After my first 50 years at the American-Statesman, here’s a list of my favorites and not-so-favorites:
These guys were just great
Favorite coaches: The list starts with Cliff Gustafson, Augie Garrido and Rick Barnes and also includes offensive coordinator Greg Davis and defensive coordinator Leon Fuller.
Favorite all-time interview: Charles Barkley. Not sure if I ever even asked a question. Mostly, I just listened. (Abe Lemons is the first runner-up.)
Best athletes to deal with: My top eight, in order, are Bijan Robinson, Kirk Dressendorfer, Jack Nicklaus, Manu Ginobili, Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, Nolan Ryan and Darren Woodson.
And on the other side of the fence …
Toughest athletes/coaches to deal with: The list includes PGA champion Brooks Koepka; the late Cleve Bryant, who threatened me over my stories about Lovell Pinkney and Mike Adams; Texas Rangers manager Billy Martin, who once berated me for five minutes; and Steve McMichael.
The one living subject I still want to interview one-on-one: Tiger Woods. If he were honest.
The one no longer living subject I’d want to interview: Babe Ruth.
About those coaches
The one coach who understood the media was not out to get them: Greg Davis.
The one coach who always thinks you were out to get him: John Mackovic.
Brushes with greatness: I bumped into O.J. Simpson in an elevator while covering the Rose Bowl. Traded barbs with the late Robin Williams and Prince Albert of Monaco and Sheryl Crow during the Tour de France. Used to chat up then-Gov. George W. Bush after his runs at DKR.
Best pinch-myself moment: Spent the summer of 1972 working for the Minneapolis Star. I went to about 40 Twins games that summer and had to pinch myself one day as I sat in Twins manager Bill Rigney’s office between Hall of Famers Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew. White Sox first baseman Dick Allen befriended me and introduced me around the locker room for an entire series.
Second-best pinch-myself moment: I was covering Woods at the U.S. Open, where writers are allowed inside the ropes. I was maybe 5 feet away from Tiger, looking out into the blue Pacific, watching him tee off on the par-3 seventh hole during Sunday’s final round. I kept waiting for somebody to grab me and haul me off.
Best assignment ever: The 1995 Masters. The first year I covered it, Ben Crenshaw was a wire-to-wire winner the week after his mentor, Harvey Penick, died. In 1997, Tiger smoked the field. (The runner-up was Tom Kite, who told me, “I won my flight.”) Also memorable, Greg Norman suffered the all-time collapse in 1996.
Biggest regret: Sorry, Vince. Yeah, that Heisman vote will be on my tombstone.
Second biggest: Writing that Chris Mihm’s poor NCAA Tournament game against LSU wasn’t because his grandmother had just died that week. It was rude and inexcusably insensitive. Sorry, Chris, who’s one of the really good guys I’ve covered.
The one personality eliciting the most mixed reaction: Has to be Gregg Popovich. I admire him for speaking his mind on important social issues. I think he’s smart as hell and the NBA’s best coach ever. But he’s the biggest bully I’ve ever encountered. He has berated way too many local media members and sucked up to the national media. He once replied when I asked if he was surprised the Lakers didn’t double-team Tim Duncan in a playoff game, “What game were you watching?” It became a tagline for friends in the media.
Things I’m known for:
∙ Asking subjects about their dogs. Too hard to explain. Hey, I like dogs.
∙ Big yellow legal pads. More room to write down stories about people’s dogs.
∙ Third thing I’m known for: Do I really have to keep apologizing for the 2005 Heisman vote?
Bests of the best
The best five sporting events I’ve ever covered: THE Rose Bowl. You know which one. Tiger’s first win at the Masters. Tiger’s win at the U.S. Open as the only player under par. The 6-6 Texas-OU tie, DKR’s final game against his alma mater the week we broke the OU spying story. The 1975 Longhorns baseball national championship at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Best meal on the road: The $63 steak at Mickey Mantle’s restaurant in Oklahoma City. The expense report became legendary. The steak was damn good.
Worst meal on the road: Nachos at the Cincinnati airport.
Longest interview: Pick one. They’re all long. It’s my favorite part of the job.
Shortest interview: I interviewed Mickey Mantle — my childhood hero along with Hank Aaron — on the 19th hole at the opening of Onion Creek Club in 1974. I’d prepared about 30 questions for him and had asked maybe three, at which point Mr. Yankee asked me in a very irritated tone, “What are you doing, writing a book?” The same week, when I was asking Spurs head coach Tom Nissalke about center Swen Nater, Nissalke said, “What are you doing, writing a book?” No, but if I ever pen my memoirs, that will be the title.
Most fascinating interview: Cowboys coach Bill Parcells. I always learned something from every one of his press conferences. The man is brilliant. (Lemons and Barkley, runners-up.)
Most boring interview: Scott Soden, Texas infielder.
Worst holiday away from home: There were more than a few of those. That’s why my sons jokingly call me Absentee Dad. At least I think they’re joking. The absolute worst was the 1985 Freedom Bowl, watching Texas get killed by Chuck Long and Iowa in the pouring rain in Anaheim. Beat writer Rick Cantu and I had Christmas dinner the day before in the hotel coffee shop, the only place that was open in the whole damn city.
The day we almost got fired: Esteemed colleague Mark Wangrin, one of the best wordsmiths in our business, as a practical joke typed up a chronology of the summer saga when Heisman candidate Eric Metcalf was suspended for an accidental nonpayment of summer school fees. Vinnie (his nickname) inserted in the timeline on Sept. 8 that Metcalf celebrated Kirk Bohls’ birthday and forgot to change it. It got in the paper. Wangrin almost got canned, but I petitioned on his behalf that it was an innocent mistake. He was spared and might still be peeved at me for saving his job.
Most exotic trip: That would be driving through all parts of southern France and covering Lance Armstrong from one village to the next. I’ve said writing about the Tour de France was like covering the Super Bowl in a different city every day and maybe 2% of the competitors speak English.
Least exotic trip: Same trip. Our car we called the Frog blew out a clutch, and while Suzanne Halliburton and fellow writer Jamie Dickens hitched a ride with the handsome tow truck driver and the busted car to Lourdes, I was stranded alone at a roadside stop with my suitcase and computer. Luckily our intrepid photographer Deborah Cannon picked me up in her car. Lots of wine on that trip.
Best perk: When I served as interim sports editor one summer after Paul Schnitt got fired and I had to skip my vacation, flamboyant editor Ray Mariotti let my wife, Vicki, and me stay an entire week at the Plaza in advance of the Texas-Penn State football game at the Meadowlands.
What I’d be doing if I weren’t a sportswriter: I’d probably be a criminal lawyer or the late Joe Jamail’s assistant. And Vince would have won the Heisman.