Dan Jenkins on his career: “It was work, but it was fun.”
As befitting the memorial for perhaps the greatest sportswriter of his generation, the words of Dan Jenkins stood out Friday at Christ Chapel Bible Church.
His daughter, award-winning Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins, was too ill to attend but turned the spotlight on the opening lines of her father’s novel, Baja Oklahoma, in written remarks that were read to the audience.
“The sound was born on a summer night at the old Crystal Springs pavilion in Fort Worth, Texas, when Bob Wills and his string band were entertaining the cowboys and their ladies from 9 till Fist Fight,” wrote Jenkins, 90, who died March 7.
For someone known for writing about sports, the prologue was all about music.
And Sally Jenkins said there was a “tunefulness” to her father’s writing. It was also one of her mother’s favorite passages.
It was echoed by pastor O.S. Hawkins, who talked about Jenkins’ fondness for melody and his dislike for today’s music that focuses on rhythm.
While Hawkins said many people have a monotonous rhythm to their lives, where one day is exactly like the next, Jenkins’ life had melody and was lived to the fullest.
He also recalled Jenkins’ legendary wit, recounting a gathering around a fire pit at an Arizona resort the night before a TCU bowl game.
Jenkins and his cohorts were swapping stories about some of the most meaningful moments in their lives.
As they stared at the flames, Melba Todd, the wife of Jerre Todd, one of Jenkins’ former Fort Worth Press colleagues and one of his closest friends, talked of a near-death experience where she had a vision of going to heaven, seeing Jesus and telling him she wanted to go back to Arlington to raise her kids.
After the group sat in silence, Jenkins, always a proud Fort Worth booster, replied: “You chose Arlington over heaven?”
Too frail to attend the funeral, Jerre Todd remembered Jenkins as someone who remained loyal to his old Fort Worth friends.
“There was no better writer first of all,” Todd said in a phone interview. “He had a lot of contacts and he managed to keep them. He was a joy to be around.”
They were both part of the legendary stable of sportswriters at the Fort Worth Press, which included Blackie Sherrod, Bud Shrake, Gary Cartwright and Andy Anderson.
Jenkins’ love for TCU never faded, Jerre Todd said, as he fondly recalled the 2011 Rose Bowl trip as a highlight, and suggested that the 1935 SMU-TCU game started his passion for the school, college football and sportswriting.
Retired Fort Worth physician Donald Matheson was one of the honorary pallbearers and has known Jenkins since he was a teenager.
Matheson, nicknamed “Matty,” is also known for “playing tunes on his front teeth with his fingernails” as one of the cast of characters immortalized in Jenkins’ classic ”The Glory Game at Goat Hills: Good times and good ol’ boys on Texas golf course” that appeared in Sports Illustrated.
“It helped make his career,” Matheson said. “It characterizes the type of humor he was known for. It was a new style of humor back then.”
When asked about Jenkins, Matheson said people always believed the stories were embellished or exaggerated.
“He didn’t have a great imagination — he was writing from memory,” Matheson said. “He was writing stuff that he knew.”
Matheson went to five British Opens and had the run of the tournaments because of Jenkins.
“He was my guru, my hero and my inspiration,” Matheson said.
And Jenkins, who covered 232 major golf tournaments, adjusted to the times, becoming a must-read on Twitter and prophetically saying about Tiger Woods, “Only two things can stop him: injury or a bad marriage.”
In addition to his wife, June, and his daughter, Sally, he is survived by sons Danny and Marty.
He has a journalism scholarship at TCU and the football stadium press box also bears his name. At the University of Texas at Austin, there is the Dan Jenkins Medal for Excellence in Sportswriting..
Perhaps his greatest honor came in 2012, when he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. At the ceremony, Jenkins joked about being honored while he was still “vertical.”
He also mentioned his close relationship with Ben Hogan and not only playing golf with him, but also 23 other members of the Hall of Fame.
Jenkins told the golfing world in 2012 this would be his parting message: “You guys hold it down here. I’m off to the next great adventure.”