Rest In Peace, Dan Jenkins

Dan Jenkins died late last week of congestive heart failure.  He was the last living member of my personal Mount Rushmore of sportswriters/columnists from my youth.  Those four are now somewhere in the cosmos assessing who among the current crop of writers might someday be considered to have similar stature.  My personal Mount Rushmore – – in alphabetical order because I really do not want to have to rank these four gentlemen:

  • Frank Deford
  • Sandy Grady
  • Dan Jenkins
  • Jim Murray

I never met Dan Jenkins; I wish I had been so privileged.  Dan Jenkins was more than a great sportswriter who was informative and entertaining simultaneously; Dan Jenkins was a great writer – – period – – and exclamation point.  He was part of the “glory days” of Sports Illustrated and his coverage of college football in SI back in the 60s and 70s was must read material whenever it appeared in the magazine.  However, his writings on golf were even better.

Please understand… I do not play golf; I do not follow golf; I do not have much interest in watching golf on television except for the occasional major tournament.  [Aside:  Dan Jenkins is the person who came up with the word “majors” to describe the 4 annual tournaments that are covered by that word.  Technically, Bobby Jones never won a “major” because Dan Jenkins had not yet designated any tournaments as such.]  Notwithstanding my “who gives a rat’s ass” feelings about golf, Dan Jenkins’ writings on golf were mesmerizing and commanded my interest.  He was a scratch golfer who was captain of his college golf team and he played practice rounds with Ben Hogan in Texas back in the 40s and 50s.  When he wrote about golf, his words came from someone who knew the game; but the words were more than that.

When he wrote about golf, his words generated interest – maybe even excitement – about the subject in at least one mind that otherwise did not care about golf.  His golf novels e.g. The Franchise Babe and Dead Solid Perfect were entertaining because of the implausible plot and Jenkins’ signature style which was utterly PC-bashing.  [Aside:  Dan Jenkins was anti-PC long before political correctness advanced to its current hugely annoying state.]  But it went beyond that.  One of his books was a compendium of golf columns he had written for Sports Illustrated and for Golf Digest.  He called this compilation, Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate.  This non-golfer read it end-to-end over a rainy long weekend and loved every word of it.

That last sentence leads me to suggest to every reader here that having a few paperback copies of Jenkins’ novels on hand for the occurrence of rainy three-day weekends would be a great idea.  Every one of those novels can be consumed in such a timeframe and every one of them will brighten up such a weekend.  His first novel was Semi-Tough; it was an instant success and was eventually made into a movie.  [Aside:  In his memoir, Frank Deford said that Dan Jenkins took a leave of absence to write Semi-Tough and that he wrote the novel in three weeks; the editing took longer than the writing.  That is beyond amazing.]   Many of the characters in Semi-Tough appear in subsequent novels; Jenkins creates a fictional world involving sports in general and these characters float about in that world.  Semi-Tough inspired a sequel titled Life Its Ownself.  Most sequels do not come close to living up to the work that inspired the sequel in the first place; Life Its Ownself toes that mark; it can stand on its own as a great read depending on Semi-Tough mainly for the backgrounds of many of its characters.

My personal favorite novel was You Gotta Play Hurt which is a recounting of a year in the life of an experienced and irreverent sports columnist who travels the world to cover specific events and write about them.  The protagonist is named Jim Tom Pinch; it is not difficult to figure out who the real-world inspiration for Jim Tom Pinch might be.

There is a scene in Semi-Tough that stands out in my mind.  Every year when the Super Bowl rolls around, I think of this scene.  It was written in 1972 when the pageantry of the Super Bowl was in ascension and it intended to satirize what all of that might become.  The setting for the scene is a Super Bowl game in the future between the NY Giants and the “dog-assed NY Jets”.  In the scene, the Giants’ coach, Shoat Cooper, is explaining to the Giants’ players that the timing of the Super Bowl game will be different from regular games because of the pageantry – and because there had been a major earthquake in China which could cause the network to cut in and do some news broadcasting simultaneous with the telecast of the game.

I want to present here that scene in its entirety.  Remember, this hyperbole intended to satirize what the Super Bowl pageantry might become from the point of view of 1972; it was not far off the mark for what would become Super Bowl reality.

  • [WARNING:  There is politically incorrect text to follow and some words/phrases that were much more commonplace and acceptable in 1972 than they are today.  If you are easily offended by such language, stop reading here.  In fact, if you are easily offended by such language, you probably should not be reading many of the rants posted here.]

            “In the serious part of the squad meeting, Shoat Cooper explained to us what the drill would be for Sunday, in terms of what time everything would occur.

“Shoat said we would start getting our ankles taped at eight o’clock tomorrow morning.  Those that needed special braces and pads taped on, he said, ought to get to the taping room thirty minutes earlier.

“He said he hoped everybody on the team could have breakfast together at nine in the Señor Sombrero Café on the second floor.

“He said we would leave for the Los Angeles Coliseum about ten-thirty.  It would be about eleven-fifteen when we got there, he said, and that would give us plenty of time.  ‘To get frisky for them piss ants,’ he said.

“The kickoff wasn’t until one-fifteen, he pointed out.  It had been set back fifteen minutes by CBS, he said in order for the network to finish up a news special it was doing on some kind of earthquake that wiped out several thousand chinks somewhere yesterday…

”… Shoat said that both the offense and the defense would be introduced, on both teams, for television before the game.  He said we should line up under the goal post that would be appointed to us and carry our hats under our arms when we trotted out to our own forty-five yard line and faced the dog-assed Jets for the ‘Star Spangled Banner’.

“That would be the last thing we would do before the kickoff, Shoat said.  Therefore, he said this would come after we had warmed up and then gone back into the dressing room and crapped and peed and drank some more Dexi-coffee.  Them what needed it like the interior linemen.

“’A little spiked coffee never hurt nobody’s incentive,’ Shoat said.  ‘Especially them lard butts who have to play down in that trench where the men are.’

“Shoat said we might have a long time to lay around the dressing room after we warmed up because the National Football League had a fairly lavish pregame show planned.

“Shoat said he understood that the both the pregame show and the halftime show would have a patriotic flavor.

“’That can’t be anything but good for football,’ he said.

“According to Shoat, here’s what was going to happen before the game:

“Several hundred trained birds – all painted red white and blue – would be released from cages somewhere and they would fly over the Coliseum in the formation of an American flag.

“As the red, white and blue birds flew over, Boke Kellum, the Western TV star, would recite the Declaration of Independence.

“Next would be somebody dressed up like Mickey Mouse and somebody else dressed up like Donald Duck joining the actress Camille Virl in singing ‘God Bless America.’

“And right in the middle of the singing, here would come this Air Force cargo plane to let loose 50 sky divers who would come dropping into the coliseum.

“Each skydiver would be dressed up in the regional costume of a state, and he would land in the coliseum in the order in when his state became a United State.

“When all this got cleaned up, Shoat said, United States Senator Pete Rozelle, the ex-commissioner of the NFL who invented the Super Bowl, would be driven around the stadium in the car that won last year’s Indianapolis 500.  At the wheel would be Lt. Commander Flip Slammer, the fifteenth astronaut to walk on the moon.

“Riding along behind the Indy car, Shoat said, would be two men on horses.  One would be Commissioner Bob Cameron on Lurking Funk, the thoroughbred which won last year’s Kentucky Derby.  And on the other horse, Podna (the horse Boke Kellum pretends to ride in his TV series) would be the current president of CBS, a guy named Woody Snider.

“Finally, Shoat said, the teams would be introduced and two thousand crippled and maimed soldiers on crutches and in wheel chairs and on stretchers would render the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’

“Shoat told us the halftime was like to run forty-five minutes.  It would be a long one at any rate, “which might be a good thing if we got some scabs to heal up,” he said.

“The length of the halftime, Shoat said, would depend on whether CBS would decide to interrupt the Super Bowl telecast with a special news report on the earthquake which might still be killing chinks with its fires and floods and tidal waves.

“’I never knowed a dead chink, more or less, to be more important than a football game,’ Shoat said.  ‘But maybe if a whole gunnysack of ‘em got wiped out, it’s news.’

“Shoat said it was too bad we would all have to miss it but the Super Bowl halftime show was going to be even more spectacular than the pregame show.

“He said there would be a water ballet in the world’s largest inflatable swimming pool, a Spanish fiesta, a Hawaiian luau, a parade stressing the history of the armored tank, a sing-off between the glee clubs of all the military academies and an actual World War I dogfight in the sky with the Red Baron’s plane getting blown to pieces.

“The final event of the halftime, he said, would be an induction into the pro football Hall of Fame of about twenty stud hosses out of the past including our own Tucker Frederickson, the vice president of DDD and F.  United States Senator Pete Rozelle would preside, Shoat said, along with Camille Virl, the actress, and Jack Whitaker, the CBS announcer.  When the induction ceremony was over, Shoat said, Rozelle, Whitaker and Camille Virl would lead the inductees in singing a parody on the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic,’ which was written by somebody in the league office.  The title of it, he said, was “The Game Goes Marching On,’ and he understood it might make some people cry.

“Shoat said CBS hoped the whole stadium would join in the singing since all 92,000 people would have been given a printed copy of the lyrics.

“The last thing in the halftime would be some more birds.  While the stadium was singing this song, Shoat said, several thousand more painted-up birds would be released and they would fly in such a way overhead that the likeness of Vince Lombardi, the great old coach, would appear.

“That was all that was discussed at the meeting.”

I have read that passage at least a dozen times in the past and it still brought a smile to my face as I typed the words here.  I really hope you similarly enjoyed it

Finally, let me close with a couple of memorable quips/observations attributed to Dan Jenkins:

“Here’s all I know about Dubai: It’s one of those somewhere-over-there places where they make sand.”

And …

“I quickly discovered that trying to go play golf while living in Manhattan was about as easy as trying to grab a taxi while standing out in front of Saks Fifth Avenue in the freezing rain on the last shopping day before Christmas.”

And …

“The golf ball has no sense at all, which is why it has to be given stern lectures constantly, especially during the act of putting.”

Rest in peace – – and Godspeed – – Dan Jenkins…

 

6 thoughts on “Rest In Peace, Dan Jenkins”

  1. Thanks for sharing.

    When I was a young teenager living in Atlanta I was allowed me to have one magazine subscription, so I had to give something up to get SI on a weekly basis. I don’t remember what it was because I never regretted the decision.

    I read Semi-Tough before seeing the movie, which was a huge disappointment.

    1. Doug:

      If you liked Semi-Tough, read the sequel. It is “more of the same”… Billy Clyde still manages to ease his way through some hugely contrived circumstances.

  2. Dan Jenkins was a true genius of sports writing. He and Frank Deford are irreplaceable. I,too,had one magazine subscription when I was a kid. I read SI cover-to-cover 52 weeks per year and was never disappointed.

    1. Gil:

      Those were the days … and sometimes you would get an issue of SI that had both Dan Jenkins AND Frank Deford in it. Good times…

  3. I’ll add my shared experience of also having 1 subscription – of course, SI. I was 14, and Dallas QB Don Meredith was on the annual NFL issue cover. I thought that I had just discovered the greatest sports entertainment a young boy could ever find. And I still have that issue and about 60 other faves (my wife having finally convinced me to dispose of about 55 years worth of issues when “downsizing”. Jenkins and DeFord were mesmerizing. Great memories.

    1. Wayne:

      In the 60s and 70s, it was impossible for a sports fan to dislike Sports illustrated. That would have been like being averse to Roadrunner and Coyote cartoons… 🙂

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