Some highs and lows from one man's career in sportswriting

September 13, 1995|By PHIL JACKMAN

Whoever it was who said "Into each life some rain must fall" must have worked for a newspaper on its last legs . . . or meant it as a prayer for a region like ours that could use about a four-day dousing to begin an hour ago.

As we muse for one of the last times (promise) about this section, it's time to drag out our notebook of lists, bests and worsts, lows and highs, the pitiable and pitiful and some good old-fashioned name-dropping.

Among the top three smartest moves I ever made was coming here to The Evening Sun. And memorable was that first day, a Monday in mid-October, 1965. After snapping off my best salute and shouting, "Reporting for duty, Sir," I caught a glimpse of our sports pages.

The Colts, under Don Shula, on the way to a 10-3-1 record and a tie for the Western Conference title in the NFL, had hammered the then-woeful Redskins, 38-7, in Washington the day before. The glut of game stories, features, sidebars, columns, photographs, graphs and charts was awesome. It was like a baseball player had just taken part in his 2,131st consecutive game or something.

It was easy to get caught up in it, as it was with the Orioles as they were about to launch a decade and more of either winning or contending strongly. The Bullets were in town and in the process of developing a team that was as exciting to watch as those Celtics and Lakers juggernauts back then.

Yes, mine eyes have seen the glory.

Start with Frank & Brooks, Boog, Palmer-Cuellar-McNally et al. A hundred-plus victories year after year, oh my. An article in Sports Illustrated a few years ago had these guys just inside the top 20 ballclubs of all time. Obviously, the outdoor writer made up the list.

The best fight: Anytime Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier climbed through the ropes. Or Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Tommy Hearns in 1981, or Leonard vs. Marvin Hagler.

The best round: The first round of Hagler vs. Hearns. Three minutes of hell. Ringsiders flushed their memories trying to recall anything like it. Famed boxing novelist Budd Schulberg and I looked at each other and, in unison, said, "Dempsey-Firpo."

Best interviews: Ken Dryden, goalie of the Montreal Canadiens; Don King, boxing promoter, if you don't mind not knowing what he's talking about; Mickey Mantle, after he was done playing and while shilling for a casino in Atlantic City; Ted Williams, anytime he was upset.

Worst interviews: Anybody who played for the Philadelphia Phillies in the '80s, all football coaches who think the game

requires the secrecy of the exact jumping-off time of the Normandy Invasion, 1988 Olympic hockey coach Dave Peterson, White Sox manager Eddie Stanky and baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn.

Dumbest move: My telling a woman in the World Series hospitality room that Dave Bristol was a fine third base coach but a bad manager. It was Mrs. Dave Bristol.

Favorite headline on a sports page: The then-Boston Record inquired, "Who put the screws to Herbie Plews?" when the utility infielder was traded.

Best event of short duration: No. 1 Nebraska vs. No. 2 Oklahoma, Thanksgiving Day, 1971, at Owen Field, Norman, Okla. You knew the team with the ball last would win, meaning the Cornhuskers, 35-31. And, of course, Joe Namath outgunning John Unitas, 44-34, at Memorial Stadium in 1972.

Best event of medium duration: The 1966 World Series sweep, you kidding? Wimbledon, 1985, Boris Becker wins The Championship at age 17. Two weeks of 12-hour days went by in an instant. Texas Western beating Kentucky for the NCAA basketball championship in Cole Field House in 1966.

Best event of long duration: The Orioles winning 319 games during the 1969-70-71 regular seasons, going 9-0 in the playoffs and taking one of three World Series, compliments of Brooks.

The low of lows: The so-called "New York Syndrome" of 1969, the O's losing the World Series to the Mets, the heavily-favored Colts losing to the Jets in Super Bowl III and the Knicks putting the Bullets out of the NBA playoffs.

The high of highs: Wins in the World Series, Super Bowl and the Bullets eliminating the Knicks and winning the NBA's Eastern Conference crown in the early '70s leads to the nickname "Flagtown."

Memorable off-the-field capers: Massive ballplayer Frank Howard (6 feet 8, 300 pounds) grabbing a stool in a diner at 1 a.m. and saying, "Give me a couple of strawberry milkshakes, the biggest steak you serve and sprinkle six or seven eggs over it." Sprinkle!

Driving Billy Martin from the Stadium to Bud's Crabhouse in East Baltimore. No baseball scoops ensued, just the often-Yankees manager trying to interest me in becoming a Civil War student.

Then there's Cal 2130 and 2131 . . . the Secretariat Preakness in 1973 . . . "The Last Weekend" of Memorial Stadium . . . Final Fours . . . Thanks, Brooks Day . . . Coming out of the press room at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to see 400,000 people materialize in the stands almost instantaneously . . . John Miller's round of 63 the last day of the U.S. Open at Oakmont in Pittsburgh . . . Navy nearly beating Notre Dame in Philly with little more than a punter and guts . . . Playing a pick-up game of doubles barefooted on grass with my all-time best tennis player, Rod Laver . . . Arnold Palmer scoring holes-in-one on consecutive days at the Chrysler Cup at Avenel . . . Endless arguments with Earl Weaver . . . Shaking hands with dozens of sports Hall of Famers and requesting an autograph maybe twice. Drat.

Hey, I'm just getting started, but the meter on the Fallsway beckons. Hope you had a few smiles along the way. I did.

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