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Marine college stars play football on Guadalcanal, fight (and die) on Okinawa
4th vs. 29th Regiments,
Dave Schreiner (Wisconsin) and Tony Butkovich (Purdue)
26, 2014: I've written many Veterans Day or Memorial Day
columns and stories over the years, at both the Oregonian and
Denver Post. The
most personal was inNovember 2000, recounting
discussion with my fatherabout his wartime service as a P-38
fighter pilot. That eventually motivated me to do additional
research about his entire 1942 Wisconsin team and write Third
Down and a War to Go.
Here's that book's prologue, which outlines how the story came
about and where I went from there.
Since a handful of Badgers served in the Marines, I came across
and researched a Christmas Eve 1944 touch football game
teams from the 4th and 29th Regiments on
Guadalcanal. Three ex-Badgers played in it.
Going over the program and the rosters for the game, I was
astounded to see a familiar name -- that of Walter "Bus" Bergman,
a former Colorado State/A&M star from Denver
later became a beloved coach on the Western Slope.
Using the Sixth Marine Division Association directory,
many of the survivors
who had played in or seen the game,
and/or served with
the Badgers. I ended upinterviewing 22
of the Sixth Division, including Bus.
I visited Bus in Grand Junction and a year before Third Down and
a War to Go's release, wrote a story about him, his involvement in
the game and in the Battle of Okinawa.
He was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions during the battle.
Eventually, Third Down and a War to Go
went into a lot more detail
about the men who played in the game, including the three
Badgers, and I also did newspaper offshoot stories.
I resposted the 2003 story on Bergman in a Denver
today, and it's available here. It also has links to the offshoot
stories, plus a couple not connected to the book
Here's Third Down and a War to Go's full page on this site.
Honoring Jerry Frei at Oregon spring game
A great weekend with
the Ducks in Eugene
Jerry Frei Offensive Line Coach's Office
May 4, 2014: I'm
back from an emotional and gratifying family
visit to Eugene, where
the University of Oregon athletic department
honored our father, Jerry
Frei, by offically unveiling the Jerry Frei
Offensive Line Coach's Office
in the new Hatfield-Dowlin Complex
and showing a tribute video on
the scoreboard screen during the
first half of the Oregon Spring game
at Autzen Stadium. Appropriately,
the tribute was read by Don Essig,
the long-time public address
announcer at Oregon games.
In keeping with the military appreciation
theme of the day, the video
prominently mentioned the aspect of Jerry
Frei's background that was
never listed as part of his
coaching biography during his 17-season
tenure with the Ducks as
an assistant and ultimately their head coach.
That was his
67 combat missions as a P-38 fighter pilot in World
War II, flying generally
alone over Japanese targets to take
reconnaissance photos in advance of
the bombing runs. The one-man
plane was unarmed; cameras replaced
the guns. (The prologue of
Third Down and a War to Go explains more.)
I noticed Oregon players on the field watching the video and clapping.
On Friday, Kim Murray of the Duck Athletic
Fund treated us to lunch
at The Wild Duck, across the street from Matthew
Knight Arena. It
significant for us, also, because the first home
I remember living in in
Eugene was about a block from there, on Columbia
Street. (It's no
longer there, thanks to university expansion.)
Then we took tours of the Casanova
Center and the new football
complex, which is truly as breathtaking as
you've heard, and had a
met and ate dinner with many of the former players
who had played golf that afternoon. It never gets old to
from Jerry Frei's former players and coaches, and they
even more proud to be his son. And it was nice to again
talk with former Oregon coach Rich Brooks, retired and now
back in the area. Thanks to Jeff Eberhart of the Oregon
department; athletic director Rob Mullins; and offensive line
Steve Greatwood, who all were terrific.
On Saturday, I also enjoyed running into and speaking
Moseley, editor of GoDucks.com, and Ryan Thorburn
of the Eugene
of the Boulder Daily Camera. And thanks
Oregon's David Williford for helping setting up a halftime radio
for my brother, David, and me with Jerry Allen, the
voice of the Ducks.
Four of the five Frei siblings, plus family members, were there. Dave
and I were joined by our sisters, Judy Kaplan and Nancy McCormick.
The fifth sibling, former ballerina and now ballet company executive,
Susan Frei Earley, had performances over the weekend in Tulsa
and wasn't able to attend.
Secondarily, and this was merely a coincidence because this honor
was in the works long before the release of March 1939: Before the
Madness, I also did a signing for the book about the first NCAA
basketball tournament -- a tournament won by Oregon's legendary
"Tall Firs" -- and its times.
That also made the scoreboard, at left.
I also was appreciative
that the sons of
two members of that legendary 1939
team came to the signing. The first is
Wintermute, son of Tall Firs
center Slim Wintermute; the second
Scott McNeeley, son of backup guard
Red McNeeley. Scott had provided me
with a CD interview his mother and aunt conducted with Red late in
his life about his war-time experiences. Red was a torpedo bomber
pilot in the Navy and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for his
heroics during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Setting up for The Duck Store signing. That's Jordan of
Duck Store staff ... not Marcus Mariota.
Oregon's weight room
Oregon's cafeteria, left, and media interview room, right
Catching breath after March 1939: Before the Madness promotion
"And we welcome to the show ..."
April 22, 2014: March 1939: Before the
been out for about
10 weeks now, and the response has
been heartening in many ways ...
including at the box office, so to
national radio "tour"
lasted several weeks, and I enjoyed
it. I've generally found that hosts
their producers who are intrigued
enough to book
me to talk about the
book dotheir homework, whether
that means reading the book or at
themselves with the material to
intelligently converse with me
about it. So my public thanks to
The most intriguing appearance was on Public Radio
International's The World, and I actually heard the segment in my
car on the afternoon of April 7, a
few hours before the start of the
Connecticut-Kentucky championship game. I had gone
to the Colorado Public
Radio studios on the previous Friday to
be interviewed on a broadcast-quality line, and the produced
segment broadcast included only a relative snippet of my
comments. But I understand that and am accustomed
to that sort
of process from the writer's side of the equation.
So there I was, immediately
after a somber segment on the
situation in Afghanistan.
The World understandably was
most interested in and intrigued
by my approach of framing the basketball season and
tournament against the backdrop of the Sino-Japanese war and
bellicosity in Europe, including its mid-March
invasion of Czechoslovakia. In all my books, I've taken great
to tell the sports stories as part of the times, and in this case,
debates were raging over whether the
U.S. should become
involved in another European war, if it came to that. It did, of
course, but forums on college campuses
-- including Oregon --
were addressing the
issue without the foresight of knowing that
the events of December 7, 1941 essentually would end all those
debates. So these men in the first tournament were hearing the
drumbeats of war and wondering if they would
have to serve.
Many did. In that sense, I consider this book a prequel to Third
Down and a War to Go,
about slightly younger Wisconsin football
players winning a version of the national championship in 1942
understanding they soon would be in military -- and not
football -- uniforms.
Here's that segment.
Enjoyable appearances in Glenn Morris' backyards
Playing the Lincoln Theatre
and the Fort Collins Library
February 21, 2014: Before
turning more promotional attention
to the new March
1939: Before the Madness, I made two very
to discuss and sign Olympic Affair in the last
The first was February
10 in Limon. It was the first time I'd ever
done an appearance in a theatre, and it was in the historic
Lincoln Theatre in Limon. My thanks to Ryan Kaufman of High
Plains Media and Broadcasting for setting it up and putting it on.
Morris, the protagonist in Olympic Affair, was raised 24
miles down the road from Limon, in Simla, so I mainly discussed
that book, including the research and the decisions I made in
presenting it as historical fiction rather than a conventional non-
fiction work. But I also
ran through my other projects and enjoyed
questions -- all standing in front of the movie screen.
Then last night, I had a great time talking about Olympic
the Old Town Main Library in Fort Collins, on behalf of the city's Old
Firehouse Books. Morris, of course, also was a star athlete and
student body president at the school that now is CSU, and he trained
in what now is called the Glenn Morris Field
House on the east side
of the campus. The turnout was
good, the questions following my
presentation were terrific
and thought-provoking, and because of the
proximity to where
he spent his collegiate years and a post-graduate
for the Olympics, I almost felt as if Morris was
in on us.
Publishers Weekly praises MARCH 1939: BEFORE THE MADNESS
"Carefully crafted, fast-moving
December 22, 2013: I should have been waiting at Sardi's.
The new online and print editions of
Publishers Weekly include a very nice advance review of my
upcoming book, March 1939: Before the Madness.
It closes with: "Carefully crafted, fast-moving, and refreshing, Frei's
study of the scrappy Oregon
Webfoots' campaign ... is quite
Here's the online version.
Derrick Webb: The Project Explained
here's how to find
the previously unseen
December 10, 2013: I'm very proud of the way the Derrick Webb
did for the Denver Post turned out.
However, I do wish the newspaper's readers could
have seen more of
Here's the "Director's Cut" version, which includes considerable
material that ran neither in the newspaper nor on the Post's web
Here's the story behind the project: As the football season was about
to begin, I was asked to come up with a "project" idea I could work
on intermittently through the season. I tossed out suggestions,
for the season with a local high school team or
a Division II program. I also mentioned the possibility
of doing a
season-long version of a story I did at The Sporting News in 1995.
Back then, we sent out feelers to sports information directors at a
major programs, asking if they had a player who fit the
following profile -- senior, starter,
decent or better student, unlikely to
make the NFL. In other words, a guy to use as a model of
young good, not great, players who get something positive out of the
college football experience. Sure, I even could have done it on a
bench-warmer, but that wouldn't
have "sold." Frankly, part of my
thinking was a virtual life-long understanding that
despite all the
"negative" you hear about college football, the fact is that it generally
is a positive and enriching experience for a vast majority of the young
men involved -- yes, even at the powerhouse programs. We settled
Texas linebacker senior Jason Reeves and photographer Elsa Hasch
and I spent a week with him on
the Austin campus, through a
November 4, 1995 home game against Texas Tech.
We agreed that we couldn't expect access to team meetings and
functions not granted to
other members of the media. (It's not Texas
was opposed to that, it's just that they couldn't
do that to local media,
and we understood and accepted that's the way it had to be.) Then-
coach John Mackovic welcomed the story and the exposure and, well,
the boundaries of that agreement. It ran over four
tabloid pages in the December 11, 1995 issue
-- actually, after I had
rejoined the Post.
I proposed doing something similar here -- and for a season, not a
week -- if I could
find a similar player and get similar cooperation.
I did and we did.
So I shadowed and met with Webb, the CU senior linebacker and co-
captain, over the course of the 2013 season, and photographer
Kathryn Scott Osler -- like me,
a CU grad -- joined us at times and
shot pictures of him at home games.
I wrote and and turned in the
(very) long original version, hoping we would
run it in the paper in two
or three parts as part of the "project" approach. (That's what we did
with the "project"
narrative Mike Chambers and I produced on former
Denver hockey player Jesse Martin's near-fatal
hockey injury and
his subsequent recovery, and this all along was
a narrative project, too.) After much discussion and
rearranging, this is the way the Webb project turned out in
and on our site:
1, The story in the Sunday, December 8 paper covers Derrick's final
two games as as Buff -- the Senior Day game against Southern
California and the final game at Utah. I also was able to work in his
as introductory material, and introduce you to his family.
As it turned out, a significant
portion of the material from my original
story about those final two weeks didn't make that version,
but as a
snippet of much larger research, or as a "part" of a bigger story,
2, An online only supplement takes Derrick from the final week of
August through the 10th game of the season, the victory
California. It also includes much more information about his college
life, including his classes. I consider that story a "prequel." Print-only
readers did not see it. Also, because of the way the two online pieces
were originally posted
minus labeling and explanation, many readers
were confused. That was straightened out Sunday afternoon. There
also is a nice photo gallery posted on the colleges page.
The "Director's Cut" is the full version I originally turned in as the
of the mandated "project" approach, hoping it would be
broken into parts and perhaps
run over two or even three days in the
paper. It sets the stage as I did in the print version
of the story, with
Senior Day coming up and introducing Derrick and his family, but it
then flashes back to late August and takes him through the season in
order, from beginning to end. There has been some
this, but to re-emphasize: This did NOT appear either
in the Denver Post or
Denver Post Online. I guess I also could call this
"The Godfather Saga," paying
homage to the approach Francis Ford
Coppola used in putting together the Godfather
films into one
chronologically told saga. My vote was to post only
this on Sunday
morning on DPO as the online version of record for this story and
getting the most mileage out of our months of effort and
taking advantage of limitless online space. I lost the vote. Not
complaining there ... we've all lost votes, right?
But especially now that
the dust has settled, this enables Denver Post readers interested
this to see the full, alternative version.
Julius Whitter, first black Longhorn letterman, is inducted into U of Texas Hall of Honor
Horns, Hogs and
dealt with Dixie's Last Stand
November 6, 2013: Julius Whitter last weekend was among the ex-players
inducted into the University of
Texas' Hall of Honor.
He was the Longhorns' first black football letterman, and I visited him in
his law office in Dallas during the research for Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming (2002).
No black players participated in the 1969 Arkansas-Texas game that is the
point, but both schools had black scholarship players on the
freshman teams that season and were on the verge of varsity
integration. It's a major plotline in the book -- and part of the reason for the
vs. Arkansas in Dixie's Last Stand -- and I enjoyed speaking
with Whittier. Arkansas' freshman scholarship
player was running back Jon
Richardson, and I also spoke with Hiram McBeth, who was on the "B" squad
in 1969 after essentially being appointed by the Black Student organization to
go out for football and integrate
the program; and with Darrell Brown, who
ended up the attorney for Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker in the Whitewater
trial and as such questioned Bill Clinton on video in the White House.
Brown had gone out for freshman
football in 1965 and in that sense was the
first black Razorback.
Here's my introductory passage on
Whittier committed to attending Texas, he didn’t know he
would become the Longhorns’ first black letterman.
“I didn’t go there with that
as a goal,” he says. “I went there because I
wanted to play big-time football, take a shot and see how I stacked up against
guys like me. If I was an icebreaker,
I didn’t feel the breaking ice.”
Whittier says he never felt as if Darrell Royal had to be dragged screaming
into the era of integrated college
football. “There may have been those
coaches who made it their goal to make sure college football stayed white,”
Whittier says. “I didn’t see that in Coach
Royal, didn’t see it as a burning issue
with any of the white football players, and even in looking back I don’t see it.
“I think the guys I played with felt
comfortable they had the skills to compete
with anyone, whether that guy was white or black. So, no, I don’t see
Coach Royal as a fiber in the fabric of the part of football that may
wanted to keep
it white. Coach Royal basically came to a school that got its
personality from the state it served. Not that he was some big social revolutionary
or anything, but I think he recognized
that to stay who we were, we
were going to have to use black athletes.
“There’s a strength that was added to the team by adding different ethnic
backgrounds. I think Royal appreciated
that and was unafraid. [But] he had a
board of regents that thought maintaining racial purity was more important
for a long time.”
UT’s first black letterman came from San Antonio. Julius’s
a doctor, and his mother, Loraine, was a teacher. As he was being raised,
Julius was somewhat naïve, because the San Antonio schools were a
for years. White kids and black kids and brown kids went to
school together, and from junior high up, students got “bus cards” and could
attend any school in the district.
But it was as if the city couldn’t quite figure
out how far to extend this progress.
One example of San Antonio’s reticence was that blacks still had to enter
the historic Majestic Theater through
the back door and sit in the back.
Julius’s sisters, Cheryl and Mildred, worked at the Handy Andy market, and
discovered that they wouldn’t
be allowed to advance to cashier’s jobs; thosewere reserved
for the white girls. Loraine, active in the NAACP, helped organize
a protest march on the store; eventually, Cheryl and Mildred and
other black girls were allowed to handle the money, too. Julius’s older
brother, also Oncy, set the example for Julius—one he didn’t
to match. Oncy was meticulous in his dress,
polite in manner, and studious to
an extreme. “He was
the gentleman,” Julius says. “I was the renegade.” But
Oncy also was involved in the Black Guerrilla Theatre group, which was in
the same building as the militant Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee
and was raided at one point by San Antonio police. “My brother got
clubbed in the head, along with several other people, and we had to get him
out of jail,” Julius says.
Highlands High School, predominantly white, Julius took part in a
protest of the dress code, wearing a dashiki he borrowed from Oncy. Oncy
could argue with teachers and win them over, at least earning their respect;
Julius could say what was on his mind and be tossed from class. Oncy was an
all-city offensive lineman in football, and he ended up at Howard University
in Washington, D.C. Julius was surprised when he discovered his options included
attending the University of Texas and playing football—with all
those white boys! At the end of his senior season, he discovered that his parents
and his high school coach had cut a deal to lessen the recruiting pressures.
“When the season was over, we were tearing down our
lockers and my
coach called me into the office,”
Julius says. “There were three bags of letters
“This is for you, as a
reward for the year you had.”
“What is it, Coach?”
“They’re letters from different colleges and universities, Julius.
And I want you to
read this one first.”
Coach Darrell Royal was telling Julius Whittier the University
Longhorns wanted him.
“I didn’t know who he was,” Whittier says. “I don’t
say that to minimize
who he was, I say that to show
how sheltered I was.”
defensive coach, Mike Campbell, came to San Antonio, met
Whittier, and helped schedule a visit to the UT campus. “I bought into
Campbell’s honesty,” Whittier says. “He was straightforward. He was just an
old white man who knew how to play football. He turned out to be just what
he showed me—a straight shooter.”
As Julius also set up visits to North Texas State and SMU, and he sifted
through the letters from Big Ten schools, his mother’s NAACP friends
aghast that he was considering UT. “They had this
fear that I wouldn’t get a
fair shot, that I would
be just suiting up and holding a dummy,” Whittier
“My mom was fascinated by the challenge, though.”
didn’t make the kid from San Antonio any promises about how
much he would play. “That part’s up to you,” Royal said. Like James Street
and others before him, Whittier took that as a challenge. “You know the
bumper sticker that says ‘Hire a teenager while they still know
That was me,” he says. And he wouldn’t
be the only black player in the program,
he was reminded.
On his recruiting visit, Whittier was shown around
freshman halfback, Leon O’Neal. “He told me the white folks were
OK,” Whittier says, smiling. “Then he left. It didn’t bother me at first, until
I thought about it later and he kind of left me there. I was expecting to go
there and be real good friends with him for the next two, three years.
along real well on my recruiting trip.”
As he settled in at UT during that 1969 season, Whittier became
bothered because his teammates seemed
blinkered and insulated fromthe events swirling around them. And,
no, at times he didn’t feel welcome.
“It’s almost a southern gentleman
kind of racism to the extent that I never
out on the drinking sprees,” Whittier says. “Everybody knew I
didn’t drink. But there were also white boys invited out on these sprees who
He was quoted in the February 15, 1970, San Antonio Express-News as saying:
I’ve had have been with some of the players. Texas seems
to recruit a lot of boys from small towns, and most of them have small minds
just like their fathers. I’ve gotten the message from them. It’s subtle, but to
them I’m definitely an outsider.”
Years later, Whittier can repeat his “small-town boys” newspaper statement
almost verbatim. You bet he heard about it, and he hasn’t forgotten.
doesn’t seem to give the Longhorns, even when all
except Whittier were
white, enough credit for their wide
spectrum of attitudes, viewpoints, and
level of seriousness,
but it’s understandable why.
that I meant they weren’t out to change the world in any way,” he says.
“They were out to play first-class football at a first-class football school. Race
didn’t get in our way. The social change that I was into and used
to in myhome life, through my mom’s stewardship, was not part
of what they were
They were about playing football and stepping into the life that a
solid football career at a solid football school gets you.”
But in 1969, Whittier was just a freshman linebacker, anyway, not a part of
the varsity. The tricky part was freshmen were considered lower life forms in
the football area of Jester Center, subject to the usual hazing rituals
ordered to shine shoes, do laundry, go out for hamburgers
or beer at two in
the morning, or make beds. The freshman
season was a plebe experience, and
the tradition was that
the first-year players couldn’t even enter through the
door of the dining hall until they had beaten the Texas A&M freshmen.
Whittier regarded a few upperclassmen as his protectors—including
sophomore Randy Stout, who shared time at left guard with Bobby Mitchell,
plus backup running backs Billy Dale and Bobby Callison. He felt they were
watching out for him, making sure the freshman indoctrination pranks didn’t
go beyond the norm, to racial harassment. (When Dale was a senior and
Whittier was a sophomore, they roomed together in Jester.)
Whittier also came to like defensive tackle Greg Ploetz.
didn’t appear that I was being treated any different than any other
freshman,” Whittier says. “I think I was respected, too, because I was aggressive
and got after it. I didn’t slink to the back of the line when it was time for
shit drills. In fact, I had made a promise to myself that when they said
up I always would be first in line, even if I had
to push and shove to get there.
I wanted the coaches to know
they didn’t have to worry about me being willing
stick my face in there.”
During that fall,
the other Longhorn freshmen and a few of the upperclassmen
noticed a few other things about the black kid: He could be late for lunchbecause
he was at a protest! He would hang out with the hippies! He went to the
Moratorium march, and he was sympathetic when students
Memorial Stadium and street expansion project
that forced the bulldozing of
Waller Creek between the stadium
and the main part of campus. The administration
students couldn’t understand why moving the channel
feet was such a problem. So what if it killed a few trees and a few turtles?
“I had to walk by this fight to go into the stadium to get dressed to play
football,” Whittier says. “I was having to face the fact that
what I was doing
and the system I was playing in was the
dynamite behind the movement to
move Waller Creek. I’d
have to walk past Frank Erwin”—the chairman ofthe board
of regents—“and the other regents observing the protesters to
make sure they didn’t interfere with construction. Kids tied themselves
trees to stop the bulldozers.”
while—Heard you were up there with all
the hippies!—they never attempted to
Whittier says that while coaches made snide remarks every once in a
tell him he couldn’t take part in protests or be politically active, either that
freshman year or later. In fact, he says, trainer Frank Medina surprised him
by saying, “If you take care of business here, you’re fine
The 1969 freshman team went 5–0,
finishing off with a victory over Texas
Austin on November 21. Then the first-year players settled in to
their “heroes” close out the varsity season against Texas A&M and
“Those guys were like
gods to us!” Whittier says. “You could tell that
there was never a thought in their mind that anyone was going to beat
Certainly not Arkansas.
An Axeman and a Farmer walk into a bar...
Two reunions, two weeks
September 19, 2103: Last month, I took a quick trip
to Eugene for my South
Eugene High School reunion.
Technically, I'm a party crasher in the Class of 1973, since
my family moved
to Denver midway through my junior year. But in many cases, these were my
friends from Edgewood
and Spencer Butte Junior High, too.
It was great to see so many of them again.
Two weeks earlier, I also had a great time at the
reunion of my "real" graduating class from Wheat
Ridge High in the Denver area. I thank the
anonymous donor who purchased copies of Third
Down and a War to Go for all attending, and I'm
proud to have attended two terrific high schools --
not just one. And I'm guessing I
might be the only
guy on the planet who was both an Axemen and a
Farmer as a high school athlete. (That's
me as a
WRHS senior, and that really is farmland across
the street in the background. That's now Jefferson
County open space.) The time marker for
Coloradans is that we were the class behind Dave
Logan, Steve Cribari
and Jeff Fosnes, who led the
Farmers to athletic greatness during their three
Here's the 1972
Wheat Ridge team picture, when I was a junior catcher
about to set a Jefferson County League record for passed balls
in a season. It
was taken shortly after I had arrived in Colorado. Logan and Cribari are in the
the back row and I'm one of the short guys in front. You might
note that Mike Shanahan is at the left in the front row.
(Don't believe me?
Check the captions.)
After going to both reunions, it hit me that while I had eclectic interests, the
advice I'd give young people
today is to avoid being walled into your
cliques. Meet as many folks as you can. Because there's going
to be a time at
a reunion years later when even a casual conversation with a
classmate will cause
you to regret not knowing this person -- whether male or
female -- better than you did in high shool.
But, also, the universal experience
is that when you see your friends again, it's a time machine.
Plus, I came away wishing my South Eugene friends could meet my Wheat
Ridge friends. That Axemen Tim Carmichael
and Rod Ham, for example,
could meet Farmers Chuck Griffith and Reid Gamberg. (Rod's the bass
player for Country
Music Hall of Fame singer Connie Smith's band,
the Sundowners. He was a gifted athlete, and we were all a
bit peeved at him
and perplexed when he abandoned sports for music in high school, but it
out OK. In this YouTube clip, he's the tall guy at the right, playing
with Rick Wright on "East Bound and Down" as Connie Smith
watch.) Among my other Spencer Butte and SEHS classmates is
screenwriter and director E. Max Frye, a football and basketball
teammate whose credits include Something Wild, Amos and Andrew, Where
the Money Is, an episode of Band of Brothers, and the upcoming
was not able to make the reunion, but we've been in touch
I've called on my Eugene
experiences as fodder for two books.
One is The Witch's Season, my first novel, a roman a clef work in which the
fictional Cascade replaces Eugene; Cascade University
the University of Oregon; and the Cascade Fishermen stand in for the Oregon
I had to do it over again, I wouldn't have been as cute about it, but
part of the fun for readers is trying to
match the "fictional" characters with the
real men and women they're based on. (It isn't that hard.)
The second is the upcoming
March 1939: Before the Madness, about the first
NCAA basketball champions -- the Oregon Webfoots (yes, that was their
-- and their times. So I hope that I'll be making another trip to
Eugene for book promotion early next year. I was able
to make a quick trip to
Matthew Knight Arena Sunday morning, and I noticed that a huge version of
the pictures we acquired from the University of Oregon Library is in
the new building's north lobby. In that shot,
four of the five Webfoots
starters, swearing coats and ties, are waving from the back of the Southern
as the team leaves Eugene on the trip that would take it
to San Francisco for the Western regional games
and Texas, and then on to Evanston, Illinois, for the national championship
game against Ohio
I also am using my own experiences in moving from one city and one high
to new surroundings as fodder for my Young Adult novel, The New
Kid. Yes, both Axemen and Farmers
are in it -- so to speak, with the setting
moved up to the current day. I did a little tweaking, making the
Farmers the Watkins Ridge Flyers. So at least WRHS still works.
Marty Glickman in Olympic Affair: Hitler's Siren and America's Hero
Before he was a sportscaster...
(Marty Glickman, Sam Stoller on SS Manhattan on way to Germany)
September 2013: I finally was able to
watch the HBO
documentary on Marty Glickman,
a major figure in my novel
Olympic Affair: Hitler's Siren and America's Hero, last night. HBO
On Demand for subscribers
is a wonderful thing. The notation is
that "Glickman" will
be available that way through September 23.
Glickman, destined for a career as one of the best play-by-play
sportscasters of all time, and fellow Jewish sprinter Sam Stoller
were frozen off the U.S. 400-meter relay team
at the 1936 Berlin
Olympics, coincidentally leading
to Jesse Owens adding to his
with his fourth. As I write in my book, there is
considerable evidence and no doubt in my mind that U.S. Olympic
Committee czar Avery Brundage and others conspired
Glickman and Stoller off the relay team to avoid "embarrassing" the
Games' German hosts — including Adolf Hitler. The documentary
that and reaches the same conclusion.
As I had been promised, it is a superb and revealing
portrait of one
of a trailblazing —
in more ways than one — sportscaster who was
especially influential within his craft. Writer, director, and producer
James L. Freedman did terrific work here. Probably most
underplayed in what I had read and heard about the documentary
was the amazing rounding up and use of archival film and pictures
of Glickman through the years, especially during his athletic career
as a sprinter and football player. Time after time, I'd
marveling and congratulating Freedman for
his doggedness and
ingenuity because I'm assuming nobody
dropped a box of old films
and material on his
front porch one morning. I also appreciated
with how well he was able to cope with the fact
Glickman died in 2001. He was able to use footage of earlier
Glickman interviews, and while I suspect he was wishing that he
had been able to do this much sooner, while Glickman was alive,
and do "new" interviews himself, it's not jarring or ruinous. I can
identify with Freedman in the sense that I suspect angst in
to bring America this story a decade after Glickman's
death — and
not while he
still was alive — was part of the motivation every day.
"Glickman" is superb, and for many, it was or is
going to be revelation about a figure they has seen or
growing up. But this doesn't need
to be only for those old enough
to have that reason.
It's a history lesson — a very relevant one —
Here are passages from the first half of my book,
revolves around U.S. decathlon champion Glenn Morris'
passionate, yet ultimately toxic and contaminating,
with German actress, propagandist and filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl.
Morris was from tiny Simla, Colorado,
and was a
former football star and student body president at the school
now known as Colorado State. Later
narrative material documents
Glickman and Stoller's
shameful exclusion from the relay team.
They had not "qualified" for the 100 or 200 -- even that
a bit of controversy, as noted below -- but went to
Berlin as alternates and were expected to be on the relay team,
if the usual protocol was followed. It wasn't.
A few background notes: At a farewell dinner the night before
departure, a Broadway
producer had told Morris to win the gold
medal and then use it to make a very derisive gesture to Hitler.
The Hotel Lincoln now is the Milford Plaza. And "Badgers" was the
derisive term the athletes had
for Olympic Committee functionaries.
FIVE: BON VOYAGE
In the middle of the Hotel Lincoln lobby, the pot-bellied small-time lawyer
an ill-fitting American Olympic Committee blazer bellowed through a
megaphone. Sweat dripped down the Badger’s
face despite the early-morning
“Gentlemen . . . and ladies! Have your
Olympic identification card out.
Show it when you get on a bus, so we can check you off. From here on out,
you have to assume nobody’s going to recognize you or take your word for
who you are!
That’s everywhere, but also, if Mr. Hitler is around, the more
likely they’ll be to react and
ask questions later. So when men in strange
uniforms tell you where to go or where not to go, do what they
Glenn thought of the Broadway producer’s suggestion the night before
smiled. Then, looking at the Badger in his funny suit, he laughed. An
elbow dug sharply into his ribs.
Next to Glenn, his eyes narrowed by fury,was the spunky Jewish sprinter from New York City. Barely out of high school.
Looks more like one of these corner newsboys hawking New York
papers than an
athlete. Glickman. Marty Glickman.
“What’s the idea, Marty?”
think that’s funny?”
“Think what’s funny?”
“The Nazis’ bullshit.”
him warning us to put up with a bunch of guys in funny uniforms over there.
“Hold on,” Glenn said, pointing at the Badger. “I was just thinking about
That’s all we’ve been doing for the past two days here!”
Not wanting to sound too cocky, Glenn didn’t bring up
for what to do after winning the gold medal.
“Do you even know what the Nuremberg Laws are?” Glickman asked
“Absolutely,” Glenn said.
comparing the Nazis and some guys telling us to get in line to pick
up a handbook?”
“You’re reading too much into this,” Glenn said. “Way too much.”
Torrance, the huge shot-putter beloved as “Baby Jack” and “Baby
between them. Glickman needed to stand on his toes
and lean to the side to even see the six-foot-two Morris;
and that made, first,
the decathlete, and then the sprinter, laugh. If anything was going to foil
Torrance in Berlin, it was that the world record-holder and former football
player at Louisiana
State University had gotten fat and flabby after leaving
college while serving as a Baton Rouge policeman.
The rumor was the scales
at the physicals couldn’t even handle him, and that he was up to at least
“Now boys,” Torrance drawled. “Need I remind you
we’re all on the same
team from here on?”
Glenn said, “I didn’t mean anything by it . . . except
against the Badgers.”
on edge. I’m going to the Olympics, but it doesn’t feel right. I’m starting to
Shaking his head, Glickman said, “Sorry. I guess all this has me a little
wonder if Brundage insisted we go over there just so he could hug Hitler and
tell him what fine ideas he has.”
“I understand, Marty,” Glenn said.
“Or at least I’m trying to.”
“Good,” Torrance said. “Now shake
hands . . . or no more throwing lessons
for you, Morris, and I’ll accidentally drop a shot put on
your toes, Glickman,
about the time we’re passing Greenland.”
stepped aside, letting them shake hands, and then said, “So
we’re square? From here on
out, it’s all red, white, and blue, one for all, and
all for one.”
old, telling himself: When I
was Marty’s age, “the world” was the
globe in the corner of Old Man DeWitt’s history room at the high school . . .
I didn’t know much about it.
SIX: ONBOARD BONDING
They all ran a few sprints, and at one point, Marty Glickman waited for
Glenn and asked if he could talk to him privately. Over here, he gestured.
“First off,” Glickman said, “I’m going to play football at Syracuse, so I
identify with you.”
“Thanks,” Glenn said.
other thing you should know . . . well, you were at the Trials, weren’t
Glickman continued, “So you know, I’m looking over my shoulder a bit
here, too. We ran that 100-meter final and they told me I was third—behind
Metcalfe. So I’m being interviewed on the radio, and they’re saying
I’m the boy who’s
going to be running with them in the 100 meters in
Berlin, and while I’m talking, the judges come
and tell me I’ve been bumpeddown to fourth behind Frank Wykoff . . . and then they
say I was fifth, behind
too. So I’ve gone from running in the 100 at the Olympics with
Jesse and Ralph to just being on the
team and hoping we stick to the way it’s
been done in the past so I have a spot in the sprint relay.
The two guys they
suddenly placed ahead of me in the 100 run for Cromwell at USC. So . . .”
Dean Cromwell of USC was the American team’s assistant coach, nominally
of the sprinters.
“How do they
pick the relay?” Glenn asked.
“It’s always been that the top three from the trials run the 100, and then
the next four
run the relay. So if they stick to that, it should be Foy Draper,
me, Stoller, and Mack Robinson. But there
are no real rules, so I’m at their
mercy now. Mack doesn’t care all that much because he’s
running in the 200,
but for me and Stoller, the relay’s our only chance. Writers already are saying
the coaches are telling ’em nothing will be decided until we’re in Berlin.
not until the last minute.”
Glenn was incredulous. “How could they take you and not let
“They might. They said we’d at least run in the exhibitions over there
after the Olympics. And . . .”
Glickman suddenly was a bit self-conscious.
“What else were you going to say?” Glenn asked.
“Well . . .
look, we’ve talked about this, but the Germans would prefer
there aren’t any Jews competing
at all. The Badgers know that, too. I’m not
saying they’ll screw us because of that, but I’m
wondering. We’ll just see whathappens.” He paused, and then added, “Come on, let’s run.”
FROM CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: OPENING GAMBITS
As the athletes waited on the May Field, Glenn noticed but didn’t at first
feel a light rain again falling. He thought: These hats are good for something.
“Get a load of that!” Walter Wood
called out, pointing beyond the Bell
Tower to the Glockenturm Plaza.
in various uniforms had gathered. Cars pulled up in the plaza,
and one large limousine arrived at the foot of the
Bell Tower. Adolf
Hitler emerged from the back seat. Scattered shouts of greetings came from
few German civilians allowed in the area. Glenn was surprised at how
quiet it was otherwise. Hitler, wearing
a brown uniform and high black boots,
returned the Nazi salute to an honor guard. Then he moved on to greet
men, and Glenn recognized two of them from the Americans’ welcoming
ceremonies—the chubby mayor of Berlin and Dr.
Theodor Lewald of the
German Olympic Organizing Committee. Lewald and the third man—
assumed he was an Olympic official, too—wore long coats, high collars,
and medallions draped around
their necks on chains.
Soldiers filed down the corridor on the May Field, showily looking side
to side as Hitler and his entourage followed. Hitler’s group was perhaps
men—military officers, Olympic officials, and other functionaries.
Glenn inched up, so close
to Hitler’s pathway that the soldiers brushed
him. Then he saw Leni, squeezed onto the flatbed cart
behind her cameraman,
who was angled to catch the reaction of the athletes to Hitler. As she
Glenn’s vantage point, she spotted him. Their eyes met. As the
cart went by, with her poised behind
cameraman Walter Frentz, she gave
him the start, the barest hint, of a smile. For a moment, Hitler was
than ten feet away.
Marty Glickman ended up at Glenn’s shoulder.
He shook his head in
wonderment. “Can you believe how close we were? Somebody could
He left it there.
The looks they exchanged confirmed they both knew
Marty wasn’t talking
about getting an autograph.
As Hitler moved on, he
didn’t look to either side, despite scattered cries
from among the athletes. Mostly, it remained
Soon, though, the roar announced: The Führer had entered the stadium.
"Which book is your best?"
Dodging the Question.
And the answer is...
15, 2013: The upcoming March 1939: Before the Madness will be my
seventh book. I’m often asked, “What’s your best book?” Or, “What’s
book?” And those are two very different questions, of course. At
least in the case of the latter, it’s
akin to asking which of your children is your
I’ll take a swing at
of them all. If I’m asked which one a new reader should pick up to
sample my work, I tailor the suggestion to what I know of the individual’s
background, interests, tastes,
and even geographic location. So, yes, if a life-
long Denver Broncos fanatic asks that question, I tend to recommend ’77:
Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age … although, no, I don’t consider
it my “best” work. If I know little or nothing about a reader’s
seems conventionally “generic,” I admit Third Down and a War to Go is
one I would want them to read. Because of the high-profile figures and
famous game involved, plus the astounding additional material I uncovered in
the research process,
I’m quite willing to recommend Horns, Hogs, and
Nixon Coming, my most “successful” book.
But my “best”?
It’s Olympic Affair: A Novel of Hitler’s Siren and America’s Hero, about
toxic and eventually contaminating relationship between Coloradan Glenn
Morris, the 1936 Olympic decathlon champion, and notorious German
actress/filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl.
Taylor Trade was nice enough and
showed enough faith in me to allow me to step outside the box and reshape
what originally was envisioned to be a conventional non-fiction
book into a
novel. Taylor Trade simultaneously issued Olympic Affair and
University of Colorado emeritus professor Paul Levitt’s Stalin’s
2012, and it required a tweaking of the Taylor Trade’s Twitter
profile, which previously had specified it didn’t publish fiction.
It’s my best because I was able to use what I learned while researching and
non-fiction books in another genre. It’s not even my first
novel – The Witch’s Season, based on what I witnessed of the football
program and the crazy campus conditions in Eugene in the late 1960s and
early ‘70s, came out in 2009. Because I started it
long ago, and it was the
stereotypical novel in my desk for many years as I kept coming back to it, I
always will have great affection for it and pride
in it. (Plus, the subject matter
is near and dear to my heart.)
But I think I was able to constructively use
the experiences of the previous
novel and the non-fiction books in crafting Olympic Affair. In the Author’s
Afterword, I explained at length the thought
process in making it a novel, and
my motivation and methodology in writing it. In a nutshell, I wrote it fast
because I could see the story unfolding cinematically
in my head, and I
to see how it turned out. It’s a “sports book” in a sense, and I do
wonder what would have happened if we had simply classified
it as such,
all the accompanying admissions that it also is a novel. I was able to use
narrative techniques in my non-fiction books because so much of the material
was based on my direct interviews,
but I do wish now that I had unleashed
a little more and escaped traditional techniques in Third Down and a
War to Go.
the Dallas Morning News, Si Dunn called Horns, Hogs, and Nixon
Coming “a superb blending of
sports, history and politics.” To varying
degrees, that has been my approach in all the books. But I believe it all came
together in Olympic Affair … yes,
in a novel.
A potpourri trip to New York: Book biz, Broadway, Belmont
Got a horse right here, his name
is Paul Revere
June 10, 2013: Helen and I are back from
a trip to New York for:
* Book business, including final research
for the upcoming March 1939: Before the
Madness. There's much material in the
book about college basketball in
Garden that season,
including the eventual national
champion Oregon Webfoots' December
1938 meeting with CCNY.
* An excursion to Belmont Park, two days
before the Belmont Stakes.
* A pair of (as it turned out) Tony-winning
musicals, Kinky Boots (best musical) and
Pippin (best revival of musical).
First, the book. I spent one day at the New York Public Library, going
through microfilm and looking at the pertinent
editions of the New York
Herald Tribune, whose writers were the ringleaders of the Metropolitan
Basketball Writers Association at the
time, and the New York Daily News. I'd
been able to see microfilm and digital archives of the New York Times
earlier. That picture is from the Herald
Tribune, showing the Webfoots at the
West Side YMCA after their arrival in Manhattan for the Garden
appearance. I didn't print out the whole picture,
but was able to piece together
the full cutline (including a couple of misspelled names) to confirm, among
other things, the
makeup of the full roster on
Other than the inevitable -- when hitting the microfilm for all my books, I
always am distracted in reading about everything
else that was going on -- it
was a very productive day. I also visited the site of the old Garden and waved
at the Milford Plaza, which, as the Lincoln
Hotel, figures prominently both in
this book and in Olympic Affair.
On Thursday, we took the LIRR train
from Penn Station to Belmont for the first
six races of the day. Yes, we changed
Jamaica and, yes, in accordance with the
wishes of the jovial trainman punching our
we had a special ticket for Belmont
only and didn't try to get by with a
monthly pass or something else nefarious.
It was a fun day hanging at the paddock,
on the main line, and at the rail, even if we
alone. On a "normal" race day it
really sinks in how much of the betting
handle and attention is coming
wagering sites, including other
tracks and casinos.
The program cover for that day, and I assume for
the upcoming days, was a
tribute to Secretariat's historic Belmont Stakes victory in 1973.
And the shows...
had great seats for Pippin (front
row, almost too good) because I took the
and bought them long before the
show opened, drawn by the stars we had
seen before -- Patina Miller
It was all that we had heard, and expected
-- and more. Tony winner Andrea
song ("No Time at All")
and acrobatics were terrific, and I still can
hear her saying/singing,
in My Favorite Year, the show adapted
from my favorite movie that
I never have
been able to see. (Yes, I have heard the
soundtrack.) I decided that Matthew James
Thomas, as Pippen, has deserves more
acclaim than he's gotten amid entrenched
stars, and the circus effects
this revival has become Cirque in a musical -- were stunning. There were
about eight places where mouths dropped,
and the gymnasts-circus folks
(Orion Griffiths, Philip Rosenberg, Lolita Coset and Olga Karmansky)
made me wonder: They do this eight times
My only quibble with this show is the ending. It just stops, in a way trying
to make a point. Yes, I'm an unabashed
fan of the ending that has your hair
standing on end and anxious to be able to stand. Pippin doesn't have
that. That's a very "touristy" reaction on my part, I know, but I'm not
ashamed of it at
all. Sorry, Mr. Rich.
On to Kinky Boots. (Tip: Not sure if we'd
have time for another show, we waited
got the tickets for 20 percent off at the
TKTS booth. Yes, in the mezzanine, but
as is typical
for the older Broadway houses,
there's not a "bad" seat in the theater.)
The local connection
for me was that
Annaleigh Ashford, who graduated from
the Denver area's Wheat Ridge High
School a few years
after I did, and whose
many credits include Glinda in Wicked and
Maureen in Rent, was one
of the leads in
Kinky Boots, as Lauren. Also, Northern
Colorado grad Andy Kelso was in the cast as Harry.
Ashford was terrific, making the most of the chance
to have the
stage to herself for "The History of Wrong Guys."
Cyndi Lauper's debut as a show composer
and lyricist certainly was worth
saluting, and her speech in accepting
Tony was one of the telecast's
highlights. A genuine music superstar
was both gracious and wide-eyed
breaking through in the theater world,
and I compare it to David Bryan, a
founding member of Bon
Jovi, doing such
a terrific job with Memphis.
Okay, Billy Porter, as Lola, turned
performance that earned him a Tony,
and it's heartening stuff for a guy who paid
his dues. Frankly,
I would have voted for
the other male lead, Stark Sands, as Charlie
Price, the inheritor of the British shoe
or Thomas, as Pippin. And that brings me to my quibble with this show.
It's derivative. I
felt that I was seeing La Cage Aux Folles and a bit of Billy
Elliot, plus a dash of Rent,
(all of which I've seen), and Priscilla, Queen of
the Desert (which I haven't), all thrown into a blender.
Harvey Fierstein is the
playwright, so the credentials there can't be questioned, but there comes a
you say ... OK, the guy is (and the guys are) are drag
performers in a show within the show, but haven't
I seen this before? It
doesn't diminish the performances or show when evaluated on a stand-alone
basis, but if you're a typical hobbyist theatergoer or more, and you've seen
other shows that are so remindful
of this one, it is a bit bothersome. In
interviews, Porter has tried to point out what he believes to be the
differences from the other shows and the crucial elements in the eventual
acceptance of his character, but it seems
a stretch to me.
It's fun, the music's great, you laugh, you're impressed that the actors and
who look like British factory workers can sing and dance, and you
stand at the end. And there's nothing
wrong with that.
The 2012 Trip
Missy Franklin succeeds Glenn Morris as Coloradan Sullivan winner
the Golden Boy from Colorado was
named top U.S. amateur athlete of 1936
April 16, 2013: Missy
Frankin, as expected, was named the winner of the Sullivan Award
as the top amateur athlete in the United States at
ceremonies in Orlando tonight,
duplicating the feat of another Olympic hero from Colorado.
Morris, from tiny Simla, and the former football star and student body president at
Colorado State, won the decathlon
(breaking his own world record) at the 1936 Olympics in
Berlin and then was named the Sullivan Award winner
for that year. That was a bit of
a surprise, considering
Jesse Owens had won four gold medals at Berlin, but I touch on one
of the reasons why he didn't in the following passage
from Olympic Affair: Hitler's Siren
and America's Hero. For the record, I did change his wife's name in the book, for reasons I
touch on in the
afterword. And this passage follows tumultous behind-the-scenes events that
took place when he returned from Europe,
where he had been embroiled in the toxic and
contaminating affair with Leni Riefenstahl.
In December, Glenn was living in New York and working
Radio as a liaison for sports broadcasts, and preparing to compete
for the New York Athletic Club, when
he and Karen were married at
her parents’ home in Sterling. She gave up her teaching job and
Glenn to Manhattan.
That month, he also was named the winner of the Sullivan Award
as the nation’s
top amateur athlete for 1936, and he angered AAU
officials when he reacted honestly, saying to the reporter who
informed him of the news: “If I won, what happened to Owens? I
thought he’d get it.” He knew many
of the voters were holding it
against Jesse that he quickly had declared himself a professional
after the Games,
and Glenn was especially sheepish because he
didn’t intend to remain an amateur much longer, either.
On Jackie Robinson's older brother, Mack
Silver at Berlin, then on to run at Oregon
April 15, 2013: On this day, the 66th anniversary
of Jackie Robinson's
major-league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers,
my reaction to seeing the
movie "42" on Sunday
is in The Denver Post and here.
In it, I mentioned the lack of backstory -- probably inevitable, necessary and
understandable -- and brought up that Jackie's older brother,
Mack, was an
accomplished athlete as well. I'd been aware of that virtually
because he was among the athletes honored
in the hallway displays in the
University of Oregon's McArthur
I learned more about him in research for Olympic Affair, and he in fact
makes several appearances (and several speeches) in the book. As I
mentioned in the column, Robinson finished second to Jesse Owens in the
200-meter dash. Hitler was watching from his private loge, Leni Riefenstahl
and her crew were filming for the documentary Olympia, and the entire
experience of being in Berlin against the backdrop of Nazi rule left most of
the athletes at least affected. Yes, the Nazis were on their best behavior and
the worst horrors still were in the future, but the drumbeats were sounding at
an Olympics that America came close to boycotting.
After the Games, Mack ended up
heading to Eugene and ran track for the
Webfoots. As Jackie would do later, Mack first attended Pasadena City
College before moving on to a four-year school. In researching my upcoming
March 1939: Before the Madness, I acquired a copy of the 1939
Oregana, the U of O yearbook. I quickly realized the deadline for the
early, apparently designed to enable the book to be published
and available by the end of the school year. So the
details of the
Webfoots' run to the first-ever NCAA basketball title, in 1939, aren't in
and the sections on the spring sports are about the 1938 seasons.
Here's Mack's picture
in the Oregana, with the eyebrow-raising caption
included (sorry for the amateur cell phone picture's lack of focus).
Here's Frank Litsky's New York Times obituary of Mack Robinson. Note
the challenges he faced after leaving Oregon -- challenges
that Jackie Robinson noticed.
1942 Badger and WWII Hero Passes Away in Eau Claire, Wisconsin
R.I.P., Dave Donnellan
March 31, 2013: In the picture above, I'm sitting with three members of
the 1942 Wisconsin Badgers in the Borders Bookstore in Eau Claire,
left, they are: Don Litchfield, a long-time local automobile
dealer; Dave Donnellan, who owned a major real-estate
firm; and John
Gallagher, a fixture before retirement as, first, the football coach and
principal at Memorial High.
The appearance was tied to the release of Third Down and a War
to Go: The All-American 1942 Wisconsin Badgers. Donnellan's
head shot is the second from the right in the row of
individual pictures on the cover of the hardback.
Dave Donnellan passed away on March 19. He was 90.
This is from Christena T. O'Brien of the Eau Claire
the question-and-answer session at Borders that day,
youngest granddaughter raised her hand.
"Were you ever scared?" 8-year-old
Monica Hart asked her
The question, from one so young and so wide-eyed, got to me.
the time," Donnellan said softly. "Every single day."
In World War II, Donald Litchfield was a B-25
pilot and John
Gallagher was a Marine.
After the presentation and signing, Dave Donnellan's wife, Jane,
gently told me her husband had
been too modest.
When I interviewed
him, Donnellan hadn't told me he won the
Over his objections, I got that in the book's second printing and
then in the new paperback
version, Third Down and a War to Go.
I've touched on this before, and I'll say it again: Donnellan's
was so typical, because I had heard something similar from my own
father, a P-38 fighter pilot in the Pacific, and also a '42 Badger, and
from so many others in his generation.
coverage of Dave's death in the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram:
Beloved Eau Claire businessman remembered
Editorial: Donnellan's resume only part of what made him special
My choices for the top sports movies of all time
Gone With the Wind or
Slap Shot? It's
February 22, 2013: The Oscars are Sunday night,
sports movies are among the best-picture nominees. That’s
not much of a surprise,
considering only three sports-themed
movies — Rocky, Chariots of Fire, and Million-Dollar Baby
ever have been named best picture. But there have been
many great sports films. Here’s
a list of my own diverse
favorites, plus some other thoughts on the genre.
1, Slap Shot (1977). Nancy Dowd’s script about the fictional
Chiefs, plus the improvisation by the great cast,
including Paul Newman and Strother Martin, made this the
of all time. (Her brother, Ned, played Ogie Oglethorpe,
and his experiences in hockey's minor leagues were the
inspiration for her script.) The lame sequels, long delayed,
went straight to DVD.
2, Bang the Drum Slowly (1973). Mark Harris, who wrote
the novel, also
wrote the screenplay, and that’s always a
good sign. Not even he could quite replicate the sardonic
of the novel (or, actually, the series of Henry Wiggen
novels), but it was a terrific movie, starting Robert De
Michael Moriarty and Vincent Gardenia. The first novel in the
series, The Southpaw, was
a better book than Bang The
Drum Slowly, but this almost certainly was a better choice
3, Breaking Away (1979). For a long time, Steve Tesich,
also a novelist, was my favorite writer. And this script was
why. The dry humor and the human touch made
much more than a “bike-racing” movie. Plus, those of us
who grew up in college
towns recognized the “townie”
elements of the story.
Without Limits (1998). I’m a little prejudiced here,
because I was raised in Eugene
and revered the film’s hero,
distance runner Steve Prefontaine, after watching him
early as when he was attending Marshfield High
School. (He had the attitude of a strong safety and probably
would have scoffed if anyone tried to get him to talk about
the Zen of running.) But his fellow former
Oregon runner Kenny Moore wrote the far better of the two
bio-pics about the great and
charismatic runner who died
way too young.
5, Raging Bull (1980). De Niro
plays Jake LaMotta, Martin
Scorsese directs. A dynamite one-two combination.
Bull Durham (1988). I actually found the most-quoted
Kevin Costner speech a bit much,
but the rest was terrific. As
a teenager, I worked for and took a few trips with a
team, and this movie rang true to to
me more because of those experiences than because of what
later in my occasional stints covering
of Dreams (1989). The rare case in which the
movie, again starring Costner, while a bit sappy, was
800 times better than the overwrought book (Shoeless Joe).
Not long after the movie came
out, while on a trip to cover a
football game at the University of Iowa, I was a complete
the side trip to Dyersville and playing catch
with fellow scribe Paul Buker on the actual Field of Dreams
8, The Longest Yard (original, 1974).
I don’t know why it
made me so mad that Hollywood remade this. Well, maybe
so many who saw the remake actually thought it
was good. But it hit on the great marketing strategy of giving
media types bit parts so they’d hype it – and it worked. It
couldn’t hold the original’s
9, 61* (2001). Hank Steinberg wrote and Billy Crystal
the dramatization of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris'
chase of Babe Ruth's home-run record.
10, Caddyshack (1980). Yeah, I can rattle off the lines, too.
It’s also the greatest cable movie ever – you can tune in “x”
minutes in and know
exactly where you are.
11, Bad News Bears (original, 1976).
Walter Matthau was
brilliant, and so was the script. Unfortunately, the bad
sequels, a mediocre television
series and yet another absurd
remake have diminished the franchise.
(1986). OK, I liked it, too; I just don't have it
as high on the list as many do.
of Fire (1981). One reason I was prone to like
it was because among the kids sports books I
checked out of
the library in grade school were those written by Jackson
Scholz, the ex-Olympic sprinter
who was one of the major
figures in this movie.
(1976). The sequels perhaps cause me to
downgrade this, but when it came out, it was a refreshing,
underdog story of its own. And I always say "wid"
League of Their Own (1992). It understandably was
billed and sold as a lighthearted comedy;
in fact, Penny
Marshall directed an excellent “dramedy.”
16, And I'll add the linemates of Miracle (2004) and Miracle
(1981). The latter, with Karl Malden but not Michael
Douglas, was pretty good for its rushed, television movie
circumstances; and in the former, Kurt Russell was eerily
on-target playing the Herb Brooks role.
The most over-rated sports movie ever: Million-Dollar Baby
(2004), which became an utterly absurd
melodrama in its
final half. With all due respect to Clint Eastwood, Morgan
Freeman, and Hilary Swank,
this has got to be one of the
worst best-picture winners ever … although some of the
give it a run for the money.
The frivolous sports
movies I could watch (and have watched)
again and again: It Happens Every Spring (1949), with
Ray Milland; Major League (1989); and Damn Yankees (1958).
Best TV sports movie: Brian’s Song (original, 1971).
A nice essay/review in prestigious Philadelphia Review of Books
Author Jim Blanchet: Olympic
Affair is a "success as both a
stand-alone novel and historical fiction"
February 18, 2013: The Philadelphia Review
of Books today
posted author Jim Blanchet's essay on, and review of,
Here's the snippet I have posted:
his initial information ... and a combination of
deduction and artistic license, Frei fills in the blanks
history and tells his own version of the story. The
combination of the diligent research techniques
he used to
write his widely acclaimed non-fiction books ... and creativity
makes Olympic Affair
a success as both a stand-alone novel
and historical fiction. While simultaneously recalling the
triumphs of participating nations, Frei builds a
tension-filled love affair that steals the show from the most
controversial Olympic Games in history. Combining inference
and invented dialogue, he forces the reader
to invest deeply
in even the most outlying of characters, some of which he
pulls from history and personalizes
(swimmer/actress Eleanor Holm Jarrett, heavyweight
champion/restaurateur Jack Dempsey
chancellor/psycho Adolf Hitler). Through the developing plot,
the details of the Olympics and
the skewed historical
perspective of men and women living in a pre-WWII
environment, Frei has (maybe
unintentionally) created a new
sort of story regarding the US-Nazi saga ... Olympic Affair
offers a chronicle that proves why athletic drama often goes
beyond the field (or track) of competition. An athletic
controversy, a triumph against adversity or a love affair
bring together the fanatics, the casual followers and those
who just happen to appreciate a good
yarn, no matter the
origin. And who better to tell a story of that kind than an
and non-fiction author turned
Tattered Cover signing and Denver Press Club Book Beat
Making the promotional rounds
in Denver for Olympic Affair
January 25, 2013: In the past couple of weeks, I made appearances at the
Tattered Cover (East
Colfax branch) and at the Denver Press Club to
discuss, answer questions about, and sign Olympic Affair.
The January 17 appearance was my sixth at the TC, and it remains a pleasure
and a thrill
to speak at one of the nation's top independent bookstores. (One
regret: I haven't ever appeared
at Powell's, which I used to haunt when we
lived in the Portland area.) This time, it was a joint "Evening
Fiction" appearance with Paul Levitt, the University of Colorado professor
whose terrific and panoramic novel, Stalin's Barber, also is
from Taylor Trade. Rick Rinehart
of Taylor Trade moderated the discussion.
Paul and I, in fact, both publicly thanked Rick for taking a chance
novels -- the first ones Taylor Trade has ever published. Until recently, in
fact, the TT Twitter
profile noted that it published books "in all genres except
fiction." Now, it says: "We are
the trade divisions of the Rowman &
Littlefield Publishing Group. We've got books in nearly every genre! Sorry,
no zombies, no vampires." Taylor Trade also published the paperback
version of Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming; plus '77: Denver, the Broncos
and a Coming of Age and Playing Piano in a Brothel.
After the signing portion of the program, as is the custom, we both signed
books for the TC, so autographed copies of both Olympic Affair and
are at the East Colfax branch.
Then on January 24, Bruce Goldberg of the Denver Business Journal,
the Denver Press Club's president, interviewed me for a "Book Beat"
program at the
DPC. Among those in the audience were fellow authors
Michael Madigan and Dennis Dressman, both former editors and
executives at the Rocky Mountain News, and they asked me questions
about my methodology
and the book itself. (Mike briefly was my boss
when I worked part-time at the News when I was
Screenplay versus book: Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming example
Same Opening, Different Style
I've found that writing screenplay adaptations
of existing works – in
of my own books – isn't agonizingly difficult. I've
done it three times and without going into details, all have been in or
are in "the loop."
I've had meetings, lunches, cocktails at the Beverly
Wilshire and (appropriately, as you'll see) breakfast
at the Hotel
Bel-Air, and a discussion in a Hollywood star's Brentwood living
room ... all of it. But, no, you haven't seen any of those films on
the screen. Yet.
I'm not saying writing an adaptation is "easy," and it's based
on the recognition that any script is a starting point for the director
and it will undergo considerable
change in the process. And in
some cases, that's putting it nicely.
From the start, the story is
already in my head and the computer,
dialogue or suggested dialogue is in front of me, and the biggest
is avoid trying to simply put the book in screenplay
form. That requires stepping back, taking liberties and
important – deciding what to focus on and what to leave out for a
Third Down and a War to Go, the book, was about Wisconsin's 1942
college football team winning the national championship and
going off to war, with some not coming back. For the screenplay,
I tightened the focus, making it
more the story of three of the
Badgers' stars. The opening is different than that of the book, starting
captain and two-time All-American end Dave Schreiner
serving as a Marine in the Pacific and receiving a letter and a
informing him that his Badgers co-captain and lifelong buddy, bomber
co-pilot Mark Hoskins, has been shot
down on a combat mission and
is feared lost.
The Witch's Season, the book, was about a team modeled on my
father's Oregon Ducks of the late 1960s, the famous men on his staff
and team, and the tumultuous campus. The screenplay version
compresses the time frame, ending the
film right after Nixon's
election, rather than on his Inauguration Day. It leaves part of the
but with enough foreshadowing for viewers to fill in
the blanks themselves.
Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming (2002) was the most challenging,
perhaps because it's the one that I could envision being done as
rather than a film. For several reasons, I won't give away
the gist of the decisions I made, but I will say that I cut
out alot of
the story and back story and made it very specific.
Two of those three are non-fiction
books, and I found that the
experience of doing the screenplays – taking a true story and
imagining dialogue and scenes – helped greatly when writing Olympic
Affair: Hitler's Siren and America's Hero, which even more than the
other books is almost what I consider the novelization of a
screenplay that doesn't exist.) Reviewers have noted
Now, for an example: Although there are major differences between
the HHNC book and screenplay, I started both with the same 1985
"scene" – former Razorbacks defensive back Bobby Field, then an
director at UCLA, encountering former President
Nixon outside the Hotel Bel-Air. After this, of course, the
back to 1969. As it turns out, of course, while Nixon remembered
quite a bit about the events
of December 6, 1969 game in
Fayetteville, there was a lot more going on that he didn't know
the opening segment of the screenplay. I can't supply
the popcorn and keep in mind that when I originally wrote
it, it was
roughly eight times as long before I was reminded it needed to be
snappy and set the stage for the
EXT. UCLA FOOTBALL PRACTICE FIELD, LOS ANGELES – DAY
Sprinklers spray as Bobby FIELD, late-30s, fit, and wearing a gray “UCLA FOOTBALL”
T-shirt, takes off at a one-time serious athlete’s stay-in-shape pace.
EXT. NORTH EDGE UCLA CAMPUS, LOS
ANGELES – DAY
Field approaches the campus entrance and sprints
across the street, entering Stone Canyon
MALE RADIO NEWSCASTER (v.o.)
Among the stories we’re following on KNX 1070: Reclusive ex-President Richard Nixon is
visiting his native Southern California, and he was spotted having dinner at Chasen’s last night
Paul Keyes, the producer of the old “Laugh-In” TV series. No word on whether
President Nixon reprised
his attempt at the show’s “Sock It To Me” catchphrase on the
show during the 1968 campaign.
RADIO NEWSCASTER (v.o.)
you have to say that right. It was a question.
MALE RADIO NEWSCASTER (v.o.)
(Bad Nixon imitation)“Sock
it to me?”
EXT. STONE CANYON BOULEVARD, BEL AIR – DAY
Field runs up the winding road. Hotel Bel
Air is ahead. Three Men in suits walk toward Field.
AGENT 1 and AGENT 2 are big and fit. The man in the middle
is Richard NIXON at age
72, getting morning exercise. Ten feet short of Nixon, Field puffs out a greeting.
HOTEL BEL AIR PARKING LOT, BEL AIR – DAY
Field has reversed his direction and is coming down the
hill. He spots Nixon again, next to the
hotel’s canopied entrance. Field detours into the parking lot and
slows to a walk. As the
Agents step forward, he approaches the former president and lifts his right hand in a
Mr. Nixon … Mr. President. Sorry to bother you, sir, but I decided I should introduce
Bobby Field. I’m the football defensive coordinator on Terry Donahue’s staff at
Sure. You had a fine season.
offers his hand. Field shakes it.
Thank you, sir.
matter of fact, in 1969, I was a defensive back for the University of Arkansas and you,
sir, came to our game in
A limousine pulls up. The DOORMAN opens the back door. Nixon doesn’t move.
Terrific game! Numbers one and two in the
nation. Texas with James Street running the
wishbone offense and throwing that long pass … Arkansas with
Bill Montgomery firing away
to Chuck Dicus … That fine Texas boy, Freddie Steinmark, visited me later at
House … I was in the stands, freezing, with Governor Rockefeller and George Bush and
Fulbright … and it comes down to the final minutes and it’s anyone’s game … and
Sir, we should go.
What a thrilling finish! And when it was
over, I went to both dressing rooms.
Yes, sir, this is the second time I’ve shook your hand. This time, I'm not crying.
Agents nudge Nixon into the car. Limousine pulls away. Field watches with the doorman.
That must have been some football game, him rattling all that off. He had a hard time coming
up with his wife’s name yesterday.
TITLE COMES UP: HORNS, HOGS, AND NIXON COMING
Adding to my newspaper column on approach of Oregon vs. Colorado
The first game ever in Autzen
October 22, 2012: With another matchup between my
mater (Colorado) and the team my father once coached
(Oregon) coming up on Saturday, my Monday Denver Post
commentary is about my reflections on the first game ever
played in Autzen Stadium, plus those quite different times.
The reaction via direct communication has been very
gratifying, and I thank those who have taken the
express it. I was even nicely reminded that because of an
ABC strike, Keith Jackson
didn't work the game as scheduled
on ABC, and the commentators were former coaches from
each of the two
schools -- Len Casanova, in his first season
as the Oregon AD; and Dal Ward, the former coach at
The irony is that at each school, the athletic
department offices are named after them -- the Casanova
Center and the Dal Ward Center.
We added the program cover from that game
to the online
version of the column, so that's there now. The cover for
the first game ever
in Autzen Stadium is an aerial photo of
the Oregon campus, which doesn't include the new
stadium. In that shot, Hayward Field, the
former football stadium that to this day remains famous
track and field competition and being in the
background of an "Animal House" scene, is at the top left.
As you can see at the left,
Autzen was on the cover of
the program two weeks
when the Ducks
played Ohio State in
the Dedication Game. I
vaguely remember Woody
Hayes marveling that
Autzen was built for only
$2.3 million, and I think he
it as a compliment.
To put that in perspective, plugging the figure in on online
the fact that it's equal to about $16 million in
2012 dollars. And now Colorado State is talking about
building a very basic on-campus stadium for $246 million,
considered a modest figure today for any stadium.
an economist, and I didn't take Econ at CU, so I'm sure the
direct comparison that way
is misleading, but it's at least
interesting. As alluded to in the column, Autzen was built in
and it basically was shoving a bunch of earth
together to form a berm and pouring concrete into
it to form
Additional points to accompany the column:
-- Below is a page from the
'67 Oregon-Colorado program,
and serves to make my point about my father's original
and how his World War II service was not
mentioned in his coaching biography. Two of the men below
Robinson and George Seifert) were NFL head coaches;
a third (Bruce Snyder) came within one play of winning a
national championship as the head coach at Arizona State.
Two other future NFL head coaches also were involved
father's program. Gunther Cunningham was a linebacker on
this '67 team and subsequently
joined my father's coaching
staff, first as a graduate assistant. Norv Turner was a Ducks
recruited from Martinez, Calif.
Also unexplained is the "late" reference to Dave
Schreiner. Perhaps readers in
the late 1960s still
remembered that he was a two-time All-American end and
Big Ten Conference MVP who
was killed in action during the
Battle of Okinawa in World War II. Also, Elroy Hirsch was
as "Crazylegs," and the story of that team is
told in Third Down and a War to Go.
-- Several mentioned to me in email and Twitter responses
that this column sounded as if
it could be a hint of another
In fact, I've already done it. The Witch's Season is a roman a
clef novel about those Oregon teams, the men involved,
times on one of the nation's cauldron campuses,
and college football. The actual college football part is
timeless, in my view.
Out of the blue, a touching email about a WWII pilot and the sweetheart who never forgot him
never came back"
September 26, 2012: Today, I was emailed that picture.
The woman is Irene Smith.
get to her story, but first, the background.
After the 2004 publication of Third Down and a War to Go: The
American 1942 Wisconsin Badgers, I heard from Arlene Chandler, who had
been the fiancee
of Bob Baumann, one of my father's two teammates on that
team who had been killed in the Battle of Okinawa.
Arlene passed along letters and pictures from her time with Bob, when she
was Arlene Bahr, and I included
the material in the paperback Third Down
and a War to Go. Some of those pictures are on the book's
page on this web
Today, I was reminded that Arlene and so many others lost sweethearts
during the war,
men with whom they had talked about spending lives
I received the email from
Cindy Smith in Montrose, Iowa.
She told me she had come across my November 2000 Denver Post story
served as the starting point for Third Down and a War to Go. She had been
for information on a World War II pilot named Madison Gillaspey.
She started checking after attending an air show
in Burlington last week with
her mother, Irene Eck Smith. When it was announced that the third Friday in
September was an annual day of remembrance for American POW and
MIA, Irene was moved to tell her daughter
more about losing her fiancee
during World War II.
His name was Madison Gillaspey.
Irene called him "Bud."
Madison and Irene Eck had attended high school together in Argyle, Iowa,
were long-time sweethearts and were engaged to be married. While he was
serving in the Pacific,
she took flight lessons and was on the verge of taking a
solo flight as a pilot herself when she got word
that Madison was missing in
action and presumed dead. Irene told her daughter that she was heartbroken
flew again. Irene eventually met and married Cindy's father,
Wendell Smith, taught grade school for many years,
and now is a widow.
My dad was in the 26th Photo Squadron, whose pilots were entrusted with
P-38 fighters reconfigured into reconaissance planes. They flew
them unarmed, with the cameras replacing guns.
They flew alone or in
two-plane missions over Japanese targets, taking pictures in advance of the
My Dad had told me of how a small group of flyers in the 26th Photo
together by the accident of the alphabet, had become
close. Ed Crawford, Jerry Frei, Don Garbarino, Madison
Ruffin Gray. They made a pact that they all would come through the war
Because of an alphabet cutoff after training Gray ended up with
another unit, but he remained in touch.
In February 1945, my father caught up to his unit, by then at Lingayen in the
Philippines, after a
brief leave. He saw one of the P-38s taking off.
Here's what he told me, years later, and this was both in the
Post article and
in Third Down and a War to Go:
“I asked one of our people, ‘Who’s
that?’ He said it was Madison Gillaspey,
and he was going on a low-level mission
to Ipo Dam. I went over to the
squadron area, to the others’ tent. It always was Ed
Garbarino, Madison Gillaspey, and me. But while I was gone, they’d moved
another pilot in with them when they got to Lingayen, so I was going to go
get a cot and be the fifth.”
He didn’t have to get the cot.
“Madison Gillaspey never came back,” Jerry Frei said. “No one ever knew
happened, but we lost two planes over Ipo Dam."
My dad remained in touch with the other men in that tent over
They missed Madison Gillaspey.
That at the top is of Irene at
the Keokuk (Iowa) National Cemetery,
where Gillaspey has a memorial stone, though his remains never were
And here's Argyle, Iowa, High's Class of '41, with both Irene and Madison.
in the top row. Irene is the second from left, Madison is at the right.
I've mailed Irene a copy of Third Down and a War to Go. I hope she likes it.