Writer and storyteller Dan Jenkins will be toasted in Dallas this week by bigwigs from Austin, and talk about how much he loves Fort Worth.
On the eve of the storied Texas-Oklahoma college football game, the presentation of the first Dan Jenkins Medal for Excellence in Sportswriting will honor Jenkins’ nearly-70-year legacy as a journalist and novelist.
As usual, like at football playoffs and golf Grand Slam events, Jenkins will have a front-row seat.
And as always, he won’t take it too seriously.
“All I do is show up and give somebody some medals,” Jenkins, 88, author of 20 books about sports, life and, often, Fort Worth.
He made the Jenkins Medal sound as easy as a tap-in putt at Worth Hills, the old Fort Worth public golf course he dubbed “Goat Hills.”
“The guys in Austin thought it up,” Jenkins said.
The avid TCU Horned Frogs fan is being honored by the University of Texas at Austin, where he has donated his literary papers.
“It’s the best of all possible worlds,” he said, grinning — “a degree from TCU and an honor from UT!”
‘Great love for both schools’
Jenkins’ storytelling days began on the Paschal High School Pantherette and the old evening Fort Worth Press. When sports fandom was growing in the 1960s, Jenkins wrote his way up to New York and Sports Illustrated.
“I think he’s the most important college football writer ever, and I think he’s the most important golf writer ever,” said Michael MacCambridge, the Austin-based author of “The Franchise,” a history of the magazine’s 1960s rise and influence on America.
MacCambridge helped steer UT to award the national sportswriting prize. The first ceremony is Friday night before a sold-out banquet crowd in Dallas.
(In May, TCU honored Jenkins at a reception and named the Amon G. Carter Stadium press box for him.)
“I have great love for both schools,” Jenkins said.
“I root for UT,” he said, “whenever they’re not playing us.”
He donated his papers to UT Austin because that larger university has more library resources and a sports journalism program, he said. The medal is presented by the university’s Texas Program in Sports and Media.
“I’m just delighted [for the papers] to have a home,” he said.
He didn’t expect a national award in his name: “They sprang it as a surprise.”
His daughter, Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins, is co-chair of the medal committee along with MacCambridge.
One of Dan’s Fort Worth friends calls the medal “the Heisman Trophy of sportswriting,” MacCambridge said.
Jenkins is revered not only for his work for Sports Illustrated and Golf Digest but also for a fiction and screenwriting career that took off with his 1972 pro football novel, “Semi-Tough.”
After that became a Burt Reynolds movie, Jenkins’ novels “Dead Solid Perfect” and “Baja Oklahoma” became 1980s HBO films, the latter starring a teenage Julia Roberts.
Since 1985, he has delivered one-liners for Golf Digest, first in print and, since 2009, on Twitter.
“Here you have somebody who was at the 1935 TCU-SMU game … who is now tweeting from golf tournaments.” MacCambridge said, referring to what was then considered college football’s greatest game.
“He’s reinvented himself for the 21st century.”
In an hourlong interview, Jenkins talked about everything from food (“I hate fajitas!”) to Fort Worth (“Where else can you find a cowboy in a museum?”) to his family.
Jenkins’ mother sold antique furniture in her shop at 2526 Hemphill St., but he mostly grew up with his grandparents in the 3600 block of Travis Avenue near West Biddison Street. He learned golf at the old Katy Lake course where the La Gran Plaza shopping center is now.
His grandfather E.L. Jenkins was a 1930s federal marshal at the U.S. courthouse downtown, and had been a barber who cut Star-Telegram publisher Amon Carter’s hair.
“Everybody in the family played golf,” he said.
“To me, there were three major sports in Texas — high school football, college football and golf.”
‘Never had a bad day’
He grew up in an oil-rich 1930s Fort Worth that must have felt like the center of the universe. Carter’s newspaper-radio empire (WBAP) and friendship with humorist Will Rogers drew national celebrities leading up to the 1936 Frontier Centennial fair celebrating Texas’ centennial, and the Horned Frogs won two national championships.
Fort Worth was the home of superstars. Movies’ Ginger Rogers had gotten her start by winning a 1925 Charleston dance contest at the old Majestic Theater downtown. The runner-up was Weatherford teenager and future Broadway star Mary Martin.
In 1927, teenage golfer Byron Nelson had sunk an 18-foot putt on the ninth hole of a playoff to beat teenager Ben Hogan in the caddies’ championship at Glen Garden Country Club, now the golf course for Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co.’s new Whiskey Ranch events center and TX Whiskey distillery.
“I lived in the sports capital of the world,” Jenkins said.
“ … Everything keeps pulling me back to the ’30s and ’40s, being a teenager. I’m so glad I didn’t miss that part of history.”
When an aunt put a typewriter on the kitchen table, little Dan began retyping newspaper sports stories out of the Star-Telegram and Press.
At Paschal, he and future co-author Bud Shrake wrote funny columns in the Pantherette. In 1948, Press sports editor Blackie Sherrod hired Jenkins out of high school for $25 a week.
His advice to young sports journalism students: “Don’t get in it for the money.”
“Get in it for the love,” he said.
“Do a job you love your whole life. Most people hate their jobs. … I’ve never had a bad day. I’ve never had a day when I didn’t want to go to work.”
If only he could write for another 70 years.