Interviewee: Edwin Pope
Interviewer: Julian Pleasants
Date: February 16, 2002
P: This is Julian Pleasants and I am in Key Biscayne, Florida. It is the 16th of
February, 2002, and I am speaking with Mr. Edwin Pope. Discuss your early life
in Athens, Georgia and tell me how you got interested in sportswriting.
E: My early life in Athens, Georgia, was paradise. I don't know how anybody could
have had a better place to grow up, because we had the University of Georgia
there and all the attendant sports. Everybody in town was a football nut, but
times were tough. We had a standing saying that we had no coal for the stove,
no food for the kitchen, holes in the roof, holes in our shoes and no socks, then
came the Depression. But everybody was poor, so nobody knew the difference.
The only people that lived there were a lot of professors and some poor bereft
cotton merchants like my father, which is the worst business in the world. In any
case, he had this big cotton warehouse, but nobody ever brought any cotton in
there. I could go down to his office every afternoon. He let me use his
typewriter. I learned to type when I was about six and when I was eleven, he
gave me a an old, used Underwood. I'll never know where he got the ten dollars
to buy it, because ten dollars was a lot of money. In 1940, you could get a meal
for a dime at the Varsity. You could get a hot dog and a chocolate milk for a
dime, so ten dollars was a fortune back then. I just turned on the Georgia Tech-
Missouri Orange Bowl game of 1940 and copied down every word that Ted
Husing, he was a very famous sportscaster, and I copied down every word he
said, including the commercials. It was about twelve pages single-spaced. In my
ignorance, I got on my bicycle the next morning, rode it down to the Athens
Banner-Herald and looked around for a guy who looked powerful and
authoritative, and kept asking everybody, who's the editor? Who's the editor-in-
chief here? I was eleven years old, I'm barging around this office. It got to be a
joke, they'd say, he's over there, he's over there. Finally, I got the editor-in-chief.
I said, do you need a running story on the Orange Bowl? He said, well, what do
you mean? I said, here it is. I thought copying over the radio was a running
story because I'd read them in the Atlanta Journal and the [Atlanta] Constitution.
I didn't know from anything. He looked at it and he said, no, we don't need a
running story, but who typed this? I said, I did. He said, you want a job? I said,
yes, sir. He said, we can't pay you anything, but we'll give you a lot of good
experience and they did. He kept his promise on both counts. He didn't pay me
anything and he gave me a lot of good experience. That was 1940 and they
started me off covering sports news from the Athens YMCA, which was very big
deal in Athens and still is. It was the second oldest Y in the country. The oldest
one is Springfield, Massachusetts, where Dr. James Naismith invented
basketball. Pretty soon I started covering the high school football-when I was
still in grammar school. Then, when I was in high school, I was covering college
football. Then I went on through college doing that and it was a great life.
P: At one point, you were supposedly the youngest sports editor in the country.
E: Supposedly, and there was a reason for that. It wasn't because I was the most
expert by any means. [In] 1943, every able-bodied man was in the service and
nobody ever heard of a woman sports editor. That would have been laughed out
of the town it was so outlandish, although they are all over the country now.
Everybody was either drafted or gone off to work in the big town. They made me
sports editor when I was fifteen. In fact, I did a commercial for Kix cereal. I still
have it. They paid me a twenty-five dollar war bond for doing it, testifying as to
the efficacy of Kix cereal and how it made me such a fireball.
P: You did go to the University of Georgia.
E: I did.
P: Tell me about your journalism courses.
E: First of all, it was a great deal to go to the University of Georgia or I assume any
state university, especially if you lived in that town, because it only cost me we
were on a quarter system, three quarters a year, [it cost] fifty dollars a quarter.
My entire education cost me $600, plus maybe give-or-take a couple hundred for
books, so it was $800. I lived at home. It was terrific. Frankly, I took journalism
because they would excuse my classes when I would go off with the football and
basketball and baseball teams and that kind of thing. We had a great journalism
school. I don't think I got nearly as much benefit out of it as I could have and
should have, because I was getting up to go to work at 6:00 in the morning at the
Banner-Herald. I'd have to make the fire and then light the fire. In the wintertime
it gets cold in Athens. It would be so cold, I'd have to type with those old cloth
gloves on. Just about the time the office was getting warm, before anybody else
came in, I'd have to run off to school. I think journalism was taught very
differently then. The University of Georgia was known as one of the-back then-I
believe the two best in the country. Georgia and Columbia were the two best,
although Missouri and Northwestern have since [become as good].
P: Do you think it's necessary for people in sportswriting or newspaper work today
to have a journalism degree, or is it just as good to learn by experience?
E: It hurts me to say this, but I do not think it's necessary to have a journalism
degree. In a lot of cases, you can learn just as much in six months, a year, out of
college about practical journalism as you could have [if you had] taken your
major in that over a long period of time in college. I don't regret the journalism
[degree]. I regret that I didn't apply myself more to it. I wish that I had taken
more English and history, English literature, political science. Frankly, I was
more interested in those than I was in journalism, although we had an excellent
school. The one course I remember that I enjoyed the most was Ethics of
Journalism. That was fascinating, I thought. It has stuck with me to this day. I
don't think it's paramount to get a journalism degree. It seems to be, I must say
though, a big thing with people who do the hiring. As far as the performance of
the journalist, I think you could spend your time a lot better. When you get out of
college, you can learn the journalism, but once you get out of college, you're not
going to learn the other stuff. You can't go back and get the other stuff.
P: Did you also write for the Red and Black, the campus paper?
E: I did.
P: How was that at that time? I'm sure that was fairly well-controlled by the
E: It was. We didn't do much to anger them. We came out once a week, where it
comes out every day now, I believe. I believe it's independent. I think the
biggest scandal at the Red and Black unfolded was that there were three houses
of prostitution in a row, right down by the river. That was back in the early 1940s,
about 1941 or 1942, and the administration was scandalized although everybody
in town knew they were there. When we were there, it was pretty mild. You
have to understand this was during World War II and everything, all of academe,
was at a slower, less intense pace. We had four hundred people in our human
biology class or something like that. I guess that's normal for places like FSU
[Florida State University] and Georgia now. You couldn't get much one-on-one
contact. The same applied to the paper. It was just something that was fun to
P: Is that pretty good training for a journalism career?
E: I think so, yes it is. It's really on-the-job training, where you have to make up and
lay out and really get down to the nitty-gritty of reporting who, what, when, where,
why. I thought that was better, not to knock the classroom training, because we
had some excellent professors. The dean was Dean John Drewery, who was
nationally known and nationally highly-regarded. And Dr. Tyus Butler.
P: Dr. John Talmadge.
E: Dr. John Talmadge was my favorite. He was my favorite because he would let
us come over and drink beer in his basement. He taught Ethics of Journalism
too. Dr. Harper-we had some great teachers. But I was more interested in the
specific rather than the abstract. I guess that's why I liked [journalistic
experience rather than school]. I was working on the Red and Black while I was
working on the Banner-Herald and I was also sports editor of the Pandora, which
is the yearbook. There wasn't much work to that. Then I was stringing for about
five or six papers: the Albany paper, Macon Telegraph, Atlanta Constitution and
Atlanta Journal, Augusta Chronicle. I was also sports information director of the
university for a brief time, which would now be considered a gross conflict of
interest, but nobody thought anything bad about it then, because we weren't
going to print anything bad about the University of Georgia football team in the
Athens Banner-Herald. That's just the way it was then. Local papers did not run
any big exposes. They weren't looking to see who'd been arrested day before. I
remember walking one day on my way to Sunday school. I was walking by the
Athens City Hall, I hear this voice. Ed, Edwin, I look through the bars, it's one of
our star halfbacks. He said, get me out of here, get me out of here. I said, Stan,
what are you doing in there? He said, I gave a cop a little lip last night and they
locked me up, but they won't let me out. Things like that would happen. It would
never occur to us to print something like that. It was a totally different world.
P: What kind of athlete were you in high school?
E: That's an interesting question. I wasn't any kind of an athlete in high school.
When I was little, at the Athens Y until I was about twelve or thirteen, I was a
pretty good athlete, but I just didn't grow. I knew when I was in the eighth grade
and weighed eighty-five pounds, there was no future for me in athletics. When I
got to the university, I was on a boxing team. I'd forgotten all about it, but I got a
letter the other day from a guy who lives up in Saratoga, New York. I didn't think
I ever harmed a hair on anybody's head. He said, do you remember when you
broke my nose? Which was news to me. I didn't think I ever hurt anybody. I did
have a wonderfully tragic-comic experience as a boxer, though. While I was
boxing, I was also juggling all these other jobs, going to journalism school,
working on the Banner-Herald, SID [sports information director], stringer for all
these papers. It was a pretty tight schedule. I'd leave the Banner-Herald early in
the morning. I'd go over and do my road work. Then the season rolled around
and I happened to be up in the SID office. Went to the information director's
office one day, leisurely opening a letter from LSU [Louisiana State University]. It
said, LSU boxing team will make its seasonal debut this Saturday night in the
Cow Palace, or whatever kind of a convention hall they had, mostly devoted to
agriculture, also to some boxers. I guess the University of Georgia [was] the
featured event, as undefeated NCAA champion Doug "Little Atom" Ellwood
slated to make his 1947 or 1948, whatever year it was, debut. Unbeaten in 250
fights. I realized that that was who I was going to have to fight. I said, oh, God.
They had just had a little article about me in the Atlanta Constitution about the
fighting writer or the writing fighter, whatever. I was trapped. I went down and
went to work out that afternoon. I told our coach, who was an old professional
lightweight named Pete Tarpley. I didn't say anything to him, he came over to
me and he said, Edwin, I don't think you ought to fight Saturday night. This guy's
had a lot of fights. He was like twenty-nine years old and I was about eighteen.
I'd never fought anybody, except around town, a couple of college bouts. To say
I was pedestrian as a fighter would be giving me all the best of it. I said, Pete, I
know I shouldn't fight this guy, but they've had this story in the paper. If I don't
fight now, everybody will say I'm yellow. I said, I know I'm yellow and you know
I'm yellow, but we don't want all those people out there to know it. He says,
okay. Then he said something which greatly added to my self-esteem. He said,
it's your funeral, and walked away. I was the smallest guy on the team, so I
always had to spar with somebody bigger than me. I arranged to spar with a
middleweight first, trying to get myself incapacitated. Failing in that, I asked for
the heavyweight, who happened to be a good friend of mine, but he had a terrible
temper and I hit him as hard as I could upside the head while he was just toying
with me. [He was] so infuriated with me, he just launched this right hand and hit
me in the nose and blood started pouring everywhere. To make a long story less
long, they took me to the hospital and x-rayed me and found my nose was
broken and it was the happiest day of my life when they told me. The guy comes
out and he says, Mr. Pope he said, [broken nose.] All the way down. He said, I'm
afraid you won't be able to fight Saturday night. I said, oh, that's too bad.
P: You were really counting on having to fight.
E: [Are you kidding?] That was the happiest day of my life. So much for my athletic
P: I often hear professional athletes talk about sportswriters. They claim that many
of the sportswriters are frustrated athletes and then, when they come to report on
football or professional basketball, they are not as good as they should be,
because they haven't played the game. How do you answer that charge?
E: First of all, I would say that they're right in that almost all the sportswriters I know
are failed athletes. I have seldom run into a sportswriter in sixty years, or
whatever it's been, who didn't either try to be an athlete or want to be an athlete
or had some ambitions thwarted. As for the professional athletes saying they
don't know what they're doing, I mean, a doctor doesn't have to have cancer to
diagnose it. That's my answer to that. A lot of times, the people who are the
sportswriters know more than the athletes do about what they're doing.
P: When you left Georgia, you went to work for the United Press International first
and then the Atlanta Constitution.
E: It was the United Press back then and then it merged later with International
News Service, hence UPI. It was just the United Press then. Went to work for
$42.50 a week. And that was two dollars-and-a-half more than the starting salary
was supposed to be.
P: Were you always doing sports?
E: At the UP, I had to do a little bit of everything. There was no such thing as just a
sportswriter then. [We did everything]. I'd do the overnight, have to rewrite all the
news from all over the South. I was like the Southern overnight editor at the
same time I was Southern sports editor. But that was good, that was a great
learning experience and it was tough. They were tough on you-if you messed up
or didn't do a professional job, you heard about it, even though you were starving
in the process. That's the most beneficial thing, career-wise, I've ever done. I
was only there for a couple of years, but then a new sportswriter came to town,
Furman Bisher. You know of him?
E: Right, of the Atlanta Constitution. I was just so taken and enchanted by his
writing. I had never read anybody who wrote that well. I just threw out all of my
ambitions to go on with the wire service and I decided that's what I wanted to try
to be. I chased him until he caught me or vice-versa. The couple of years I was
with UPI were educationally the best.
P: In 1950, you do go to work for the Atlanta Constitution?
E: That's right.
P: Did you work directly for Furman Bisher?
E: I did.
P: Tell me what your responsibilities were in that position. At that time, Atlanta has
no professional sports teams.
E: No, we didn't have much space. I was assistant sports editor. Everything was
different then. Everybody doubled up back then. They didn't have specialists
like they do now, except for the one person who was the sports editor and
columnist like Bisher was, and the outdoor writer. We didn't even have an
outdoor writer on the Atlanta Constitution. Everybody doubled up, you'd go out
and cover things in the afternoon. Very few things were at night anyway. Then
come in and work on the desk, editing copy, stuff like that at night or vice-versa.
You'd come in the afternoon and work on the desk. You didn't have any slack
time, I assure you. I meant to tell you one thing that was sort of funny in a
nostalgic way about the Athens Banner-Herald. It was an old wooden building
and the editor was a fellow named Hugh Rowe and he was sort of a distant
figure. He didn't truck with the guys on the second floor. [The] second floor was
sort of second-class. He had his own office downstairs. His daughter married
the famous University of Alabama coach, Frank Thomas. Hugh Rowe wrote a
column called A Little Bit About Everything and Not Much About Anything, which
I thought was a great title for a column. Everything was so technologically
backward. The composing room was on the first floor, we were on the second
floor and to get copy down, they sawed a hole in the floor and had a rope with
one of these big huge paperclips on the end of it. If you had copy, you'd pull up
the rope, put the copy on the paperclip and let it down and then lean on the bell,
to the great distress of the head of the composing room. They'd take it and
spread it out among the linotype operators. Then when they'd have proofs for
you to read, they'd send them back up to you by putting them on the clip at their
end and leaning on the bell until you felt like going down there and killing them.
That's how we got the copy from the so-called newsroom to the composing room.
As ancient as it was, it was fascinating and it had a romance that's pretty hard to
attach to journalism today. Every Saturday night I would go down and watch
those old flatbed presses run. You couldn't sit too close to them because people
have fallen in those things.
P: This is hot type?
E: Yes, and people fell into those flatbed presses and just got mangled and killed,
so you'd take a safe distance. I'd watch those things running across there,
boom-boom, with my picture in every paper. I was absolutely enchanted, just in
rhapsody watching that. The whole thing was a great adventure.
P: When you were at the Atlanta Constitution, were you still covering the University
of Georgia sports?
E: Occasionally. [I] covered everything, Georgia, Georgia Tech. I was doing stunts
like riding with stockcar drivers and going up on flagpoles with flagpole sitters.
Anything that came along. As I say, it was the last thing from specialization. It
was a small staff, we only had, I'd say, maybe ten people on the whole staff.
Now a comparable paper would probably have at least forty, with all specialists.
You never see a writer doing any desk work. Very seldom [do] you see a copy
desk person doing any writing. You only had, say, ten or eleven columns where
today, they'd probably have forty to fifty, on up.
P: Who was the editor of the Atlanta Constitution when you were there?
E: When I first went there it was Ralph McGill [editor, Atlanta Constitution, 1942-
1961; publisher, Atlanta Constitution, 1961-1969] who was a fantastic guy, a
wonderful friendly, old, rumpled, burly, bear of a guy. Just had no illusions about
himself. Didn't have as many illusions as he should have had for the kind of
writer and the kind of influence he was on the South, because he was a great
part of the New South. A very worthy student of Henry Grady [reporter, editor,
Atlanta Constitution]. We were on Forsyth Street-both the Journal and the
Constitution before they merged. Right on the corner of Marietta and Forsyth,
they have this huge statue of Henry Grady, which was very appropriate, although
ninety-nine percent of the people who pass there didn't have a clue as to who
Henry Grady was. Ralph McGill was the editor. He was a terrific writer and he
probably didn't make any money. He was probably lucky to make $150 a week.
He was the one I remember, let's put it that way.
P: In 1956, you leave Georgia for the Miami Herald. Given your fondness for
Georgia and Athens, why would you leave the state to go to Miami?
E: First of all, I had just written a book called Football's Greatest Coaches, which
turned out to be surprisingly successful, largely because Ed Sullivan [newspaper
columnist and broadcaster, host of radio and television variety shows] plugged it
on his radio show one night. I called up Ed Sullivan, again in my youthful
ignorance, just about like when I took that radio account down to the Athens
Banner-Herald. I read in an article in Look magazine where Ed Sullivan lived at
the Delmonico Hotel in New York. I said, well, I got this book Football's Greatest
Coaches, the thirty greatest coaches that ever lived and about twenty-five of
them are still alive. I call him up, got him on the phone, which you could never do
today. I said, look, I got this book, etc. etc., [and] you put on all these
spectaculars, why don't you bring about twenty-five of these coaches from all
over the country around and have them on the stage at one time. It would be a
first. Nobody's ever done that. He said, it's a great idea, but it sounds like a big
logistical problem. He says, I'll tell you what, send me a copy of your book and
I'll see what I can do. He says, maybe I can mention it next Sunday night. I
made sure the publisher in New York sent him a copy of the book. I was sitting
at home, watching the Ed Sullivan show on a tiny little black-and-white TV,
[which] was just really coming out then. He goes on and on through the show.
They got about one minute to go, two minutes to go and I said, aw geez, he's
never going to get around to it. He said, and now we're going to bring on the
Purdue Glee Club. [I thought,] oh no. They come out in full voice and I figure I'm
dead. But with about five seconds to go, he says, I want to show you a great
new book by a friend of mine. Of course, he didn't know me from Adam's off ox-
and [he] held up the cover of the book. The next day it really took off. The
reason I mention that is because it gave me a grub stake to come to Miami.
Also, I was very irritated over something so small you can't believe it. The
Journal and Consitution were not benevolent employers, to put it bluntly. At one
time, I put in a requisition for a pencil sharpener-just a manual pencil sharpener.
You have to understand there was a critical period of about an hour in the
morning where you had to get all the sports copy out from about 6:30 to 7:30 and
we only had one pencil sharpener in the entire newsroom. You had to walk
about seventy-five yards to it. By the time a guy would walk out there and shoot
the bull with everybody on the way there and back, you would lose ten minutes of
valuable time, so I put in for a pencil sharpener, which I was going to screw down
to my desk on my own. The requisition comes back with a big X. I'm not going
to say who the fellow's name was, because he turned out to be a great
benefactor of the University of Georgia. They figured some ingenious way where
he could give them a small amount of money which turned into millions. He's the
only boss I ever had, though, that I didn't like. One of the reasons I didn't like
him was that this requisition came back with a big X and a No on it. I went in
there and said, is this a joke? He said, no, that's not a joke. That's what I'm in
here for, to prevent unnecessary extravagances. On top of being redundant, that
was very insulting to me. I said, hey, you're talking about a $1.75 pencil
sharpener. No, no, he was adamant. I said, how about the $250 you owe me for
excerpting Football's Greatest Coaches? I also sold it around the country. I was
very enterprising in those days. I sold it to metropolitan papers all over the
country for $250. I'd sell a chapter on John Heisman for whom the Heisman
Trophy was named when he was at the Downtown Athletic Club [in New York
City], to one of the New York papers for $250. I said, when are you going to pay
me for excerpting Football's Greatest Coaches? He said, I'll either give you a
voucher and you can go down to the cashier and get it or I'll put it on next week's
paycheck. I said, how about a voucher, so he gives me a voucher and I go down
and collect the $250. Then I went back in the sports department and called the
executive sports editor of the Miami Herald who I knew and said, can you use a
man? He said, what man? I said, me. He said, when can you be here? I said,
tomorrow; I'll be there. We didn't have to go through all this battery of psychiatric
tests back then like you do know, else there wouldn't have been any newspapers
back then, because everybody was crazy that worked for them back then. Then I
walked back in and told the managing editor I got the $250 and by the way, I quit.
I was executive sports editor and my biggest job, in addition to putting out the
daily paper, I didn't write very much, was putting out this massive Sunday football
edition. His reply was, who's going to put out the football edition? I said, that's
your problem. I refuse to commit my career, whatever it may be, or my life, to a
paper that won't supply me with a $1.75 pencil sharpener, and I took my stuff out
of the desk and left. Coming to the Miami Herald was the luckiest thing that ever
happened to me and it was sheer luck. The Miami Herald has treated me as well
as my own family would have if they could have.
P: You wrote this book, Football's Greatest Coaches. When you look back now,
who was the greatest coach?
E: I don't know if I could answer that.
P: I know Paul Bear Bryant [football coach, University of Alabama, 1958-1982] was
a great one.
E: Bear Bryant hadn't even coached long enough to even be in the book, that's how
long ago it was. I guess probably somebody like Pop Warner [football coach,
Carlisle Indian School, 1899-1903, 1907-1914; University of Pittsburgh, 1915-
1923; Stanford University, 1924-1932] or Amos Alonzo Stagg [football coach,
University of Chicago, 1892-1932; College of the Pacific, 1933-1946] who
introduced a lot of new tactics and innovations. Maybe [Knute] Rockne [football
player, Notre Dame; football coach, Notre Dame, 1918-1931] who really, when
he was playing at Notre Dame with a fellow named Gus Dorais, they started
throwing the ball around down at the beach in Indiana one summer and they
really popularized the forward pass.
P: Let me ask you a different way, if you look back now, who would you think would
be the greatest college football coach?
E: The popular answer would be Bear Bryant because he won so many games,
although Joe Paterno [football coach, Penn State University, 1966-present] has
passed him now. But Bryant had much more charisma. Bryant had this amazing
stage presence where, when he walked into a room, everything got quiet and he
had this gruff stentorian voice and he was much more physically impressive with
a great deal more presence than Joe Paterno has, although Paterno is a great
man, I think. Those would probably be the popular choices. I'm not sure but
what Eddie Robinson, the coach at Grambling for all those years, given the
resources he had, wasn't the best coach that ever lived. The truth is, we'll
probably never know. The best coach that ever lived could have spent his life at
East Muscogee High School or Junior High for fifty years and nobody ever heard
of him. It's just a concatenation of luck and resources and timing. Bryant was at
the right school with all the resources and great recruiting resources.
P: If he'd stayed at Kentucky, it might have been a different story.
E: If he'd have stayed at Kentucky, he would never have achieved the notice that he
did at Alabama. [There is] so much luck that enters into it.
P: You come down to Miami as a sportswriter. In 1967, you become sports editor.
Is that correct?
E: That is correct.
P: What did you do prior to becoming sports editor?
E: I was assistant sports editor. I basically did a lot of the same stuff I was doing in
Atlanta, except I was also writing a column. I would write a column, then I would
work on the desk, processing copy. I might go out to Hialeah and write about a
big race, then I'd have to run into the office when the race was over and write my
column about it, then handle the art for the race, which doesn't happen anymore.
You had to be a lot more versatile then. On the other hand, the standards were
not nearly as high as they are now.
P: What was a typical day like in the life of a sports editor and what were your
E: That's a good question, but there's no right or wrong answer to that, because
every day is different. You very rarely knew what you were going to be doing
that day until you got up. My idea was always, I'm going to write about what
most people are talking about this morning. By noon, it might be something else,
and by 3:00, it might be something entirely different. By 6:00 it might change, by
9:00 it changed again, so you made a lot of false starts during the day. Unless
you were specifically going to a football game or something like that.
P: As sports editor, did you try to cover a lot of the events yourself or did you assign
somebody to cover those events?
E: Sports editor was just an honorarium. It meant nothing. We had an executive
sports editor. The Herald is probably the only paper in the country, except
maybe the Newark Star-Ledger or the New York Post, that had fewer executive
sports editors than anybody. We had three in about fifty years. Bob Elliot
starting in 1945. Ed Storin, who's still retired, but [is] the Secretary Treasurer of
the Associated Press Sports Editors, he was sports editor from 1965 to about
1980, then Paul Anger was sports editor from about 1980 to 1995. We had three
in nearly fifty years. By the way, Paul Anger is now the executive editor of the
Des Moines Register Tribune.
P: Would you go out and cover sports?
E: Yes [and] I would write a column. I had very few other duties other than writing a
P: How many times a week?
E: I was writing a minimum of five columns a week for about thirty-five years. One
day, Carl Hiaasen [writer/columnist, The Miami Herald; author], you know Carl, of
course you do. Carl came back in my office. I hated interruptions, so I asked to
have an office as far back in the newsroom as they could give me, right next to
the mailroom. I was hard to root out of there. Unlike most columnists, I enjoyed
going into the office, but I didn't enjoy a lot of distraction. Anyway, Carl Hiaasen
comes by there. He has a rare kind of a job. When he has to really bear down
on a new novel, they'll give him time off or he will write fewer columns than usual.
He came back by and we chatted. He said, I'm going back to work full-time
today. I said, what is full-time, Carl? He said, two columns a week. I went in to
the then-executive sports editor. I said, all the other columnists around here
consider full-time two columns a week, why am I writing five? So they cut it down
to four and eventually I got them to cut it down to three. Now that I'm semi-
retired, I'm down to fifty columns a year, which is a far cry from 250. I feel like
I'm on vacation.
[End of side Al]
E: When I look back, I don't know how I did it. On the other hand, there were
people all over the country who were doing seven columns a week. We had a
real old-timer named Jack Kofoed. He was from Philadelphia from the old days.
He wrote seven columns a week until he was way up in his mid-80s. Paul Gallico
and Grantland Rice and a lot of classic sportswriters would write five and even
six columns a week. There was no such thing as being sick. You weren't
allowed to be sick. I think in forty-five years at the Herald, I might have had to
take a day off for being sick, maybe twenty-five or thirty times. I'm proud that I
never took more than one day off at a time. If you were sick, you might get away
with being sick if you had some fatal disease or something, but you better be
back there the next day, even if you came in your coffin.
P: What makes a good sportswriter?
E: A lot of things. I think obviously the first thing that makes a good sportswriter is
just raw, natural ability. I certainly can't lay any claim to that because I think I
had a lot less raw, natural ability than a lot of my peers. I tried to make up for it
by working harder and working longer hours. We have a columnist now, Dan Le
Batard, who is in his early thirties, has as much talent as any sportswriter I've
ever read in my life. Furman Bisher was an unbelievably talented writer. [So is
P: Jim Murray was a good one.
E: Jim Murray was probably the most talented of all time. Jimmy Cannon was one
of my idols. I was fortunate to be befriended by these fellows, all of whom were
older than I was. They sort of semi-adopted me. When I would go to New York,
I would stay with Jimmy Cannon and then I knew Jim Murray very well. We
became close. Bill Corum, who was a famous, not only sports columnist for the
New York Journal American, but he was a well-known sports announcer. People
seem to think this is new, sportswriters being on television and radio. It's not
new, because people like Bill Corum would do fights, the Kentucky Derby and
eventually got out of sportswriting altogether to become president of Churchill
Downs and the Kentucky Derby [1950-1958].
P: Did a lot of people, like Bill Stern, who were announcers also do columns?
E: No, I don't think so. I knew Bill Stern. I know Bill Stern had a terrible reputation,
but I spotted for him in a Georgia-Alabama game in 1944. He couldn't have been
nicer. I was sixteen years old, fifteen years old. He couldn't have treated me
nicer. I remember something he said. People were talking about television then,
although I never had seen any. He said, there's going to be a time when there
won't be any announcers, there won't be anybody like me. We're just a
necessary evil. When they bring in television, they won't need any announcers.
I've never heard anybody else say that or refer back to that. Unfortunately, he
had lost a leg in his youth, I think at Pennsylvania Military Academy. He got
addicted to morphine and had some bad times. The last time I heard from him,
he was actually looking for a job in Miami in the 1960s and he died not long
P: Going back to what makes a good sportswriter, the first thing is raw talent. What
else makes a good sportswriter?
E: I'd say attitude. You have to take for granted that a guy is willing to put in some
murderous hours. Sometimes they're murderous, sometimes they're very easy.
You've got to be ready to pull up stakes and take off and leave your family and
everybody else and cancel every kind of social obligation you might have or even
family obligations. I find that there are fewer and fewer who are willing to do that.
I can't say that I blame them, because flying is not what it used to be. Fewer
and fewer like to travel. I'll give you an example. Covering a major league
baseball team used to be the most coveted job in sports, next to being a
metropolitan sports columnist. Now they have a hard time finding that many
people to do it because it means traveling four or five months constantly. People
are just not willing to do that much. Where were we? We were talking about
natural ability and you had to be ready on a minute's notice. You didn't have
time to pack half the time when they sent you somewhere. You just had to stay
there and be willing to stay there until the last dog was dead.
P: Would it be harder to write about sports or to write about something like politics?
E: Well, it evens out, I think. Sports is easier to write about because there's always
something you can see and put your finger on and there's always a final score up
there. In politics, it's so subjective. Half of it is guess-work. You don't know
which are the crooks, which are the bad guys. You're pretty sure ninety percent
of them are crooks, but you don't know for sure. In sports, there's always a
winner and a loser. On the other hand, a sports columnist almost always has to
go somewhere. That's the killer part of it. That's what I was going to get back to
a minute ago about being willing to travel. You almost always have to go
somewhere, whether it's fifty miles or five thousand miles to write a column. Not
many days when you can just sit in the office and write off-the-wall like the
political columnists or the general columnists do. That's the great advantage
they have over the sports columnists, but I think what balances out the other way
is that they have to scrounge for ideas. Being a sports columnist can be
physically very wearing. It's not a healthy job.
P: A lot of people I have interviewed have ended up being editors or publishers, like
Fred Pettijohn [sports editor, managing editor, Fort Lauderdale News], started out
as sportswriters. Did you ever have any desire to be in management or a radio
announcer or a TV announcer?
E: No. Never, never. In fact, every day, every minute, every hour that I worked on
the desk, I sort of liked it but I felt like I was on a treadmill and my life was ebbing
away every minute that I couldn't be writing. The last thing in the world that I
would ever aspire to is any sort of management or high editorial position. I have
been able to do exactly, precisely, not an iota less than what I wanted to do, all
this time. The problem is, I was a pretty good editor and that's a big mistake to
ever let them know that you can be a good editor, because they immediately
want you to start editing. I made the mistake of letting them know that without
saying it. I was just a good copy editor. A lot of copy editors are good because
they're just as meticulous about other people's copy as they are about their own.
It's a big mistake to let them know that if you want to be a writer [instead].
P: You won the Red Smith Award, which is generally considered the highest award
for sportswriters. What was your reaction to winning that award?
E: I was just stunned. I was at the Masters [golf] tournament when they announced
it. I was just absolutely blown away because I never thought, never even dared
think about it or dream about it. Never.
P: Do you think a sportswriter will ever win a Pulitzer?
E: They have, it's very tough though, because for a long time they had a lot of old
fuddy-duddies from the New York Times who regarded sports as too frivolous.
Only one person from [a] non-New York Times [newspaper] has ever won a
Pulitzer as a sportswriter and that's Jim Murray. Arthur Daley from the New York
Times won Pulitzer for his coverage of the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics.
Dave Anderson of the New York Times won a Pulitzer in the either late 1980s or
early 1990s. There was some guy who won a Pulitzer for sort of a combination
of writing and I don't remember his name. Jim Murray was the only non-New
York Times person to win a straight-out sports commentary. Red Smith was the
other New York Times writer. They gave it to him about thirty years too late. He
had been through five or six papers and he had to be on the Times before he got
it, which was a disgrace that he never got it earlier. He was in his 70s.
P: I notice that you were elected to the National Football Hall of Fame. What was
your reaction to that honor?
E: I was thrilled because college football is sort of my lifeblood. I was just very
happy. As I told you, I grew up on college football. I cut my teeth on college
football. It's not as much fun now as it used to be. It's a lot different, it's a lot
more big business than it used to be. It's still more fun than anything else, in my
book, so that's why I enjoy it.
P: That's a pretty big honor for an old Bulldog fan. Are there other Georgia players
in the Hall of Fame? Charlie Trippi, Herschel Walker?
E: Charlie Trippi, Herschel Walker, Frank Sinkwitch. A lot of players get in the Hall
of Fame, a lot more get in the College Football Hall of Fame than get in the Pro
Football Hall of Fame, so I couldn't begin to name all of them. Bill Stanfill, he
played for the Dolphins in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Georgia has got
Coaches Wally Butts [and Vince Dooley]. We're trying to get a guy who slipped
through the cracks, in there as an old-timer's candidate now. Johnny Rauch.
P: Did he also coach at Stanford?
E: No, you're close though. He coached the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II. He
coached the Buffalo Bills when O. J. Simpson [football player, Heisman Trophy
winner, University of Southern California; professional football player, Buffalo
Bills, 1969-1979] first came there. He should be in the Hall of Fame. He was an
All-American. He had an undefeated season in 1946, he started every single
game and played offense and defense for four years. He was the first player in
NCAA history to start four straight bowl games. He was the number-one draft
choice of the short-lived All-America conference, a pro conference, 1947 through
about 1949. He deserves to be in there. It is hard to get somebody in there
outside of the normal avenue.
P: In your book, The Edwin Pope Collection, James Michener [author] wrote a very
laudatory forward to that book. Michener wrote a good book on sports, and in
that book he was trying to ascertain the importance of sports in American life.
How would you make that assessment?
E: It amazes me that there are so many people that take sports so seriously. But I
really should not be amazed because sports, to most people, now more than
ever, is pure escapism. It is just escapism.
P: It is entertainment.
E: It is entertainment, it takes your mind off whatever-terrorism, bad marriage, bad
job, not being able to pay the mortgage. You can just leave your work-a-day
world and walk into another world. That is what sports is. It is understandable to
me that there are so many people hooked on it. [It is] still hard for me to absorb
the intensity [with] which some people approach sports as fans.
P: As you know, if it's Georgia versus Florida and your team loses, for some people
it is like the end of the world.
P: In some cases, they are not even graduates of the university. Why do they take
it so seriously?
E: Well, that is like Sigmund Freud said that he spent thirty years searching for the
answer to one question, what do women want? So, I would put your question in
the same category as Freud's-what do sports fans want? I like sports fans, and I
think they are a lot smarter than most writers give them credit for being,
especially with all the new ways to see sports and expose yourself to it. It still
baffles me and befuddles me, your very question as to why are they that way. I
guess that everybody needs something outside of his everyday life to attach
himself to, or devote himself to, or to be fanatical about, whether it is your church,
charity, philandering, stealing money, hating someone or whatever.
P: There is a camaraderie to this, being together in a stadium with 85,000 people. I
think there is some unity that is generated by being a fan of the same team. Is
that true in pro-sports as well?
E: It is, surprisingly. It didn't use to be, like in pro football. The whole thing has
changed. When I was a kid, there were really sixteen pro sports teams that you
had any reason to pay attention to. Sixteen major league baseball teams. Now
there are over one hundred between football, baseball, basketball, and hockey.
Nobody paid any attention to pro basketball, they played it literally in cages
where the players had to hang their clothes on nails driven in the wall. Pro
football offered people such a pathetic living. Art Rooney of the old Pittsburgh
Steelers, probably the greatest man in pro football history, used to have to go
down and beg the sportswriters to put in a little notice that the Pittsburgh Steelers
were going to play that Sunday. There were only sixteen teams that you paid
any attention to until the mid-1950s. Then [came] this gigantic proliferation of
them, and along with it, cable TV and all this stuff, it is just a little much.
P: How has television changed sports? Now you have ESPN, ESPN2, the Golf
Channel and you can see everything from pro football to curling twenty-four
hours a day.
E: One way it has changed sports is that it has created a lot more millionaires,
because every time those TV shows come on, they have to pay fees to
somebody. Those people that get those fees pay a lot of those fees to the
players. In dealing with the players is entirely different from what it used to be.
P: How important are professional sports teams for Miami?
E: That is something that we are endlessly debating in this go-round about whether
they are going to get a new dome stadium for baseball, which they desperately
need. My contention is that people who do not have any interest in baseball or
going to the games should not have to pay a penny of their tax money. Of
course, the baseball owners think that the public should pay for everything. I
think that the teams themselves and, even in some cases, the players and
certainly the owners should pay for all the stadiums. They have been getting a
free ride forever.
P: Certainly, Wayne Huizenga [businessman] would have enough to build a new
E: He would, but my question would be, if Wayne Huizenga is worth 1.5 billion
dollars, is it fair to ask him to spend a third of that to build a dome stadium, to
give up a third of his net worth, just so a lot of people could enjoy it? That is the
attitude of a lot of people who want a new stadium. They say, well, Huizenga
has the money. He does have the money, but I don't see that he has an
obligation. Actually Huizenga gave baseball every chance here before the 1997
season, he said, I am going to pay as much money as it takes to have a winner
here. That is the year that he brought in all the World Series championship
players and see if Miami can support the team. Well, Miami didn't support the
team. They only averaged about 30,000 people a game, they didn't even sell out
the first playoff series against the [San Francisco] Giants. After that, he
concluded that it was bad business and sold out.
P: He made a huge fortune when he sold out. He sold it for a lot more than what he
paid for it.
E: Well he sold it for $150 [million dollars] and by the time he paid the initiation fee
and the rest of it, it was about $110 [million dollars] or $120 [million dollars], so
he probably made $30 or $40 million dollars. He also lost a lot of money each
year. There was a considerable debate over whether he really lost that much
money because he owns the stadium too. There is no question that he lost
money on an annual operating basis.
P: Do you think in cases where the city or state builds a professional sports
stadium, that it is economically good for the community? Does it produce
enough tax money and revenue to overcome the costs of building it?
E: Time and again, it has been shown by expert economists that it does not have a
commensurate economic benefit to the city. Baseball doesn't bring anybody into
town. It is just a huge non-taxable white elephant sitting there that very often
brings down the quality of life around the stadium. You don't see any baseball or
football stadiums in upscale neighborhoods. It doesn't really create very many
jobs, except minimum wage or people who sell beer and popcorn and carry in the
goods and carry them out. No, I don't think it even comes close to equaling the
public output. As you can see, I am not supportive of the public paying all the
freight for a pro franchise. Did you ever see a movie called the Blob?
P: Actually, I did. [Laughter.]
E: Some have, some haven't. It has Steve McQueen in it, where this piece of
protoplasm came rolling through town and it was about that big. It was picking
up little pieces of dust, that was like the Dolphins when they first came to town in
the 1960s. Then it gets bigger and it starts going around, it goes through grocery
stores, picking up cans of groceries, well that was in the 1970s the [Miami]
Dolphins [professional football team] in the 1970s when they had those great
teams and they got bigger. Then, the Blob starts picking up whole automobiles,
well, that was when the [Miami] Heat [professional basketball team] came in too.
Now we had two sports. Then the thing got to picking up houses and all that,
then we got hockey and then we got baseball. There is no questions that pro
sports adds to the quality of life. It is an adornment to the lifestyle of the people
who live in towns, but it also takes its toll on other things. It is taking a huge toll
on college and high school sports and other amateur sports. To me it is like the
Blob that rolls through town. Everybody talks about [how] the entertainment
dollar only goes so far, that is no doubt true. But there is also the question about
the entertainment hour, how many hours people have to spend. Where are they
going to choose to spend them? Are they going to go out and do something that
benefits everybody like the optimist league or high school football game or a little
neighborhood basketball game, or are they going to pay fifty-eight dollars for a
seat at the hockey game?
P: I noticed in the paper today that the Dolphins have just raised their ticket prices.
E: For the fourth straight year.
P: It now costs forty-three dollars a ticket. If you are a man and you have two boys,
and you want to go to a Dolphin game, with parking and hot dogs, it has to be a
minimum of $150. Who can afford to do that?
E: Well, I ask myself that question all the time. I see these people going in there
that I know are not rich. They do without or borrow the money. It has gotten way
out-of-hand. Baseball is particularly a game of fools, both players and owners.
To me, Huizenga got out when he did because he perceived it as a game of
fools. Now, he might be the most reviled sports person in the history of south
P: Because he sold the [Florida] Marlins [professional baseball team]?
E: Yes, because he broke up a championship team. I don't blame him. I have a
hard time blaming him.
P: He brought hockey, and he brought the Marlins. At least they had a team.
E: They would never have had a team, much less a world championship, if it had
not been for Huizenga. He has been a great owner for football. He was a good
owner for hockey. Baseball, for as long as he was in it, he was a good owner.
P: Why is baseball not nearly as popular as it used to be?
E: My personal opinion is that life has gotten so much faster, every movie you see
wants to be so much louder than the last one, the cars to go faster, the
explosions to be noisier, the fatalities to be more numerous, life has gotten to be
so much faster that, especially young people, demand everything at a fever pitch
and baseball is not played at a fever pitch. Baseball is played at the same pitch,
even slower pace than it used to [be], because they have ever more
commercials. The World Series game has forty-five minutes [of commercials]. I
can remember not that long ago, in the late 1970s, when I used to keep tabs on
this, that a lot of the games were over in two hours, two hours and six minutes,
one hour and fifty-six minutes. When the Yankees had Reggie Jackson, the
Dodgers had Tommy John and the Yankees had Ron Guidrey, the games were
getting over in less than two hours. Now it is an event when a World Series
game gets over in less than three hours. You can just about count on them
lasting three-and-a-half hours. That just doesn't tie in with the pace of American
P: Do you think that the popularity of college football and basketball has to some
degree taken away from the interest in baseball?
E: No, I think other factors, like movies, television, just life in general-the speeding
up of life, whether in the movies or whatever, has diminished the appeal of
P: I know some old baseball fans who resent the fact that a shortstop who hits .230
gets $4.5 million a year. They see this as an extraordinarily high price for
average baseball players. The player's attitudes seem to have gotten worse-
they won't sign autographs-and this has turned fans off. Do you think that is a
E: I don't blame the players for taking the money. That is why I say that it is a game
of fools. The players ruined it by insisting on so much money, but the owners
didn't really have to submit to their demands, but they did. So, it is a question of,
who are the biggest fools? The owners or the players?
P: I would say it would be the television people who spend millions of dollars and
lose money broadcasting.
E: Another huge factor. To try to jazz up the baseball games, they play this
insanely, riotously loud music between innings, which a lot of baseball
traditionalists truly resent. You go to a pro basketball game, even the coaches
are complaining because the players can't hear them when they have time-outs
on the sidelines. The marketing people run the games now. They are the ones
who insist-horse racing is a great example. Horse racing is still conducted at the
same leisurely pace with twenty-five minutes between races. The lottery really
killed horse racing and dog racing and jai-alai. Now the only chance that horse
racing seems to have is blend it in with concerts. At Gulfstream Park up here,
they have concerts every weekend. A lot of people who go to the concerts never
bet a dime.
P: So earlier interest was as much for gambling as anything else?
E: I think so. The state of Florida made a huge mistake in never passing the so-
called minors bill, where parents could take their children with them. They
couldn't bet. It always seemed to me that an afternoon at the race track, for a kid
with his parents, beat hanging around the 7-11 [convenience store] or doing
something else where they might get in trouble. That is where Florida and a lot
of states blew it in not allowing parents to take their children with them.
P: Getting back to baseball. Should Pete Rose [professional baseball player] be in
the Hall of Fame?
E: I don't think so. I think he bet on baseball. I think the evidence is incontrovertible
that he bet on baseball or otherwise he would have gone to court, which he never
has. He has never been tested in court. It is generally thought that Bart
Giammati [former commissioner of Major League Baseball] knows and has
evidence that he bet on baseball. I don't think that there should be a place in the
Hall of Fame for anybody who ever bet on baseball. If you bet on baseball, it
follows that there is a chance that you might have bet on your own games. The
way that Pete bet, I wouldn't think it unusual because Pete is, sort of, not so
much a scoundrel or saint as he is amoral, he doesn't see the difference. No
question that he loves baseball and was a wonderful asset to baseball. But I can
see where Pete Rose wouldn't see the difference in betting on baseball or worse,
betting on his own team as well as other teams. No, I don't think he should be in
the Hall of Fame.
P: What is your view of college baseball today and aluminum bats?
E: I think that the aluminum bats is a big mistake. It takes too much of the defense
out of the game. It is too easy to hit the ball. It is purely an economic measure,
because they were breaking too many bats and they just couldn't afford it. I like
college baseball, we particularly like it here because the University of Miami does
a great job of promoting it as well as playing it. I don't think aluminum bats have
been good for baseball and I don't think traditionists really like them. Maybe it is
the only way they can survive. They do not make money. The University of
Miami has won three College World Series.
P: And Ron Frazier [University of Miami baseball coach] was certainly a great
E: Absolutely, and so is Jim Morris, and they don't support themselves. The only
Miami sports that support themselves are football and surprisingly, basketball.
P: They are doing a lot better now than they did years ago.
E: You only have to have a few players, that is the reason. None of them could
support themselves if they didn't have a tuition waiver from the University of
P: Did you cover Rick Barry when he was at Miami?
E: I did.
P: What did you think of him?
E: I was so wrong on Rick Barry. I have been wrong on a lot of things, but that was
probably one of the worst. I never thought that he would make it as a
professional player. I thought he was too skinny and couldn't stand up to those
heavier, stronger guys-that they would bat him around. I sold him real short. He
not only made it, but he was an all-time great player.
P: He could shoot foul shots.
E: He was a fantastic free-throw shooter. He wasn't a great shooter from the field,
but he was a great scorer. He could pick up all kind of garbage balls and
somehow find a way to get them in the net. Another reason I didn't think that he
would make it was because I thought he was fragile. He had a sort of a fragile
psyche, but he overcame it. He was an absolute worry-wart, anything that
happened, he would go around shaking his head and worrying about it. He did
the same thing in the pros, the ABA [American Basketball Association] and NBA
[National Basketball Association], but he survived. But that is one of the reasons
that he can't get a job as a coach now.
P: I remember him shooting that red, white, and blue basketball. What did you think
about the ABA league?
E: I loved it. I thought they did some great things, like Larry Brown when he was
coach, he came out one time in farmer's overalls. That colored basketball was
[fun]. They wound up helping the NBA.
P: Didn't they start the three-point shot?
E: I believe they did. I am pretty sure they did. They had some great characters in
there. You could be yourself in the ABA. They weren't quite as stiff-necked and
pompous as the NBA.
P: I presume that college football is still, to some degree, your favorite sport. How
have the athletes changed in the years that you have been reporting college
sports in general, but college football in particular?
E: They have changed negatively. There are reasons. The demands by the media
have increased almost exponentially. You used to go out to a University of
Miami practice or press conference and there might be four people there. You
go out there now, there are thirty-four people. If a guy is a good football player, it
is a heavy burden on him, dealing with the media. Although this has always
been the case in some way, it has been more marked in recent years. If a kid
has athletic ability, he has a free pass in life, just about from the time that he is
six or eight years old on. He can get away with anything.
P: Both in and out of school?
E: Oh, yes, absolutely. This always [been the case] to some degree, but not like it
[is] now. If some fourteen year-old kid gets in trouble, and the high school coach
knows that he is going to be a great football player, he will intervene and, a lot of
times, [it is] with the sufferance of the teachers. Let's say that they are much less
humble than they once were. A lot of them are pretty arrogant, but they are still
much better to talk to than any of the pro athletes, except for hockey players,
race-car drivers, and horse racing people.
P: Those people are easier to talk to?
E: The three pro sports I mentioned are the easiest. Horse racing-trainers, owners,
and jockeys. Hockey players mostly, but coaches too. Automobile racing, those
guys would let you ride on their fenders if it wouldn't slow them down. They are
terrific. [But] I notice that the hockey players, as the salaries go up, the hockey
players' tolerance for media demands is going down.
P: Have you been insulted and demeaned by professional players many times?
E: You know, I never have been insulted or demand by an athlete in sixty-two years,
not once. I have had few very modest, minor confrontations of the oddest kind
that you can imagine. Like Garo Yepremian, I blamed him for the Dolphins losing
P: He was a place-kicker for the Dolphins.
E: I blamed him for the Dolphins losing a game in Baltimore in 1974 or thereabouts,
which is wrong. You should never blame a field-goal kicker, because if they have
to rely on a field-goal kicker to get them out, then the rest of the team didn't do
their job. But I blamed him. The next week Garo confronted me in the dressing
room, he is not as tall as I am and I am only 5'6". He wore a size five shoe, I
wear a size nine. He more or less threatened to beat me up and then the
ultimate insult was that he called me a hillbilly. I said, that is a riot-you are
calling me a hillbilly and you are from Cyprus [island in the Mediterranean Sea],
the biggest rock in the world.
P: I hope that he later gave you a tie to make up for it.
E: Oh yeah, Garo was such a great guy that it was all over in ten minutes. The
other one was a little more a generic form of degradation at the Olympics in
Albertville, [France]. I was standing in what they called the mix zone. [End of
Tape A, Side 2.] A mix zone is a little tiny area where very few select athletes
and a very few media can get together for an informal battle royal press
conference. It is not a formal press conference, but you had the opportunity to
shout a question and they could shout back an answer. In Albertville, the mix
zone was not only absolutely freezing, but it was made for about twenty people, it
was a tent, and there were about 300 people trying to force their way in there.
The only way I could hear them was to get up on a table, and then somebody
else, eventually all four corners of the table were occupied. So, there are four
veteran, professional journalists, or at least we liked to think that we were
journalists, up there risking life and limb on this table. One of the guys weighed
about 300 pounds that was standing on there. We were trying to elicit some
intelligent answer from a figure skater who had just barely learned to wave bye-
bye. I thought to myself, this is it for me, this is degrading. I would be damned if
I would do this again. So, finally we get down and go back to what we were
doing and the big guy comes to me and says, you know what, that was
degrading. I said, you are absolutely right, and you can consider this my winter
Olympics, or any kind of Olympics, farewell.
P: Was that Hubert Mizell?
E: Yes, Hubert Mizell. So I [stayed through Albertville, but that was it for me].
P: Give me your opinion of the current imbroglio-when the IOC [International
Olympic Committee] awarded a gold medal to the Canadian pair.
E: I thought that it was the greatest thing that could have happened. Now the
Canadians will be in demand everywhere. They will command these huge
P: And they still get the gold.
E: And they will still get the gold. It turned out great, it looked like a terrible thing,
but it turned out to be terrific.
P: Let me go back to college sports, particularly college football. Do you sense that
the athletes today are less intelligent, less articulate? More articulate? How do
you access them?
E: The athletes today are much more media-savvy. They give you better answers,
in part because the journalists ask better questions, and a lot more of them, they
give you better answers than they would have ten years ago, twenty years ago,
forty years ago, [because] nobody even asked them any questions. People
didn't go to the dressing rooms after the games, you wouldn't have thought of it.
Personally I think the biggest waste of time and space on a sports page is all
these innocuous quotes from athletes, few of whom ever say anything worth
P: Saying, "we really got to step up for this game ... we've got to focus."
E: "We didn't execute." Yes. "We just got to regroup." We print all that garbage.
P: Are there more cliches in sports in anything ....
E: Cliches are cliches because they are so true. But now you hear them like the
one, "we control our destiny." You can't control your destiny, destiny is destiny.
Or fate, "we control our fate." You cannot control fate. Fate is fate, it is
P: But they take them "one game at a time." I don't know how else you would take
E: We compound the felony. They are bad about cliches, but I don't blame them as
much as us for printing them.
P: One thing that disturbs a lot of academics at universities is this rather lax attitude
toward athletes' irresponsible behavior. Without getting into specifics, there was
wide receiver at FSU [Peter Warrick] who stole something, there was a wide
receiver at UF [Jabar Gaffney] who also was caught stealing, not only were they
not kicked out of school, they remained on the football team. They were
suspended for one or two games. What is your reaction is to that?
E: Well, I look at that in the context of society as a whole. Now, when I grew up in
Athens, Georgia, about the worse trouble that you could get into was knocking
out a streetlight with a rock. You couldn't be drunk, because you couldn't buy
anything to drink. You couldn't be drugged, because there were no drugs. There
were much fewer opportunities to be a bad guy. As a result, we didn't have much
misbehavior. I don't know how we would have reacted if we would have had the
opportunity for misbehavior that they have today. I think that there is a great
division of how the coaches handled this. For example, I think [Steve] Spurrier,
even though I don't care much for him personally, he is too arrogant and thin-
skinned for my taste, is a pretty good disciplinarian. And just the opposite, I love
Bowden as a person, but I think Bowden is a bit too light on the players. If you
ask him about it, his answer is, well, that is the way kids are these days. Well,
that is not the right way to confront this. Butch Davis at the University of Miami
was a chronic liar. Football coaches in college and pros are the world's biggest
liars, except for politicians. It would be a dead heat if you had a lying race
between head football coaches and politicians. Maybe they have to lie. All I
know is that they would climb a tree to tell a lie. Butch Davis is the worse of the
whole field of worst. Yet, he was a wonderful disciplinarian, a very decent and
honorable man in every other respect. One of his old coaches, Jimmy Johnson,
once told me, he just can't help it. Some people just have to tell a lie a day. He
is tough with those players. If they got out of line or did something, he would
P: That reminds me I want to go back to the Miami team, 1986, when they wore
fatigues and they had gotten in fights and had been accused of rapes. They
really had this bad-boy image.
E: Actually, the severity of their malfeasance was overrated. Most of the things that
they did wrong [were] not terrible, but their attitude was so arrogant and they
taunted and showboated and hot-dogged and I thought it had reached its apex,
of course, at the Fiesta Bowl, the 1987 Fiesta Bowl. That is an insult to all of
football, to me, the way that they acted there. They walked out of a steak fry and
then they were cursing the Penn State fans from the door of their locker room
before the game. Jimmy Johnson let them get by with it. Actually I think Jimmy
Johnson encouraged them to do it. I thought it was shameful and I wrote
columns to that effect. I wrote that Jimmy Johnson should apologize or be fired.
His answer to that was to go in and offer to resign to President Tad Foote
[President, University of Miami]. As it happened, the athletic director, Sam
Jankovich, talked him out of it at the last minute. But after he went to Dallas,
Jimmy Johnson told me that, you know, you almost made me quit. We were
back on good terms by then, and I said, what do you mean? He said, when you
said that I should apologize or resign, I took the second course; I tried to resign,
but they wouldn't allow me to. The whole scenario of the Fiesta Bowl was a
blight on college football and just shameful. It was everything that college
football should not be. I know that there are a lot of abuses in college football,
anybody would be terribly naive to think that there are not, but it also does a lot of
good, the way that it unifies alumni, I think that it is very healthy.
P: You think that there is a lot cheating going on, particularly recruiting? We notice
that sanctions have been recently handed down against Alabama and Kentucky.
E: You know, I really don't. I know that a lot has gone on, but I think that just the
fear factor ...
P: The death penalty? [Referring to stringent sanctions handed down to the NCAA
for recruiting violations.]
E: Right. It stops a lot of this. I don't doubt but what hundreds, maybe thousands,
of coaches, including some of whom I am absolutely positive of, kept stacks of
$10s, $20s, $50s, and $100s in their desk drawer. And if a guy needed a new
suit, he would go by the coach's office and he would dip in there and hand him
the money. The money was furnished to him by affluent alumni. I don't think that
happens near as much any more. I think that the University of Miami now has
four compliance officers. They didn't use to have any. Now they have four
people who do nothing but to see that they are in compliance [with] this tangle of
NCAA regulations. I am sure there is a lot of hanky-panky going on, but it is not
like as open and as wild as it was, like when Max McGee, the old Green Bay
Packer wide receiver [who] caught seven passes in Super Bowl I, told me, when
he went to Tulane, he had any kind of car that he wanted any time that he
wanted it. When SMU [Southern Methodist University] got the death penalty, one
of the higher officials told the athletic director he had do something about these
abuses. The athletic director's response was, I don't have time or the resources
to do that, Mr. President, we have a payroll to meet. They were just paying out
P: There is a tremendous amount of pressure on college athletic directors to be
successful and fill the stadiums. One of the criticisms from the academic
community is that college sports have become too commercialized. The
University of Florida has an athletic budget over $70 million or something like
E: Someone told me yesterday that they were enlarging the stadium again.
P: They are again. They are putting in luxury boxes.
E: How many seats?
P: I don't think many seats, probably another 5,000, something like that. Is that a
problem in terms of athletic programs representing the universities and being so
commercial, so much a business?
E: Oh yeah, any time you take the amateurism or amateur aspect of it, I think it is a
problem. But it is something that emerged from public enthusiasm. It is not good,
I think it is a problem. But it is not felonious ... I wish it weren't that way, but I
don't see it as something that is going to bring down the whole [game].
P: What about the idea that some people have said, why don't we make these semi-
pro teams? We will make it the Gainesville Gators, they can keep the stadium
and pay rent, but they don't have to worry about getting into school or going to
E: Well, that won't work. Actually, an old coach, one of the coaches that I used in
Football's Greatest Coaches, who had a fabulous record. He had like six or eight
perfect seasons, "Gloomy" Gil Dobie at Cornell and University of Washington and
other places, he actually suggested that football players not be required to attend
classes, seriously, during season. He didn't get very far with it obviously. I don't
think that would work, because then you would take the school element out of it.
P: What about stipends for players?
E: It is not financially feasible. If you had to pay, first of all, you couldn't just confine
it to football players, you would have to pay every athlete, which would be, how
many, 300 athletes?
P: Oh, more, if you take women's sports.
E: Say 500, you paid them all, nothing less than $200 a month would even make a
difference these days, do the math, it would not work. Besides, they are already
getting paid. At the University of Miami, you are getting a $35,000 tuition free.
So they are getting paid, basically for four years, $140,000.
P: When we look at the whole process of carrying on sports, it is expensive. Should
coaches and players accept money from Nike for wearing their shoes? I know
that they get million-dollar contracts.
E: I see a lot of flaws in the coaches accepting the money. It compromises the
university and makes it even more commercial. But the colleges themselves aid
and abet this by using this as part of the coach's compensation. When you get
into the pros, it is just business to me. I don't really see anything wrong with it in
the pro sports. The only thing that I see wrong with pro sports is it enables
thieves like Nike to charge kids from the ghetto $160 for a pair of Jordans
P: Are you disturbed by players turning pro early after one or two years of college?
E: Absolutely, I think it is terrible. Now we are seeing that they do not redshirt
nearly as many players, because they know that they are only going to have
them for a short length of time. That is not all that disturbs me. I probably would
not be as disturbed about it as I am if the NFL ... in fact, I think that the pro
leagues should compensate the colleges for every player they use. I am not just
talking about the guy turning pro early. I think that if like, let's say, Dan Morgan,
who went from the University of Miami linebacker to the Carolina Panthers. In
effect, the University of Miami is a factory that produced Dan Morgan for the
larger company, the Carolina Panthers. I think that the Panthers should have to
pay a fee.
P: Like a minor-league team.
E: Should have to pay a fee, based on a set fee. If the guy goes early, they should
still have to pay the fee based on the time .... The pros get such a free ride
from the colleges.
P: Is there a way to keep these kids in school? One person has proposed that there
ought to be a contract that these kids sign. The argument against that is that
none of them would go to college, they would all turn pro.
E: I don't think a contract would stand up in court, because it would be preventing
someone from making a living. I think that the colleges should make a greater
effort. They are never going to stop a guy from turning pro if he wants to turn
pro. I think that colleges should make a greater effort to some sort of
compensation for them. A lot of times, these guys are not doing themselves [a
favor] by turning [pro]. What happens if they don't make it? Half of them have no
way of making a living.
P: Do you have qualms about having high-school students going directly to the
E: For some reason that really doesn't bother me. The ones that go, if they had
gone on to college instead, they certainly would not have been taking part in
college life or doing anything academically that would benefit them. So it is sort
of a wash to me.
P: What about coaches' salaries?
E: Oh, that is a sore point with me. I think that coaches are just as overpaid or more
so than the players. I think that it is just absolutely ridiculous to pay a college
coach $2 million like Spurrier was getting, or $1 million like Bowden. Two million
is getting to be the going rate for top coaches like Bob Stoops [head coach,
University of Oklahoma]. As soon as Bob Stoops hit $2 million, Butch Davis hit
the ceiling and started thinking that he was a $2 million coach. That was part of
the reason that he left the University of Miami to go to Cleveland. I think that is a
terrible abuse. Doesn't bother me about the pro coaches, I mean it's gross,
P: Spurrier does make a little bit more than the average history professor.
P: I wonder also if there needs to be more NCAA control about admission
standards. I know that some schools have very low admission rates, some
schools have higher admission rates. Should there be some sort of standard?
E: There is a standard, is there not?
P: Yes, but it varies to SEC ...
E: I thought it was an NCAA.
P: Let me put it this way, Plaxico Burress, [wide receiver] who couldn't get into the
University of Florida, played at Michigan State. A player we just had at Florida,
couldn't get in Florida, is playing at Oklahoma. So there are different standards.
E: I certainly think it should be standardized and higher. I don't think you should
take a complete academic washout [and] accept him as a regular student. I think
this should be done on an NCAA level and I really don't understand why it hasn't
been done that way.
P: The entrance exam, they have increased, and the grade point average, they
have increased. Obviously I know at many schools, for example, the University
of Florida president can admit students on his own; there are little ways to get
around [admission rules].
E: As far as national standards, I can see an immediate... well, we could sit here
and agree that there should be a national standard, I can see an immediate hold-
up where the president of the University of Florida would say, it's wrong for you
to try to hold us to the standards of Princeton or Yale or Harvard or MIT or
Tulane. Our function is as a public university, we shouldn't be that elitist as to
demand these high admissions standards, such as the Ivy League schools and
P: There's a distinct difference, for example, the University of Nebraska, if you can
find the campus, you can get in. Whereas if we look at Stanford, which has a
good football team . other schools are much higher. I wonder, the average
sports fan does not know that. Should that information be made available?
E: I think so, absolutely.
P: How about graduation rates? You never hear that from sports announcers.
E: Well, you see, those figures are released pretty often. The ones that have high
graduation rates rush into print with them. Miami has increased its graduation
rates tremendously in the last ten or twelve years. Oddly enough, one of the
guys who increased them was Jimmy Johnson.
P: But schools like FSU don't have very high graduation rates, particularly for
basketball and football.
E: I must say, in all honesty, that I think, and it's quite patently obvious to me, that
the teams that don't have very high graduation rates don't put a very high
premium on character or academic ability when they're recruiting. I don't think,
with all due respect for Bobby Bowden, I don't think he's going out looking for
many Rhodes scholars or anything approximating it. All he's interested in is
whether they run a 4.3 or 4.9. There are other coaches, Davis would be one of
them, [Larry] Coker [Davis's replacement as head coach of the University of
Miami football team] would be one of them-I don't know much about Spurrier's
attitude toward that-who believe the two go hand in hand: a good student is a
better football player and that you have far fewer problems with a guy who has
shown through high school that he is an honorable person who does his best
academically and has a chance academically.
P: But then there's always a Randy Moss [wide receiver] that somebody's going to
take a chance on, right?
E: Or Deion Sanders [cornerback]. He doesn't go to classes his whole last
P: There is so much pressure to win that I notice that universities brag about their
national championships, but they don't often brag very much about their
E: Because it's sort of an inverse proportion.
P: Let me talk about the University of Miami football, you've covered them for a long
time. When you look back, there's been some rather extraordinary coaches at
that campus. Who do you think would be the best coach? Howard
Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Larry Coker of course has done pretty well in
his first year.
E: That's a great question. Oddly enough, I've never been asked that question and
I'd be hard-pressed to give you an answer. I probably would have to say Howard
Schnellenberger because he took it from ... he didn't start the upturn, Lou
P: I know he wouldn't be on your list.
E: No, Lou would not be on my list, because he's on about his fiftieth job now. He's
coaching at Chowan College in North Carolina up in his 80s. But Lou did start
the turn-around at the University of Miami. He started going out and recruiting
Jim Burt, who went on to play for the Giants and 49ers, was a great nose tackle.
Jim Kelly, he got those guys. No, I'm sorry, Schnellenberger got Kelly. Saban
started it, but it was just barely kicking in when Schnellenberger came in and built
it up from almost nothing to a national championship. I'm convinced had he
stayed, he would have won numerous .. just as many national championships
as other coaches there wound up winning.
P: Why do you think he left?
E: His life has been full of poor career decisions. He was having a power struggle
with the athletic director, Sam Jankovich. Obviously Jankovich won. So
Schnellenberger went to the short-lived U.S. Football League. That was a bad
mistake, then he went on to Louisville and did a great job there and then made
another poor career decision in leaving there to go to Oklahoma. Now here he is
at Florida Atlantic, but he is indomitable. If he weren't quite so old, I would freely
predict that he would win another national championship, I just don't know if you
can start out at that age. I don't see how you could get to be a better coach than
Schnellenberger. But every one of them [at Miami] has been an intriguingly
P: Almost every one of them went on to coach in the pros, or at least the most
E: Jimmy Johnson was a great inner-city recruiter. Had a wonderful rapport with the
African American players. Had the best rapport with the players of any coach
I've ever seen out there. He left only because the Dallas Cowboys came after
him. When he left, he had just recruited the best recruiting class they ever had.
P: Then Dennis Erickson took over.
E: Dennis was a great offensive coach in many ways, but Dennis got in a lot of
drinking problems. I used to be a sociable drinking partner of Dennis, but he got
too wild for me. He lied. He's one of those liars up to the last minute. Went to
the Seattle Seahawks. Dennis at the top of his game was one hell of a football
coach, I'll tell you. The problem was keeping him at the top of his game. Worse
than that, he dragged the whole coaching staff along with him when he was out
at night. The whole coaching staff is barred from a bar out here on 57th Avenue
called Duffy's Tavern. Now I've heard of plenty of individuals being barred, but
I've never heard of a whole staff being barred. Then Butch [Davis] came in and
Butch was the best recruiter Miami ever had. Just a wonderful recruiter. Maybe
he lied to them, maybe he got them all by lying. Maybe that's the way he got
them. He was a great recruiter, great disciplinarian, really cracked down, as I
said earlier. Wasn't the greatest game-day coach of all time. A lot of confusion
down there on the sidelines. Coker, of all of them, is the most admirable,
likeable, and very, very capable, as evidenced by the national championship.
How capable, we don't know yet. If you just sat down here at this table with him,
you would immediately like Coker more than any of the others.
P: Who was the best Miami quarterback? You've got [Jim] Kelly and [Bernie] Kosar
and [Vinnie] Testaverde and [Ken] Dorsey and [Gino] Torretta and on and on and
E: As a college quarterback, I would say Testaverde, because he was much more
mobile than he looks now with the Jets. He was just like an oak tree back there.
He was 220 pounds, 6'4". They have had some great quarterbacks. Torretta,
even though he won the Heisman Trophy, gets a lot of scorn because he never
made it in the pros. We're not talking about that, we're talking about college.
Torretta was the most underrated. Kelly probably would have been the best,
except he was hurt his senior year and missed all of his senior year. Kelly,
Kosar, [Craig], Erickson, Walsh, Torretta, now Dorsey, nobody knows how good
Dorsey is because you've got a fantastic offensive line and you had no idea how
good he'd be if he had to run for his life back there. Might be great, might not be
P: Almost every one of these has had a successful pro career. Except for Torretta.
E: That's the thing about the difference between Miami and Florida. Even with
Spurrier there, they have never had a player who has had a great pro career.
They've had some who've hung around, Doug Johnson and Shane Matthews.
P: They've always been kind of journeyman quarterbacks.
E: They have. They've never had an outstanding pro quarterback.
P: While we're on that, I know you mentioned how you feel personally about
Spurrier, how would you evaluate his career at Florida?
E: Spurrier's career at Florida? Fabulous. I don't think... it's hard for me to imagine
anybody doing any better job at any college over the same period of time, except
maybe Tom Osborne at Nebraska, and Osborne had advantages involving
academics that Spurrier didn't have and they have a system at Nebraska, a very
sinister system there, walk-on systems, where they use walk-ons as
scholarships. Say there's a player in West Big-Nose, Nebraska, that they just
don't have a scholarship for. The local 4-F club or something like that will pay his
way. It's a very organized network. He effectively has a scholarship, so they
have an unlimited number of what amounts to scholarships, which gives them a
huge advantage. Osborne was also a fine coach. Other than that, I don't see
how anybody could have been a better coach for the period of time than Spurrier.
Dennis Erickson won two national championships, but he inherited ...
P: An established program.
E: He inherited terrific material. Toward the end, you could see it [declining].
P: How influential was Spurrier's style of play on the SEC?
E: There've been a lot of people ... what do they say? Often imitated, but never
replicated. I think people tried to do what Spurrier did, but they can't do it,
because they just don't have the knack for it and the mental quickness that
Spurrier has for it. The things that Spurrier has been doing at college, I'm not all
that convinced that he's going to be that successful in the NFL. Those guys have
seen all of that stuff. That's not going to cut any ice up there. Besides, I think
Spurrier's thin skin and super-sensitivity to criticism and his aversion to doing
outside things, part of the reason, I think, he didn't like dealing with the alumni,
going to alumni functions. Didn't like recruiting, can't blame him for that. I don't
think he'll stay very long. I don't think he'll last five years in the NFL.
P: I was talking to a football coach the other day and they said, in college, you
always had one cornerback that might be a little weak. There might be one
linebacker that you could pick on. In the pros, if you play the Baltimore Ravens,
he said, there are no weaknesses. It doesn't matter what play you call with them,
it's going to be hard to be successful.
E: And his offense is largely based on speed, which means his players are faster,
and speed is the answer in college football. That's what Bowden has used to
such great advantage. That's what Jimmy Johnson used at such great
advantage, it almost changed all of college football. Spurrier's not going to find
that he can out-speed people in the NFL.
P: Let me switch a little bit now and talk about some other sports and just very
briefly go through some of these. I know you have obviously always been
interested in horse racing. Why is the Kentucky Derby such an important sports
event? How many have you been to?
E: I've been to about [thirty]. Even though I started covering sports early, I was late
going to a lot of things. I didn't go to the Kentucky Derby until I was forty-one or
two years old. Didn't go to the Masters until I was about thirty-seven, thirty-eight.
Didn't go to the World Series until I was about thirty-five. Guys now go to these
things when they're twenty-four, twenty-five years old. The Derby transcends
horse racing. It doesn't really have much to do with horse racing. It's just a great
happening. The Derby is the Bourbon Street of sports. People do things on
Bourbon Street that they wouldn't do anywhere else in the world. People do
things in the Kentucky Derby in the infield that they wouldn't do any place else in
P: The horse race is incidental.
E: Horse racing is almost incidental. Gives them a chance for one more way to
degrade themselves, lose a lot of money. It's almost incidental. You have to
realize too that this is something that's built up over 125 years, 127 years. It's
just a great opportunity for people to ... something, I suppose, everybody deep
down wants to do is just make a complete damn fool of themselves, every so
often, without any inhibitions whatsoever.
P: What's a stooper?
P: Stoopers. It used to be more prevalent than it is now. Stooper is a person who
would stoop down and pick up discarded mutual tickets and find ones that people
mistakenly discarded. I'd forgotten all about that stooper column I wrote, but that
used to be a big thing. People would actually make a living doing that. Now
because they put all your bets on one ticket, everything on new technology, and
you just had one winner out of maybe ten bets, you'd have to give them the
whole ticket, so you don't have a whole stack of that many tickets.
P: They would have gum on their shoe?
E: Or a tack.
P: So they could pick it up.
E: Especially prevalent at dog tracks.
P: What's the status of Ocala in terms of horse breeding and horse racing?
E: Can't claim much expertise on horse racing in general anymore. While I used to
follow it avidly, the readership has gone down so dreadfully for all the reasons we
earlier discussed. I think Ocala is just like it's always been. Nobody can
challenge Kentucky for breeding. The grass that they have in Kentucky, which is
bluegrass, comes out of millions of years of evolution of the soil under there.
Ocala has the same type of grass ...
[End of side B1]
E: ... and dirt. I don't know about Kentucky, but Ocala is changing drastically
because of the popularity of Ocala as a retirement [area]. A lot of horse farms
are being sold off over there for development.
P: What's the greatest or most exciting sporting event you've ever attended?
E: No question, the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid; the U.S. victory over the Russian
ice-hockey team. I don't know much about hockey now, but I knew even less
then. The funny thing was, everything was so screwed up in Lake Placid, at least
half of the media had gone home. There was a transportation strike. The bus
drivers struck, so there was no transportation. You had to hitchhike in. For about
the first week of the two weeks, you had to hitchhike everywhere you went. You
couldn't drive, they wouldn't let you drive your own car in the city limits. So a lot
of the guys just left. You'd see a guy there one day and he'd say something to
you about he had the flu and he'd be gone the next day. Only about half the
media even were still around for this wonderful, wonderful event. I went and sat
beside a fellow named Tim Horgan from the Boston Record, I guess. I'm not
absolutely sure the paper, but it might have been the Boston Globe. Anyway, he
was a terrific guy and he explained to me what was happening during the whole
thing and then I went as crazy as everybody when the U.S. got the winning goal.
I remember I got so excited, I apparently threw a very expensive pair of
prescription glasses into the air. Went back the next day trying to find them,
never found them. It was just the most riotous, ecstatic event. Nothing else
could even come close.
P: Because it was so unexpected?
E: Unexpected and patriotic. They were not given [any] chance whatever.
P: I think you made some analogy, like a high school team beating the Yankees.
E: That's about what it was like. That would be number one absolutely.
P: Again, the Cold War is still on and so ...
E: It's not us against the Soviet Union anymore. That's a distinction we have not
made in the paper lately. We keep saying U.S. against the Soviet Union. Well,
it's not. It's U.S. against Russia or Uzbekistan or whatever. So that was
wonderful and to have it take place in this tiny little town in the Adirondacks. That
was great. That was the most exciting event I've ever seen. The second-most
exciting would be Jack Nicklaus winning the Masters when he was forty-six years
old in 1986. It's easy to keep track of the ages of Palmer, Nicklaus, and Watson
because they're exactly ten years apart. Palmer was born in 1930, Nicklaus in
1940 and Watson in 1950.
P: Is the Masters the most challenging test of golf?
E: No, I don't think so.
P: U.S. Open courses are usually harder.
E: I think the U.S. Open is much harder. The Masters is tailored to people who hit
the ball a long way with no tremendous premium on accuracy off the tee, but a
shocking premium on putting ability, just absolutely treacherous. The U.S. Open
is just... you never know what to expect from one day to the next.
P: At Pinehurst, the Robert Trent Jones greens are really difficult.
E: You don't know what you're walking [into]. At least at the Masters, you know
what you're walking into; except for the pin placements at the U.S. Open, you
have no idea whether the grass is going to be three feet high or a tenth of an inch
high. The Masters is something like the Derby in that it transcends its sport.
P: And it's a beautiful setting and perfectly manicured.
E: It's more than golf, it's more than golf.
P: What would be the most courageous performance by an athlete?
E: Boy, that's tough. It would probably have to be... wow, I've never been asked
that. I just can't answer that. Never even given it a thought. Great question.
P: I was sort of thinking about in the Olympics yesterday, this kid who had a liver
transplant ended up winning a bronze medal. You often see distance-runners, I
remember when Frank Shorter won the medal and that took tremendous
endurance and courage.
E: Those would be a couple of others I [can] think of. One, Lance Armstrong
winning all those Tours de France after having the testicular cancer. Another
one which probably nobody remembers is at the end of the women's marathon in
the 1984 Summer Olympics at Los Angeles, there was a woman named
Gabriella Sheiss, something [like that]. You might have seen it on TV. At the
end of the race, she was completely disoriented and just staggering around. I
don't know what made her keep going. You can't go out there and help them.
Something just drew her on past the finish line. I've never seen anything like
that. I think I've seen a lot of fighters. I'd have to eventually go to some fighter,
who had just been battered almost senseless, coming back. Or probably second
would be some racehorse.
P: Joe Frazier [boxer] hanging in there versus Muhammed Ali.
E: Yes, [or] something or somebody nobody had ever heard of.
P: What's wrong with boxing?
E: It's just wall-to-wall sleaze, always has been. It's no worse now than it's ever
been. They keep saying that it won't last, it will sleaze itself out of business.
People don't care.
P: Is it the promoters?
E: Yes, mostly, but the managers. Managers are just as crooked as anybody else.
The fighters are the victims. The promoters .. reminds me of a fellow we had
here on Miami Beach. He really was a terrific guy. His brother, Angelo Dundee
is a great trainer. He trained [Muhammed] Ali and trained Sugar Ray Leonard
and six other world champions. He's still alive, but Chris died. Chris was an
honest man, by promoters' standards. He had to be a little bit crooked to stay
alive in there. He had very selective hearing. He was not above dissembling a
little bit when the occasion called for it. One time, as the story goes, a manager
called him from Chicago and he was supposed to come down and fight the
following week. He says, Chris, I need $400 up front to bring my fighter down.
Chris says, I can't [hear you]. This is back when an operator had to place your
call. Chris says, I can't hear you. The guy said, I need $400 up front to bring my
fighter down for next Friday's match. Chris said, I can't hear a word you're
saying. The operator cut in and says, I can hear him perfectly, Mr. Dundee,
there's nothing wrong with this line. Chris said, okay, you can hear him, you
send him the $400. Sports people are [generally] just as horrific and as
disgraceful as [their] sport is. Any sport in which the object is to maim or kill the
other person couldn't possibly have very many redeeming virtues.
P: This is a bad segue, but I'm going to do it anyway. What about NASCAR? I
mean, they're not trying to kill each other, but it's a dangerous sport.
E: I keep hearing people say that people don't go to see crashes, but I used to be
convinced that they do and I'm still not quite unconvinced. There must be more
to it than that though, because it just keeps growing. There's no stopping it.
P: It is, as I understand, the biggest spectator sport in America, is that right?
E: As far as I know, yes. I think a lot of these people are just like carburetor freaks.
I wouldn't know. If the car doesn't start when I turn on the key, forget it. I've got
to call AAA or something. I can't even change a tire. I think all these people are
really into mechanical things. I can't imagine somebody going to a car race that
doesn't understand everything about a car.
P: It also goes back to something you were saying earlier. It's fast, it's exciting.
E: It's loud.
P: And people look at the power.
E: It's loud, it's deafening. It blocks out the whole rest of the world for that few
moments in time, or few hours in time, you don't have to worry about the
mortgage or who your wife has taken up with or how far behind you are on your
payments. It just blocks out everything.
P: Plus, I think they look at those individuals who are driving at incredible speeds, it
takes an extraordinary amount of skill and courage, because if you back down,
you lose. In some ways, I think race fans see Dale Earnhardt as sort of a heroic
E: Yes, absolutely. I think it's way too fast, almost criminal, the way they allow so
P: Let me ask you some general questions overall. How have sports reporters
changed since you started in the business?
E: The main way they've changed is you hardly ever used to see a sports reporter
who wasn't a drunk. Now you hardly ever see one who will even take a drink.
Standards are much higher these days. There's much more at stake with the
companies, because the company is almost always publicly-owned. First
obligation is to the stockholders. They're much, much more knowledgeable
about sports because of TV, they start watching TV when they're five or six years
old and they know everything there is to know about a sport by the time they're
twenty years old, when we had to see it all first-hand. So they're much more
knowledgeable. Much better behaved. They have to be because they have to
P: How has the audience changed during this period of time?
E: Great question. Audience is much more tolerant of bad behavior. Again, that
might be just microcosmic of society in general. Audiences won't even react to
something they would have been outraged by some years ago.
P: When you are writing, you are trying to get an audience that is essentially
wedded to television or listening to the radio. How do you get people to read
your column and read the newspaper? There is obviously competition.
E: I don't really think about that a lot, but obviously that's a big [issue]. I think the
thing I try to do mostly is address and deliver an opinion on what the people have
found most interesting on television. I want to be writing about what they're
going to be talking about when the column comes out the next morning. That's
so basic. You'd say the same thing about a furniture maker.
P: Do you try to give more analysis, a little more in-depth coverage, a different
E: In what sense?
P: If you watch a basketball game and everybody knows the result obviously.
E: Yes, that's the biggest thing. You used to be able to go ... a long time ago, go
to an event and more or less tell them what happened. Now, you have to tell
them why it happened, more why it happened that what happened.
P: Most people would have already seen it or gotten a report on it.
E: I think we go way too far in that sometimes. We assume that a lot of people have
seen things that they haven't. Like the World Series game now doesn't get over
until between midnight and 1:00 and not a lot of people have seen it.
P: What do you think of USA Today as a type of newspaper that's shorter, more
precise, a lot of color?
E: Gosh, don't get me started on color. I think color photography is the worst thing
that ever happened to newspapers. It just eats up these enormous amounts of
space. It's just eye candy. I've never yet heard anybody say, honey, let's run
down to the 7-11 and see what great color photographs the Herald has this
morning. I've heard them say, let's see what Dave Barry [syndicated humor
columnist] says about winter Olympics or something. I think USA Today has had
a salubrious influence on sports journalism if for no other reason than the
emphasis is put on tight, bright writing and the proper use of graphics, not this
helter-skelter all-encompassing hunger for gigantic space-eating photos. I really
have a phobia about that. I used to look at the old Miami Heralds on the wall out
in our foyer on the 5th floor. Some hurricane, 1926 or something. They'd have
maybe at least thirty stories on the front page.
P: I've seen those.
E: You've seen those. I used to think, those are terrible front pages. Man, I could
make up a page that looks so much better than that. But you look at our front
page today, it's got four or five stories on it. The rest of it is all this gingerbread
[and] keys to inside stories, all this waste of space, color art. I'm getting four
stories where I used to get forty and I don't like that. I don't like it at all. I think
we're cheating ourselves. The Miami Herald is largely to blame for this, because
we pioneered color photography. At one point in the late 50s or 60s, we
ran more color art than all the newspapers in the United States and Canada
combined. So we have only ourselves to blame. Newspapers shouldn't be a
beauty contest in my opinion. I'll get off the soapbox after this. The most
successful newspapers in the country, LA Times, New York Times, [Washington
Post,] Wall Street Journal, run [relatively little] color.
P: And not many photographs.
E: Yes, not great emphasis on photography in the first place, and no color. People
can run good photographs without going nuts about it. There seems to be
something about color that gets to be a disease. It's looks. It's a beauty contest.
P: Have you ever had any problems from either Knight-Ridder publisher or an editor
about anything you've written?
E: I had two problems, which is not very many for forty-five years, I think. One time
I wrote something rather cutting about Hialeah Racetrack when it was starting to
go down way back in the 60s, late 60s. I referred to it as a rich folks country
club and I got a note from John S. Knight that said I was being arrogant. He took
issue with what I said because he was one of the rich folks whose country club it
was. Naturally [he] took issue. He was a great man, there's no question about
P: At that time, he was publisher, right?
E: He was publisher, I think that was before we were Knight-Ridder. We were just
Knight Newspapers Incorporated. Anyway, he took issue and said I was
arrogant. I wrote him back that if he just wanted a sports editor who would be a
mirror for his own opinion that he was going to have to find somebody else. I
wasn't going to do it. I never heard a word back from him. That's the kind of guy
P: What was the second instance?
E: Second instance was, I wrote a column about Joe Robbie, the [Miami] Dolphins
owner, that was so vicious as to be just on the verge of reprehensible. It was
pretty bad. Believe me when I say that you couldn't describe viciousness in
terms that would fit Joe Robbie, who, given another opportunity and another
time, could have been Hitler, Caligula, Stalin, or Mussolini. A horrible, horrible
human being. Anyway, I wrote this thing and I got a note from the chairman of
Knight-Ridder. Again, the chairman of Knight-Ridder, Alvah Chapman, great guy
too, totally different from John S. Knight, but a terrific guy. He devotes all his
time now to the homeless people downtown.
P: Does he live in Miami?
E: Yes. What happened was, he wrote me a note on his personal stationary, not
Knight-Ridder, not Miami Herald, but his personal home stationary, saying that
he didn't think that kind of a column should have been in the Miami Herald.
P: Was he right?
E: Well, let me finish by saying, he emphasized that he was writing this as a friend
and not as chairman of Knight-Ridder and somebody who had always thought a
lot of me. He might have been right. Chances are, he was right. However, there
was a principle involved there. I went to the publisher and said, I'm going to write
Alvah back such-and-such. I went to our editor and I said, I'm going to do this ..
[he said] no, no, don't do that. I said, I'm going to do it anyway. There's a
principle here. I wrote to Alvah and I said, I realize that you wrote me back as a
private person, not as chairman, and you made that clear and I appreciate that. I
said, however, I find it impossible to consider communication of this sort as not
coming from the chairman. I think what you have done here in intruding into the
journalism process goes squarely against every tenet that this company has held
dear for its entire existence. Again, as I told John S. Knight one time, if you want
somebody to give your opinion [instead of mine], then you will have to find
someone other than myself. As long as I'm in this job without being arrogant
about it, I hope, I'm going to say what I believe to be true. I think I have fairly
good judgment about things. I'm going to do the decent honorable thing as often
as I possibly can. I didn't hear back, didn't hear back. [Never heard a word] and
Alvah and I remained wonderful friends. He's been a great man for south
P: You talked earlier that you could never have had a female sports editor in the
early days. Now there are an increased number of female sportswriters. Are
there many female sports editors?
E: Yes. They're all over the place. Philadelphia has had several of them. The New
York Times has had at least one. It's not at all unusual to have a female.
P: How has that changed reporting, do you think?
E: I don't think it's changed it at all. I don't see any marked change. I will say that I
think, I hope this doesn't sound sexist or reverse-sexist, I think females are quite
often better than men in administrative and editing jobs, because they're much
more meticulous. They have a much better feel for detail. They will labor over a
sentence or a paragraph or a whole section of a story, sensing there's something
wrong with it and trying to make it better, where a man tends to be impatient and
would, after awhile, just say, oh the hell with it, and go on to something else. I
think in many ways, I would tend to think, as a group, women editors are better.
P: What about African-Americans and minorities in the profession?
E: We don't have near as many of them as we should have. Obviously the ones
who do come in and are very good rise to the top very quickly. Most of the
newspapers I know, certainly Knight-Ridder and Gannett, are very diversity-
conscious and are always looking for minorities. African-Americans, Hispanics,
although Hispanics aren't a minority in Miami. For some reason, [it is] hard to
find gifted Hispanic newspaper writers. I don't know whether I should say that or
not, but it's true. The Florida Marlins, when they were looking for somebody
Hispanic to put on their public-relations staff who could write a release, had to go
to Venezuela to hire someone. I've forgotten the original question now.
P: There are so many African American athletes, you would think there would be
more African American sportswriters.
E: You would, wouldn't you? Some of the best in the United States are. I can't
really answer why there are so few. That is a puzzle. May or may not be
germane. I've never heard anybody else express it although they probably have,
why there are not more African American writers and editors. As far as I'm
concerned the key to good writing and good editing is reading. Read, read, read.
People ask me, young people: what can I do to be a better writer, better editor?
Read, read, read everything you can get your hands on. Teach your children to
read. It certainly is what got me started. I think that tragically many fewer African
Americans have the opportunity to grow up, the luxury of growing up in bookish
surroundings. It's a combination of their parents are so busy and have to work
so hard at so many jobs, they don't have time to read. Quite often the offspring
don't either. I think it's a lack of basic reading background. Which is not their
fault, it's just the way the things are. From the time I even knew my ABCs, my
father was buying me books and bringing them home to me. I think a hardback
back then cost a quarter. He'd bring me the Tom Swift books, the Hardy Boys,
the Rover boys. I had a terribly, just off the subject, I had a terribly disillusioning
experience. I used to write to these authors. I'd write to Victor Appleton, who
wrote the Tom Swift books. Boy, I really liked Tom Swift and His Electric
Runabout; I thought that chapter about this, that and the other was really terrific;
just wanted to tell you, [and I'd] send it off to Grosset and Dunlap [publisher] in
New York. A couple weeks later, I'd get a letter back, it might be from the Virgin
Islands or someplace, [saying,] glad you liked it, keep reading, etc. etc. Did the
same thing to Franklin W. Dixon, who wrote the Hardy Boys, Rover Boys. Got a
nice letter back. In one case, in one absolutely remarkable case. I was always
writing these little stories at my father's cotton warehouse from the time I was
about six on. They're usually cop-and-robber stories. One author named Leo
Edwards wrote a series of books called The Poppy Ott and Jerry Todd series.
Nobody has ever heard of them but me. Author Leo Edwards lived in Racine,
Wisconsin. So I wrote him and told him. Probably critiqued him, knowing my
personality at that age, and sent my story to him. My father got a letter back
from him, I didn't. He had sat down and completely rewritten this story to put it in
wholesome sports terms. Taking out all of the blood and gore and killing and
kicking and scratching and screaming and said, Mr. Pope, I find your boy's letter
interesting but I think you ought to encourage him to write in a more wholesome
genre. My daddy shared it with me and I did start concentrating on sports. I've
always thought, what a wonderful thing to do. This guy sat down and rewrote ten
or twelve pages. He had to be struggling to make a living. Guys back then didn't
make anything. Then I got a call. I'm about twenty-one years old, I work for the
Atlanta Constitution. I get a letter from a guy named Murray Teigh Bloom, [one
of] the best-known magazine writers, about 1950. He said, Mr. Pope, I need your
permission to quote from your letters to the collective authorship. I just... like
somebody hit me in the head. I wrote him back, I said what do you mean,
collective authorship? He said, didn't you know? Those books were just
machine jobs. They'd lock three guys in a room for a week.
P: There was no Franklin W. Dixon.
E: No. There was no Victor Appleton. Well, there was a Leo Edwards, that I know.
It was just machine jobs. One of the great disillusionments of my life.
P: Let me finish up with a couple of comments. We need to talk a little bit about the
Dolphins. Give me your assessment of Don Shula. Do you see him as the
greatest pro coach?
E: All things considered, I think Shula was the greatest pro coach. Even though he
didn't win a Super Bowl his last twenty-two or three years, they were always right
there. In thirty-three pro seasons, he had two losing seasons. That is truly
incredible. None of these other hotshot coaches, Bill Walsh, [former coach of the
San Francisco 49ers,] you name them, ever had a record like that. On sheer
persistence and you have to give some weight to longevity as a coach. Not only
that, but to maintain the quality of teams, despite the fact that they almost never
got a premium draft choice, because they always did so well. He never got... I
think his lowest draft choice was maybe twelfth or thirteenth in the draft. I think
he was the best because he was so consistent, he was so honest that a lot of
times, even though Shula and I had sort of a love-hate relationship, we had a lot
of spats but we always wound up liking each other and I think respecting each
other. I found myself a lot of times in crises, I would ask myself what Shula
would do, because he had this uncanny way of always doing or saying the right
thing, [he had] almost like a governor on his tongue that would keep him from
saying something that would come back, in his words, to haunt [him], he would
always use the phrase, I don't want to do something to come back to haunt me.
P: In the draft, they did get a pretty good quarterback from Pittsburgh. The sixth
E: Twenty-seventh choice.
P: How would you rate Dan Marino among NFL quarterbacks?
E: I wouldn't rate him as the best quarterback who ever played. I think there have
been several other quarterbacks. Joe Montana [former San Francisco 49ers
quarterback], Johnny Unitas [former Baltimore Colts quarterback]. Without any
question at all, Dan Marino is the greatest pure passer who ever picked up a
football. No question about that.
P: Quick release.
E: Quick release, just this uncanny instinct for picking out the right receiver real fast.
Didn't have great touch, was not a great touch-passer, he threw it too hard
sometimes. Funny, sitting here criticizing the guy who's the greatest passer, but
it's true, he threw it too hard.
P: Didn't win the Super Bowl.
E: I don't blame him for that. Shula was not a great evaluator of talent and he
tended to not place quite enough emphasis on the right kind of defense.
P: How much longer do you want to continue sportswriting?
E: I only write fifty columns a year now, I'd like to write a few more than I do. I don't
know. If I feel like I do now, I'd like to continue, as they say, indefinitely. I'd love
to keep right on. I have a great life. I always said I would like a life where I can
go to the gym or walk or run, play tennis as much as I want to and read as much
as I want to and that's what I have.
P: When you look back on your career, are you satisfied with your
E: No, no.
P: In what sense? What would you rather have done?
E: I think I could have been more ingenious or innovative. I will have to say that
innovativeness and departure from the general line of thought is more
encouraged now than it was thirty, forty years ago. You almost had to go with
the pack and I had several violent arguments with them at the Herald about what
I was going to write, particularly at the Olympics, where they want you to go with
the herd and I didn't want to go with the herd. I think I could have done better.
It's hard to pick out one thing. I had a tendency to ... probably should have
been more interested in basketball and maybe a little more interested in baseball.
I was never... problem that I had was that I was never... I was never as much a
fan of sports as I was of writing. If I quit tomorrow, I would never go to any other
sports event, except maybe a tennis match or a horse race or a college football
game, if I could get in the press box. I'm not a big sports fan. A lot of times I
would have to crank myself up in the morning to get interested about the subject I
was writing about. I never had to crank myself up about the writing, because I
loved to write and I still do. I would have been better. All these guys you hear on
sports talk radio and most of the outstanding sportswriters are real sports [fans].
That's their life. That's not my life. I never wanted it to be. I would have been a
better professional if it had been my life, but I wouldn't have been as happy as a
P: On that note, let's end the interview and I want to thank you very much.
E: It's been my pleasure.
[End of the interview.]