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Marian E. Frei, 1924-2011
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
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.
She 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
In 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.
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
Here'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.
Jack Elway and
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.
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
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.
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 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.
Honoring Jerry Frei
at Ducks' spring game
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
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
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
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.
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.
up for The Duck Store signing. That's Jordan of the
Duck Store staff ... not Marcus Mariota.
cafeteria, left, and media interview room, right
Friends, family, former players, and
coaching comrades salute Joe Collier
Last night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, former Broncos
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
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
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
Excerpt from '77: Brain Trust: Joe Collier and Company
Before he was a sportscaster,
Marty Glickman was an
(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
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
German hosts — including Adolf Hitler. The documentary addresses
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
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
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
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
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 —
Here are passages from
the first half of my book, which
revolves around U.S. decathlon champion Glenn Morris'
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
known as Colorado State. Later narrative material documents
Glickman and Stoller's shameful exclusion from the relay
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.
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.
Lincoln now is the Milford Plaza. And "Badgers" was the
derisive term the athletes had for Olympic
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
“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
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,
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?”
him warning us to put up with
a bunch of guys in funny uniforms over there.
“Hold on,” Glenn said, pointing at the Badger. “I
was just thinking about
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
for what to do after winning the gold medal.
“Do you even know what the Nuremberg Laws are?” Glickman asked
“Absolutely,” Glenn said.
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
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
“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.”
edge. I’m going to the Olympics, but it doesn’t
feel right. I’m starting to
Shaking his head, Glickman said, “Sorry. I guess all this has me a little
wonder if Brundage
insisted we go over there just so he could hug Hitler and
tell him what fine ideas
“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
They all ran a few sprints, and at one point, Marty Glickman waited
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
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 bumpeddown to fourth behind Frank Wykoff . . . and then they say I was fifth, behind
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 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
aren’t any Jews competing at all. The Badgers know that, too. I’m not
they’ll screw us because of that, but I’m wondering. We’ll just see whathappens.” 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
a load of that!” Walter Wood called out, pointing beyond the Bell
Tower to the
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
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
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,
was angled to catch the reaction of the athletes to Hitler. As she
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
“Can you believe how close we were? Somebody could
have. . .”
The looks they exchanged confirmed they both knew Marty wasn’t
about getting an autograph.
Hitler moved on, he didn’t look to either side, despite scattered cries
among the athletes. Mostly, it remained eerily quiet.
Soon, though, the roar announced: The
Führer had entered the stadium.
"So what's your
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
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.
Internet becomes a weapon
in former NFL players' fights
My story on activist former NFL player Dave Pear is in the Sunday Denver Post
the years, I’ve written many pieces about former players’ physical
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
the book's major figures would make it anticlimactic. So much of my
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
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
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
Here’s more from Dave Pear (pictured is his 1976
bio from the Tampa Bay
Buccaneers' inaugural media guide):
In his fifth NFL season, with the
Raiders in 1979, Pear suffered a
neck injury when tackling Seattle
running back Sherman Smith.
was just another tackle,” Pear
said. “It popped a disc out of my
neck. I thought I could
off, but it progressively got
Without undergoing surgery, he
played through the 1980 season,
Raiders’ victory over Philadelphia in Super Bowl XV was his final
“It looks like I went out on top, with the Super Bowl, but that last season,
didn’t play alot,” Pear said. “I spent time going to the hospital, getting shots
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
-- 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
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
-- 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.
At the Denver Final
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Regardless, it’s time to turn women’s college basketball over to the women.
"How'd you come
up with that?"
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
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.
'42 Badgers end
Bob Hanzlik finally
gets his deserved letter
Portland-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…
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
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 fullback 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.”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.
Hanzlik again practiced all week,
but didn’t play against Minnesota.
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.
After 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
(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.)
The 39th Telluride
Film Fest tries to
live up to the first
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
actress Gloria Swanson.
Two of her films were shown at
the showcase evening sessions of
the Festival -- Blue Light,
drama Riefenstahl directed and
starred in; and Part 2 of Olympia,
documentary about the 1936
Oympics in Berlin. Nobody
seemed to note in the coverage
of the featured athletes in
the Olympics documentary was
Glenn Morris, the American gold
in the decathlon who was
raised in Simla, Colorado; starred in football and served as student body
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
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
Morris had told a few of the affair and near death mused that he should have
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
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
Author Jim Blanchet: Olympic
Affair is a "success as both a
stand-alone novel and historical
The Philadelphia Review of Books today posted author Jim Blanchet's essay on, and review of, Olympic
Here's the snippet I have posted:
initial information ... and a combination of
deduction and artistic license, Frei fills in the blanks left
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
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
(swimmer/actress Eleanor Holm Jarrett, heavyweight
champion/restaurateur Jack Dempsey
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
and non-fiction author turned
R.I.P., Dave Donnellan:
'42 Badger earned
In the picture above, I'm sitting
with three members of
the 1942 Wisconsin Badgers in the Borders Bookstore in Eau Claire,
the left, they are: Don Litchfield, a long-time local automobile
Dave Donnellan, who owned a major real-estate firm; and John
Gallagher, a fixture before retirement as, first, the football
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
pictures on the cover of the hardback.
Dave Donnellan passed away on March 19. He was 90.
This is from Christena T. O'Brien of the Eau Claire
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
The question, from one so young and so wide-eyed,
got to me.
Even before the answer.
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.
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
Gone With the Wind or
Slap Shot? It's a tossup
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
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
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,
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
but it was a terrific movie, starting Robert De Niro,
Michael Moriarty and Vincent Gardenia. The first novel in
series, The Southpaw, was a better book than Bang The
Drum Slowly, but
this almost certainly was a better choice
for a movie.
Away (1979). For a long time, Steve Tesich,
also a novelist, was my favorite writer. And this
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”
of the story.
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
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
way too young.
5, Raging Bull (1980). De Niro plays
Jake LaMotta, Martin
Scorsese directs. A dynamite one-two combination.
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
of Dreams (1989). The rare case in which the
movie, again starring Costner, while a bit sappy,
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
making the side trip to Dyersville and playing catch
with fellow scribe Paul Buker on the actual Field of Dreams
8, The Longest
Yard (original, 1974). I don’t know why it
made me so mad that Hollywood remade this.
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.
News Bears (original, 1976). Walter Matthau was
brilliant, and so was the script. Unfortunately,
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
in this movie.
14, Rocky (1976). The
sequels perhaps cause me to
downgrade this, but when it came out, it was a refreshing,
underdog story of its own. And I always say "wid"
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
playing the Herb Brooks role.
The most over-rated sports movie ever: Million-Dollar Baby
which became an utterly absurd melodrama in its
final half. With all due respect to Clint Eastwood, Morgan
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).
Missy Franklin succeeds
Glenn Morris as Coloradan
Missy Frankin, as
expected, was named the winner of the Sullivan Award
as the top amateur athlete in the United States at ceremonies
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.
December, Glenn was living in New York and working for NBC
Radio as a liaison for sports broadcasts, and preparing
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
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
get it.” He knew many of the voters were holding it
against Jesse that he quickly had declared himself a
after the Games, and Glenn was especially sheepish because he
didn’t intend to remain an amateur much longer, either.
Jackie Robinson's brother,
Mack, gets Silver
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,
-- and brought up that Jackie's older brother, Mack, was an
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.
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
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
the athletes at least affected. Yes, the
Nazis were on their best behavior and
horrors still were in the future, but the drumbeats were sounding at
an Olympics that America came close to boycotting.
the Games, Mack ended up heading to Eugene and ran track for the
Webfoots. As Jackie would do later, Mack first attended
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
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
Here's Frank Litsky's New York Times obituary of Mack Robinson. Note
the challenges he faced after leaving
Oregon -- challenges and maltreatment
appearances in Glenn Morris' backyards
Publishers Weekly praises MARCH 1939: BEFORE THE MADNESS
Playing the Lincoln Theatre
and the Fort Collins Library
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
The first was February 10 in Limon. It was the first time I'd ever
an appearance in a theatre, and it
was in the historic
in Limon. My thanks to Ryan Kaufman of High
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
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
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
listening in on us.
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.