This is a selection of
pre-2017 Journal entries from this site.
Honoring Jerry Frei at Oregon spring game
A great weekend with
the Ducks in Eugene
Jerry Frei Offensive Line Coach's Office
May 4, 2014: 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
first half of the Oregon Spring game at Autzen
the tribute was read by Don
Essig, the long-time public address
announcer at Oregon
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
That was his 67 combat missions
as a P-38 fighter pilot in World
War II, flying generally
alone over Japanese targets to take
photos in advance of the bombing runs. The one-man
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.
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
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
met and ate dinner with many of the former players
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
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
Moseley, editor of GoDucks.com,
and Ryan Thorburn of the Eugene
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.
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
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.
was appreciative that the sons of
two members of
that legendary 1939
team came to the signing. The
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
heroics during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Setting up for The Duck Store signing.
That's Jordan of the
staff ... not Marcus Mariota.
Oregon's weight room
Oregon's cafeteria, left, and media interview
Out of the blue, a touching email about a WWII pilot and the sweetheart who never
never came back"
September 26, 2012: Today, I was emailed that picture.
The woman is Irene Smith.
get to her story, but first, the background.
After the 2004 publication of Third Down and a War to Go:
American 1942 Wisconsin Badgers, I heard from Arlene Chandler, who had
been the fiancee
of Bob Baumann, one of my father's two teammates on that
team who had been killed in the Battle of Okinawa.
Arlene passed along letters and pictures from her time with Bob, when she
was Arlene Bahr, and I included
the material in the paperback Third Down
and a War to Go. Some of those pictures are on the
book's page on this web
Today, I was reminded that Arlene and so many others lost sweethearts
during the war,
men with whom they had talked about spending lives
I received the email from
Cindy Smith in Montrose, Iowa.
She told me she had come across my November 2000 Denver Post story
served as the starting point for Third Down and a War to Go. She had been
for information on a World War II pilot named Madison Gillaspey.
She started checking after attending an air show
in Burlington last week with
her mother, Irene Eck Smith. When it was announced that the third Friday in
September was an annual day of remembrance for American POW and
MIA, Irene was moved to tell her daughter
more about losing her fiancee
during World War II.
His name was Madison Gillaspey.
Irene called him "Bud."
Madison and Irene Eck had attended high school together in Argyle, Iowa,
were long-time sweethearts and were engaged to be married. While he was
serving in the Pacific,
she took flight lessons and was on the verge of taking a
solo flight as a pilot herself when she got word
that Madison was missing in
action and presumed dead. Irene told her daughter that she was heartbroken
flew again. Irene eventually met and married Cindy's father,
Wendell Smith, taught grade school for many years,
and now is a widow.
My dad was in the 26th Photo Squadron, whose pilots were entrusted with
P-38 fighters reconfigured into reconaissance planes. They flew
them unarmed, with the cameras replacing guns.
They flew alone or in
two-plane missions over Japanese targets, taking pictures in advance of the
My Dad had told me of how a small group of flyers in the 26th Photo
together by the accident of the alphabet, had become
close. Ed Crawford, Jerry Frei, Don Garbarino, Madison
Ruffin Gray. They made a pact that they all would come through the war
Because of an alphabet cutoff after training Gray ended up with
another unit, but he remained in touch.
In February 1945, my father caught up to his unit, by then at Lingayen in the
Philippines, after a
brief leave. He saw one of the P-38s taking off.
Here's what he told me, years later, and this was both in the Post article
in Third Down and a War to Go:
“I asked one of our people, ‘Who’s that?’ He said it was Madison Gillaspey,
and he was going on a low-level mission to Ipo Dam. I went over
squadron area, to the others’ tent. It always was Ed Crawford, Don
Madison Gillaspey, and me. But while I was gone, they’d moved
another pilot in
with them when they got to Lingayen, so I was going to go
get a cot and be the fifth.”
He didn’t have to get the cot.
“Madison Gillaspey never
came back,” Jerry Frei said. “No one ever knew
what happened, but we lost two planes over Ipo Dam."
My dad remained in touch with the other men in that tent over the years.
They missed Madison Gillaspey.
That at the top is of Irene at the Keokuk (Iowa) National Cemetery,
has a memorial stone, though his remains never were found.
And here's Argyle, Iowa, High's
Class of '41, with both Irene and Madison.
They're in the top row. Irene is the second from left, Madison is at
I've mailed Irene a copy of Third Down and a War to Go. I hope she likes it.
80th birthday to the Orange Crush architect
Friends, family, former players, and
comrades salute Joe Collier
17, 2012: Last night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, former
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
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
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
Excerpt from '77: Brain Trust: Joe Collier and Company
say the neon lights are bright
from New York: Broadway and Baseball
June 9, 2012: Helen and
I are back from a quick trip to New York. I
touched bases in the book world and we also went to two Broadway
musicals -- Nice Work If You Can Get It, starring Kelli O'Hara and Matthew
and Evita, with Ricky Martin and Elena Roger -- and the
Yankees-Tampa Bay Rays game. And I also visited with my New York
resident brother, David, of Westminster Kennel Club renown.
My interests in theater and music -- mostly
rock 'n roll -- are among the many
I have outside of sports. This previous journal entry about Chess gives
additional background about that. Earlier this year, in fact, I sought to switch
departments at the Denver Post to
become John Moore's successor as
theater critic. He accepted a buyout the Post offered
to veteran staffers late
last year. I hoped to step over to the features department and take John's
I'm from a family with a mix of sports and music genes -- my father was an
and coach, my mother was a musician and teacher -- and my interests
reflect that mix. While several of
us Frei children were good athletes in the
conventional sense, the best athlete arguably was the one who didn't
sports -- Susan, the ballet star. In contrast, I can't carry a tune, can't dance a
and can't even play "Chopsticks" on the piano or anything at all on the
Becoming a newspaper theater critic/writer seemed a natural change-of-pace
switch. It didn't work out. Film
critic Lisa Kennedy took on the added
responsibility of covering theater, too. She's doing terrific work.
The positive is that I'm being allowed to remain a theater fan in my private
life, rather than
taking on the responsibility of serving as a "critic." Frankly,
though, what I was especially
looking forward to was writing about the
theater scene and the people in it. I wonder things like: How do
rehearsals work? How did understudy Cassie Okenka learn the role of Glinda
in "Wicked" after
joining the first national company in Portland, while being
part of the ensemble, and then be able to
go on as Glinda for a few nights
here in Denver? How does a "swing" learn all those roles --
and keep them
When I reviewed the Bill Cain play 9 Circles at the Curious
Denver, I realized I much rather would have caught up with the show's
lead, recent Southern Mississippi master's program grad
Sean Scrutchins, and told his story. Who
was he? How'd he come to play
this role for Curious? Where was he hoping to go from there?
In my sports
career, that's what I've done best, whether the pieces were for The Sporting
a newspaper about future Hall of Fame players, or about obscure
"hard-boot" horse trainers. Exploring,
asking, watching, listening.
Of course, in my sportswriting career, I've often been an acerbic
critic, but I
know I would have found it hard to reconcile saying exactly what I thought
smaller local productions, if I found them to be flawed. These
would be people doing what they loved, certainly
without financial reward in
mind. The answer, of course, is that expectations, resources and even
to be taken into consideraton during the evaluations.
While I was pondering the switch, I did a lot of reading. I
went through Frank
Rich's collection of his New York Times reviews during his 1980-93 tenure
the paper's theater critic. Mostly, I flipped through the book until I came to a
had seen -- in New York or elsewhere. Often, we had seen the same
New York production, and I paid especially
close attention to those reviews.
They were longer and more detailed than than most you'll see in
even the Times, nowadays, so that was the first asterisk.
I often agreed with most of what he said about those shows, but disagreed
with his conclusions.
Case in point: I knew that Chess had all those problems,
I nodded when
he pointed them out, but I shook my head when he said they
essentially ruined the show. One example of an
show we both liked was the wickedly funny Larry Gelbart-Cy Coleman
Near the end of the book, he mused that he wondered if he should lower his
pander to the "tourist" mentality, and approach reviewing with a
different mindset. I understood
what he was getting at. Yet I believe there's
room for applying high standards while at least loosening
the tie, maybe even
having a beer before the show, and conceding that theater doesn't have to be
work of art to be successful.
Rich championed Sunday in the Park with George and even
took grief for doing so. We saw it, too, and while I'm a huge fan of both
Peters and Mandy Patinkin, I am not at all embarrassed to
say I found it sleep-inducing.
I saw the acclaimed drama Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, with
Robin Williams, last
year in New York, I left the theater thinking it was
the kind of show many critics raved about because
smart and influential
critics are supposed to like this kind of play. I thought of that
later when I
reviewed 9 Circles last year; I asked myself if I was following that lead in
proclaiming it a strong play and production. I convinced myself my
admiration and praise were earned
Yes, I've been accused of arrogance and elitism when discussing my own
writing and offering my views on
sports. Here, I'm admitting as a theater
"critic," I would have been what some in that world might have
It's a matter of expectations, resources and standards. In the 2012
of $145 (give or take) ticket prices, you have every right to high
expectations, but what makes
me laugh about that is that a lower bowl ticket
at the Pepsi Center for the Colorado Avalanche-Columbus Blue Jackets
hockey game (in November) is about the same price. But there's nothing
wrong with conceding that theater
is both entertainment and art, and if a
show works as the former, while falling short of deserving to be considered
the latter, who the hell are we to say it's a failure? I've seen many, many
shows I neither "liked"
nor admired, but couldn't resist enjoying. (Rock of
Ages is one of the many examples.)
On to the two shows we saw on this trip.
Nice Work if You Can Get It, with
Joe DiPietro's book built around Gershwin
songs, received 10 Tony nominations, but has gotten so-so mainstream
We had seen Kelli O'Hara four times previously -- in Denver in Jekyll
Hyde, and in New York in Sweet Smell of Success, Pajama Game, and
Pacific. And we'd caught Matthew Broderick in Brighton Beach
Memoirs, The Producers and The
O'Hara again was great, and we were more than willing to overlook the
complete implausibility of her character and the story. Broderick was fine,
his own in an extended ballroom-type dance sequence across
furniture with O'Hara, and I respect his continuing
loyalty to the theater,
which despite his family background and deep roots in the craft, he really
Veterans Michael McGrath and
Judy Kaye were hilarious, and
they're both up for Tonys this
as featured performers
in musicals. (Update: They both
Kaye at the right in
the picture of me with the
Original Broadway Production
leads of Mamma
between Karen Mason and
Louise Pitre.) If McGrath and
steal the show, they
at least kidnapped it for significant
stretches. Estelle Parsons
doesn't make an appearance until late in the
show -- so late, she probably could be having dinner at Bricco at
curtain and still comfortably make her entrance as scheduled to serve to tie
up the loose
ends in the formulaic, by-the-numbers but fun, plot.
I'm convinced 99 percent of those at the Imperial had a blast; I'm guessing
the other 1 percent were
miserable because they'd had tainted oysters at
dinner...or maybe they were mad that Chess didn't
even rate a mention in the
"At This Theatre" page in the Playbill. (I've told you, that show's devotees
can be a little wacky.)
With Nice Work, I again was reminded that reviews
can be helpful in making
choices and provocative afterwards in framing your own
reaction, but shouldn't
be swallowed whole. Again, my experience has been
that I agree with quibbles or even outright criticisms from
reviewers, but than
catch myself adding, "Yeah ... so?" In this instance, quoth the Times:
froth." To which I'm convinced most at the Imperial would have
responded: "Yeah ... so?" Or, "And Anything
Goes isn't?" You don't need to
check your intellect at the door to react that way.
That's where today's abundance of alternative evaluations -- in blogs and
elsewhere -- can be significant
voices, and the dilution of major critics'
make-or-break influence has been a positive. I'd say that even
if I made the
move to the critic's role. Nobody should have that much power.
a slightly different story, primarily because of the casting of Elena
Roger as the lead in the first
New York revival since the original production
ran from 1979-83. I'd seen the show before, but not in
New York and not in
many years, and I had forgotten what a strong double-threat ensemble cast it
to support the handful of major characters.
Ricky Martin more than held his own as Che. (Update: Here, he's featured
in "And the Money Kept Rolling In" on the Tony Awards telecast.)
Roger is a tiny Argentinian who drew raves playing the role in London in
recent years, and casting a
woman from Eva and Juan Peron's homeland for
the role is a brave novelty. Her accent is an intriguing
touch, but not
indispensable, especially in a work in which we know the English dialogue is,
essence, a translation. She's an excellent dancer, too.
The problem here was that, at least on the night
we attended the show, her
voice wasn't strong enough for the part and became almost raspy at times as
snapped off final notes. I can't help but think that most in the audience
were wondering the same thing: Is
she sick? Is her voice worn out?
In a production that has an "alternate" Eva, Christina
DeCicco, who plays the
role on Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons, and two ensemble
also listed as understudies, there doesn't seem to be much excuse
for a lead going on with a significant voice
Admire her for going on and note that baseball players go on the DL with
but she either needed to step aside -- or, if that's just the
way she is much of the time, the role in New York
Martin and Michael Cerveris (as Peron) and a stunning ensemble -- including
veterans as Timothy Shew, one of Les Miserables' Jean Valjeans; and
Brad Little, who played
the Phantom of the Opera in one of the
touring productions that passed through Denver -- can't carry
this without an
electric Evita in all eight performances each week.
With that huge stipulation, we
enjoyed it, though, and would recommend it.
And, yes, we went to the new Yankee Stadium. It was
my first visit there,
and what I heard was exactly right -- at times, you still think you're in the old
place, and that can be both good and bad. It's obvious this was built for the
private boxes and luxury
levels. Why not just build a new stadium -- a real
new stadium? (Sacrilege, I know.) We were there on the
67th anniversary of
D-Day and the Yankees indeed honored veterans of the landing. The
problem was, it
was about 15 minutes before the first pitch, there couldn't
have been more than 5,000 people in their seats,
and it seemed almost
insulting and reduced to the trivial. The Yankees won 4-1, behind pitcher
Nova, in front of a crowd announced as over 38,000. I have no doubt
that many tickets were sold, but
in-house attendance was about 25,000 -- no
I also was reminded that for all the Yankees'
nods to tradition -- including
having Bob Sheppard's tape-recorded voice still introduce Derek Jeter, not
ridiculous "walk-up" music for each hitter, and having the monuments
behind the centerfield wall
-- even the game's showcase franchise has caved
in and added much of the usual silly marketing gimmicks
so pervasive in
MLB now. Screeching announcers give trivia quizzes to fans between
for example. Yes, even the Yankees ...
And the beers are $9.
Marty Glickman in Olympic Affair: Hitler's
Siren and America's Hero
he was a sportscaster...
(Marty Glickman, Sam Stoller on SS Manhattan on way to Germany)
September 2013: I finally was able
to watch the HBO
on Marty Glickman, a major figure in my novel
Olympic Affair: Hitler's Siren and America's Hero, last night. HBO
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.
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 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
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
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
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
Here are passages from the first half of my book, which
revolves around U.S. decathlon champion
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
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
. . . 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
Glickman. Marty Glickman.
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
That’s all we’ve been doing for the past two days
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 he has.”
understand, Marty,” Glenn said. “Or at least I’m trying to.”
“Good,” Torrance said. “Now shake hands . . . or no more throwing lessons
you, Morris, and I’ll accidentally drop a shot put on your toes, Glickman,
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.
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.”
“The other thing you should know . . . well, you were at the
Glickman continued, “So you know, I’m looking over my shoulder
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
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
placed ahead of me in the 100 run for Cromwell at USC. So . . .”
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 whathappens.” He paused, and then added, “Come on, let’s run.”
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
“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.
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
and Glenn recognized two of them from the Americans’ welcoming
ceremonies—the chubby mayor of Berlin and Dr. Theodor Lewald
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.
filed down the corridor on the May Field, showily looking side
to side as Hitler and
his entourage followed. Hitler’s group was perhaps
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,
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
Soon, though, the roar announced: The Führer had entered the stadium.
"Which book is your best?"
Done Dodging the Question.
And the answer is...
15, 2013: The upcoming March 1939: Before the Madness will be my
seventh book. I’m often asked, “What’s your best book?” Or, “What’s
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
I’ll take a swing at
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
seems conventionally “generic,” I admit Third Down and a War to Go is
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
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
novel. Taylor Trade simultaneously issued Olympic Affair and
University of Colorado emeritus professor Paul Levitt’s Stalin’s
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
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,
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
a little more and escaped traditional techniques in Third Down and a
War to Go.
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.
More on activist former NFL player Dave Pear and links
Internet becomes a weapon
in former NFL players' fights
May 14, 2012: My story on activist former NFL player Dave Pear is in the
Post and here.
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.
On Jim Bouton and Ball Four
A baseball book that remains a classic
April 10, 2012: Yesterday, in
my rant (below) about how I’ve
out of love with Major
League Baseball, I mentioned
that I have entire passages of
Jim Bouton’s Ball
And then in one of those
Twilight Zone moments
night, I heard former MLB
pitcher Rob Dibble interview
Bouton on his Fox Sports
show last night.
Denver’s Sports Radio 104.3 The Fan – where I co-host a show,
on Saturday mornings with Sandy Clough – carried Dibble’s
show after the Nuggets’ win.
first exposure to Ball Four was reading the Look magazine
mentioned that audible audio and Kindle versions of the
classic book now are out, and here’s the
link to that version on
Amazon.com. There have been other updated print editions over the
excerpts in 1970, and I still can
vividly picture doing so in junior-high
social studies at Eugene's Spencer Butte Junior High. At the time, we
still were upset in the Pacific Northwest that the Seattle Pilots had
bailed after that single 1969 season
and moved to Milwaukee, and
we’d have to wait for a second regional crack at the major leagues
Then I read the book, a diary
of Bouton’s '69 season with the Pilots,
Vancouver Mounties and Houston Astros, for the first of many times.
did part-time work for the Eugene Emeralds Class AAA baseball team
in the 1970 and ’71 seasons
at the time, too, and many of the players
had copies, or passed them around. What I saw on the one road trip
took with the team in each of those two seasons made it all ring even
As time went on, of course,
my perspective changed as I went
from a kid baseball player, to young journalist covering a lot of
to veteran journalist and fellow author – even of a book
set in 1969 that I realize now should have included
a reference to
the Pilots as one of the time markers. That was Horns, Hogs, and
and I made up for it by naming the star
quarterback Rick Bouton in The Witch’s Season.
I re-read Ball Four again last summer.
Each time, I read it, it seems more a bittersweet, but largely
affectionate ode to the game than a rip
job. (The money figures
involved seem more laughable each time, though.) Of course,
about Mickey Mantle’s off-the-field habits got the
headlines and criticism at the time, but they seem mild
now in the
wake of the additional revelations – including by Mantle – since.
Dibble of his ultimate reconciliation with Mantle via phone
messages and letters, tied to the tragic loss of a
child for each of
I’m now more certain than ever that Bouton did a lot of
to get it to manageable length self-censoring along the way. Yes,
it’s arguable that
he violated aspects of the sanctity of the
clubhouse and its extensions, but any perceptive reader –
in 2012 – “gets” how much “worse” it likely could have
been had he been completely
opportunistic and merciless, and if
he had concluded that he might as well go all out because he
be out of the game soon, anyway. Most of all, it was human,
poignant and funny.
I heard Bouton even
point out that pitcher Jim Brosnan had done
something similar a decade earlier, and Brosnan’s two books –
The Long Season and Pennant Race – were more reflective and
more frank than was acknowledged at the time and since.
But he stayed on one side of the line. Bouton “crossed”
it. His best
talent was listening.
I talked to Bouton
for an Oregonian column in June 1986, shortly
after I joined the paper in Portland – where
Bouton briefly had
played for the Class A Portland Mavericks in one his comebacks.
Here are excerpts from that 1986 column:
I read the book for about the ninth
time this week. I knew that Seattle
pitcher Gary Bell was going to say of every Washington hitter:
him inside” … and be taken seriously by the coaching staff.
I knew the peeping-tom
players didn’t go onto the roof of the
Shoreham Hotel in Baltimore for fresh air.
knew that Bouton was going to have too many mai tais in Honolulu
and tell his tape recorder: “This is a Hawaiian
drink brewed by the evil
gods of the volcanoes and no fit potion for a clean-cut American boy
I knew that Seattle manager Joe Schultz was going to say … well,
just say I knew it was coming.
still are Ball Four junkies nationwide. This week, one of them
called the chief officer of Jim
Bouton, Inc., in Teaneck, N.J.
“This may sound conceited, but I don’t think anybody has written
another Ball Four,” Bouton
said. “What agents have done, what
authors have done, what players have done, is written what they
Four was. They’re trying for bitter, angry and tell-alls . . .
But we still haven’t had anybody
sitting on the bench and the bus,
taking notes, talking into the tape recorder every night, and that would
None of the other books have had the impact of Ball Four.
"I would say that once a
week someone makes a reference to Ball
Four," Bouton said. "A guy will carry my bags up to my hotel
he'll say, 'Smoke him inside, Mr. Bouton.'"
Bouton said he was proud that Ball
Four helped expose
management's economic exploitation of the players. He
points out that
he was called to the stand to read portions of the book into the record
during the landmark
Andy Messersmith case. This was the same
Bouton who was laughed down at a Pilots' team meeting when he
suggested the minimum salary be raised from $7,000 to $10,000.
The first line in Ball Four was: “I’m 30 years old and I have these
Does a 47-year-old still have them?
“I don’t know if I have those baseball fantasies anymore,” Bouton said.
“I still pitch
for the Emerson-Westwood Merchants in semi-pro, and I
might dream of striking out 20 of 27 with the knuckleball.
But mostly, I
dream about making it big in business, Congress and running for
president of the United
He was just kidding … or smoking
Ball Four remains
a classic … in any form. It holds up as far more
than a time capsule.
Why I Have Fallen Out of Love with Major League Baseball
we could call it Title X
On Home Opener Day in Denver
April 9, 2012: 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
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.
With the Denver Final Four about to tip off: Women should be coaching women
April 1, 2012: 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.
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
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
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.
On Book titles
"How'd you come with that?"
February 20, 2012: 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
After pondering, I agreed. So it became Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming.
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.
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.)
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.
A shout out to Wisconsin and Barry Alvarez for recognizing
a nearly 70-year-old injustice
Hanzlik finally gets his deserved letterlink
May 14, 2011: 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…
Sadly, most of his teammates have left us.
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 Greatest Mom Ever
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.
March 24, 2011: 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 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,
worked one summer in war industries in Milwaukee, 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.
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.
Communing with Vince Lombardi, Harry Houdini and Edna Ferber
in stormy (in more ways than one) Appleton
An enjoyable trip to speak at the Outagamie County Historical Society
February 23, 2011: Since the publication of Third Down and a War to Go, I've been brought back to Wisconsin many times for appearances and functions, the majority of them under the aegis
of the Wisconsin Historical Society. This time, I'm back from an enjoyable trip to Appleton -- 100 miles north of Milwaukee
and 30 miles from Green Bay -- to speak at the annual meeting of the Outagamie County Historical Society on Monday afternoon. That's my amateur shot of the organization's Castle base in downtown Appleton, before heading in
for the function.
Yes, the Midwest snow storm made it a challenge on several levels -- including getting to the Fox Cities area and
then getting home -- but even on a day when schools were closed and the local television stations covered the weather developments as
one of those monumental storms that challenges Mr. Doppler and everyone else, the meeting went on as scheduled and I was stunned
at how many hearty Wisconsinites showed up.
While there, I also got to eat dinner at the renowned Vince Lombardi's Steak House -- Vince wasn't there, but there were plenty of pictures of him and other Packer greats on the walls -- and
at Fratello's on the Fox River, and those are world-class restaurants. I also learned, in wandering around the Historical Society,
that Appleton is the hometown of illusionist Harry Houdini and the city where novelist Edna Ferber (Giant, Cimarron...)
was raised and also worked for the Appleton newspaper before moving on.
At least nobody picketed my appearance. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who finds himself in the eye of the storm because
of his atempt to end the collective bargaining rights of many public employees, was invited to attend the Republican
Party's Lincoln Day dinner at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel on Monday night. He didn't attend, but that didn't stop
the protests. At left, that's another of my amateur cell phone shots of the hotel, which was across the street from
mine. That's a small portion of the crowd, because protesters were stationed at all entrances to the hotel and spilled
into other nearby areas. Some of them were even wearing cheeseheads. There had been previous demonstrations in the city's
Houdini Square over the weekend and also earlier in the month, when Walker came to Appleton and met with editors of the Post-Crescent to
state his case and answer questions.
My thanks to all connected with the Outagamie County Historical Society, especially
Matt Carpenter, deputy director and curator of collections, who arranged my visit. Also, thanks to Executive Director
Terry Bergen; Communications Specialist Melissa LeDuc; attorney Ed Bush, the organization's president; and Vice
President Ron Altenburg of Schenck, a CPA and business consulting firm.
Jack Elway and Jerry Frei
The Broncos missed them, too January 5, 2011: 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.
Leni Riefenstahl and her 1974 appearance
As 39th Telluride Film Festival
continues, a look back at the first
September 3, 2012: Showing his latest action thriller, Argo, Ben Affleck is
the most prominent figure at the 39th Telluride Film Festival, which
Above, that's Leni Riefenstahl in Telluride for the inaugural Festival
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
and drew protests. She joined director Francis Ford Coppola
and 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
Adding to my newspaper column on approach
of Oregon vs. Colorado
The first game ever in Autzen
Stadium and beyond
October 22, 2012: With another matchup between my alma
(Colorado) and the team my father once coached
(Oregon) coming up on Saturday, my Monday Denver Post
commentary is about my reflections on the first game ever
played in Autzen Stadium, plus those quite different
The reaction via direct communication has been very
gratifying, and I thank those who have
taken the time to
express it. I was even nicely reminded that because of an
ABC strike, Keith
Jackson didn't work the game as scheduled
on ABC, and the commentators were former coaches from
of the two schools -- Len Casanova, in his first season
as the Oregon AD; and Dal Ward, the former
Colorado. The irony is that at each school, the athletic
department offices are named
after them -- the Casanova
Center and the Dal Ward Center.
We added the
program cover from that game to the online
version of the column, so that's there now. The cover for
the first game ever in Autzen Stadium is an aerial photo of
the Oregon campus, which doesn't
include the new
off-campus stadium. In that shot, Hayward Field, the
former football stadium that
to this day remains famous
for hosting track and field competition and being in the
background of an
"Animal House" scene, is at the top left.
As you can see at the left,
Autzen was on the cover of
the program two weeks
when the Ducks
played Ohio State in
the Dedication Game. I
vaguely remember Woody
Hayes marveling that
Autzen was built for only
$2.3 million, and I think he
it as a compliment.
To put that in perspective, plugging the figure in on online
the fact that it's equal to about $16 million in
2012 dollars. And now Colorado State is talking about
building a very basic on-campus stadium for $246 million,
considered a modest figure today for any stadium.
an economist, and I didn't take Econ at CU, so I'm sure the
direct comparison that way
is misleading, but it's at least
interesting. As alluded to in the column, Autzen was built in
and it basically was shoving a bunch of earth
together to form a berm and pouring concrete into
it to form
Additional points to accompany the column:
-- Below is a page from the
'67 Oregon-Colorado program,
and serves to make my point about my father's original
and how his World War II service was not
mentioned in his coaching biography. Two of the men below
Robinson and George Seifert) were NFL head coaches;
a third (Bruce Snyder) came within one play of winning a
national championship as the head coach at Arizona State.
Two other future NFL head coaches also were involved
father's program. Gunther Cunningham was a linebacker on
this '67 team and subsequently
joined my father's coaching
staff, first as a graduate assistant. Norv Turner was a Ducks
recruited from Martinez, Calif.
Also unexplained is the "late" reference to Dave
Schreiner. Perhaps readers in
the late 1960s still
remembered that he was a two-time All-American end and
Big Ten Conference MVP who
was killed in action during the
Battle of Okinawa in World War II. Also, Elroy Hirsch was
as "Crazylegs," and the story of that team is
told in Third Down and a War to Go.
-- Several mentioned to me in email and Twitter responses
that this column sounded as if
it could be a hint of another
In fact, I've already done it. The Witch's Season is a roman a
clef novel about those Oregon teams, the men involved,
crazy times on one of the nation's cauldron campuses,
and college football. The actual college football part
timeless, in my view.
Screenplay versus book: Horns, Hogs,
and Nixon Coming example
Same Opening, Different Style
I've found that writing screenplay adaptations
of existing works – in
instances, of my own books – isn't
agonizingly difficult. I've
done it three times and without going into details, all have been in or
are in "the loop." I've had meetings, lunches, cocktails at the Beverly
Wilshire and (appropriately,
as you'll see) breakfast at the Hotel
Bel-Air, and a discussion in a Hollywood star's Brentwood
room ... all of it. But,
no, you haven't seen any of those films on
the screen. Yet.
I'm not saying writing an adaptation is "easy," and it's based
on the recognition that any script is a starting point for the director
and it will undergo considerable
change in the process. And in
some cases, that's putting it nicely.
From the start, the story is
already in my head and the computer,
dialogue or suggested dialogue is in front of me, and the biggest
is avoid trying to simply put the book in screenplay
form. That requires stepping back, taking liberties and – most
important – deciding what to focus on and what to leave out for a
Third Down and a War to Go, the book, was about Wisconsin's 1942
college football team winning the national championship and
going off to war, with some not coming back. For the screenplay,
I tightened the focus, making it
more the story of three of the
Badgers' stars. The opening is different than that of the book, starting
captain and two-time All-American end Dave Schreiner
serving as a Marine in the Pacific and receiving a letter and a
informing him that his Badgers co-captain and lifelong buddy, bomber
co-pilot Mark Hoskins, has been shot
down on a combat mission and
is feared lost.
The Witch's Season, the book, was about a team modeled on my
father's Oregon Ducks of the late 1960s, the famous men on his staff
and team, and the tumultuous campus. The screenplay version
compresses the time frame, ending the
film right after Nixon's
election, rather than on his Inauguration Day. It leaves part of the
but with enough foreshadowing for viewers to fill in
the blanks themselves.
Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming was the most challenging,
perhaps because it's the one that I could envision being done as
rather than a film. For several reasons, I won't give away
the gist of the decisions I made, but I will say that I cut
out alot of
the story and back story and made it very specific.
Two of those three are non-fiction
books, and I found that the
experience of doing the screenplays – taking a true story and
imagining dialogue and scenes – helped greatly
when writing Olympic
Affair: Hitler's Siren and America's Hero, which even more than the
other books is almost what I consider the novelization of a
screenplay that doesn't exist.) Reviewers have noted
the "cinematic" approach.
Now, for an
example: Although there are major differences between
the HHNC book and screenplay, I started both with the same
"scene" – former Razorbacks defensive back Bobby Field, then an
director at UCLA, encountering former President
Nixon outside the Hotel Bel-Air. After this, of course, the
back to 1969. As it turns out, of course, while Nixon remembered
quite a bit about the events
of December 6, 1969 game in
Fayetteville, there was a lot more going on that he didn't know
Here's the opening segment of the screenplay. I can't supply
the popcorn and keep in mind that
when I originally wrote it, it was
roughly eight times as long before I was reminded it needed to be
and set the stage for the flashback.
EXT. UCLA FOOTBALL PRACTICE FIELD, LOS ANGELES – DAY
Sprinklers spray as Bobby FIELD, late-30s, fit, and wearing a gray
T-shirt, takes off at a one-time serious athlete’s stay-in-shape pace.
NORTH EDGE UCLA CAMPUS, LOS ANGELES – DAY
the campus entrance and sprints across the street, entering Stone Canyon
MARCH 30, 1985
MALE RADIO NEWSCASTER (v.o.)
Among the stories we’re following on KNX 1070: Reclusive
ex-President Richard Nixon is
visiting his native Southern California, and he was spotted having dinner at Chasen’s
with Paul Keyes, the producer of the old “Laugh-In” TV series. No word on whether
Nixon reprised his attempt at the show’s “Sock It To Me” catchphrase on the
show during the 1968
FEMALE RADIO NEWSCASTER (v.o.)
John, you have to say that right. It was a question.
MALE RADIO NEWSCASTER (v.o.)
(Bad Nixon imitation)“Sock it to me?”
EXT. STONE CANYON BOULEVARD, BEL AIR – DAY
up the winding road. Hotel Bel Air is ahead. Three Men in suits walk toward Field.
AGENT 1 and AGENT 2 are big
and fit. The man in the middle is Richard NIXON at age
72, getting morning exercise. Ten feet short of Nixon, Field
puffs out a greeting.
EXT. HOTEL BEL AIR PARKING LOT, BEL AIR – DAY
reversed his direction and is coming down the hill. He spots Nixon again, next to the
hotel’s canopied entrance.
Field detours into the parking lot and slows to a walk. As the
Agents step forward, he approaches the former president
and lifts his right hand in a
Hello, Mr. Nixon … Mr. President. Sorry to bother you, sir,
but I decided I should introduce
myself. I’m Bobby Field. I’m the football defensive coordinator on
Terry Donahue’s staff at
Sure. You had a fine season.
Nixon offers his hand. Field shakes it.
Thank you, sir.
As a matter of fact, in 1969, I was a defensive back for the
University of Arkansas and you,
sir, came to our game in Fayetteville against…
limousine pulls up. The DOORMAN opens the back door. Nixon doesn’t move.
Terrific game! Numbers one and two in the
nation. Texas with James Street running the
wishbone offense and throwing that long pass … Arkansas with
Bill Montgomery firing away
to Chuck Dicus … That fine Texas boy, Freddie Steinmark, visited me later at
House … I was in the stands, freezing, with Governor Rockefeller and George Bush and
Fulbright … and it comes down to the final minutes and it’s anyone’s game … and
Sir, we should go.
What a thrilling finish! And when it was
over, I went to both dressing rooms.
Yes, sir, this is the second time I’ve shook your hand. This time, I'm not crying.
nudge Nixon into the car. Limousine pulls away. Field watches with the doorman.
That must have been some football game, him
rattling all that off. He had a hard time coming
up with his wife’s name yesterday.
UP: HORNS, HOGS, AND NIXON COMING
Tattered Cover signing and Denver Press Club Book Beat
Making the promotional rounds
in Denver for Olympic Affair
January 25, 2013: In the past couple of weeks, I made appearances at the
(East Colfax branch) and at the Denver Press Club to
discuss, answer questions about, and sign Olympic
The January 17 appearance was my sixth at the TC, and it remains a pleasure
a thrill to speak at one of the nation's top independent bookstores. (One
regret: I haven't
ever appeared at Powell's, which I used to haunt when we
lived in the Portland area.) This time, it was a joint
"Evening of Historical
Fiction" appearance with Paul Levitt, the University of Colorado professor
emeritus whose terrific and panoramic novel, Stalin's Barber, also is
from Taylor Trade.
Rick Rinehart of Taylor Trade moderated the discussion.
Paul and I, in fact, both publicly thanked Rick for
taking a chance on our
novels -- the first ones Taylor Trade has ever published. Until recently, in
the TT Twitter profile noted that it published books "in all genres except
fiction." Now, it says:
"We are the trade divisions of the Rowman &
Littlefield Publishing Group. We've got books in nearly every
no zombies, no vampires." Taylor Trade also published the paperback
version of Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming; plus '77: Denver, the Broncos
and a Coming of Age and Playing Piano in a Brothel.
After the signing portion of the program, as is the custom, we both signed
books for the TC, so autographed copies of both Olympic Affair and
Stalin's Barber are at
the East Colfax branch.
Then on January 24, Bruce Goldberg of the Denver Business Journal, also
the Denver Press Club's president, interviewed me for a "Book Beat"
program at the DPC. Among
those in the audience were fellow authors
Michael Madigan and Dennis Dressman, both former editors and
the Rocky Mountain News, and they asked me questions
about my methodology and the book
itself. (Mike briefly was my boss
when I worked part-time at the News when I was
A nice essay/review in prestigious Philadelphia
Review of Books
Author Jim Blanchet: Olympic
Affair is a "success as both a
stand-alone novel and
2013: The Philadelphia
Review of Books today
posted author Jim Blanchet's essay on, and review of,
Here's the snippet I have posted:
his initial information ... and a combination of
deduction and artistic license, Frei fills in the blanks
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
1942 Badger and WWII Hero Passes Away
in Eau Claire, Wisconsin
R.I.P., Dave Donnellan
March 31, 2013: 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
dealer; Dave Donnellan, who owned a major real-estate
firm; and John
Gallagher, a fixture before retirement as, first, the football coach and
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
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.
This is from Christena T. O'Brien of the Eau Claire
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.
"All the time," Donnellan said softly. "Every single day."
In World War II, Donald Litchfield was a B-25 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
Over his objections, I got that in the book's second printing
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.
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
My choices for the top sports movies of all time
Gone With the Wind or
Slap Shot? It's a tossup
February 22, 2013: The
Oscars are Sunday night, and no
sports movies are among the best-picture nominees. That’s
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.
4, Without Limits (1998).
I’m a little prejudiced here,
because I was raised in Eugene and revered the film’s hero,
runner Steve Prefontaine, after watching him
compete as early as when he was attending Marshfield High
(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.
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
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
I encountered later in my occasional stints covering
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
Not long after the movie came out, while on a trip to cover a
at the University of Iowa, I was a complete
tourist, making the side trip to Dyersville and playing catch
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. Well, maybe
it’s because so many who saw the remake actually
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).
A potpourri trip to New York: Book biz,
Got a horse right here, his name
is Paul Revere
June 10, 2013: Helen and I are back from
a trip to New York for:
* Book business, including final
the upcoming March 1939: Before the
Madness. There's much material in the
book about college basketball in
Garden that season,
including the eventual national
champion Oregon Webfoots' December
1938 meeting with CCNY.
* An excursion
to Belmont Park, two days
before the Belmont Stakes.
* A pair of (as it turned out) Tony-winning
musicals, Kinky Boots (best
Pippin (best revival of musical).
First, the book. I spent one day at the New York Public Library, going
through microfilm and looking
at the pertinent editions of the New York
Herald Tribune, whose writers were the ringleaders
of the Metropolitan
Basketball Writers Association at the time, and the New York Daily News. I'd
been able to see
microfilm and digital archives of the New York Times
earlier. That picture is from the Herald
Tribune, showing the Webfoots at the
West Side YMCA after their arrival in Manhattan for the Garden
appearance. I didn't
print out the whole picture, but was able to piece together
the full cutline (including a couple of misspelled names)
to confirm, among
other things, the makeup of the full roster on the trip.
Other than the inevitable -- when
hitting the microfilm for all my books, I
always am distracted in reading about everything else that was going
on -- it
was a very productive day. I also visited the site of the old Garden and waved
at the Milford
Plaza, which, as the Lincoln Hotel, figures prominently both in
this book and in Olympic Affair.
On Thursday, we took the LIRR train
from Penn Station to Belmont for the first
six races of the day.
Yes, we changed at
Jamaica and, yes, in accordance with the
wishes of the jovial trainman
tickets, we had a special ticket for Belmont
only and didn't try to get by with a
monthly pass or something else nefarious.
It was a fun day hanging at the paddock,
on the main line, and at the rail, even if we
often felt alone. On a "normal" race day it
really sinks in how much of the betting
handle and attention is coming from
satellite wagering sites, including
tracks and casinos.
The program cover for that day, and I assume for the upcoming days,
tribute to Secretariat's historic Belmont Stakes victory in 1973.
And the shows...
had great seats for Pippin (front
row, almost too good) because
I took the
chance and bought them long before the
show opened, drawn by the stars we had
seen before -- Patina Miller and Terrence
It was all that we had heard, and expected
-- and more. Tony winner Andrea Martin's
show-stealing song ("No Time at All")
and acrobatics were terrific,
and I still can
hear her saying/singing, "Accordion lessons,"
in My Favorite Year,
the show adapted
from my favorite movie that I never have
been able to see. (Yes, I have heard the
soundtrack.) I decided that Matthew James
Thomas, as Pippen, has deserves more
acclaim than he's
gotten amid entrenched
stars, and the circus effects -- yes,
this revival has become Cirque
in a musical -- were stunning. There were
about eight places where mouths dropped, and the gymnasts-circus folks
(Orion Griffiths, Philip Rosenberg,
Lolita Coset and Olga Karmansky)
made me wonder: They do this eight times a week?
My only quibble with
this show is the ending. It just stops, in a way trying
to make a point. Yes, I'm an unabashed fan of the ending that
has your hair
standing on end and anxious to be able to stand. Pippin doesn't have
a very "touristy" reaction on my part, I know, but I'm not
ashamed of it at all. Sorry, Mr. Rich.
On to Kinky Boots. (Tip: Not sure if we'd
have time for another show,
we waited and
got the tickets for 20 percent off at the
TKTS booth. Yes, in the mezzanine,
as is typical for the older Broadway houses,
there's not a "bad" seat in
The local connection for me was that
Annaleigh Ashford, who graduated from
the Denver area's Wheat Ridge High
School a few years after I did, and whose
many credits include Glinda
in Wicked and
Maureen in Rent, was one of the leads in
Kinky Boots, as Lauren. Also, Northern
Colorado grad Andy Kelso was in the cast as Harry.
Ashford was terrific, making the most of the chance
to have the
stage to herself for "The History of Wrong Guys."
Cyndi Lauper's debut as a show composer
and lyricist certainly was worth
and her speech in accepting the
Tony was one of the telecast's
highlights. A genuine music superstar
was both gracious and wide-eyed about
breaking through in the theater world,
and I compare it to
David Bryan, a
founding member of Bon Jovi, doing such
a terrific job with Memphis.
Okay, Billy Porter, as Lola, turned in a
performance that earned him a Tony,
and it's heartening
stuff for a guy who paid
his dues. Frankly, I would have voted for
the other male lead, Stark Sands, as Charlie
Price, the inheritor of the British shoe factory;
or Thomas, as Pippin. And that brings me to my quibble
with this show.
It's derivative. I felt that I was seeing La Cage Aux Folles and a
bit of Billy
Elliot, plus a dash of Rent, (all of which I've seen),
and Priscilla, Queen of
the Desert (which I haven't), all thrown into a blender. Harvey
Fierstein is the
playwright, so the credentials there can't be questioned, but there comes a
you say ... OK, the guy is (and the guys are) are drag
performers in a show within the show, but haven't
I seen this before? It
doesn't diminish the performances or show when evaluated on a stand-alone
basis, but if you're a typical hobbyist theatergoer or more, and you've seen
other shows that are so remindful
of this one, it is a bit bothersome. In
interviews, Porter has tried to point out what he believes to be the
differences from the other shows and the crucial elements in the eventual
acceptance of his character, but it
seems a stretch to me.
It's fun, the music's great, you laugh, you're impressed that the actors and
actresses who look like British factory workers can sing and dance, and you
stand at the end.
And there's nothing wrong with that.
The 2012 Trip
Missy Franklin succeeds Glenn Morris
as Coloradan Sullivan winner
Yes, the Golden Boy from Colorado was
named top U.S. amateur athlete of 1936
April 16, 2013: 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 tonight,
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
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
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
when he reacted honestly, saying to the reporter who
informed him of the news: “If I won, what happened to
thought he’d get it.” He knew many of the voters were holding it
that he quickly had declared himself a professional
after the Games, and Glenn was especially sheepish because
didn’t intend to remain an amateur much longer, either.
On Jackie Robinson's older brother, Mack
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,
-- 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
Julius Whitter, first black Longhorn
letterman, is inducted into U of Texas Hall of Honor
Hogs and Nixon Coming
dealt with Dixie's Last Stand
November 6, 2013: Julius Whitter last weekend was among the ex-players
inducted into the University
of Texas' Hall of Honor.
He was the Longhorns' first black football letterman, and I visited him in
at his law office in Dallas during the research for Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming.
No black players participated in the 1969 Arkansas-Texas game that is the
point, but both schools had black scholarship players on the
freshman teams that season and were on the verge of
integration. It's a major plotline in the book -- and part of the reason for the
vs. Arkansas in Dixie's Last Stand -- and I enjoyed speaking
with Whittier. Arkansas' freshman scholarship
player was running back Jon
Richardson, and I also spoke with Hiram McBeth, who was on the "B"
in 1969 after essentially being appointed by the Black Student organization to
go out for football
and integrate the program; and with Darrell Brown, who
ended up the attorney for Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy
Tucker in the Whitewater
trial and as such questioned Bill Clinton on video in the White House.
Brown had gone out for freshman football in 1965 and in that sense was the
first black Razorback.
Here's my introductory passage on Whittier:
Julius Whittier committed to attending Texas, he didn’t know he
would become the Longhorns’ first black letterman.
didn’t go there with that as a goal,” he says. “I went there because I
wanted to play big-time football,
take a shot and see how I stacked up against
guys like me. If I was an icebreaker, I didn’t feel the breaking ice.”
says he never felt as if Darrell Royal had to be dragged screaming
into the era of integrated college football. “There may have been
who made it their goal to make sure college football stayed white,”
Whittier says. “I didn’t see that in Coach Royal, didn’t
see it as a burning issue
with any of the white football players, and even in looking back I don’t see it.
“I think the guys
I played with felt comfortable they had the skills to compete
with anyone, whether that guy was white or black. So, no, I don’t
Royal as a fiber in the fabric of the part of football that may have
wanted to keep it white. Coach Royal basically came to a school that got
from the state it served. Not that he was some big social revolutionary
or anything, but I think he recognized that to stay who we were, we
were going to have
to use black athletes.
“There’s a strength that was added to the team by adding different ethnic
backgrounds. I think
Royal appreciated that and was unafraid. [But] he had a
board of regents that thought maintaining racial purity was more important
for a long time.”
first black letterman came from San Antonio. Julius’s father, Oncy,
was a doctor, and his mother, Loraine, was a teacher.
As he was being raised,
Julius was somewhat naïve, because the San Antonio schools were a Texas oasis,
integrated for years. White kids and black
kids and brown kids went to
school together, and from junior high up, students got “bus cards” and could
attend any school in the district.
But it was as if the city couldn’t quite figure
out how far to extend this progress.
One example of San Antonio’s reticence was that blacks
still had to enter
the historic Majestic Theater through the back door and sit in the back.
Julius’s sisters, Cheryl and Mildred,
worked at the Handy Andy market, and
discovered that they wouldn’t be allowed to advance to cashier’s jobs; thosewere reserved for the white girls. Loraine, active in the NAACP, helped organize
march on the store; eventually, Cheryl and Mildred and
other black girls were allowed to handle the money, too. Julius’s older
brother, also Oncy, set the example for Julius—one he didn’t always pretend
to match. Oncy was meticulous in his dress, polite
in manner, and studious to
“He was the gentleman,” Julius says. “I was the renegade.” But
Oncy also was involved in the Black Guerrilla Theatre group, which was in
the same building as the militant Student Non-Violent Coordinating
and was raided at one point
by San Antonio police. “My brother got
in the head, along with several other people, and we had to get him
out of jail,” Julius says.
Highlands High School, predominantly white, Julius took part in a
protest of the dress code, wearing a dashiki he borrowed from Oncy. Oncy
could argue with teachers and win them over, at least earning their
Julius could say what was on
his mind and be tossed from class. Oncy was an
all-city offensive lineman in football, and he ended up at Howard University
in Washington, D.C. Julius was surprised when he discovered his options included
attending the University of Texas and playing football—with
those white boys! At the end of his
senior season, he discovered that his parents
and his high school coach had cut a deal to lessen the recruiting pressures.
“When the season was over, we were tearing down our lockers and my
coach called me into the office,” Julius says.
“There were three bags of letters
is for you, as a reward for the year you had.”
is it, Coach?”
letters from different colleges and universities, Julius. And I want you to
read this one first.”
Coach Darrell Royal was telling Julius Whittier the University of Texas
Longhorns wanted him.
“I didn’t know who he was,” Whittier
says. “I don’t say that to minimize
who he was, I say that to show how sheltered I was.”
Royal’s head defensive coach, Mike Campbell, came to San Antonio, met
with Whittier, and helped schedule a visit to the
UT campus. “I bought into
honesty,” Whittier says. “He was straightforward. He was just an
old white man who knew how to play football. He turned out to be just what
he showed me—a straight shooter.”
As Julius also set up visits to North Texas State and SMU, and he sifted
letters from Big Ten schools, his mother’s NAACP friends were
aghast that he was considering UT. “They had this fear that I wouldn’t get a
fair shot, that I would be just suiting up and holding a dummy,”
says. “My mom was fascinated
by the challenge, though.”
didn’t make the kid from San Antonio any promises about how
much he would play. “That part’s up to you,” Royal said. Like James Street
and others before him, Whittier took that as a challenge.
“You know the
bumper sticker that
says ‘Hire a teenager while they still know everything?’
That was me,” he says. And he wouldn’t be the only black player in the program,
he was reminded. On his recruiting visit, Whittier was shown around
by the freshman halfback, Leon O’Neal. “He
told me the white folks were
Whittier says, smiling. “Then he left. It didn’t bother me at first, until
I thought about it later and he kind of left me there. I was expecting to go
there and be real good friends with him for the next
two, three years. We got
along real well
on my recruiting trip.”
he settled in at UT during that 1969 season, Whittier became increasingly
bothered because his teammates seemed blinkered and insulated fromthe events swirling around them. And, no, at times he didn’t feel
“It’s almost a southern gentleman kind of racism to the extent that I never
got invited out on the drinking sprees,” Whittier
says. “Everybody knew I
drink. But there were also white boys invited out on these sprees who
He was quoted in the February 15, 1970, San Antonio Express-News as
problems I’ve had have been with some of the players. Texas seems
to recruit a lot of boys from small towns, and most of them have small minds
just like their fathers. I’ve gotten the message
from them. It’s subtle, but to
I’m definitely an outsider.”
later, Whittier can repeat his “small-town boys” newspaper statement
almost verbatim. You bet he heard about it, and he hasn’t forgotten. He
doesn’t seem to give the Longhorns, even when
all except Whittier were
credit for their wide spectrum of attitudes, viewpoints, and
level of seriousness, but it’s understandable why.
“By that I meant they weren’t out to change the world in any way,” he says.
“They were out to play first-class football
at a first-class football school. Race
get in our way. The social change that I was into and used to in myhome
life, through my mom’s stewardship, was not part of what they were
about. They were about playing football and stepping
into the life that a
solid football career
at a solid football school gets you.”
in 1969, Whittier was just a freshman linebacker, anyway, not a part of
the varsity. The tricky part was freshmen were considered lower life forms in
the football area of Jester Center, subject to the
usual hazing rituals of being
to shine shoes, do laundry, go out for hamburgers or beer at two in
the morning, or make beds. The freshman season was a plebe experience, and
the tradition was that the first-year players couldn’t even enter through the
main door of the dining hall until they had beaten
the Texas A&M freshmen.
regarded a few upperclassmen as his protectors—including
sophomore Randy Stout, who shared time at left guard with Bobby Mitchell,
plus backup running backs Billy Dale and Bobby Callison. He felt
watching out for him, making
sure the freshman indoctrination pranks didn’t
go beyond the norm, to racial harassment. (When Dale was a senior and
Whittier was a sophomore, they roomed together in Jester.)
also came to like defensive tackle Greg Ploetz.
didn’t appear that I was being treated any different than any other
freshman,” Whittier says. “I think I was respected, too, because I was aggressive
and got after it. I didn’t slink to the back
of the line when it was time for
drills. In fact, I had made a promise to myself that when they said to line
up I always would be first in line, even if I had to push and shove to get there.
I wanted the coaches to know they didn’t have
to worry about me being willing
my face in there.”
that fall, the other Longhorn freshmen and a few of the upperclassmen
noticed a few other things about the black kid: He could be late for lunchbecause he was at a protest! He would hang out with the hippies! He
went to the
Moratorium march, and he was sympathetic when students protested a
Memorial Stadium and street expansion project that forced the bulldozing of
Waller Creek between the stadium and the main part
of campus. The administration
students couldn’t understand why moving the channel
thirty feet was such a problem. So what if it killed a few trees and a few turtles?
“I had to walk by this fight to go into the stadium
to get dressed to play
Whittier says. “I was having to face the fact that what I was doing
and the system I was playing in was the dynamite behind the movement to
move Waller Creek. I’d have to walk past Frank Erwin”—the
chairman ofthe board of regents—“and the other regents
observing the protesters to
make sure they didn’t interfere with construction. Kids tied themselves to
trees to stop the bulldozers.”
you were up there with all the hippies!—they never attempted to
Whittier says that while coaches made snide remarks every
once in a
tell him he couldn’t take part in protests or
be politically active, either that
year or later. In fact, he says, trainer Frank Medina surprised him
by saying, “If you take care of business here, you’re fine with us.”
The 1969 freshman team went 5–0, finishing off
with a victory over Texas
in Austin on November 21. Then the first-year players settled in to
watch their “heroes” close out the varsity season against Texas A&M and
“Those guys were like gods to us!” Whittier says. “You could tell that
there was never a thought in their mind that anyone
was going to beat
Certainly not Arkansas.
in Glenn Morris' backyards
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.
On the release of March 1939: Before the Madness
Lying low, so to speak,
until ... yes ... March
February 9, 2014: Thursday
date for March 1939:
Before the Madness, my seventh book.
The long wait between submission
the manuscript and the publication
date never has gotten easier for
me. There's a lot to be done in that
period, of course, including reviewing
the copy-edited manuscript and responding
to editors' queries, and going over two
rounds of page proofs. I continued in my
newspaper work while promoting Olympic Affair, still available
15 months after its release. I also worked on Save By Roy,
a collaboration with fellow previous Taylor Trade author Adrian
Dater, and periodically played with my in-progress Young
Adult novel, The New Kid -- which
I've put aside about six times to
on and finish other projects. (The poor kid has been a high
school sophomore for four years.)
So I stayed busy. But the wait, as always, seemed interminable.
Finally, though, we're here. The timetable for this one was a bit
compressed. I didn't see a real copy until two weeks ago, and it
began showing up as available on the online sites about that time,
too. Then it first showed up in stores last week,
and the above shot
is from the Barnes
and Noble in Portland's Lloyd Center. The
distribution is national, and it's now in major bookstores coast-to-
coast. And, yes, it's always exciting to see
the book in a store for the
The entire first printing already
is spoken for, and that meant the
media review copies has been delayed until the second
printing, coming in a couple of weeks. But because of the subject
matter and the title, it's understandable that much of the promotion
and featured store display won't begin until next month.
One of my goals in the discussion
of the book is to make sure it's
while the first NCAA champions, the Oregon
are featured, this is not an "Oregon book." (Not that
there's anything wrong with that.) Rather, it's about the national
college basketball scene in the late 1930s, detailing the New York and
Madison Square Garden influence on the sport as the nation's college
coaches and others sought to found a truly national tournament
a rival for the new invitation tournament
started the year before. The
six-team New York
tournament was blatantly promoted, sometimes
to the point of absurdity, by the very scribes covering it -- members '
of the Metropolitan Basketball Writers, and that contributed to
popularization of myths about the event in
its early days that persist
to this day.
In that sense, it's a two-pronged
work, looking at both the NCAA
the early NIT, in 1939 featuring the Clair Bee-
Long Island University Blackbirds. And as I've done in my
other books, I've placed it all in the context of the times -- the very
eventful and ominous times of 1939.
Publishers Weekly praises MARCH 1939: BEFORE THE MADNESS
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.