- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2003

Large Jack Zane hasn’t been around the University of Maryland athletic department forever — it just seems that way. So when he retires a week from today, he will leave a hole even bigger than he is.

Fortunately, he won’t be saying a full farewell. Zane, 72, will continue to travel with the Terrapins’ football and basketball teams, handling tickets for the players’ family and friends. He also will be point man for the university at the Babe Ruth Foundation’s planned statewide sports exhibit that will open in a couple of years at Baltimore’s renovated Camden Station train depot.

The latter assignment should be a familiar one for Jack, who has spent the last several years as executive director of Maryland’s Walk of Fame at Comcast Center. Before that, alumnus Zane was the university’s sports information director from 1969 to 1988 and then ticket manager for another decade or so. All told, this is his 43rd year of drawing paychecks from the state of Maryland — and he isn’t through yet. He’s merely easing off a bit.

“I hope Jack will be here for a very long time,” said athletic director Debbie Yow, a sentiment undoubtedly shared by many in and around College Park.

Zane, who entered Maryland as a freshman in 1953 before spending 4 years in the Navy, is the last survivor of a time when notable coaches like Jim Tatum (football), Bud Millikan (basketball), Sully Krouse (wrestling) Jim Kehoe (track), Bill Campbell (swimming) and Frank Cronin (golf) operated in College Park. Nowadays many coaches come and go with reckless and often ridiculous abandon, but Maryland kept its people aboard for decades in the old days.

“I feel very fortunate,” said Zane, who learned the sports information business from the late joe f. blair, one of the nation’s most respected SIDs and later publicity director for the Washington Redskins. “I’ve made so many friends through sports, and a lot of people would say that working in sports isn’t really a job.”

Over the years, Zane has been associated with more coaches than Wells Fargo. He won’t pick a favorite, but there is none he admires more than current men’s basketball boss Gary Williams, a fellow alumnus.

“He came back here from a good job at Ohio State and took over a program in trouble,” Zane recalled. “And right away we got hit with those NCAA sanctions [because of transgressions committed under Williams’ predecessor]. I remember standing in Cole Field House with him when that happened, and he said, ‘They’re not going to run me off — I’m going to see this through.’ And he stuck it out and did the job [culminating with a national championship in the spring of 2002.]”

For many years, Zane has served as the Terps’ most recognizable non-coaching figure. To many fans and media people from here to Atlanta, he is Maryland athletics.

And how big a Terps fan is Jack Zane? Well, I never knew anybody else who had a turtle on the toilet seat in his home.

The young Spurrier

Former Washington Star sportswriter Steve Guback was cleaning up some old files and sent along a few interesting tidbits on Steve Spurrier in the days before he became Steve Superior.

For instance, did you know that Spurrier’s passes “flutter as if filled with helium,” according to a Sports Illustrated clip from December 1972, when Spurrier briefly was the San Francisco 49ers’ starting quarterback in the absence of injured John Brodie? (No wonder Steve’s Heisman Trophy-winning season at Florida six years earlier was such a gas.)

Spurrier, of course, did not take such criticism pleasantly. When the same charge surfaced three years later, he snapped, “Joe Kapp, Charley Conerly and Bobby Layne didn’t throw pretty passes either, but they were all winners.” (Funny, he didn’t mention Billy Kilmer, whose dying ducks helped the Redskins win a lot of games in the ‘70s.)

Even in his undergraduate days, Spurrier didn’t suffer fools gladly. As a junior at Florida, he called the press together after a game and ripped the refs for “lacking the guts” to call roughing the passer penalties — a move unheard of for a player.

In Spurrier’s first NFL season (1968), we learn, he got into all 14 regular-season games — as a punter. He didn’t throw a pass that year.

And finally, the college coaching genius that Spurrier would become was evident as early as 1980, when he signed on as Duke’s offensive coordinator. “I want to get our people wide open, not just slightly open,” he said. “So we’ll use the I-formation, split backs, men in motion. We’ll sprint out. We’ll use the sprint draw. You have to be flexible.”

Twenty-three years later, not much has changed in Spurrier’s philosophy. Now all the Redskins need are some guys who can execute it.

Return of the Lefthander

Who says you can never go home again? After more than 40 years away, former Maryland basketball coach Lefty Driesell is living in his native Virginia again and enjoying every moment of his retirement.

Driesell, who stepped down in January after 41 seasons and 786 victories at Davidson, Maryland, James Madison and Georgia State, and wife Joyce have bought a condo in Virginia Beach, “and we can see the water.” This means he’s easily available for advice whenever it’s requested by son Chuck, who coaches at Arlington’s Marymount University.

Lefty hasn’t lived in Virginia since he left Newport News High School to take over Davidson’s floundering program in 1961, and he’s busy renewing some old friendships. It’s good to have him back.

Wagnerian overture

Nearly every homeowner runs out of storage space sooner or later, and a lot of people unload stuff with yard and garage sales. But not many of us get as much for it as a Carnegie, Pa., woman named Leslie Wagner Blair is likely to this summer: $250,000.

Blair is the granddaughter of baseball immortal Honus Wagner, whose career ended in 1917 and who died in 1955 . She says the items to be sold in a catalog auction run by SportsCards Plus of Orange County, Calif., include a sterling chalice given her grandfather by National League president Harry Pulliam in 1907 and a game-used ball from the 1909 World Series.

Other items include contracts, scrapbooks, photos and mementos from baseball’s centennial banquet in 1969, when Wagner was named the greatest shortstop to have played the game.

Blair, who won’t say how old she is, remembers that, when she was a girl, her grandmother would pick pink and white peonies and keep them in that sterling chalice. “I still have pink and white peonies in my yard, so if the cup doesn’t sell, I’ll just use it for peonies again,” Blair said.

Heck, she might even be able to afford a new vase.

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