- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2003

“The Capital Pages basketball team defeated Woodward Prep 23-14. … Neither team appeared to have its shooting eye.”

Washington Daily News,

Dec. 19, 1953

That’s how it started, 50 years ago today, with a rookie reporter’s mistake of belaboring the obvious. Over a half-century of sportswriting, or anything else, you remember a lot of the highs and a few of the lows. Here are some of mine.

• Best game No. 1 — What else? N.C. State beating Maryland 103-100 in overtime at Greensboro Coliseum to take the ACC’s only berth in the 1974 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

• Best game No. 2 — Wayne Ballard kicking a 42-yard field goal as time expired to give Arlington’s Washington-Lee High School a 3-0 victory over archrival George Washington and the 1956 Virginia state championship. (The ball hit the crossbar and bounced over after a 2-7 GW team had pushed mighty W-L around for 59-plus minutes.)

• Best comeback — Maryland’s football team beating mighty Miami 42-31 at the Orange Bowl in 1984 after trailing 31-0 at halftime. (That’ll teach you to talk premature trash, Hurricanes!)

• Most dramatic moment — Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig’s 56-year-old record of playing in 2,130 consecutive games in September 1995, then taking a victory lap around Camden Yards when the game became official in the fifth inning.

• Most embarrassing moment No. 1 — Lefty Driesell threatening to throw me out of Maryland’s basketball locker room because of something I had written — and then reading about the incident in the next day’s Washington Post. (I didn’t hang around to ascertain whether the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Lefthander was serious.)

• Most embarrassing moment No. 2 — Walking into Cole Field House for the next game and spotting a banner that read, “Put Heller in the cellar — he’s the pits.”

• Most embarrassing moment No. 3 — Hearing a greenhorn colleague at the Miami Herald ask Dolphins coach Don Shula for his autograph after a news conference. (Ol’ Jutjaw was so astonished, he gave it to him.)

• Most fearful moment — Escorting Mickey Mantle down a steep ramp at Griffith Stadium after a TV interview with baseball’s most prized talent clinging to me for dear life because his spikes kept slipping on cement.

• Funniest moment — Sonny Jurgensen joining my table at a pub, ripping his coach as incompetent and then asking, “What do you do for a living, Dick?”

• Most difficult person to fathom — John Thompson.

• Best (or worst) wise guy reply when a caller to a previous sports department asked whether we gave partial scores — “Yes, we do: Yankees 5 …”

• Saddest occasion — The Senators’ final, forfeited game, at RFK Stadium on Sept. 30, 1971.

• Biggest travesty — Major League Baseball’s treatment of the Washington area since then.

• Best quote ever — Tampa Bay Bucs coach John McKay in 1976 on what he thought of his winless expansion team’s execution: “I’m all in favor of it.”

c Second best quote ever — Author John Feinstein after Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight called him a whore and a pimp: “I wish he’d make up his mind so I’d know how to dress.”

• Best sportswriters ever in D.C. — Shirley Povich of the Post and Francis Stann of the Evening Star.

c Others newspaper people I’ve worked with and admired in the past — Eddie Crane, Carl Sell, Bill Peeler, Charlie Barbour, Merrell Whittlesey, George Huber, Steve Guback, Paul Anger, Dave Robinson, Edwin Pope, Dan Shaughnessy, Peter Richmond, John Steadman, Burt Hawkins, John Hawkins, Bob O’Donnell.

c Radio/TV broadcasters I’ve enjoyed — Jon Miller, Chuck Thompson, Bob Wolff, Arch McDonald, Johnny Holliday, Tony Roberts, Al Michaels, Bob Costas, Vin Scully, Red Barber, Mel Allen, Warner Wolf, Glenn Brenner, Harold Bell, Tim Kurkjian.

• Worst play-by-play baseball broadcaster — John MacLean, who always seemed to be saying, “Ron Kline is throwing up in the Senators’ bullpen.”

• Coaches/managers I’m glad I know/knew (with apologies to those left out) — Don Shula, Jerry Claiborne, George Welsh, Terry Holland, Earl Weaver, Gary Williams, Lefty Driesell, Morgan Wootten, Maus Collins, Joe Gallagher, John Youngblood, Jim Fegan, Ed Henry, Sal Hall, Charles Baltimore, Dave Brown, Pat Cunningham, Skeeter Coyle, Rasty Doran, Al Haringer, Joe Branzell.

• Coaches I’m sorry I knew — George Allen, whose paranoia toward the media and everything else was ridiculous, and all those college and even high school bozos who reacted to a negative story by asking, “Why are you trying to destroy my program?”

• Strangest comment by a manager — Earl Weaver of the Orioles saying, “With some of the things you write, I can’t believe you’re a religious man.”

• Best manager/coach at putting on the media — Earl Weaver.

• Best executives — Jim Kehoe, Debbie Yow, Charley Casserly, Pat Gillick.

• Best owner — Jack Kent Cooke.

• Worst owners — Robert Short, Dan Snyder, Peter Angelos.

• Briefest tenure as an owner — Joseph Danzansky, who announced in December 1973 that the San Diego Padres would move to Washington, then found the team had been sold to Ray Kroc, the McDonald’s man.

• Most exciting sport — ACC basketball.

• Best law — Title IX.

• Worst rule changes — Allowing college freshmen to play on the varsity in the revenue sports. The designated hitter.

• Wackiest sport — Indoor lacrosse. (Remember Crunch Crosscheck, the creation of PR man Mike Trilling?)

• Best passers — Sammy Baugh, Sonny Jurgensen, Johnny Unitas, Dan Marino.

• Best hitters — Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Frank Howard.

• Best college football player — Randy White.

• Best college basketball players — David Thompson, Pete Maravich.

• Best NBA players — Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan.

And finally, this …

People keep commenting that being a sportswriter “must be a lot of fun,” which is true as long as you have something and somebody to write about. To that end, all the people and events above (and many, many others) contributed.

As a 1940s Senators manager named Joe Kuhel observed when told his services were no longer required, “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken feathers” — although, according to semi-legend, Joe didn’t really say “feathers.” The same applies to sportswriters.


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