As you can imagine, I have a pretty eclectic Twitter feed. Lots of airline stuff, travel stuff, political stuff, and a handy helping of humor. I’m going to experiment with a series of short posts, picking out things I find interesting and/or funny. Hope you enjoy my latest “Tweet of the Day”! It’s not travel-related, but I hope you’ll stick with me for a few minutes.
Many years ago, as a junior in high school, I learned of the late, great Frank Deford. I didn’t learn about Deford, the legendary sports writer. I learned about Frank Deford, the publisher. You see, I cut my teeth on sports reading a little sports daily called The National.
I would rollerblade to school, stopping at the train station to plunk a few quarters into the machine to buy The National. Back then, I was just starting to really love the Detroit Pistons and Duke Basketball. Already in love with the Yankees and Giants, I looked forward to so much sports information every day.
The National was what made me into a sports fan. I had never read Sports Illustrated prior. We didn’t have cable TV, so I didn’t get to watch much sports. But, I loved the little bit of it I was able to see. The National opened up this massive world. It made it easy to connect with teams that were thousands of miles away in a time when there was no internet. That was a time when you watched the home team on TV and waited for updates on anything else. When people opened up the newspaper to read a box score and recap.
Sports fans who aren’t familiar with The National, who only grew up in the world of ESPN.com, won’t remember that The National was more sports than most people could consume. Frank Deford left a long career at Sports Illustrated to start The National, providing information to thousands of sports fans starving for it.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. 18 months after it started, The National ceased production. There weren’t enough of us crazed sports fans to plunk down 75 cents each day (it started at 50 cents an issue).
Frank kept on telling stories, both in print and on the radio. It was just a few weeks ago that Frank had his last of thousands of sound bites on NPR radio. A few weeks later, he’s gone.
Frank Deford is one of the greatest storytellers I’ve ever had the good fortune to read. He didn’t report on sports, he told stories. He had this ability to pick up on details other didn’t, to tell a more complete story than just a ball passing through a basket or a racer crossing a finish line.
Rest In Peace
I wonder if Frank knew his life was near its end when he signed off a few weeks ago. Or, if, after telling that final tale, he was just plain out of stories. It doesn’t seem feasible he’s told his last tale.
There are generations of people who really don’t know who Frank Deford is. I doubt you’ll find too many millennial tunings into NPR on Wednesdays for Deford nugget. Some people hate sports, or just can’t find the time to have a deep interest. Frank felt that sports was a part of our culture. He felt it deserved to be talked about. He talked about the human element, moving beyond numbers. It’s a discussion that’s too often lost as we race to our smartphones to catch a 30-second highlight.
As I shuffled through those old copies of The National, I can remember so many days where I would get lost in those pages. Where sports, in many ways, became larger than life. Deford had the aspiration, the temerity to create something we just weren’t ready for. Within a decade, it would be possible to watch 15 NFL games on a given Sunday, all from the comfort of our couch. In 1991, the world just wasn’t ready for that much sports.
I think about the sound those 3 quarters would make as I dropped them in the machine. Then, the sound of grating metal and coiled springs as I opened the door and grabbed a fresh copy. Somewhere, Frank is clearing his throat, ready to tell me one more story.
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