better than the average scribe, that afternoon reminded me that what I knew was minimal compared to what these two longtime football men knew. They’d both be reacting, positively or negatively, to what they saw as the Broncos came out of the huddle, and I’d be trying to figure out what the hell they saw.
  
Around 1997, Jerry—yes, this was my father, but it always sounds right 
to call him “Jerry” in any shared context with Jack—asked me to call Jack. I did. Jack asked if we could meet for lunch. At the restaurant, Jack asked if I would be interesting in collaborating with him on a book. He noted that he’d had an interesting life in the game and had stories to tell. Jack was a funny and very intelligent man with a dry sense of humor, and I knew that his memoir—dating back to his high school coaching days and his climb up the college coaching ranks—would be fun to help write and certainly entertaining for readers. He did say that he understood any publisher would want him to write about his perspective on John’s life and career, and he was fine with that. We quickly got an off er and even a proposed contract with Sports Publishing of Champaign, Illinois, and we were dealing with former University of Illinois sports information director Mike Pearson, the company’s vice president of acquisitions. The advance money was minimal, and I considered my involvement as a favor to Jack and Jerry, as well as a potentially enjoyable experience because I knew I would spend a lot of time 
laughing during my discussions with Jack.

Jack had second thoughts, though, and we never signed the contract. It 
wasn’t money, because if that had been the case, he would have told me—or an agent—to keep shopping the project to see if we could get a higher advance. I didn’t press him, but I’m pretty sure he realized that his best stories had foils, and he might make some enemies. Plus, it might have made it awkward for John if he frankly discussed some issues, including John’s relationship with Dan Reeves, who by then had departed the Broncos. At the time, I was putting the finishing touches on about the seventeenth draft of 
The Witch’s Season, which had drawn some movie interest, and I hadn’t yet completely accepted the fact that I would be better off turning to nonfiction to establish myself in the book business. So I wasn’t at all heartbroken that the collaboration project fell through, just a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to hear all of Jack’s stories.
  
Jack Elway died on April 15, 2001. He was only sixty-nine years old. He 
had an apparent heart attack at his and Jan Elway’s second home in Palm Springs, California. At Jack’s service, Pat Bowlen noted that the organization 
had lost the two close friends only two months apart, and proposed a toast.

May 2014

Honoring Jerry Frei

at Ducks' spring game

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Jerry Frei Offensive Line Coach's Office


I'm back from an emotional and gratifying family visit to Eugene, where the University of Oregon athletic department honored our father, Jerry Frei, by offically unveiling the Jerry Frei Offensive Line Coach's Office in the new Hatfield-Dowlin Complex and showing a tribute video on the scoreboard screen during the first half of the Oregon Spring game at Autzen Stadium. Appropriately, the tribute was read by Don Essig, the long-time public address announcer at Oregon games.


In keeping with the military appreciation theme of the day, the video 
prominently mentioned the aspect of Jerry Frei's background that was never listed as part of his coaching biography during his 17-season tenure with the Ducks as an assistant and ultimately their head coach.


That was his 67 combat missions as a P-38 fighter pilot in World 
War II, flying generally alone over Japanese targets to take reconnaissance photos in advance of the bombing runs. The one-man

plane was unarmed; cameras replaced the guns. (The prologue of Third Down and a War to Go explains more.)


I noticed Oregon players on the field watching the video and clapping. 
On Friday, Kim Murray of the Duck Athletic Fund treated us to lunch at The Wild Duck, across the street from Matthew Knight Arena. It  significant for us, also, because the first home I remember living in in Eugene was about a block from there, on Columbia Street. (It's no longer there, thanks to university expansion.)

 

Then we took tours of the Casanova Center and the new football complex, which is truly as breathtaking as you've heard, and had a met and ate dinner with many of the former players and coaches

who had played golf that afternoon. It never gets old to hear stories from  Jerry Frei's former players and coaches, and they made me  even more proud to be his son. And it was nice to again see and

talk with former Oregon coach Rich Brooks, retired and now living back in the area.  Thanks to Jeff Eberhart of the Oregon athletic department; athletic director Rob Mullins; and offensive line coach

Steve Greatwood, who all were terrific.


On Saturday, I also enjoyed running into and speaking with Rob 
Moseley, editor of GoDucks.com, and Ryan Thorburn of the Eugene Register-Guard, formerly of the Boulder Daily Camera. And thanks for Oregon's David Williford for helping setting up a halftime radio appearance for my brother, David, and me with Jerry Allen, the veteran radio voice of the Ducks.   


Four of the five Frei siblings, plus family members, were there. Dave 
and I were joined by our sisters, Judy Kaplan and Nancy McCormick. The fifth sibling, former ballerina and now ballet company executive,  Susan Frei Earley, had performances over the weekend in Tulsa and wasn't able to attend.

   

Secondarily, and this was merely a coincidence because this honor was in the works long before the release of March 1939: Before the Madness, I also did a signing for the book about the first NCAA

basketball tournament -- a tournament won by Oregon's legendary "Tall Firs" -- and its times.  

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That also made the scoreboard, at left. 
I also was appreciative that the sons of two members of that legendary 1939 team came to the signing. The first is Scott Wintermute, son of Tall Firs center Slim Wintermute; the second is Scott McNeeley, son of backup guard  Red McNeeley. Scott had provided me with a CD interview his mother and aunt conducted with Red late in his life about his war-time experiences. Red was a torpedo bomber pilot in the Navy and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroics during the Battle of Iwo Jima.

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Setting up for The Duck Store signing. That's Jordan of the

Duck Store staff ... not Marcus Mariota.  

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Oregon's weight room  

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Oregon's cafeteria, left, and media interview room, right 

 
 


 
     
     
     
     

 


June 2012

Friends, family, former players, and

 coaching comrades salute Joe Collier
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Last night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, former Broncos defensive

coordinator Joe Collier -- the muse behind the famed "Orange Crush" defense --

was feted in honor of his recent 80th birthday.

It was a private event, organized by his daughters and son Joel, the assistant
 general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs, so I'm not going to go into much
 detail here. But it was fun to touch bases with several members of the
 "Orange Crush" and that coaching staff. I will disclose that among the stories
 told were several about how Joel served as a ballboy and air-horn
 reveille sounder at the Broncos' training camps.

I made it clear in '77 that I consider Collier -- who served under three head
 coaches -- the top defensive coordinator of all time in the NFL, both because
 of his cerebral innovation and his savviness in adapting to his personnel.

My amateur cell-phone picture is of the former Broncos players and coaches
 at the gathering, and the coaches are Collier (brown coat, light shirt, middle
 of the back row), plus Paul Roach, Red Miller and Myrel Moore.   

On a personal level, Collier and his wife, Shirley, were good friends with my
 late parents, and I know how much they loved Joe as much more than a
 coach.

Excerpt from '77: Brain Trust: Joe Collier and Company


 
 

September 2013
Before he was a sportscaster,

Marty Glickman was an

Olympic-class sprinter 


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(Marty Glickman, Sam Stoller on SS Manhattan on way to Germany)

I finally was able to watch the HBO

documentary on Marty Glickman, a major figure in my novel

Olympic Affair: Hitler's Siren and America's Hero, last night. HBO

On Demand for subscribers is a wonderful thing. The notation is

that "Glickman" will be available that way through September 23.

Glickman, destined for a career as one of the best play-by-play

sportscasters of all time, and fellow Jewish sprinter Sam Stoller

were frozen off the U.S. 400-meter relay team at the 1936 Berlin

Olympics, coincidentally leading to Jesse Owens adding to his

gold-medal collection with his fourth. As I write in my book, there is

considerable evidence and no doubt in my mind that U.S. Olympic

Committee czar Avery Brundage and others conspired to keep

Glickman and Stoller off the relay team to avoid "embarrassing" the

Games' German hosts  including Adolf Hitler. The documentary addresses

that and reaches the same conclusion.

 

As I had been promised, it is a superb and revealing portrait of one

of a trailblazing — in more ways than one  sportscaster who was

especially influential within his craft. Writer, director, and producer

James L. Freedman did terrific work here. Probably most

underplayed in what I had read and heard about the documentary

was the amazing rounding up and use of archival film and pictures

of Glickman through the years, especially during his athletic career

as a sprinter and football player. Time after time, I'd catch myself

marveling and congratulating Freedman for his doggedness and

ingenuity because I'm assuming nobody dropped a box of old films

and material on his front porch one morning. I also appreciated

and identified with how well he was able to cope with the fact

that Glickman died in 2001. He was able to use footage of earlier

Glickman interviews, and while I suspect he was wishing that he

had been able to do this much sooner, while Glickman was alive,

and do "new" interviews himself, it's not jarring or ruinous. I can

identify with Freedman in the sense that I suspect angst in having

to bring America this story a decade after Glickman's death  and

not while he still was alive  was part of the motivation every day.

 

"Glickman" is superb, and for many, it was or is

going to be revelation about a figure they has seen or listened to

growing up. But this doesn't need to be only for those old enough

to have that reason. It's a history lesson  a very relevant one 

also.          

 

Here are passages from the first half of my book, which
revolves around U.S. decathlon champion Glenn Morris' 
passionate, yet ultimately toxic and contaminating, affair 
with German actress, propagandist and filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl.
Morris was from tiny Simla, Colorado, and was a
former football star and student body president at the school
now known as Colorado State. Later narrative material documents

Glickman and Stoller's shameful exclusion from the relay team.
They had not "qualified" for the 100 or 200 -- even that
involved a bit of controversy, as noted below -- but went to 

Berlin as alternates and were expected to be on the relay team,

if the usual protocol was followed. It wasn't.  

 

A few background notes: At a farewell dinner the night before 
departure, a Broadway producer had told Morris to win the gold 
medal and then use it to make a very derisive gesture to Hitler. 
The Hotel Lincoln now is the Milford Plaza. And "Badgers" was the 
derisive term the athletes had for Olympic Committee functionaries.   
   
FROM CHAPTER FIVE: BON VOYAGE

In the middle of the Hotel Lincoln lobby, the pot-bellied small-time lawyer

in an ill-fitting American Olympic Committee blazer bellowed through a

megaphone. Sweat dripped down the Badger’s face despite the early-morning

hour.


“Gentlemen . . . and ladies! Have your Olympic identification card out.

Show it when you get on a bus, so we can check you off. From here on out,

you have to assume nobody’s going to recognize you or take your word for

who you are! That’s everywhere, but also, if Mr. Hitler is around, the more

likely they’ll be to react and ask questions later. So when men in strange

uniforms tell you where to go or where not to go, do what they say.”


Glenn thought of the Broadway producer’s suggestion the night before

and smiled. Then, looking at the Badger in his funny suit, he laughed. An

elbow dug sharply into his ribs. Next to Glenn, his eyes narrowed by fury,

was the spunky Jewish sprinter from New York City. Barely out of high school.

Looks more like one of these corner newsboys hawking New York papers than an

athlete. Glickman. Marty Glickman.


“What’s the idea, Marty?”


“You think that’s funny?”

  
“Think 
what’s funny?”


“The Nazis’ bullshit.”


“Hold on,” Glenn said, pointing at the Badger. “I was just thinking about

him warning us to put up with a bunch of guys in funny uniforms over there.

That’s all we’ve been doing for the past two days here!”


Not wanting to sound too cocky, Glenn didn’t bring up the producer’s

suggestion for what to do after winning the gold medal.

  
“Do you even 
know what the Nuremberg Laws are?” Glickman asked

sharply.


“Absolutely,” Glenn said.


“You’re comparing the Nazis and some guys telling us to get in line to pick

up a handbook?”


“You’re reading too much into this,” Glenn said. “Way too much.”


Jack Torrance, the huge shot-putter beloved as “Baby Jack” and “Baby

Elephant,” stepped between them. Glickman needed to stand on his toes

and lean to the side to even see the six-foot-two Morris; and that made, first,

the decathlete, and then the sprinter, laugh. If anything was going to foil

Torrance in Berlin, it was that the world record-holder and former football

player at Louisiana State University had gotten fat and flabby after leaving

college while serving as a Baton Rouge policeman. The rumor was the scales

at the physicals couldn’t even handle him, and that he was up to at least 325

pounds.


“Now boys,” Torrance drawled. “Need I remind you we’re all on the same

team from here on?”


“Honest, Marty,” Glenn said, “I didn’t mean anything by it . . . except

against the Badgers.”


Shaking his head, Glickman said, “Sorry. I guess all this has me a little

on edge. I’m going to the 
Olympics, but it doesn’t feel right. I’m starting to

wonder if Brundage insisted we go over there just so he could hug Hitler and

tell him what fine ideas he has.”


“I understand, Marty,” Glenn said. “Or at least I’m trying to.”


“Good,” Torrance said. “Now shake hands . . . or no more throwing lessons

for you, Morris, and I’ll accidentally drop a shot put on your toes, Glickman,

about the time we’re passing Greenland.”


Torrance stepped aside, letting them shake hands, and then said,  “So

we’re square? From here on out, it’s all red, white, and blue, one for all, and

all for one.”

  
Glenn felt old, telling himself: 
When I was Marty’s age, “the world” was the

globe in the corner of Old Man DeWitt’s history room at the high school . . . and

I didn’t know much about it.


FROM CHAPTER SIX: ONBOARD BONDING

They all ran a few sprints, and at one point, Marty Glickman waited for

Glenn and asked if he could talk to him privately. Over here, he gestured.


“First off,” Glickman said, “I’m going to play football at Syracuse, so I

identify with you.”


“Thanks,” Glenn said.


“The other thing you should know . . . well, you were at the Trials, weren’t

you?”


Glenn nodded.


Glickman continued, “So you know, I’m looking over my shoulder a bit

here, too. We ran that 100-meter final and they told me I was third—behind

Owens and Metcalfe. So I’m being interviewed on the radio, and they’re saying

I’m the boy who’s going to be running with them in the 100 meters in

Berlin, and while I’m talking, the judges come and tell me I’ve been bumped

down to fourth behind Frank Wykoff . . . and 
then they say I was fifth, behind

Foy Draper, too. So I’ve gone from running in the 100 at the Olympics with

Jesse and Ralph to just being on the team and hoping we stick to the way it’s

been done in the past so I have a spot in the sprint relay. The two guys they

suddenly placed ahead of me in the 100 run for Cromwell at USC. So . . .”


Dean Cromwell of USC was the American team’s assistant coach, nominally

in charge of the sprinters.


“How do they pick the relay?” Glenn asked.


“It’s always been that the top three from the trials run the 100, and then

the next four run the relay. So if they stick to that, it should be Foy Draper,

me, Stoller, and Mack Robinson. But there are no real rules, so I’m at their

mercy now. Mack doesn’t care all that much because he’s running in the 200,

but for me and Stoller, the relay’s our only chance. Writers already are saying

the coaches are telling ’em nothing will be decided until we’re in Berlin.

Maybe not until the last minute.”


Glenn was incredulous. “How could they take you and not let you run?”


“They might. They said we’d at least run in the exhibitions over there

after the Olympics. And . . .”


Glickman suddenly was a bit self-conscious.


“What else were you going to say?” Glenn asked.


“Well . . . look, we’ve talked about this, but the Germans would prefer

there aren’t any Jews competing at all. The Badgers know that, too. I’m not

saying they’ll screw us because of that, but I’m wondering. We’ll just see what

happens.” He paused, and then added, “Come on, let’s run.”

FROM CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: OPENING GAMBITS

As the athletes waited on the May Field, Glenn noticed but didn’t at first

feel a light rain again falling. He thought: These hats are good for something.


“Get a load of that!” Walter Wood called out, pointing beyond the Bell

Tower to the Glockenturm Plaza.


Armed Germans in various uniforms had gathered. Cars pulled up in the plaza, 
and one large limousine arrived at the foot of the Bell Tower. Adolf

Hitler emerged from the back seat. Scattered shouts of greetings came from

the few German civilians allowed in the area. Glenn was surprised at how

quiet it was otherwise. Hitler, wearing a brown uniform and high black boots,

returned the Nazi salute to an honor guard. Then he moved on to greet three

men, and Glenn recognized two of them from the Americans’ welcoming

ceremonies—the chubby mayor of Berlin and Dr. Theodor Lewald of the

German Olympic Organizing Committee. Lewald and the third man—

Glenn assumed he was an Olympic official, too—wore long coats, high collars,

and medallions draped around their necks on chains.


Soldiers filed down the corridor on the May Field, showily looking side

to side as Hitler and his entourage followed. Hitler’s group was perhaps

seventy-five men—military officers, Olympic officials, and other functionaries.


Glenn inched up, so close to Hitler’s pathway that the soldiers brushed

him. Then he saw Leni, squeezed onto the flatbed cart behind her cameraman,

who was angled to catch the reaction of the athletes to Hitler. As she

approached Glenn’s vantage point, she spotted him. Their eyes met. As the

cart went by, with her poised behind cameraman Walter Frentz, she gave

him the start, the barest hint, of a smile. For a moment, Hitler was no more

than ten feet away.


Marty Glickman ended up at Glenn’s shoulder. He shook his head in

wonderment. “Can you believe how close we were? Somebody could 
have. . .”
   
He left it there.


The looks they exchanged confirmed they both knew Marty wasn’t talking

about getting an autograph.


As Hitler moved on, he didn’t look to either side, despite scattered cries

from among the athletes. Mostly, it remained eerily quiet.


Soon, though, the roar announced: The Führer had entered the stadium.

  



July 2013

"So what's your

best book?" Done

dodging the Question

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The upcoming March 1939: Before the Madness will be my seventh book. I’m often asked, “What’s your best book?” Or, “What’s your favorite book?” And those are two very different questions, of course. At least in the case of the latter, it’s akin to asking which of your children is your favorite.

  

I’ll take a swing at it, anyway.

 

I’m proud of them all. If I’m asked which one a new reader should pick up to sample my work, I tailor the suggestion to what I know of the individual’s background, interests, tastes, and even geographic location. So, yes, if a life- long Denver Broncos fanatic asks that question, I tend to recommend ’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age … although, no, I don’t consider it my “best” work. If I know little or nothing about a reader’s background, or it seems conventionally “generic,” I admit Third Down and a War to Go is the one I would want them to read. Because of the high-profile figures and famous game involved, plus the astounding additional material I uncovered in the research process, I’m quite willing to recommend Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming, my most “successful” book.    

  

But my “best”?

  

It’s Olympic Affair: A Novel of Hitler’s Siren and America’s Hero, about the toxic and eventually contaminating relationship between Coloradan Glenn Morris, the 1936 Olympic decathlon champion, and notorious German actress/filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. Taylor Trade was nice enough and showed enough faith in me to allow me to step outside the box and reshape what originally was envisioned to be a conventional non-fiction book into a fact-based novel. Taylor Trade simultaneously issued Olympic Affair and University of Colorado emeritus professor Paul Levitt’s Stalin’s Barber in December 2012, and it required a tweaking of the Taylor Trade’s Twitter profile, which previously had specified it didn’t publish fiction.

 

It’s my best because I was able to use what I learned while researching and writing narrative non-fiction books in another genre. It’s not even my first novel – The Witch’s Season, based on what I witnessed of the football program and the crazy campus conditions in Eugene in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, came out in 2009. Because I started it long ago, and it was the stereotypical novel in my desk for many years as I kept coming back to it, I always will have great affection for it and pride in it. (Plus, the subject matter is near and dear to my heart.)

 

But I think I was able to constructively use the experiences of the previous novel and the non-fiction books in crafting Olympic Affair. In the Author’s Afterword, I explained at length the thought process in making it a novel, and my motivation and methodology in writing it. In a nutshell, I wrote it fast because I could see the story unfolding cinematically in my head, and I wanted to see how it turned out. It’s a “sports book” in a sense, and I do wonder what would have happened if we had simply classified it as such, with all the accompanying admissions that it also is a novel. I was able to use narrative techniques in my non-fiction books because so much of the material was based on my direct interviews, but I do wish now that I had unleashed myself a little more and escaped traditional techniques in Third Down and a War to Go.

 

In the Dallas Morning News, Si Dunn called Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming “a superb blending of sports, history and politics.” To varying degrees, that has been my approach in all the books. But I believe it all came together in Olympic Affair … yes, in a novel.

  

May 2012
Internet becomes a weapon 

in former NFL players' fights

My story on activist former NFL player Dave Pear is in the Sunday Denver Post 

and here.
  
Over the years, I’ve written many pieces about former players’ physical
 struggles.
  
One was 
this 2007 major story on former Broncos. I had tons of material left
 over from '77 research. Although the book wasn't published until 2008, I had
 made the decision by then that going too deeply into epilogue-type stories on
 the book's major figures would make it anticlimactic. So much of my
 material wasn't going to make the book, and I also used it as the framework
 for new interviews for the story specifically. 


Other pieces along those lines:

Tom Glassic’s fight for disability

Haven Moses’ heartening recovery from a stroke

Pat Matson’s struggle


As noted in the Sunday story, Pear’s blog — 
here — has become a very
 influential voice among former NFL players. The recent emphasis on
 concussions has added elements to the arguments in the ongoing debate over
 how much responsibility the league should assume, and the extent of
 financial support it should provide, for former players suffering from physical
 problems. Pear’s major point long has been that the league is in denial about
 the toll taken on former players and that disability benefits through the
 league’s Bell-Rozelle retirement plan are too difficult to obtain and/or
 inadequate.


The activists and influential also include former Baltimore Colts and San
 Diego Chargers center Bruce Laird and the Fourth and Goal Foundation.

Web site: 
www.FourthAndGoalUnites.com
Blog: http://nflretirees.blogspot.com


Here’s more from Dave Pear (pictured is his 1976 bio from the Tampa Bay
 Buccaneers' inaugural media guide):
  
PearBucs76.jpgIn his fifth NFL season, with the
 Raiders in 1979, Pear suffered a
 neck injury when tackling Seattle
 running back Sherman Smith.


“It was just another tackle,” Pear
 said. “It popped a disc out of my
 neck. I thought I could shake it
 off, but it progressively got
 worse.”


Without undergoing surgery, he
 played through the 1980 season,
 and the Raiders’ victory over Philadelphia in Super Bowl XV was his final
 game.


“It looks like I went out on top, with the Super Bowl, but that last season, I
 didn’t play alot,” Pear said. “I spent time going to the hospital, getting shots
 in my neck. The Raiders were doing just enough to say, ‘Well, we tried.’”
 
He said that included being given pain pills and other medications.


“During the Super Bowl, the person who replaced me got knocked out and I
 got to go in for about 20 plays or so and I was able to make a couple of big
 plays,” Pear said. “After the game, (Al) Davis said about how this was the
 Raiders’ finest moment and all this because we were the first wild card team
 to win the Super Bowl. Well, when the training camp started the next season,
 and by then it was two years of this, I was in pain 24 hours a day. So they
 released me and I went and saw Al Davis in his office.


“I said, ‘Al, look, I broke my neck two years ago, I played hurt for you for
 two years.’ I said, ‘I even helped put some diamonds in the ring you’re
 wearing.’ I said, ‘You can’t turn you back on me, Al.’ He looked at me and
 told me he wasn’t going to take responsibility for my neck injury and so on
 my own I had to go to the Stanford Medical Center and had a doctor drill
 this bulging disc out of my neck with a finger drill. And then I had the disc
 fused a couple of years later.”


Pear added: “I talked about Al every time I could, explaining who the real Al
 Davis was. “Al wanted to portray himself as an advocate for the players. The
 reality was, he was an advocate for some players. He was selective.”


Pear has been at war with both the league and the NFLPA, both under Gene
 Upshaw and current leader DeMaurice Smith.


“You’re out there thinking, ‘It’s only me,’” he said. “You call up your union
 back then and they were rude to you. They screamed at you or they
 wouldn’t answer the phone and they acted like you were lookign for charity.
 All you were looking for was information. What really changed this whole
 thing was the internet. We started talking to each other, comparing stories.
 And that’s brought us to where we are right now. The last thing the NFL
 ever wanted was for these concussions to become something they had to
 admit was an issue. This is a league that wouldn’t even acknowledge that
 people with broken necks and backs were disabled.”


It should be noted that Davis, who passed away last October, isn’t around to
 respond, but this isn’t the first time Pear has criticized Davis, and the 
long-time Raiders’ owner declined comment for other stories about Pear in
 recent years. And to be fair, the disability issue is complicated, and so are the
 going-forward debates over the toll of the game. But I believe this is
 indisputable: The outspoken advocates for former players, including Pear and
 Laird, deserve to be heard.

 

 

 

April 2012

Why I Have Fallen
Out of Love with
Major League Baseball

 

I still follow baseball and love the sport.    

 

But here are some of the reasons I’ve fallen out of love with modern Major-League Baseball. And, yes, many of them are accompanied with a harrumph.

 

-- Managing is like passing the driver’s test. Memorize the “book,” go by it, and if it doesn’t work, just throw up your hands and say: Not my fault. Oh, and know that if you’re in the National League, take every advantage of the opportunities to pull off the double switch, because it will be portrayed as the intellectual equivalent of inventing Google. 

 

-- Take the first pitch. Step out, unstrap and restrap one batting glove. Unstrap and restrap the other. Look around, perhaps even at the third-base coach. Step back in. Hold up a hand, get time from the umpire, and step back out. . . Enforce the existing rules and tighten them. I agree, one of baseball’s strengths is the absence of a clock; but this has gotten absurd.        

 

-- The Seamheads have turned baseball into a computer printout, not a sport. I swear, the next stat flashed on the screen is going to be how a second baseman is doing on Tuesday games in the Central Time Zone against left-handed pitchers under the age of 32.

 

-- Anything more than an inch inside is manslaughter.

 

-- I’ve been to Opening Day in Cincinnati when it really was Opening Day and waxed melodic about it, too. But I must have missed it when Opening Day or the Home Opening Day became a second St. Patrick’s Day. Do I have this right? Buy a new Rockies jersey and throw up on it by the end of the day?

 

-- Every mention of pitching, written or spoken, or even among a baseball writer’s 3,283 Tweets a game (I know “following” is elective, but…), must include the word “command.” It often is like citing the auteur theory when discussing movies. It sounds good. 

 

-- Soon, a superstar is going to break his ankle after he trips over his pants leg. I’m not saying we have to go back to the old days of heavy cotton socks with tiny stirrups, or when we used to cut our socks and insert elastic at the bottom, but when did baseball pants become slacks?

 

-- Pitch counts have gone from reasonable tracking of expensive assets to self-fulfilling prophecies. As Goose Gossage is wont to say, it’s like training a thoroughbred to run five and a half furlongs. That’s all it can run. He was talking about the narrowing of relief pitchers’ roles – he often threw much more than the ninth inning – but it applies to all on the staff, too. And the parroting of baseball’s pitching roles – shooting to get the starter through a quality start, to the setup man, to the closer – buys into all of that. And I’d be in favor of a rule mandating that pitchers must face three hitters. No more bringing in the lefty to face one hitter, then head to the clubhouse.  

  

-- Regardless of where I sit, in the press box or the stands, within five minutes, somebody is going to regale me, my row, or an entire section about how his fantasy league team is doing, both in that game and in general. Fantasy leagues are great fun … but I really don’t need to know about your team. I don’t. One of the weirdest things about Fantasy League fanatics is that they interpret any comment about keeping it to themselves as advocating making Fantasy Leagues against the law and attacking them personally. I'm not. Neither was Brian Griese, who should be in the Broncos’ Ring of Fame for that comment alone.

 

-- This isn’t baseball’s fault, either, or even “bad,” but it has lost its mystery. The Game of the Week has become every game available on television, if you really want to find it or pay for it. (By the way, can you remember the last time you sat down and watched or listened to an entire game from first pitch to last pitch … perhaps while keeping score? Me, neither.) Imagining a game while listening to the radio broadcast, maybe with an earphone in after bedtime or during reading time in the third grade? History.

 

-- Yes, the previous point “romanticized” the game. Again, I’m capable of that, too. I’ve read baseball books since I finished my first Alice and Jerry reader, and will continue to do so. Why Mark Harris never won the National Book Award for the Henry Wiggen novels is beyond me, I have entire passages of Ball Four memorized, and I’ve read many of the great biographies out there. I’ve played catch on the Field of Dreams. Play the violins! But for heaven’s sake, spare me the bow-tied geeks who tell us the pitchout is a metaphor for our military strategy in Vietnam and that Life Begins on Opening Day. I’ll even concede it’s a time marker. It is not a metaphor.

 

-- On the broadcasts, we’re told that Strike One is brought to us by a sports emporium with bowling lanes, Strike Two is brought to us by a law firm specializing in second offenses, and Strike Three is brought to you by the company that could have gotten you lower insurance rates in the 15 minutes this at-bat lasted. The television analysts apparently believe they are being paid by the word. And if the sixth-inning text crawl – yes, it’s sponsored, and I assume in this copycat world it’s done other places, too – was invented to insult and aggravate viewers, it is succeeding. And, oh, by the way, when watching a game, do I really need to be told 11 times an inning in the crawl that Jeremy Lin doesn’t think he’s going to be ready for the start of the playoffs?  


-- Apparently with straight faces, we are told such things as Carlos Gonzales, a truly great all-around player with a Craftsman tool box (or however that goes), shouldn’t play centerfield because it would be too draining on his legs. Or that a player’s “muscle tightness” is just this side of a broken bone. I could go on and on that softening of the game, but any baseball fan knows what I mean. 

-- The World Series still is going when the tundra freezes in Green Bay and many postseason games go past last call.

 

Now … buy me some peanuts and Crackerjack. It’d only be $24.50.


 
April 2012

At the Denver Final Four:

Women should be

coaching women   

 

 I despise Political Correctness when it goes beyond common sense and decency and is transformed into cynical, opportunistic and highly selective sensitivity. In fact, I even went on at length in Playing Piano in a Brothel about the double standards and phoniness often on display in modern journalism.

 

But this is a subject I’ve felt strongly about for many years.

 

Women should be coaching women.

 

After several decades of upgrading athletic opportunities for women, largely because of Title IX influence, there is a significant – perhaps even huge – pool of women coaches. It might be even larger if more women capable of becoming coaches were encouraged to go into the profession.

 

In no way, shape or form should that be considered a criticism of long-time Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, whose Huskies play Notre Dame today in the semifinals of the Final Four here in Denver and has been a pioneer for the women's game. Certainly, he and other long-time male coaches in the women's game deserve to be both "grandfathered" and saluted. Former Louisiana Tech coach Leon Barmore, for example, also was one of the women’s game’s major influences. It’s not a criticism of the other male coaches who have made major contributions to women’s sports – even if that means the male high school softball or basketball coach who stepped in to fill a breach.
   
But since at least the onset of the 21st century, the goal should have been to have women coaching women, especially at the major college level. I realize that to a point, that has been the case, but the standard should have been even more ruthlessly applied.


Hypocrisy? Shoe-on-the-other-foot disgraceful in a world in which we decry discrimination against women in hiring standards and the workplace, if and when it exists?
  
College sports are not a real-world workplace. In the real-world workplace, it's offensive when a major reason for someone either being hired or not hired involves gender, race, religion or anything else beyond ability and qualification that shouldn't matter. It was offensive in 1953, and it's offensive today.


But this is where common sense comes into play. This is no different than saying it’s discriminatory to have men’s and women’s teams. Only women are on women’s teams. Only women should coach them, if at all possible. Yes, it would take considerable wind out of the sails of that argument if and when women make inroads in coaching men’s teams. But for now, I’ll stick to that standard.
   
A university president and athletic director in this era shouldn’t be able to get away with hiring a male head coach for a women’s sport. Any sport.


It's more complicated below the college level, where options can be more limited. But whenever practical, and whenever a qualified woman is available, women should be coaching all female teams, even on the high school level. 
  
I can’t even specify exactly when we reached that point. I just know we did. We have. 
  
On Title IX in general, I'm a moderate. Although there have been many stories noting that this is the 40th anniversary of Title IX becoming law, its first “compliance” year wasn’t until 1978. What’s often overlooked or underplayed is that Title IX involved far more than sports and was supposed to be more of a general measure to combat discrimination. It's actually rather vague, saying: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance...” 
  
Its impact on sports has been undeniable. There was considerable wrangling between the time of its passage and the “compliance” year, including (failed) proposed legislation to exempt “revenue sports” from compliance, and then a compromise stipulation that “reasonable provisions considering the nature of particular sports” should be involved in enforcement.
  
One of the downsides has been the tendency of some of the most militant proponents of the Title IX revolution to ignore financial realities and act as if empty seats and red ink aren't their problems -- but ours. That you-owe-us attitude has done more to discourage public acceptance than accelerate it. Another downside has been the tendency to distort Title IX beyond recognition to use it as the basis of grievances, or lawsuits, that have little or nothing to do with its intended scope.
  
On the other hand, the elimination of some men’s sports – most notably, baseball at Colorado – has led to critics “blaming” women’s sports and Title IX, but the fallacy in that argument always has been the implication that baseball was a revenue sport.
  
It wasn’t. In fact, if everyone who claimed to frequently have attended varsity baseball games at CU and Colorado State, actually had attended varsity games, baseball still would be official – and not club – sports at both schools.
  
There’s a reasonable middle ground here. Non-revenue sports are non-revenue sports, whether men’s or women’s. Football, because of sheer numbers, skews all formulas, and what’s galling is when the most inflexible of women’s sports advocates won’t recognize that scholarship-for-scholarship, or athlete-for-athlete, parity is unrealistic and even impossible at schools with football programs. If you made women’s soccer football’s “offset” sport and had the programs match up the number of scholarships or opportunities in all other sports, I’d go along with that. That’s fairness.
  
Regardless, it’s time to turn women’s college basketball over to the women.
 
 
 

February 2012

On book titles:

"How'd you come

up with that?"

Titles.jpg
The folks at Taylor Trade and I are
 in discussions now about the title for my next book, a speculative novel set in Europe and the United States in the 1930s.

Here are the stories behind my previous titles.

Horns, Hogs and Nixon Coming: The contract from Simon and Schuster came with the working title Hogs 'n Horns. Because of my admiration for Neil Young and Richard Nixon's involvement in the narrative, my working title was Tin Soldiers and Nixon Coming, which would have been homage to the lyrics in Young's song Ohio. Among other things, it was pointed out to me that the song was written in 1970, following the Kent State shootings and a year after the 1969 setting of the book. 

So we compromised. 

Next, it was Hogs, Horns, and Nixon Coming, but then-Denver Post editor Glenn Guzzo suggested that I should have the winning team first.

After pondering, I agreed. So it became Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming

Simon and Schuster added the subtitle Texas vs. Arkansas in Dixie's Last Stand, which I endorsed both as necessary to give more hint of the subject matter and as accurate. In addition to examining the dying gasps of segregated Southern college football -- both programs had black scholarship players on their freshman teams that season -- a major plotline was the protest movement that led to the end of Dixie as the unofficial athletic anthem for Arkansas sports. In fact, emotions boiled over during the game week, and thanks primarily to the courageous stand of UA band director Richard Worthington, who insisted on abiding by a non-binding Student Senate vote on the issue, the Texas-Arkansas game was the first time the song wasn't played at a Razorbacks home game.  

So that's how that title came to be, and the Boulder Camera's Neill Woelk teased me that because the book was on his desk, he often couldn't get Ohio out of his head.

Third Down and a War to Go: I have to confess that I can't specify when I came up with this one. I do know it was early in the process, and it just popped into my head. It just seemed a natural for a book about a Wisconsin national championship college football team going off to war -- and not all coming back. I liked it so much, I used Fourth Down and a War to Go for a chapter about Colorado and Colorado A&M/State players in a later book.     

'77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age: This was one where the subtitle was indispensable, and we debated and played around with that. But '77 was the working title virtually from the second that Taylor Trade's Rick Rinehart suggested I tackle a book on that Broncos team.

The Witch's Season: This was the novel that I started playing with when I was a high school senior. It changed completely as I kept coming back to it, evolving from a first-person tale of a college quarterback to an ensemble work based on my father's teams at Oregon in the late 1960s and early '70s on the cauldron that was the Eugene campus. Early on, I settled on 1968, during the Nixon-Humphrey presidential campaign, as the setting, which necessitated taking events suggested by what really happened from 1967-72 into a six-month period. 

I researched which songs were popular during the weeks covered in the novel, and used a title of a top single of album of the time for each chapter. (I list the chapter titles on the Witch's Season page of this site. That can be a trip down memory lane by itself.) 

I used Donovan's The Season of the Witch as the original title. Some have second-guessed me for this since, but I slightly tweaked it to avoid confusion with James Leo Herlihy's 1970 novel.

The Season, of course, again carried a double meaning, referring to a football season as well as the chaotic times and a Welshman's song.

Playing Piano in a Brothel: As I explain early in the book about my experiences in sports journalism, some were surprised that a football coach's son went over to the dark side, becoming a sports writer. So I said: Don't tell my mother I'm a sports writer. She still thinks I play piano in a brothel. (Sorry, lawyers.)

We did ponder calling it something along the lines of The Elway Effect and Other Adventures. In fact, The Elway Effect is the title of one chapter, but I decided that would have been exploitative and misleading. In retrospect, that might have been a commercial mistake, but I'm still glad we did what we did.  

 

 

 

May 2011
 
'42 Badgers end
Bob Hanzlik finally
gets his deserved letter

HanzlikLetter2.JPGPortland-area resident Bob Hanzlik, at left, is the sole surviving starter from the 1942 Wisconsin Badgers team I profiled in Third Down and a War to Go. The letter jacket he’s wearing in the photo is new, signifying the awarding of a letter he was denied after the ’42 season by a sometimes-petty Badgers coach Harry Stuhldreher. 
 
More on that in a second…
 

Sadly, most of his teammates have left us.

Since 2001, I often have visited the grave of one of them, my father, at Fort Logan National Cemetery, where my mother — to whom the book was dedicated — joined him two months ago. 

Two starters from the team that won a version of the national championship — end Dave Schreiner, a two-time All-American and the ’42 Big Ten Conference MVP; and tackle Bob Baumann — were killed in the war.

When the hardback edition of the book came out in 2004, Hanzlik had more company. Roughly one-third of the ’42 players still were alive, including Crazylegs Hirsch. Today, that number has dwindled to a handful, and most of them were younger reserves. Hanzlik is the end at the far right-hand side of the book’s cover.

In the book, I told the story of how the admittedly headstrong Hanzlik late in the season got on the wrong side of Stuhldreher, the one-time Four Horseman quarterback at Notre Dame under Knute Rockne. They had a falling-out during the team’s only loss, a controversial defeat at Iowa, and Hanzlik then was benched for the final two games, against Northwestern and Minnesota. 

The backdrop was that star fullbfrontcover.jpgack Pat Harder, later a pro star and NFL umpire, essentially led a rebellion in practice the week after the Iowa loss, making it clear to the coach that even players used to blindly obeying orders had lines — and Stuhldreher was crossing them with his petulant actions and a ridiculously punitive practice. The coach backed down. But he held a grudge against Hanzlik, then listed as a junior, saying Hanzlik wouldn’t play again that season, but that if he wanted to be on the squad as a senior in 1943 (that became a moot point), he would continue to practice and accept his banishment.

This from the book:

Hanzlik, still in the doghouse, didn’t play a second against Northwestern. He got in deeper trouble when he didn’t go back with the team on the train.

Stuhldreher chalked up another black mark against the big end from Chippewa Falls. “I said, ‘The heck with you, I’m leaving,’ ” recalled Hanzlik. “I left. I didn’t accompany the team back, and that was wrong on my account. I’m not making excuses, but I’m eighteen, nineteen years old, and I couldn’t stand not playing. I was very selfish, because other guys deserved a chance to play, too, and I’ve regretted that for a long time.”

Hanzlik again practiced all week, but didn’t play against Minnesota.

Stuhldreher was the athletic director too, and so dictatorial, he was able to unilaterally rule that Hanzlik wouldn’t be awarded a letter for ’42 — a season in which he started seven of the 10 games (he was injured for one) and played an ironman’s role for Wisconsin’s greatest team. That was ridiculous and unfair.
Mich43.jpg
Hanzlik ended up in the Marines as one of the V-12 program Badgers playing tackle for Michigan while in training in Ann Arbor in 1943. In this picture at left of one of Michigan's '43 starting lineups, made up mostly of military men studying and training on the campus, Hanzlik is the left tackle, or second from the right in the line. Crazylegs Hirsch is right behind him and the other two former Badgers are center Fred Negus and left guard John Gallagher.

Ripley.jpgAfter the war, Hanzlik enrolled at Minnesota and was ruled to have eligibility remaining because of loosened war-time and immediate post-war standards, and he played for the Gophers in 1946.
 
The feat of playing for three schools — Wisconsin in ’41 and ’42, Michigan in ’43, and Minnesota in ’46 — caused Ripley’s Believe it Or Not to feature him in 1951. But he always was short one deserved letter, and when Hanzlik’s family wrote to Badgers AD Barry Alvarez recently, asking if something could be done, Alvarez and Terry Murawski, the head of the National W Club, responded.

They sent Hanzlik a letter — on that new letter jacket. The picture above is of the Mother’s Day party at which his family, including daughter Heidi Hanzlik, presented the jacket to him, with “On Wisconsin” playing in the background. I’m assuming the official record will be changed, too, adding a ’42 letter to the one he long has been listed for in 1941, and I’m impressed and thrilled by the Badgers’ response to the request from the family. I also have to note that when I was researching the book, Bob Hanzlik’s memory was amazing, and he was quite helpful. 

(Postscript, because I’ve been asked about this a lot: Although Bill Hanzlik also has lived in both Oregon and Wisconsin — he was a high school star in both states — the former Nuggets player and coach, and current team broadcaster, is not related to Bob.)

 

September 2012

The 39th Telluride
Film Fest tries to 
live up to the first 


1a.jpg
Showing his latest action thriller, Argo, Ben Affleck is the most prominent figure at the 39th Telluride Film Festival.

Above, that's Leni Riefenstahl in Telluride for the inaugural Festival in 1974.
 When the pictures were taken, she was speaking in her hotel room with
 Denver Post film critic Rena Andrews.

Yes, the appearance of the German actress and filmmaker at the event was
 controversial and drew protests. She joined director Francis Ford Coppola
 and actress Gloria Swanson.

NAHolyGrailPrint.jpgTwo of her films were shown at
 the showcase evening sessions of
 the Festival -- Blue Light, a 1932
 drama Riefenstahl directed and
 starred in; and Part 2 of Olympia,
 a documentary about the 1936
 Oympics in Berlin. Nobody
 seemed to note in the coverage
 that one of the featured athletes in
 the Olympics documentary was
 Glenn Morris, the American gold
 medalist in the decathlon who was
 raised in Simla, Colorado; starred in football and served as student body
 president at what now is Colorado State University; and represented the
 Denver Athletic Club in his post-graduate track and field competition.

It wasn't until 1987 that Riefenstahl admitted in her memoirs that she'd had
 an affair with Morris during the filming of Olympia, and that at one point,
 she even had dreamed of marrying him. Instead, he married his college
 girlfriend late in 1936, and Riefenstahl admitted she was crushed and bitter. 

Morris had told a few of the affair and near death mused that he should have
 stayed in Germany with Riefenstahl after the Olympics.

That's all part of my upcoming fact-based Olympic Affair: A Novel of
 Hitler's Siren and America's Hero.
 In fact, the book begins in 1974 with
 Riefenstahl's visit to Colorado -- and then flashes back to 1936.

(UPDATED: Read Chapter 1 
here.) 

The above is of Riefenstahl with Morris and the other decathlon competitors
 during the second day of the 10-event test. Let's just say there does seem to
 be a mutual attraction apparent there.

More on Olympic Affair 
 
 

February 2013
Author Jim Blanchet: Olympic

Affair is a "success as both a
stand-alone novel and historical fiction"

The Philadelphia Review of Books today posted author Jim Blanchet's essay on, and review of, Olympic Affair.

Here's the snippet I have posted:

 
"Using his initial information ... and a combination of
 deduction and artistic license, Frei fills in the blanks left by
 history and tells his own version of the story. The
 combination of the diligent research techniques he used to
 write his widely acclaimed non-fiction books ... and creativity
 makes Olympic Affair a success as both a stand-alone novel
 and historical fiction. While simultaneously recalling the
 athletic triumphs of participating nations, Frei builds a
 tension-filled love affair that steals the show from the most
 controversial Olympic Games in history. Combining inference
 and invented dialogue, he forces the reader to invest deeply
 in even the most outlying of characters, some of which he
 pulls from history and personalizes through fiction
 (swimmer/actress Eleanor Holm Jarrett, heavyweight
 champion/restaurateur Jack Dempsey and even
 chancellor/psycho Adolf Hitler). Through the developing plot,
 the details of the Olympics and the skewed historical
 perspective of men and women living in a pre-WWII
 environment, Frei has (maybe unintentionally) created a new
 sort of story regarding the US-Nazi saga ... 
Olympic Affair
 offers a chronicle that proves why athletic drama often goes
 well beyond the field (or track) of competition. An athletic
 controversy, a triumph against adversity or a love affair can
 bring together the fanatics, the casual followers and those
 who just happen to appreciate a good yarn, no matter the
 origin. And who better to tell a story of that kind than an
 acclaimed sportswriter and non-fiction author turned
 novelist?"
 
 
 

March 2013

R.I.P., Dave Donnellan:

'42 Badger earned

Bronze Star  

EauClaire1.jpg

In the picture above, I'm sitting with three members of
the 1942 Wisconsin Badgers in the Borders Bookstore in Eau Claire,
Wisconsin. 
    

From the left, they are: Don Litchfield, a long-time local automobile

dealer; Dave Donnellan, who owned a major real-estate firm; and John
Gallagher, a fixture before retirement as, first, the football coach and
then as principal at Memorial High. 

 

The appearance was tied to the release of Third Down and a War

to Go: The All-American 1942 Wisconsin Badgers. Donnellan's

military head shot is the second from the right in the row of 
individual pictures on the cover of the hardback.


Dave Donnellan passed away on March 19. He was 90.

 

Damn.

 

This is from Christena T. O'Brien of the Eau Claire

Leader-Telegram.

 

During the question-and-answer session at Borders that day,

Donnellan's youngest granddaughter raised her hand.

 
"Were you ever scared?" 8-year-old Monica Hart asked her
grandfather.


The question, from one so young and so wide-eyed, got to me.

 Even before the answer.

"All the time," Donnellan said softly. "Every single day."


In World War II, Donald Litchfield was a B-17 pilot and John Gallagher was a Marine.

After the presentation and signing, Dave Donnellan's wife, Jane, gently told me her husband had been too modest.

When I interviewed him, Donnellan hadn't told me he won the Bronze Star.

Over his objections, I got that in the book's second printing and then in the new paperback version, Third Down and a War to Go.

I've touched on this before, and I'll say it again: Donnellan's reaction
was so typical, because I had heard something similar from my own
father, a P-38 fighter pilot in the Pacific, and also a '42 Badger
, and
from so many others in his generation.

     
Additional coverage of Dave's death in the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram:

Beloved Eau Claire businessman remembered

Editorial: Donnellan's resume only part of what made him special

Obituary

 

 

February 2013 

Gone With the Wind or 
Slap Shot? It's a tossup

SlapPoster.jpg 

The Oscars are Sunday night, and no
 sports movies are among the best-picture nominees. That’s
 not much of a surprise, considering only three sports-themed
 movies — Rocky, Chariots of Fire, and Million-Dollar Baby —
 ever have been named best picture. But there have been
 many great sports films. Here’s a list of my own diverse
 favorites, plus some other thoughts on the genre. 

  
1, Slap Shot (1977). Nancy Dowd’s script about the fictional
 Charlestown Chiefs, plus the improvisation by the great cast,
 including Paul Newman and Strother Martin, made this the
 best of all time. (Her brother, Ned, played Ogie Oglethorpe,
 and his experiences in hockey's minor leagues were the
 inspiration for her script.) The lame sequels, long delayed,
 went straight to DVD. 

2, Bang the Drum Slowly (1973). Mark Harris, who wrote
 the novel, also wrote the screenplay, and that’s always a
 good sign. Not even he could quite replicate the sardonic
 humor of the novel (or, actually, the series of Henry Wiggen
 novels), but it was a terrific movie, starting Robert De Niro,
 Michael Moriarty and Vincent Gardenia. The first novel in the
 series, The Southpaw, was a better book than Bang The
 Drum Slowly
, but this almost certainly was a better choice
 for a movie. 

3, Breaking Away (1979). For a long time, Steve Tesich,
 also a novelist, was my favorite writer. And this script was
 why. The dry humor and the human touch made this so
 much more than a “bike-racing” movie. Plus, those of us 
who grew up in college towns recognized the “townie”
 elements of the story.


4, Without Limits (1998). I’m a little prejudiced here,
 because I was raised in Eugene and revered the film’s hero,
 distance runner Steve Prefontaine, after watching him
 compete as early as when he was attending Marshfield High
 School. (He had the attitude of a strong safety and probably
 would have scoffed if anyone tried to get him to talk about
 the Zen of running.) But his fellow former University of
 Oregon runner Kenny Moore wrote the far better of the two
 bio-pics about the great and charismatic runner who died
 way too young. 

5, Raging Bull (1980). De Niro plays Jake LaMotta, Martin
 Scorsese directs. A dynamite one-two combination. 


6, Bull Durham (1988). I actually found the most-quoted
 Kevin Costner speech a bit much, but the rest was terrific. As
 a teenager, I worked for and took a few trips with a 
minor-league baseball team, and this movie rang true to to
 me more because of those experiences than because of what
 I encountered later in my occasional stints covering 
major-league baseball. 

  
7, Field of Dreams (1989). The rare case in which the
 movie, again starring Costner, while a bit sappy, was about
 800 times better than the overwrought book (Shoeless Joe).
 Not long after the movie came out, while on a trip to cover a
 football game at the University of Iowa, I was a complete
 tourist, making the side trip to Dyersville and playing catch
 with fellow scribe Paul Buker on the actual Field of Dreams
 diamond. 

  
8, The Longest Yard (original, 1974). I don’t know why it
 made me so mad that Hollywood remade this. Well, maybe
 it’s because so many who saw the remake actually thought it
 was good. But it hit on the great marketing strategy of giving
 media types bit parts so they’d hype it – and it worked. It
 couldn’t hold the original’s you-know-what. 

9, 61* (2001). Hank Steinberg wrote and Billy Crystal
 directed the dramatization of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris'
 chase of Babe Ruth's home-run record. 
 
  
10, Caddyshack (1980). Yeah, I can rattle off the lines, too.
 It’s also the greatest cable movie ever – you can tune in “x”
 minutes in and know exactly where you are. 

  
11, Bad News Bears (original, 1976). Walter Matthau was
 brilliant, and so was the script. Unfortunately, the bad
 sequels, a mediocre television series and yet another absurd
 remake have diminished the franchise. 


12, Hoosiers (1986). OK, I liked it, too; I just don't have it
 as high on the list as many do.

13, Chariots of Fire (1981). One reason I was prone to like
 it was because among the kids sports books I checked out of
 the library in grade school were those written by Jackson
 Scholz, the ex-Olympic sprinter who was one of the major
 figures in this movie. 

  
14, Rocky (1976). The sequels perhaps cause me to
 downgrade this, but when it came out, it was a refreshing,
 low-budget underdog story of its own. And I always say "wid"
 at Pat's. 

15, A League of Their Own (1992). It understandably was
 billed and sold as a lighthearted comedy; in fact, Penny
 Marshall directed an excellent “dramedy.” 

  
16, And I'll add the linemates of Miracle (2004) and Miracle
 on Ice
 (1981). The latter, with Karl Malden but not Michael
 Douglas, was pretty good for its rushed, television movie
 circumstances; and in the former, Kurt Russell was eerily 
on-target playing the Herb Brooks role.

The most over-rated sports movie ever: Million-Dollar Baby
 (2004), which became an utterly absurd melodrama in its
 final half. With all due respect to Clint Eastwood, Morgan
 Freeman, and Hilary Swank, this has got to be one of the
 worst best-picture winners ever … although some of the
 recent winners give it a run for the money. 

    
The frivolous sports movies I could watch (and have watched)
 again and again: It Happens Every Spring (1949), with
 Ray Milland; Major League (1989); and Damn Yankees (1958). 

  
Best TV sports movie: Brian’s Song (original, 1971).

April 2013
Missy Franklin succeeds
Glenn Morris as Coloradan
Sullivan winner

 

GlennGirlLeftBehind.jpg
Missy Frankin, as expected, was named the winner of the Sullivan Award 
as the top amateur athlete in the United States at ceremonies in Orlando, 
duplicating the feat of another Olympic hero from Colorado.
 
Glenn Morris, from tiny Simla, and the former football star and student body president at 
Colorado State, won the decathlon (breaking his own world record) at the 1936 Olympics in 
Berlin  and then was named the Sullivan Award winner for that year.
 
That was a bit of 
a surprise, considering Jesse Owens had won four gold medals at Berlin, but I touch on one 
of the reasons why he didn't in the following passage from Olympic Affair: Hitler's Siren 
and America's Hero.
 For the record, I did change his wife's name in the book, for reasons I 
touch on in the afterword. And this passage follows tumultous behind-the-scenes events that 
took place when he returned from Europe, where he had been embroiled in the toxic and 
contaminating affair with Leni Riefenstahl.   


In December, Glenn was living in New York and working for NBC 
Radio as a liaison for sports broadcasts, and preparing to compete 
for the New York Athletic Club, when he and Karen were married at 
her parents’ home in Sterling. She gave up her teaching job and 
moved with Glenn to Manhattan.


That month, he also was named the winner of the Sullivan Award 
as the nation’s top amateur athlete for 1936, and he angered AAU 
officials when he reacted honestly, saying to the reporter who 
informed him of the news: “If I won, what happened to Owens? I 
thought he’d get it.” He knew many of the voters were holding it 
against Jesse that he quickly had declared himself a professional 
after the Games, and Glenn was especially sheepish because he

didn’t intend to remain an amateur much longer, either.

 

April 2013

 Jackie Robinson's brother,
Mack, gets Silver at Berlin,
then on to run at Oregon 

 

April 15, 2013: On this day, the 66th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's

major-league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, my reaction to seeing the

movie "42" on Sunday is in The Denver Post and here

 

In it, I mentioned the lack of backstory -- probably inevitable, necessary and 

understandable -- and brought up that Jackie's older brother, Mack, was an 
accomplished athlete as well. I'd been aware of that virtually since childhood

because he was among the athletes honored in the hallway displays in the

University of Oregon's McArthur Court.

 

I learned more about him in research for Olympic Affair, and he in fact 
makes several appearances (and several speeches) in the book. As I

mentioned in the column, Robinson finished second to Jesse Owens in the

200-meter dash. Hitler was watching from his private loge, Leni Riefenstahl

and her crew were filming for the documentary Olympia, and the entire

experience of being in Berlin against the backdrop of Nazi rule left most of

the athletes at least affected. Yes, the Nazis were on their best behavior and

the worst horrors still were in the future, but the drumbeats were sounding at

an Olympics that America came close to boycotting.

 

After the Games, Mack ended up heading to Eugene and ran track for the

Webfoots. As Jackie would do later, Mack first attended Pasadena City

College before moving on to a four-year school. In researching my upcoming

March 1939: Before the Madness, I acquired a copy of the 1939 

Oregana, the U of O yearbook. I quickly realized the deadline for the 
book was early, apparently designed to enable the book to be published 
and available by the end of the school year. So the details of the 
Webfoots' run to the first-ever NCAA basketball title, in 1939, aren't in 
the volume and the sections on the spring sports are about the 1938 seasons. 
  
Here's Mack's picture in the Oregana, with the eyebrow-raising caption 
included (
sorry for the amateur cell phone picture's lack of focus).


Oregana.JPG 


Here's Frank Litsky's New York Times obituary of Mack Robinson. Note

the challenges he faced after leaving Oregon -- challenges and maltreatment

that Jackie Robinson noticed.

 

 

Enjoyable appearances in Glenn Morris' backyards

Playing the Lincoln Theatre

and the Fort Collins Library 


Limon1.jpg

February 21, 2014: Before turning more promotional attention

to the new March 1939: Before the Madness, I made two very

enjoyable appearances to discuss and sign Olympic Affair in the last

10 days.

 

The first was February 10 in Limon. It was the first time I'd ever

done an appearance in a theatre, and it was in the historic

Lincoln Theatre in Limon. My thanks to Ryan Kaufman of High

Plains Media and Broadcasting for setting it up and putting it on.

Glenn Morris, the protagonist in Olympic Affair, was raised 24

miles down the road from Limon, in Simla, so I mainly discussed

that book, including the research and the decisions I made in

presenting it as historical fiction rather than a conventional non-

fiction work. But I also ran through my other projects and enjoyed

fielding questions -- all standing in front of the movie screen.


Then last night, I had a great time talking about 
Olympic Affair at

the Old Town Main Library in Fort Collins, on behalf of the city's Old

Firehouse Books. Morris, of course, also was a star athlete and

student body president at the school that now is CSU, and he trained

in what now is called the Glenn Morris Field House on the east side

of the campus. The turnout was good, the questions following my

presentation were terrific and thought-provoking, and because of the

proximity to where he spent his collegiate years and a post-graduate

year preparing for the Olympics, I almost felt as if Morris was

listening in on us.  

 


Publishers Weekly praises MARCH 1939: BEFORE THE MADNESS

"Carefully crafted, fast-moving
and refreshing"
 


PUBLISHER_WEEKLY_HEADER.jpg
  
December 22, 2013:
 I should have been waiting at Sardi's.

 

The new online and print editions of

Publishers Weekly include a very nice advance review of my

upcoming book, March 1939: Before the Madness.

It closes with: "Carefully crafted, fast-moving, and refreshing, Frei’s

study of the scrappy Oregon Webfoots’ campaign ... is quite memorable."
 

Here's the online version.