Mac Engel

TCU legend still loves college football ‘even though they keep trying to (bleep) it up’

Dan Jenkins sit in his office in Fort Worth, where he still writes. He has a new book out.
Dan Jenkins sit in his office in Fort Worth, where he still writes. He has a new book out. Star-Telegram

Dan Jenkins will detest, hate and scoff at the following, but sitting in his office and stealing one hour of his time is one of the greatest professional thrills most people in this profession will never enjoy.

Sports journalism, and writing, have not known any better in their respective existences.

Short of inventing it, Jenkins did virtually everything a person could in his profession, and while he’s not quite in good enough shape to race a cheetah he has no interest in stopping.

Dan is 88, and has a new book out, “Sports Makes You Type Faster: The Entire World of Sports By One of America’s Most Famous Sportswriters.”

The book is hysterically, laugh aloud funny and provides pages of examples of what makes Jenkins one of the best at his craft: The man has retained his pleasant, observatory wit that can cut deep without leaving even a faint mark.

He will be signing copies of this book at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 6 in the Stuart Family Courtside Club inside TCU’s Schollmaier Arena.

Buy one for you, a friend, or even a hated enemy. Go meet the man who did the impossible: befriend Ben Hogan.

The University of Texas will name the winner of the 2018 Jenkins Medal of Excellence given to the nation’s top sports writers on Sept. 21, the night before Texas hosts TCU.

“I will drive home to watch the game on TV,” he said. “Deliver me from Memorial Stadium. It’s horrible. You can’t park. You can’t see.”

It gets better. Enjoy.

S-T: You could have done 50 other things in your life and been successful at it, so why do this?

DJ: I haven’t done anything other than type and know people. I spent a lifetime, six or seven decades, not only typing for a living but cultivating sources. You only know what people tell you. I tried never to burn a bridge, or write an expose. That was not a part of my era. I used to laugh at guys in the business who ran around trying to find some third-string halfback who smoked a joint so they could win a Pulitzer.

You don’t win Pulitzer’s for those stories, you just break up homes. If i wrote about everything I knew about athletes I hung out with drinkin’, I would have made a lot of enemies.

When did that change?

I think sports editors changed it. It became, ‘We need scandal.’ And when social conscious sports writers got in the business, behind my back, that’s when things started to change. They wanted to dig deeper. I just thought I was covering a (bleeping) football game, or golf tournament. I didn’t know you were supposed to dig deeper. I thought you were supposed to have fun with it. I wasn’t trying to uncover some scandal, I didn’t give a (bleep). I thought private lives were private lives.

Do you think fans and consumers care about that?

I think they might have at first, but I think they are getting sick of it now. I can’t judge by what I think. I’m still happy to have a newspaper while they still last. I had it so lucky; I was with newspapers when they were still newspapers. I was at Sports Illustrated in its glory days with a Murder’s Row of writers.

Do you still enjoy sports?

To a point. I still love college football, even though they keep trying to (bleep) it up. I hate the bowl championship series. It should be eight teams. I don’t want four TV broadcasters picking my national champion. I love the major (golf) tournaments. I don’t give one damn about the Tour tournaments.

Does that include Colonial?

Oh, I root for it. I’m happy that it found a sponsor. But I don’t care about the FedEx Cup, or the Tour Championship. I care about the Ryder Cup and the four, not five, majors.

In your book there is a humorous take on a fictitious golf tournament in town; is it based on Colonial?

Oh yes. Gotta keep them on their toes.

How do you define ‘Good writing?’”

I go back to what I read by Elmore Leonard: ‘If it sounds like writing, I re-write it.’ It better grab me fast, and get me into it. Make something happen, or funny. Hook me and I’m yours. There are subjects I flat don’t give a (bleep) about.

Like what?

Dead people.

Did you ever read a person and were envious of their talents?

No, but I read them with awe. I knew I was OK. I knew I could do the job. I’m still learning, after all of these years. Something new occurs to me all the time. I’ve never been one to say, ‘OK, that’s it. I’ve done my classic.’

Did you ever write anything you liked and no one cared?

Yeah, probably more of those than anything. We all do. We go back and look and think, ‘What stranger snuck into my office and wrote this piece of (bleep)?’

Was there any event that you wanted to cover but didn’t?

I never went to Russia. I went everywhere else.

Did you have a favorite writer?

Mark Twain. Humor writers.

A favorite book?

I love Civil War books; ‘The Killer Angels’ is one of the very best books I’ve ever read. I’ve read it several times.

Do you ever re-read any of your books?

No. I can’t stand it. They should have been better. Every single one of them.

Do you remember a person getting upset with you over an interview?

I had to go out to the University of Illinois to interview (linebacker) Dick Butkus. In the course of the conversation, I asked what he was studying. His exact words were, ‘They got me in PE.’ You know I’m going to use that; if I didn’t use that, I would have no business being in the business. Cut to 20 years later, we were making the movie ‘Semi Tough’ and he was an extra. I hadn’t seen him in 20 years; he was sitting with a bunch of football players. I go up and introduce myself and his first words were, ‘They got me in PE.’

Was there a favorite interview for you?

Jack Nicklaus. He was so informative. Jack was my go-to guy. He was the smartest guy in the world.

What do you make of Tiger Woods’ chances now to win?

The media is kidding themselves. He’s never going to win again. If he was ever going to win, it was (the 2018 PGA Championship). It was the easiest course ever to win a Major. Every day he gets older, and the cutoff point is 44. He will be 43 this year.

Did you ever consider playing golf professionally?

I thought about it; if I had worked a little harder at it, I think so. Hogan thought I could. I played 30 or 40 rounds with him, when he was at his peak, and I never turned down an offer from Hogan. We played an exhibition at Colonial with two other pros in town, in 1956. He wanted me in a foursome, and I tried to get out of it. I was at work when he called me; I didn’t even have a dress shirt.

So we go, and the first tee there are 5,000 people lining the fairway. I teed off without hurting myself or anybody else. We’re close to the green and Ben walks up to me and says, ‘You can probably swing faster if you try hard enough.’ Greatest golf tip I ever had. I was swinging like I was swatting fleas.

How did you establish a friendship with Hogan?

I was on the TCU golf team, whose home course was Colonial. And at the time I was writing about (Hogan). He was the reason I started covering majors. I’m a junior at TCU and I’m at the Master’s in 1951, and the U.S. Open. I just got along with him and he was really great with me. I was one of two golf writers in town, and Ben was my guy. I’m a college kid and all of these guys at The New York Times and in Chicago asking me, ‘What did Ben say?’

He didn’t suffer fools. He was never nasty with me. Never. He just didn’t want to know a lot of people. I used to say, ‘I spent half my life trying to know everybody, now I spend the rest of my life trying to unknow half of the them.’

I remember you as a smoker; when did you quit?

I did smoke a lot. That’s why I’m on oxygen now. I smoked for 50 years, three packs a day. Four on game days. I smoked Chesterfields and wound up on Winstons. I quit because of doctor’s orders. Believe me, it wasn’t easy. I enjoyed every one I ever lit. It was a part of me. I grew up doing it. I would order meals and I could eat with one hand so I could smoke. I fell off the wagon two or three times and when I had a bypass that did it. I finally reached the point I didn’t miss it, but it was hard.

I don’t enjoy drinking any more; scotch and water was my choice. I never really liked to drink. I drank to make other people interesting. I never had a cocktail in my life that tasted as a good as a root beer float.

Do you miss any part of the career any more?

The glory days of Sports Illustrated, but everything has to come to an end. I can still type, and the reason I still write is because I don’t want to lose this (he taps his head). I want to keep my mind active. I don’t believe in retirement; everybody who retires too early, dies too early.

Do you watch much TV?

I watch Fox News, of course.

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