Article — From the April 1968 issue

Confessions of a Washed-up Sportswriter

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III

 I remember a discussion that several of us had with Landry one afternoon. The subject was “field position,” a term you hear more frequently from college coaches than professional coaches.The concept of the game of football is attack and retreat, the same as war. The ultimate object is to capture the opponent’s goal, but a secondary consideration is keeping the ball as far as possible from your own goal line. Professional teams with their superior striking power are less cautious about field position, but no less concerned, as Landry was explaining. After taking some time to ferment his question, Ratliff cornered Landry and asked, “Tell us, Tom, what do you consider the best field position?” I looked at Landry. He didn’t need anyone to remind him to answer with care. He said, “Harold, I am personally attracted to my opponent’s one-inch line.”

I respect Landry. One reason is that he defended me before a mob of super-fans who wanted to know why Landry had neglected to have me fired for writing terrible things about his team. (It somehow amazes the super-fan to learn that writers are not hired or fired by the teams they are assigned to cover.) Landry told them, “You have to remember one thing, when the game is over and we’re all feeling bad about losing, he is the one with the typewriter.” I have thought about what Landry said. Especially in the escaping minutes after a night game, plunging into the irretrievable deadline, I have written my story upside down and backwards and then hoped to hell I could find a first paragraph to justify it. Don Meredith, the Cowboys’ quarterback, is a good friend of mine, but one afternoon when he failed to rise to the occasion, I started my game story:

“Outlined against a gray November sky, the Four Horsemen rode again: Pestilence, Death, Famine, and Meredith.”

Meredith read it and thought it was funny. His fans did not. Fans of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Sherrill Headrick thought it was funny when I wrote that he had “the face of an Oklahoma chicken thief.” Headrick’s wife did not. Buddy Dial’s wife canceled her subscription to the Dallas Morning News when I wrote that he had been benched because Landry felt he wasn’t playing well. I didn’t even write that. I was drunk. Three friends wrote it for me. I have done as much for them. Sportswriters will pull you out of a ditch.

All of our hearts went out to the old sportswriter from the Rio Grande Valley—I forget his name—who stumbled into the Cotton Bowl Press box one New Year’s Day. Someone on the field fired a cannon and he fell out of his chair. I asked him, “Didn’t you get to bed last night?” He said, “Damn near. Only missed it about that far,” holding his hands to indicate a foot or so.

is widely known as America's most esoteric sportswriter. He has been staff writer and columnist on papers in Fort Worth and Dallas and on the Philadelphia <em>Inquirer</em> and is now freelancing in Austin. His novel <em>For I Have Been to Ludlow's Fair</em> will be published by Doubleday in the fall.

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