Dan Jenkins answered the phone and asked, “Hey, what do you need me to say?”
In an interview via email he wrote, “Just make it up. Make me sound good.”
He sat in his home office last September, in what what was one of his last interviews, and when I asked him what subjects didn’t interest him he said, “There are certain things I flat don’t give a (bleep) about ... like dead people.”
When I heard that Jenkins died on Thursday evening, of course it was on deadline. No one would have appreciated that more than Dan, or laughed at my expense. I had 35 minutes to write about Dan Jenkins’ life.
Fort Worth and TCU knew no better champion. Sports knew no wittier observer. Those who knew him knew no funnier man with ear-splitting honesty delivered in a benevolent tone.
“I used to to say I spent half my life trying to know everyone,” he said that day, “and I spent the rest of my life trying to unknow half of them.”
You could be mad at what Dan Jenkins wrote, but you could not be mad at Dan Jenkins. He was too funny.
Much like the time I was fortunate enough to interview Sammy Baugh in his house in Rotan, visiting with Jenkins was the same experience: Surreal; neither of them were impressed by themselves, and yet they were two of the most original souls on earth.
He was born to tell a story, to entertain, and to make people laugh. Entertaining was his life’s work.
“People would look at me curiously when I said I was so glad I didn’t miss World War II,” he said. “The journalism part of it fascinated me. I used to copy war stories and sports stories. Then I started to re-write them. So that’s what I was going to do. ... I was always a humor guy.”
Dan made good writing look easy. As if everything he wrote was a 101st draft, when in fact it may have been his first.
In his book, “Sports Makes You Type Faster,” which was published last year and written when he was 88, he never lost what made him great. He could roast you while making you cry in laughter.
“I could not stand not to write,” he said.
Since the news spread of his passing, people have quoted some of his best lines, including, “Ten Stages of Drunkenness.”
“1. Witty and Charming. 2. Rich and Powerful. 3. Benevolent. 4. Clairvoyant. 5. (Bleep) dinner. 6. Patriotic. 7. Crank up the Enola Gay. 8. Witty and Charming, Part II. 9. Invisible. 10. Bulletproof.”
His awards earned are too numerous to list. His achievements too long to mention. Plus, they would bore him. Jenkins didn’t care to be bored.
We all lose on his passing, because despite his advancing years we were not prepared for this departure. Unlike some seniors, Jenkins had not disappeared in his later years. He continued to work. He continued to amuse us with his observations on golf, or stories that we cannot conceive.
His Twitter account was often the best part of The Majors.
“I played with Ben Hogan, and this is my favorite Hogan story: I teed off without hurting him or anyone else,” he said. “I’m at No. 1 at Colonial, and I topped a 3-wood. I scraped a 5-iron somewhere. I’m close to the green. Ben walks up to me and says, ‘You can probably swing faster if you try hard enough.’ It looked like I was swatting fleas.”
We all lose, but Fort Worth especially. He was a national star who was a fierce advocate of our town, and particularly his alma mater, TCU. We all took pride in his success, and national stature.
Today, he sits at a table with Red Smith, Damon Runyon, John Lardner, Blackie Sherrod, Jim Murray, Grantland Rice, Gary Cartwright, Frank Deford, and Bud Shrake as the best to ever write about sports. Or people.
“Bud and I were close friends; he was the Commie (Democrat) and I was the Nazi (Republican),” Jenkins said, tongue firmly in cheek. “When we debated, we always said if it ever got serious we would settle in it ping pong. That’s the way it should be.”
Dan may now finally meet Grantland.
“I never met him,” he said. “I was at the Master’s in ‘51 and he was there. I never walked across the press room to meet him. I was too shy. I knew Red very well. Jim was a close friend.”
Most of these guys lived, and treated life like a keyboard on a typewriter. Each letter was slammed. Jenkins was from the generation for whom beer was water, a cigarette was a green bean, and quitting them would become a life-defining naked sprint up Everest.
“I enjoyed every one I ever lit,” he said.
He enjoyed scotch and water, but less so in recent years. Root beer floats were his drug of choice, with the occasional vodka martini.
“I only drink those because of the olives,” he said.
Jenkins never stopped living, or wanting to live, even if doing so required a slower gait, hearing aids, or an oxygen tank from time to time. He made it work because he never wanted to stop.
He saw the humor in everything, because usually there is a funny in anything. The only problem is if the person lacks a sense of humor about themselves. He never concerned himself with that.
He was not perfect, of course. He was well aware of his flaws, but he was never above being the punch line.
The man witnessed not only the growth and expansion of sports, but America. He was born in 1929, and he saw every significant sporting event that happened for nearly 70 years. Sugar Ray Robinson. Secretariat. Name the college football game. Name the NFL player or coach.
“You see, I loved deadlines; most people hate them,” he said. “I wrote to fit; I didn’t want to give the editor the choice. They will screw it up every time. I said, ‘I’m here. I’m at a great game. The whole world is watching. And when the game is over, now I’m on stage. Now I have to do it justice.’ And I had to do it against time.”
Dan Jenkins has made his final deadline. And he did his entire life justice. His career was undefinable. He had a family. He was married to June for more than 40 years.
Now Jenkins no longer has to worry about the next deadline, for he is at peace.
He’s not in some press box, but rather on a fairway, playing a round with Hogan and Baugh, a cigarette in his hand, a Scotch and water waiting in the 19th hole, and he’s making everyone laugh.