A Front-Row Seat with the Sportswriters Who Sat There
Sit down with host Todd Jones and other sportswriters who knew the greatest athletes and coaches, and experienced first-hand some of the biggest sports moments in the past 50 years. They’ll share stories behind the stories -- some they’ve only told to each other.
Dave Kindred: Taking us along with Ali, Tiger and Secretariat
Few sportswriters can match the lyrical and insightful work of Dave Kindred. His aim has always been to take readers with him, and make them feel what he felt. Dave does this for listeners in this episode as he recalls first meeting Muhammad Ali in 1966, covering 17 of his fights, and agreeing to a strange request from The Greatest in one of their 300-plus interviews. There was the time Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp called Kindred a SOB, and that magical moment at the ’73 Belmont Stakes when Secretariat ran like a beautiful machine in motion. He compares and contrasts Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, and reveals who he’d take if they were matched in their prime. And we hear how Dave found a community in the past decade by chronicling a girls high school basketball team in Illinois.
Kindred forged a close relationship with Ali while working as a staff writer and columnist for the heavyweight champion’s hometown newspaper, the Louisville Courier-Journal, from 1965 to ’77. He went on to serve as sports columnist for The Washington Post (1977-84), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (1984-89 and 1995-97), The National Sports Daily (1989-91), and the Sporting News (1991-2007). Dave has been a contributing writer for Golf Digest since 1997, and he’s a regular contributor online for the National Sports Journalism Center. He also wrote a news column for several years while at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and he was the Washington D.C. correspondent for the Courier-Journal.
Dave’s started as a sportswriter in 1959 at The Daily Pantagraph in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, while he was a student earning a B.A. in English at Illinois Wesleyan ‘63. He worked there for six years before moving to Kentucky. He went on to write more than 7,000 columns and 12 books, including the memoir, “Leave Out the Tragic Parts: A Grandfather’s Search for a Boy Lost to Addiction,” that was published in 2021. By his count, Dave has covered 75 major golf championships dating back to the 1966 PGA Championship. He also covered 44 Super Bowls, 43 Kentucky Derby races; 44 World Series, eight Olympic Games (Winter and Summer) and eight Wimbledon Championships, and three NBA Finals, He was in Munich, Germany for the ’72 Olympic massacre and in Lake Placid, N.Y. for the 1980 Miracle on Ice. And he likes to say that he’s lost golf balls in 22 countries on four continents.
In 1991 Dave became the youngest winner of sports journalism's highest prize for a career's work, the Red Smith Award, given by the Associated Press Sports Editors organization to someone who has made major contributions to sports journalism. He was the 2018 recipient of the PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing. He has also received the Dick Schaap Award for Outstanding Journalism, the Dan Jenkins Medal for Excellence in Sportswriting, the PGA Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism, the Curt Gowdy Print Media Award, given by the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame for outstanding contributions to basketball, and the National Headliner award for general-interest columns. Dave was enshrined in the National Sportscasters & Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame in 2000. He was the 1997 National Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. He has won four first-place awards in Golf Writers Association of America contests, and his stories have been anthologized in the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series. He was named Kentucky Sportswriter of the Year five times, Georgia Sportswriter of the Year twice, and District of Columbia Sportswriter of the Year five times. Dave received the Illinois Wesleyan’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1998. The Dave Kindred Papers collection is housed in Illinois Wesleyan’s Tate Archives and Special Collections in The Ames Library. That collection comprises approximately 45 boxes of material, a significant portion pertaining to Ali. https://iwu.libraryhost.com/repositories/3/resources/11
Hey, Dave thanks for joining us on Press Box Access. It's a real honor to have you on as our guest.
[00:00:10.550] - Dave
My pleasure, Todd.
[00:00:12.590] - Todd
You know, a year ago you were featured on 60 Minutes, and now you're hanging out with me. That's kind of like the Rolling Stones playing an afternoon show at a coffee house in the suburbs.
[00:00:23.930] - Dave
Well, I would never say that.
[00:00:25.840] - Todd
Well, I will, because you're up there with Mick Jagger, as far as I'm concerned. And here you are on my show. So it's a true honor. I really do mean that I'm there with Jagger age wise. At least I know that I think you can dance like Nick. Hey, you started writing. I saw this. Your parents gave you a typewriter at age 15, and the first words you Typed were Stanley Frank usual Stan, usual. So you must have known you wanted to be a sports writer right off the bat. Except I think you had an English teacher who really kind of wanted your prodigious skills to be used in a different way. Right.
[00:01:14.210] - Dave
Well, I'm doing a memoir right now that causes me to think in ways that I've never thought before. But, yes, when I Typed Stanley Frank Mutual before I Typed those letters, hunted and pecked to those letters, I sat there thinking, I want to type something that I'm going to remember as the first words I ever Typed. So I think I was thinking, okay, this is going to be it. It was kind of a life decision. I didn't know it, of course, for another 40 years. But I think I did decide at that moment that's what it was going to be.
[00:01:51.770] - Todd
Yeah, England's teacher. But that is Claire Swenford something else.
[00:01:57.110] - Dave
Clare Swinford was her name. I loved her. She was kind of a spinster type woman. Gray hair in a bun, glasses on a lanyard around her neck. Looks like a librarian. She thought that sports writing was beneath not only me, but anybody. She said, well, maybe you can be a foreign correspondent.
[00:02:20.670] - Todd
Yes. Well, you know what, though? You did get to travel the world. I think you're wrong. You did like, what, 75 golf. You did like 40. More than 40? Yes, more than 40. World Series, more than 40. Kentucky Derbys, eight Olympics, eight Wimbledon Championships. Oh, and that guy Ali. Oh, yeah. You saw him fight 17 times. So you were a foreign correspondent?
[00:02:49.790] - Dave
Well, actually, in Todd. Tom Callahan, my great friend in the business forever. First worked in Cincinnati and then later worked in Washington. We worked at the golf together. We went literally around the world playing golf, and Golf Digest paid some of it, Doubleday publishing paid some of it, and we wrote a book about it. Our friend and you knew him? Billy Reid said he thought that was the greatest boondoggle of all time. Hannah said we prefer to think of it as a calling from God.
[00:03:29.270] - Todd
I think I saw something. You lost golf balls in 22 countries or something.
[00:03:35.550] - Dave
And three oceans.
[00:03:37.710] - Todd
You certainly establish yourself as one of the most celebrated and successful sports writers in the last 60 years. And when I think about your career, I looked at all these awards that had been bestowed upon you and rightfully so, and including one that you won in the Red Smith Award. And I think that one is very special to you for many reasons. Right.
[00:04:05.310] - Dave
Well, Red Smith was my first hero when I was a kid in Atlanta, Illinois. I read in the Panagraph. He was a syndicated columnist. His column appeared in the paragraph once in a while. I always liked it, always had fun. Red seemed to be having fun at places that we all would like to go. So he became my hero. I liked the way that he wrote. I liked the sound of his words. He wasn't really a nuts and bolts, kind of winterloose figure Filbert kind of sports writer. He just seemed to be having fun. And I like that idea, and it's kind of been my model forever.
[00:04:51.870] - Todd
Well, you certainly put it into great practice at the Louisville Curry Journal, at The Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Washington Post, Sporting News, Golf Digest, the national you've written twelve books. You got this celebrated blog for the last decade or so. So let's start with the time in Louisville from 1965 to 1977 when you were in the state of Kentucky and how that impacted your career at a very young age.
[00:07:52.820] - Todd
So you were covering Adolf ROP, the Kentucky coach, and younger generations. Adolf Rob might just be a name in the history books now, but when you started writing about Kentucky basketball, Rap was the guy. He was the Baron. He was the guy, really, before Wood got his role going. So you're a young rider, and all of a sudden you're covering the coach in College basketball. What was it like to be around eight off Rock?
[00:08:20.350] - Dave
Well, I was the beat guy. The first beat job I had was basketball season. Texas Western beat Kentucky in 1966. In March, I became the beat rider on the Kentucky basketball team that next winter. And I was eight off Rough worst season ever. He was 13 and 13. He was a great player. Riley had a bad back, had heard it in a water skiing accident in the summer. Louie Daniel was a senior, but they went 13 and 13. But he was the one and only. He could be gruff. He was a curmudgeon. He was tough to deal with, but he was utterly charming when he wanted to be. But he usually wanted to be after he had won. When he lost, he wasn't that happy.
[00:09:22.590] - Todd
Right? Well, that's set to scene. You're taking over to beat a year after what you had already mentioned. Kentucky's lost to Texas Western, and it wasn't just any loss. It was now what we look back to as a historical moment in sports where it was all white, Kentucky losing to all black Texas Western, the starters. And that was just a touchstone moment in race history, not just in sports, but in our country. So you're dealing with a year after that. Was that still a lingering issue the next season?
[00:09:59.210] - Dave
I don't think Todd. I don't think it was even an issue that season. I've done a lot of research on rough as a racist. I don't believe that. I think that was completely unfair, that charge. But at the time, Ford's illustrated Frank to Ford, in fact, covered that game, the 65, the 65 66 game. There was no mention of white against black. The only writer was one writer at the game who mentioned it? I think it was Bill Conlan from Philadelphia made an issue out of it. Otherwise, there was no issue made of it at the time. But it did change College basketball and that more universities began recruiting more black players. That was the main impact of that game. The idea that it was historic in the terms of a racial impact was layered onto it later over the years when people looked back and said, well, is that where it started? Okay, well, that was a convenient start when in fact, Cincinnati had won the NCAA two years before, three years before with four black starters. Texas Western normally had four black starters, but through some confluence of injury and decision, A. Whim.
[00:11:35.110] - Dave
Don Haskins started five Blacks against rough. So I think that it became a convenient kind of jumping off point for a racial story.
[00:11:48.820] - Dave
But I knew none of it. And some of it's my ignorance to being 26 years old, suddenly covering one of the story basketball teams of programs of all time. I was probably in over my head. I didn't recognize the racial impact of anything. Illinois Westland. Martin Luther King spoke at Illinois Westland my junior year. I learned about that last year. I didn't even know it at the time. That's how blank I was.
[00:12:28.630] - Todd
Yeah. So the historical lens on the 66 Championship game kind of came much later. It sounds like.
[00:12:48.630] - Dave
Yes. As I said, sports illustrator didn't mention a racial angle. Almost no one did. I have interviewed every one of those Kentucky players. None of them saw it as a game of Blacks against whites. They all saw it just as a basketball game. And the Texas Western people did, too. I spoke to them later. I did a piece for Sports Illustrated on the game, and I talked to David Latin, who was their big star. I talked to another one of the I don't remember his name, the guard guy that made a couple of great players in the game. They didn't see it as black against white at all.
[00:13:32.310] - Todd
Right. Well, again, Rob was the guy. He was the guy in College basketball at that time. He coached from 1930 to 1972, 876 and 190. That's a pretty good record for NCAA Championships. And you were a young reporter. Were you intimidated at all by dealing with a guy like that?
[00:13:55.170] - Dave
I don't think I was smart enough to be intimidated by him. To me, I hadn't grown up knowing at all for up. I came from Illinois. I knew again I was raw. I was 25 years old. I just didn't know quite what to do other than cover the basketball games. I thought as that rep was dominant. Of course, you didn't argue with Rupt. As you said, he won 876 games and his players lost 190. He was an egotist. He was full of himself at all times. He not doing a very good job, Todd, of describing him because he was unique. I wrote a lot about him by the end of I became a columnist in 69. He was then 70 years old. I was saying it was time for him to go, and he didn't like that at all. He had reached the University's mandatory retirement age, but he basically announced that he was not going to retire. They would have to force him to retire. And that's in the end, that's what happened. But he didn't like me. I think the famous story, Dick Finland.
[00:15:24.240] - Todd
You know, Dick Finland worked in our mutual friend who passed away in 2021. There's a great story. Dick used to tell me about you and him and Adolf Rob. Let's hear from you.
[00:15:37.550] - Dave
Well, Adolf answered his phone at home all the time. His phone number was listed in the phone book. If he didn't want to answer a call, he just would turn the phone off. Finland. I loved Dick Finland. He was great. Finland called him one night and said, Coach, this is Dick Finland. And Rep says Finland. I know two guys in Louisville, one's Finland and one's kindred. One's a good guy and the other is a son of a bitch. Which one are you? Finland quickly claimed to be the good guy. And that's kind of where Rob thought of me because I was not always bowing. I was holding him accountable for a lot of things.
[00:16:32.810] - Todd
Kentucky, of course, is also known for horse racing, for Thor Bread. And you covered more than 40 Kentucky Derbys. But there's one particular horse and one particular moment that I wanted to ask you specifically about. You covered so many great Triple Crown races, but you were there in 1973 at the Belmont in New York when Secretariat won by an astounding 31 lengths. It's almost incomprehensible even when you see film of it now. But for somebody who was there at the park, what do you recall about that magical performance by perhaps the greatest horse ever?
[00:17:22.880] - Dave
Well, I worked for a year in the worst, and that was my time there. I've been here. And you go back to Louisville. But I was close to New York. They sent me to New York to cover the Belmont. I had missed Secretariat in the Derby and the Prequenus, but they sent me to Belmont. And the amazing thing, Todd, is that if you check the time on that race, Secretary ran every quarter, a mile and a half race faster than the previous quarter, which in horse racing is just impossible. Everybody slows down. He didn't slow down. And it was clear. It was clear when he came around the last turn. He wasn't slowing down. Turcot the rider was looking back to see where everybody was.
[00:18:24.370] - Todd
It's a great photo.
[00:18:25.330] - Dave
It went away. The first Triple Crown winter in 25 years, first one since citation. And the thing I remember about it, excuse my language. Here again to Joe Falls, who was the compromise as Secretary. It went under the line. Walls elbowed me, patient my ass, because we had just seen what I wrote that day. It was the greatest force rates of all time. The Editors back in Louisville, I think, trying to well, I don't know what they were trying to do. I had called it the greatest horse race of all time. An editor in Louisville decided it was one of the greatest horse races of all time.
Why was it Secretary so special? And what do you treasure about being able to witness that performance?
[00:20:02.890] - Dave
Well, one of the great facts about Secretariat is when he died, the autopsy, they remove a horse's heart. Secretary's heart was like one and a half times bigger than the normal horse's heart, which accounted for some of the stamina, some of the speed. And it reminds the great Paul of that race, I think, with Chick Anderson. The Secretary was coming like a machine coming around the track. Secretary at first was just beautiful with a beautiful horse, beautiful chestnut, three white feet. It was a beautiful horse. And just in motion. Anything in motion tends to have a beauty of its own. And Secretariat certainly was that. Again, to name another Ohio guy, Bureau, Dayton mentors is an old guy when I was first starting, and he wrote about Secretary at once and he said the great thing about Secretariat is that he has all of his hair. He says Secretariat and I are just alike, except he has all his hair and his entire sex life is in front of him.
Well, Kentucky certainly impacted your life off rock and Secretary and all the great Derby's that you covered. But there's a gentleman that we all know, the whole world knows who's from Louisville, Kentucky. And you ended up writing about him for 50 years and covered 17 of his fights, including ten Championship outs. And that's the great Mohammed Ali, the one and only. Do you recall the first time you met Ali? I think it was 1966 right?
[00:22:21.410] - Dave
Absolutely. Again, I was a kid on the coffee desk, but they knew I wanted to be a writer. I was in there every day looking for something to do. And one day I sense have looked it up. It was one day in October of 1066. Boss comes into the office. Everybody was my boss at the time and says, Clay is in town. Go find him.
[00:22:48.230] - Todd
So they still called in cash.
[00:22:51.050] - Dave
It was two years after he announced that his name was Muhammad Ali. The newspaper style still was to call him Cassius Clay comma, also known as Muhammad Ali. So Clay is in town. Go find him. Well, I know who they meant, but I didn't know where to go find him. And they said, well, his dad's got an art Gallery. Art Gallery unquote two blocks down Broadway. So I went down there and saw Cassius Clay senior. He said, just go look at our house. Well, okay. Where's your house? Well, it was in the west end of Louisville. Well, I didn't even know east from west. Which way is west? So it pointed me toward the neighborhood where most of the African Americans in Louisville lived. West end of Louisville. So I go driving. I've got my son with me three years old, and I'm just stop and ask somebody, you've seen Caches? Everybody had seen Caches. He was in town to do a promotion. He just gone back into his old neighborhood and was walking around just seeing everybody. So Cassius Ali got in my car and we drove around all day, wherever he wanted to go.
[00:24:13.590] - Dave
He was carrying my son with him. So from then on, I always looked at him as a sweetheart. I always thought that he was. And of course, that was talking about 1966. That was at the height of a time when most people in America despised him. He was at 66, 67 because he was refusing the draft. He had joined the black Muslims. He was probably the most reviled man in America. But I saw him as a sweetheart. He was great with kids. He was fun to be with. And I saw him as that person from 66 through. Last time I saw him was somewhere in the early 20 06, 20 10. He was that guy all the time. I just saw him in a little different way than other people had seen him. So I wrote about him that day, and I've been writing about him for 50 years, almost 60 years since.
[00:25:20.850] - Todd
I think you said that you interviewed him more than 300 times, right?
[00:25:25.470] - Dave
Well, yeah, and that's just a guess. It was ridiculous. I was always with him when he was in town. I was with him when I was in Louisville. Every fight, I'd be there for a week ahead of the fight. And his hotel room was always open. You could not avoid him. Unlike most celebrities who have this aura of don't bother me Ali wanted to be bothered. Ali wanted people around him. If there wasn't anybody with him, he would go find them. He would just go stand on the street corner, let's go for a walk, because he knew that pretty soon there'd be 500 people following him. So 300 is probably a conservative estimate of how many times. And it's not even true, Todd, to say that I interviewed him three times.
[00:26:23.300] - Todd
Why do you say that?
[00:26:25.050] - Dave
I probably interviewed him twice. Most of the time I just listened. He just started talking. I don't know how many times. I'd be in a hotel room with another 1015 writers and he'd be declaiming on some subject. And if you look at you and say, you're getting this down, you're getting this down, man. This is heavy, man. If you weren't taking proper notes, he would stop until you caught up. So it was never really a dialogue with Ali. It was mostly listening. It was endlessly entertaining. And it was always fun to be around him. Yeah, he became a different person before then. He was the racist, ranting black Muslim, did everything we're taught to not talk about politics or religion or race. He talked about politics, religion and race all the time.
[00:27:29.310] - Todd
[00:27:30.170] - Dave
74 became different because Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam sect, died. Ali was basically freed up by that the Nation chain tune became more reasonable, actually began to practice true Islam instead of the Nation of Islam. So he became a different guy, became closer to the guy that I thought that he was the first time in 66, right.
[00:28:06.320] - Todd
Well, you really got close to him in 1973 because I read your book, Todd, one of your many books. I read Sound and Fury, your book about Ali and the announcer Howard Cosell in their relationship, the dual biography that you wrote. There was a moment in 1973 when you set the scenes in Las Vegas. It's a hotel suite. What the hell happened?
[00:28:29.030] - Dave
Well, as I said, his hotel suite was always open. He wanted people there. I was there. I forget what fight it was, but I was there. I go up to the hotel room, the suite. There's a bedroom to the right, a bedroom to the left with a center area where everybody was gathered. I can see Ali in bed in the right hand side, and he sees me. He waves at me. Come on in. Trying to do a column on his entourage. Well, he's in bed. He can't hear me. I can't hear him. So I get closer to the bed and he raises up the sheet of the bed, corner of the sheet and says, get in. So I don't know what most people would do when the heavyweight champion of the world says, get in. But I did. And one of us was wearing clothes and we pulled the blankets up over our heads. And I do this interview or I'm asking about his entourage. He takes my notebook and writes the names of his people working for him and how much money he's paying them each week. And we talk about whatever fight it is.
[00:29:39.860] - Dave
We're like a couple of little kids hiding from their mother, hiding from their parents under the blanket. They're supposed to be asleep, but they're talking. So I get done with the interview and I leave. I try to leave, and then I realized that Ali still has my notebook. So I have to go back and get my notebook and then I leave. But yeah, I use that as an introduction to that book because it was a way of showing how close I was, literally and figuratively to Ali at that time.
[00:30:17.200] - Todd
Right, Todd? Ali has become such a mythical figure. What do you think we get wrong about him today?
[00:30:27.390] - Dave
Well, I think we get wrong to Parkinson's, for one thing. I think what we saw in Ali was what we have now identified in football players as CTE. It's brain damage. Every fighter, every fighter who in the last hundred years have been called punch drunk. That's what it is, brain damage. And Ali may have developed Parkinson's from the brain damage, but he was suffering for a long time before that. Soaring words, stumbling, trembling. He was a wounded person. So I think we get that wrong in the sense that we kind of absolve him from that, absolve ourselves even from being entertained by this man being ruined. But I think now the Olympics probably in 96. I think when he lit the torch there, I think it caused a revival of interest in Ali. And I think then there was a full reconsideration of how does a man go from being the most reviled man in America to practically a living Saint? And I think he did that a lot of it, because he soldiered on through this damage that he was suffering without ever complaining about it. He saw it as a test sent to him by Allah.
[00:32:12.760] - Dave
And I think then to see a man persevere and without crying about it, without blaming anybody about it, I think then they saw the basic goodness that was in Ali, and that became very clear then to just see him like that torch. I think everybody then had a different feel for who he was and who he had been.
[00:32:45.430] - Todd
What was that moment like for you as a columnist in Atlanta, to see that?
[00:32:49.710] - Dave
Well, I don't think I saw it the way everybody else saw it. I was fearful for him. I didn't know what was going to happen. I had no secret information about it. But when I saw him there, literally, Todd, I don't think I wrote this, but literally it was, my God, what is going to happen? Because he was holding the torch, but he was trembling so much, and I'd seen him tremble in other instances, but I'd never seen him standing on top of a tower holding fire in his hand. And I could see that he couldn't do what he wanted to do. When he got nervous, anytime he was nervous, he shook more and he was really shaking. Then I thought he was going to drop the torch. I fear he was going to drop the torch and light his cell phone fire and then you could see the fire coming up the torch onto his arm. I still get emotional about that because everybody else was just in awe. But I don't think they saw the trembling. I don't think they saw that. They may have seen it on replay, they may have suddenly noticed it, but I noticed it from the start.
[00:34:20.090] - Dave
It seemed like 15 minutes before he could put that towards where it was supposed to be. It was probably 15 seconds, 20 seconds, but it scared me. But everybody else saw it and I did too, really, that bought them. I was just scared at the moment. It was just a great moment in his life. It was a great moment in America's life for this man to be forgiven, even by people who had despised him. Of course, now he was defenseless, now he was helpless, now he was not going to hurt us anymore. So all was forgiven. But it was a great moment that everybody, I think whoever knew Ali, everybody who ever saw him at his best member, would remember forever. I certainly will.
[00:35:23.240] - Todd
Right. You did see him at his best as an athlete. I think sometimes too, we rightfully remember the fact of what he stood for, what he expressed, all the right things that he stood for. But that platform came from his performance as an athlete, as a boxer. And you really kind of saw two different all these right, as a fighter. You saw the young one before he was banished because of his stance on the draft. And then you saw the older champ win back his title. So you saw the athlete of Ali develop over the years too.
[00:35:59.230] - Dave
Well, I've often said that the two greatest fighters of all time were Cassius Clay and Mohammed with Ali because they're completely different. Ali Cash's Clay was 6263, £200. You couldn't hit him, you couldn't catch him, you couldn't find him, float like a butterfly, sting like a Bee. Absolutely perfect description of what he was then. He's the greatest athlete that I ever saw. Greatest athlete that I will ever see. He was beautiful, he was strong, he was fast, he was quick witted in the ring, I'm talking about as an athlete. And then he lost when he was suspended on the whole draft conviction thing, 67 to 70, he was gone four years, the greatest four years of any athlete's life. He didn't fight every athlete, whether it's baseball, football, whatever, the greatest years of their life are, 27 to 30, 27 to 31. They're learning it, they're mastering it, they've mastered it. He had those four years taken away from him. So he came back as a different fighter against Joe Frazier the first time. It was a great fight. Greatest fight that I will ever see.
[00:37:32.750] - Todd
Two undefeated champs. Fraser's a reigning champ. Ollie's trying to win it back. You're there. Where were you sitting, by the way, for that fight?
[00:37:42.350] - Dave
I was in the first row ringside just opposite Ali's corner. Third or fourth round? Third or fourth round. Ali is on the ropes, leaning backwards and looks down at me. We make eye contact. I don't think he knows who I am. I'm just a guy sitting at ringside. But he's doing this. No contest. No contest. Meanwhile, Frazier is just wailing away at him. And Ali gave away three or four rounds early. So he's not going to win a decision. He was going to have to knock him out and he wasn't going to knock Fraser out that night. It was an amazing fight, an amazing athletic contest, but it was what is that, 29, 51 years ago?
[00:39:08.130] - Dave
I can still see it.
[00:39:42.910] - Dave
Yes, it was an amazing night. Although in my mind, Todd, it's second to the Corey fight in Atlanta night, really. That night was the most amazing congregation of people that I had ever seen.
[00:40:04.310] - Todd
Well, put us there. Tell us all about it. Todd put us there.
[00:40:10.950] - Dave
It was wide brimmed hats, brimmed with purple Hermine. And it was yellow robes with gold trim. And it was high heels and sequins. And those were the men.
[00:40:31.830] - Todd
I was going to say women were even more beautiful.
[00:40:35.850] - Dave
Everybody showed up. It was like Halloween and Harlem or something. They all worked. Were there. Every black person in America came to Atlanta that night. Diana Ross was in Ali's locker room afterwards. It was an amazing congregation of people, the likes of which New York couldn't even represent what had happened in Atlanta that night. It was amazing. It was an amazing thing. Mr. T was working for Raleigh there.
[00:41:26.760] - Todd
He was a bodyguard guy anyway.
[00:41:29.410] - Dave
Yeah. Not doing a very good job of describing that. I'm trying to restrain myself, but it was just an amazing thing.
[00:41:42.010] - Todd
Well, Ali took you all over the planet and provided you so many moments. And because you were there, you took us with you as readers.
[00:42:19.150] - Dave
Well, it was great. It's was fun work. I love the work. I love being there. I love telling stories. I love telling the stories of it. That's what I tried to do. I wanted to take the reader with you, make them feel what you're feeling, and it was fun to try to do that. And it's what I had always wanted to do from the time again, when I was 15 years old, I'd been reading lots of sports classics, and that's what I at that time. Boy, I'd like to do that. Well, I got to do it. It's a great satisfaction in the sense that how many people, when they're 15 years old, know what they want to do and not only get to do it, they get to do things they never imagined doing.
[00:43:20.320] - Todd
[00:43:20.710] - Dave
That is part of it. And so I'm absolutely thrilled to have been able to do that. I'd rather have been a major League baseball player.
Right? Well, you went from sleeping in a bunker to traveling the world writing about the sport of golf. And that's really a sport that you're long associated with. I think by your own count, 75 majors, golf majors you covered. And we talked a lot of greatness here with Secretariat, Mohammed Ali. And you can't talk golf or sports at all without mentioning Jack Nicholas and Tiger Woods. And you got to see both of those players in their prime. Let's kind of work backwards a little bit and start with Tiger. What lingers in your mind about Tiger Woods and the way that you were able to Chronicle him throughout his career? Obviously, he's still trying to play gutty effort at the Masters after a horrible car accident. What is it about woods that has made Tiger so special?
[00:46:30.990] - Dave
Well, he was one of those great athletes, great unique athletes. He had unbelievable hand eye coordination. Or you can't play golf. That's why you can play golf now on one leg, because he still has the great hands. I mean, in fact, he was quoted, I think, after the car accident as saying, as long as I've got my hands, I can play and he can. The first time I saw him was at Augusta. He was an amateur. Maybe it was his first pro tournament. Anyway, he won the Masters for the first time in 97, but in 96, I followed him around and quoted several people, among them Jack Nicholas, Nicholas. Great quote then was this kid is going to win more green jackets than Arnold and I together that hadn't won one at that time. But it was obviously a phenome that no one could understand. That year he played the 15th hole, which at that time measured 520 yards. He played it with a driver and a wedge. So he was always extraordinary from the start. He was always the best at everything. He was the best driver, the best iron player, the best wedge player, the best putter.
[00:48:07.370] - Dave
He was the best at everything. In 97, he won the Masters by twelve shots, I think won the Masters first major. He won the US Open in 2000 by 15 shots at Pebble Beach. He did things that nobody else ever could do. I mean, I quoted Marcomiro once. Marco Mero was a journeyman pro at the time, but they had become buddies because they live near each other in Florida. I asked Omira, this is again before Tiger had won anything, I asked Omira, how good is this kid? Omira said, he hits shots no one has ever hit before. I said, Mark, you're talking. You played with Palmer, you played with Nicholas, you played with all the good ones. Are you serious? He said, dead serious. So the kid does stuff you can't imagine doing. So he was always good. I never liked him as a person. He never liked us. He never liked the media out to do him harm or something. He didn't like us.
[00:49:18.340] - Todd
Yeah. When I was around Tiger at some tournaments, I always felt like he was not one of those athletes that was going to let you in. You were going to have to view from outside. Did you ever feel like you were able to get close to him as a writer?
[00:49:35.150] - Dave
No, not at all. Never. Once. I went to a photo shoot once with that Golf Digest. Golf Digest at the time was doing like a Tiger instruction piece every month. So that's twelve instruction pieces. They would shoot them all in one day where they just give him change of clothes or he'd bring change of clothes. So I spent a day with him and never got any kind of feel that he was a human being. He was a machine. They wanted him to take off his shirt because obviously he had a great body. They wanted to show how much to show the body. And he refused to do it. Not only refused to do it, but refused to do it in a nasty way. But he never cared for us because it was kind of the Vanguard of professional athletes. Today we and I'm talking about journalists as newspaper people didn't matter. We no longer matter to any of them. Palmer, Nicholas, those people have grown up in a different time when newspapers seem to be important, when newspapers no longer mattered, none of the athletes needed us. Very few of them were kind to us.
[00:50:58.240] - Dave
Very few of them even thought that we were doing work that was necessary.
Okay, so Nick was set to standard on the golf course for Tiger to chase what set Jack apart from his peers at the time?
[00:54:50.350] - Dave
Well, Jack was a phenomenon in his own right at the time. From the time he was a kid. What, he won the Ohio State Amateur when he was 13, maybe. So. He was a phenomenon from the beginning. He hit it farther than everybody. He was a great competitor. He never missed a putt that he needed to make. I'm not sure how to say this. Arnold Palmer invented golf on TV. Nicholas came along and profited from that exposure. And then their kind of rivalry that was not a rivalry that lasted very long because Jack just ran over him through the 70s, but he was just seems to be the greatest role model was Bobby Jones. Bobby Jones is golf's Saint Bobby Jones. And Nicholas wanted to be that guy. So his behavior was modeled after Jones and represented all the best in golf. So whenever you saw Nicholas, you were seeing what you thought of as not only the best player, but the best of what golf meant as a sport.
[00:56:21.710] - Todd
Right. Okay. You saw Nicholas and you saw woods, both of them in your prime. You've got one round of golf. They're plenty.
[00:56:34.950] - Dave
Well, you have to take Tiger with Tiger at his best was just beyond reach. Tiger at his best. I think Jack would say that Jack certainly played at a higher level longer. Jack didn't have the personal problems, let's call them that. Tiger finally fell victim to and who knows how long that had been going on before. But listen, the 2000, the Tiger Slam, where he won the four in a row, starting with the US Open and ending with the next year's Masters. You can't be better than what Tiger was then. He wanted Pebble Beach, one of the hardest golf courses in the world, playing the US Open, one of the hardest tournaments in the world. And they won by 15 shots. By 15 shots. I was there, and the 14th hole was a par five dog leg, right. Tiger had about a 230 yard second shot, and after the round, he hit it into a trap at the left front edge of the green. Got it up and down for a birdie. After the round, we ask him, what were you thinking on that 230 yard second shot to 14? He says, well, if I hit it, I forget what he hit.
[00:58:14.760] - Dave
He says, but if I hit the three wood, it's going to go into that trap and roll up and out of the trap. If I hit the five wood, it's going to go into that trap and it's going to roll up and it will come back and stop where I want it. And I'm thinking, wait a minute, he's worried about the last 3ft of a 230 yard shot, and he thinks he can control that. Well, that's what he did. So he did things like that all the time. And as good as Jack was, Jack was the best of his time. I think even Jack would say, at our best, Tiger is the better player, right?
[00:59:02.240] - Todd
Yeah. We can only wonder what would have been for Tiger if all the problems didn't rise up.
[00:59:11.050] - Dave
Well, maybe we get into a psychological puzzle there. Did the life he led ruin him, or did the life he led make him who he was to begin with? Would he have won the first ten if he had been a different person? Or did living that life make it possible for him to win the first ten? The life of almost totally obsessed with whatever he was obsessed with.
[00:59:45.420] - Todd
Right. That's the interesting thing about genius, right. That scorched Earth mentality.
[00:59:53.030] - Dave
Yes. I think what Tiger is doing with his son Charlie now is kind of the mirror image of what his father, Earl had done with Tiger. I think Tiger is trying to be a good father. Earl was just trying to create a genius.
[01:00:18.290] - Todd
So you're seeing more of like a softer Tiger Woods now when you see him with his son, for example?
[01:00:22.820] - Dave
I think so, yeah. I think when he won in 2019 at Augusta, he was a different guy than when he had gone away. And I think certainly now you get to be older, you get to be wiser. You hope he's 46, he's not going to be the same person at 46 you were at 26. So I think the intimations of mortality, certainly he has had enough of those by now that he no longer is the step on your throat guy that he had been. Remember that photo shoot I was talking about? One of us had said to him that quoted Ernie Els saying that, well, the way Tiger is playing, I don't know if anybody can beat him. And Tiger just start smiling and says he shouldn't have said that because it was like he's showing his weakness. Els was showing his weakness by admitting that no one could beat Tiger. And that's what Tiger was. I don't know if he still that doesn't still have that killer instinct. I doubt because he doesn't have the ability to just put his foot on people's neck now.
[01:01:39.760] - Todd
[01:01:40.300] - Dave
So everything changes, and you hope that it changes for the best. And a lot of people go out whining and whimpering and crying, and you hope they go out in a gentler way. And I think Tiger is doing that.
[01:01:54.180] - Todd
Yeah. Good for him. Right. I mean, we should allow everybody to evolve and find out what it is about life to suit some best for whatever they do. And I think you're starting to see that with Tiger, even the stoic way he was marching around Augusta recently with his limp. But also, like you mentioned, the time he's spending with his son. That's so important. Right. I think there's a moment in Masters history that Jack Nicholas, pardon some words to you about family. Right. So first of all, how many Masters did you cover?
[01:02:31.410] - Dave
53, I think 53, man.
[01:02:35.730] - Todd
But you only missed one, right?
[01:02:39.090] - Dave
I only missed one. And it happened to be the one that Jack Nicholas won in 1986. My son made the mistake of getting married on Masters Sunday. At the time, of course, my son knew nothing about it. But when he announced that he was getting married, I think it was like April 13, something like that. I said, oh, no, I'll miss the Masters. Well, okay, I missed the Masters. The wedding is on a Sunday. I come into the house after the wedding. I turn on the TV. It was 08:00. I remember turning on the TV. The first thing I heard was a little news bulletin on the TV that says, Jack Nicholas today shot a 65. And I went, oh, no. I said, yeah. So I missed that. And then later I won an award at Augusta, and I made a speech at the Golf Riders dinner, and I told that story. And a couple of weeks later, I got a letter from Jack saying that I had made the right decision, that family comes first. But if you need to know anything about the 1986 Masters, I remember a lot of it. I've saved that letter over the years because I've been doing this for a long time.
[01:04:12.990] - Dave
And I've got two letters in my life from professional athletes. One was Nicholas and the other was Ben Hogan. And Hogan wrote me a letter because the 20th anniversary of my going to Augusta, I wrote about having seen Hogan that first year. And Hogan wrote me a letter thanking me for the memories. That was the year that he shot on Saturday, 36, 30, 66, and it was three shots out of the lead at age 55, shot 77 the next day to finish 10th. But it was still one of my great memories in my career, actually.
[01:05:00.160] - Todd
Well, two good letters to have, right?
[01:05:03.150] - Dave
[01:05:04.410] - Todd
And Jack was right. Family does come first and should come first. And I want to wrap this up by talking a little bit about how writing and family coexist for you and what they've done for you in the past decade. I know you've had a lot of hardship in the last decade. I know the writing community has hurt for you. Your wife, Cheryl, wife of nearly 60 years, died in June of 2021. And in the previous five years to that she was nonresponsive and unable to communicate because of a stroke. And a year prior to that, her stroke, you lost your mother at age 96, and you lost your grandson Jared at age 25. So you've had to endure the hardships of life. And yet through it all, you've kept writing. And I mentioned 60 Minutes, and what they featured last year was how you were writing about the Lady Potters, the Morton High School women's basketball team in Morton, Illinois. And you started doing that in 2010. And even after your wife had a stroke, you continued to write. And has the idea of writing changed for you throughout the difficulties that you've had to face in the last decade?
[01:06:22.630] - Dave
I thank you for all that. It's kind of been my way of dealing with it. It's therapeutic in a way. Life affirming in a way. Certainly, being around the girls basketball team has been life affirming in the sense that you're seeing teenage athletes playing a kids game for fun. It's no longer. I write about it a little differently. I write about it a lot differently than I ever wrote about Mohammed Ali or the Wishington Redskins or anything, because it's not professional sports. I just try to find something to write about each time. It created for me a community of people that I knew here. It's been fun. I mean, I like basketball to begin with it's. The little gyms where I grew up in central Illinois, it's high school basketball. There's no transfer portal. There are no agents. There's no spectacles at halftime. It's just kids playing a game. That's what we all got into it for most sports writers were kids playing games, not all of us, but a lot of us. And we've all played catch with our dad, our mom. We've all had a sister, daughter, girlfriend, cheerleaders. It's a life that we grew up in, and that's kind of where I am.
[01:07:59.050] - Dave
I don't need to do. I've been everywhere. I've done everything I ever wanted to do. And this has been fun. Been doing it for eleven years now. Probably written 500,000 words about a girls basketball team at one point. At one point, of course, I did negotiate for some pay because I told the webmaster, who is the father of one of the players who's doing a website that I was writing for, I said, Look, Todd, I'm a professional sportswriter. I should be getting something for doing this. So I've said that he appraised my talent, my experience and my good looks and said, how about a box of Milk Duds every game? So that's what I've done. I've been writing for eleven years for Milk Duds and had a great time doing it. My wife was with me for the first five years of it. And the girls have been to the nursing home to see her. The team has come there four or five times. And it's been just a great experience for me that I was done. I was going to keep writing. I was going to find some way to write, write a novel, do something.
[01:09:19.470] - Dave
But the girls saying, I went to a game, a friend's daughter played. I went to a game, and I realized that I could not sit there without wanting to write something about it. So I went to the webmaster. I saw him at the game and said, I'd like to write something for you. He didn't know who I was. In fact, he was quoted later as saying, this disheveled old man came out of the stands and asked me if he could write for us. Well, that was me. Yeah, okay. And so I started writing, and I haven't stopped. I've been to over 350 girls high school basketball games in the last eleven years. The team was always decent. But then my fifth year, they want to stay Championship, three A, four classes and girls basketball. They're the three A class, and they've since have won three more state Championships. So I hooked onto a good thing and it was fun and it's been fun, and I will do it again this year.
[01:10:23.370] - Todd
Well, you found your community at a time that we all need community. We need it always throughout our life. And I'm so glad that you found it through what you have always done so well. And that's writing. And I want to. Thank you. I recently read your 2021 memoir, leave out the tragic parts about your grandson's struggle with addiction and how substance abuse cost him his life at age 25. And I was just blown away not just by the quality of the writing which I expected, but just your honesty and the wisdom that came forth.
[01:11:31.170] - Todd
So please, everybody read Todd's latest book. Look up the blog on Lady Potter and look up anything that Todd has written over the years. It's so fantastic.
[01:11:43.470] - Dave
Well, thank you, Todd. Thank you for all of that. I appreciate it someday. Anyway, thank you. Thank you for all of that.
[01:11:58.920] - Todd
Well, thank you and thank you for your career, but also thank you for taking the time to join us on Press box access. It's been a real treasure. I'm always going to remember this hour with you, Todd.
[01:12:11.330] - Dave
Well, I've listened to several of them. You do a great job. I appreciate you having me on and let's do it again next year.