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.

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Dick Jerardi: Searching in the Shadows

Dick Jerardi: Searching in the Shadows

His editor told him to stay away from the office because there were no stories to be told in there. Dick Jerardi took that command and lived it. He scoured gymnasiums, arenas, and horse tracks. There, he discovered great characters and told their stories for 33 years at the Philadelphia Daily News. Join him as he recounts to Todd in his funny, Philly style detailed tales about John Chaney, Hank Gathers, and Smarty Jones among many others.




Dick Jerardi retired from the Philadelphia Daily News in 2017 after 33 years in which he wrote more than 7,000 stories, primarily about college basketball and horse racing.

He covered 25 Final Fours and more than 1,000 games involving Philadelphia schools. He was an omnipresent expert at the Breeder’s Cup and on the Triple Crown circuit, reporting from the Kentucky Derby for 31 consecutive years. He also covered the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, the 2001 NBA Finals, 2008 World Series, the MLBA, NBA, and NFL playoffs, and Penn State football from 1993 to 2004.

Jerardi was a past president of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, which enshrined him in its Hall of Fame at the 2014 Final Four. His writing earned national honors from the Associated Press Sports Editors. He won the 2006 Eclipse Award for his series about Barbaro’s victory at the Kentucky Derby and the colt’s injury in the Preakness Stakes. Jerardi is a five-time winner of the Red Smith Award for Kentucky Derby coverage, a three-time Joe Hirsch Award winner for coverage of the Breeder’s Cup, and his coverage of the 2004 Preakness earned him the David Woods Award.


Read Dick Jerardi’s column about his retirement in December 2017:

https://www.inquirer.com/philly/sports/dick-jerardi-career-smarty-jones-barbaro-afleet-alex-lionel-simmons-jameer-nelson-phil-jasner-rich-hofmann-philadelphia-daily-news-20171212.html

Come on back April 14th when we are talking to Christine Brennan!

You can follow Dick on Twitter @DickJerardi

Follow our very own host, Todd Jones on Twitter @Todd_Jones

You can find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Press...

Contact us at [email protected]

Todd Jones:
Hey everybody. Thanks for listening. We've lost a lot of sports greats in this past year, including the unique John Chaney. We talk about John in this episode, which was taped before his death in January at age 89. Hope this conversation keeps alive his special spirit. I'm Todd Jones recovering from 30 years as a sports writer. Thanks for joining me as I sit down with some of the best sports writers of our time. We knew the greatest athletes and coaches and experience firsthand some of the biggest sports moments of the past half century. We'll share stories behind the stories, some we've only told each other, pull up a seat on Press Box Access. Dick Jerardi spent nearly 33 years as a sports writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, during that time the newspaper was located in three different offices, Jerardi never stepped foot in two of them, he was too busy searching gyms and horse tracks for stories. Today we'll hear some of his favorites. Dick, how you doing? Thanks for joining us.

Dick Jerardi:
I'm doing great Todd and that is a true story. In fact, my original sports editor Mike Rathet, who hired me at the Daily News said, and I wrote this in my farewell column, he says, "Don't take this the wrong way I've been there. I don't know, two weeks." He says, "I don't care if I ever see you again, just go write stories that people will read," and so that's what I did and, yeah.

Todd Jones:
Well, I was thinking about how we met and obviously it was not in your office.

Dick Jerardi:
No.

Todd Jones:
We've known each other since 1992 and I know exactly where we were when we met, unlike others. We were at the Final Four in Minneapolis and can you tell me the moment that you said, "Hey, are you Todd Jones?"

Dick Jerardi:
Yeah, we were looking to find out what was happening with Pete Gillen, the Xavier coach is he going to go to Villanova or not? And you were the guy that was going to find out for us, me and Mike Kern at the '92 Final Four in Minneapolis.

Todd Jones:
Yeah. I was covering ... Pete Gillen was a Xavier coach, I was covering Xavier basketball for the Cincinnati post. I'm trying to cross the street and two guys, I don't even know who they are pull me aside, I thought it was like a Scorsese movie and I was going to go whopped.

Dick Jerardi:
That was your introduction to me and Kern.

Todd Jones:
Yeah. And I've never been able to get away from both of you.

Dick Jerardi:
No. Nor would you want to, of course.

Todd Jones:
You know what? When I think about that story though, an idea of you not being in the office, I always think about how you were always looking for a good local angle. I mean, you wrote more than 7,000 stories in Barcelona Olympics, Penn State Football but a lot of those angles that you wrote about were from your two favorite sports, right? College basketball and horse race. What was it about those two sports that just struck a chord with you?

Dick Jerardi:
Yeah. I mean, I grew up playing basketball and I went to the university of Maryland before they got good and then [inaudible 00:03:05] left Duracell got there toward the end of my tenure as a student. And my oldest brother, I have three older brothers went to St. Joe's in Philadelphia and brought back stories about college basketball and that's really what got me interested in playing and then I coached a little bit at the CYO level and the middle school level, junior high level. And then when I got to Philadelphia as a horse racing writer, I actually got there because a new racetrack was opening on April, 1 of 1985 Gardens State Park, I got hired for that reason, but it was definitely an omen that the night the track opened was the night Villanova beat Georgetown in Rupp Arena.

Dick Jerardi:
And so-[crosstalk 00:03:53] Right, I'm in Philly, I'm watching the game on TV while the track was running at night and about two years later, I said to a sports editor, then Brian [inaudible 00:04:02]toll and I said, "Hey, Brian, if you ever need anybody to cover our college hoop game, in addition to covering horse racing," which was still on our regular basis, I said, "I think I can do that." So they sent me to a Temple Rutgers game, which was my introduction to John Chaney and we can obviously tell some John Chaney stories here as we go and then the next game they sent me to was a La Salle game against Holy Cross, it was my introduction to Spady Morris and Lionel Simmons. So yeah, that got me rolling and the next thing you know, I was covering the NIT championship game that year in 1987 and 25 Final Fours, 31 Kentucky Derbies later. I got to basically do everything I ever could have. So horse racing and basketball and I got to do both of them for all those years at the Daily News.

Todd Jones:
Well, when I think about college basketball and horse racing, I think they're very similar in some ways, there's a lot of shadows and a lot of whispering, a lot of people in vinyl sweatsuits, a lot of talk behind the scenes. So I think in some ways you were covering the same sport.

Dick Jerardi:
There's no question and I would get this all the time, people would go, "Man, you cover horse racing, that's really corrupt." I said, "Hold on a second. I cover college basketball. That's really corrupt. Let's get real here." Here's the difference, in horse racing nobody pretends that it's all on the up and up, everybody knows there's some stuff going on you just got to figure out what it is. In college basketball with the student athlete, everybody's making it sound like it's, oh boy everybody's trying to do the right thing.

Todd Jones:
I think, I always felt like pro wrestling was more honest than big time college athletics, because pro wrestling would tell you it's fake.

Dick Jerardi:
Correct.

Todd Jones:
So that's honest, right? So, I mean-

Dick Jerardi:
Hey look, I understood what it was and what it wasn't, I wrote about that part of it.

Todd Jones:
I know, you do write about them, but for you, you got to write them in Philadelphia.

Dick Jerardi:
Yes. Yeah. It's funny. I grew up in Baltimore and it's like an hour and a half, two hours from Philadelphia, it might as well be in another time zone. It's so different in the way sports are looked at and the way fans react. When I first came to Philly, I actually couldn't believe it because it was so sedate in Baltimore and there's nothing sedate about Philadelphia. And first just getting a chance to read the paper and all the great writers we had in the mid 80s when I got there, and we would have a paper that was like 120 pages-

Todd Jones:
That's amazing.

Dick Jerardi:
50 pages of sports coming off the back, you'd see game stories written by the great Phil Jasner who covered the Sixers 1,500 word game stories, and it was just... It would take me an hour and a half just to read the sports section. But yes, the passion in Philadelphia for sports is unchanged and it's probably up the big cities in the country, it's the one where college basketball has meant the most, which is great for me. Look, it's a pro town, obviously like every big city in the country is, but it's the one city where college basketball really meant something and still does.

Todd Jones:
I mean, the legendary stories of just the Philly fans are just crazy. I mean, I remember Jim Murray, the great LA Times writer he once wrote that Philadelphia fans would boo a cancer cure. Well, I covered a Bengals-Eagles game at the Veteran...What is it called? Veteran Memorial Stadium?

Dick Jerardi:
Veteran Stadium-

Todd Jones:
Veteran Stadium. The vet, everybody called it, The Vet.

Dick Jerardi:
Yes.

Todd Jones:
And the two things I remember is the Astro Turf was literally like concrete.

Dick Jerardi:
Yes.

Todd Jones:
I could not imagine that they played on it.

Dick Jerardi:
Yes.

Todd Jones:
And the other thing I remember is that in the bowels of the stadium, they had a judge-

Dick Jerardi:
Correct.

Todd Jones:
An actual municipal judge who would hold court during the game with the fans that they arrested, right?

Dick Jerardi:
That is correct. There was a court in the bowels of the Vet, I think it's the only time that ever happened in sports for the people that would get completely crazy. And yeah, you're right about the rug, they had to cancel a game one time because it was so bad at exhibition game. I remember there, I don't remember his name, but a Bear's wide receiver where the seams of the carpet, he actually tore both knees on the same play, I think his career ended. It was just brutal but yes, it is true there was a prison in the basement of the Vet.

Todd Jones:
And somehow we stayed out of it but, hey-

Dick Jerardi:
Yeah, as far as I know none of our brother and ever [inaudible 00:08:28]rented

Todd Jones:
Well, the Vet was a place of so many great memories, not really, but so many memories of Philly, but there's another place in Philadelphia I want to ask you about, because it really, to me is the heart of college basketball and that's The Palestra. You mentioned how Philadelphia they just love college basketball because there's so many universities in that city. The Palestra is the heart of it all. Tell me about The Palestra where you covered so many games.

Dick Jerardi:
So The Palestra was built in 1927, it's on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, it's right next to venerable Franklin field, it was just where the Eagles beat the Packers in the 1960 NFL championship prior to the Vet being built. And at one time every big five game and the big five for the people that don't follow, Villanova, La Salle, St. Joe's, Temple and Penn every big five game was played in the plus where the big five was actually formed in the mid 50s, the teams obviously been playing before that, so they played each other every year. And in Philadelphia in that time, in the mid 50s even to the mid 60s into the 70s, winning the big five was as important as winning a national championship, it was that big of a deal-

Todd Jones:
It was like a neighborhood's thing?

Dick Jerardi:
[crosstalk 00:09:45] Conferences came on and... Very much so, and most of the players were local. They barely went anywhere. This is before college basketball became a national sport, it was still a regional sport. So almost every team had two, three, four local players on it. So not only did guys play [inaudible 00:10:00] dura disease and they were playing out of the season, you had legendary coaches, Harry Litwak at Temple, he was a Hall of Famer, Jack Ramsay at St. Joe's was a Hall of Famer. I mean, just one Rollie Massimino in Philadelphia then John Chaney at Temple, just one after the other, Chuck Daly coached at Penn at one point another Hall of Famer, La Salle was at the great Tom Gola that was prior to the Big 5, but it was one of the reasons the Big 5 was formed. And the games... Now I got there after really the absolute heyday, I got there in the mid 80s, so it been 30 years, still the games in there holds about 8,000 just one story and when it's filled, you can not only not hear anything, you can't even hear the person next to you.

Dick Jerardi:
So, yeah, I saw hundreds of games in there and I went up there in the 70s as a college student, get a chance to see it and then I had to come back a decade later and get to cover it for all those years. Absolutely thrilling. Yeah, no better place to watch a basketball game.

Todd Jones:
I covered a lot of college basketball in early 90s in Cincinnati and I would travel a lot to Philadelphia, that's how we got to be really good friends.

Dick Jerardi:
Yes.

Todd Jones:
But the thing is the games that I covered were never really at The Palestra-

Dick Jerardi:
Right.

Todd Jones:
They were always at some other places and I always wanted to be in The Palestra. So one night I actually just bought a ticket and went to a Penn-Princeton game in The Palestra and I stood up against the back wall behind a basket and it was like being in an oven-

Dick Jerardi:
Yes.

Todd Jones:
An oven that had Canon fire going off at all times. And I still remember just... It was unbelievable, the heat and the noise and the basketball was so intense. It was just something you cannot manufacture. It was just organically great.

Dick Jerardi:
Now I did the collar on Penn State basketball and they made the really wise decision of playing two home games in The Palestra in recent years, they played Michigan State there a couple of years ago and then last season played Iowa. It was in early January and it was warm outside for January-

Todd Jones:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Dick Jerardi:
You can imagine what it was like inside The Palestra, which has never had air conditioning, the vents are... Yeah, we're talking 1927, they had to bring fans in to cool the place off and to keep the floor from getting water all over.

Todd Jones:
The other thing I remember about the game I attended was I remember looking down and seeing you and you were literally sitting right behind Pete Carril the Princeton coach, I'm thinking, "He's right behind the coach," and Carril is like ripping out a sweater and messing his hair up and screaming and going nuts, I think at one point even turned around and talked to you.

Dick Jerardi:
Yeah, that was one of the other great perks of covering games at The Palestra. It's the only place where the press table, as you said, it was literally right next to the benches and most of us were next to the visiting bench. So Pete Carril, I remember this specifically time, I don't know if it was that game or another game, but at one point he turned around to me says, "They're cheating us. You know they're cheating us and you have to write about it and I'll be reading just to make sure you do it." You can actually talk to the coaches in the middle of the game and I had that regularly. So I had coaches go, "What do you think we should change the zone here?" I said, "My man, you're on your own. I can't help you with that parts. That's your call." Spady, he used to go bizarre when they had games in there and he was yelling and screaming and-

Todd Jones:
Spady Morris? Yeah.

Dick Jerardi:
Spady Morris. one time one of his assistant coaches said, "Hey coach, I think we should go [inaudible 00:13:42] zone air. So he says, "All right, we go, they won't go. Nick goes down. The other team hits a three. He goes, "Zone my ass." But yeah, you can hear all that stuff and see it yet interact with the coaches. That was one of the many great perks of covering games at The Palestra. That has since changed unfortunately, they've moved the press to the other side, but yes, for years and years and years, we were sitting there. Roy Williams was there, I remember one night, I mean, so legendary coaches have been through there and they haven't earned it. You ever get a chance to come to Philly, get onto concourse and just wander around I mean, we're talking Wilt Chamberlain played there as a high school player, Kobe Bryant played there as a high school player and some of the great college players in history have come through The Palestra at one time or another.

Todd Jones:
Any other specific games or moments that stand out to you?

Dick Jerardi:
Yeah, the one probably that sticks out to me, Penn-Princeton again. Penn had a really good team, Princeton was good, but not as good as Penn. Penn is leading the game, at one point I want to say 33 to nine. I'm not sure I'm going to get the score right. But anyway, yeah, it's basically it's over and it's an early game and I went to watch the first half and I had the late game Temple at St. Joe's. So I left because I had to cover the 9:30 game. Well, anyway, Princeton comes back and wins the game, 51 to 50, impossible. Right? I mean, they couldn't score the first half where the last game of that season was Penn at Princeton for the Ivy League title and Penn crushed them and Fred Duffy, the Penn coach had the great line. He says, "I felt like Bill Buckner, except I got another chance."

Todd Jones:
That was everything, the coaches were just characters, right? You mentioned Spady Morris. I can't help but hear Spady Morris and think about the night that he brought his La Salle team into Cincinnati and the Daily News had me freelance a story-

Dick Jerardi:
Yes.

Todd Jones:
For them. And so I wrote a La Salle angle story, and one of the guys on the scores table next to Spady said Spady was yelling so loud at the ref that his gum flew out and landed on the scores table and I thought, "That's rich." And so I immediately used that as a detail-

Dick Jerardi:
Of course.

Todd Jones:
On my story and Spady wrote me a letter, typewriter wrote a letter and sent it to me protesting that that did not happen, but I had a trusted source on gum gate.

Dick Jerardi:
Yeah. It probably happened. That sounds like something he would do. He split his pants one night out at Villanova going crazy, the second half with his pants split in two. Yeah, that's the kind of stuff and of course John Chaney was completely insane-

Todd Jones:
Yeah.

Dick Jerardi:
But in a good way.

Todd Jones:
Right.

Dick Jerardi:
I mean, just a wonderful guy. Chaney, after he lost Todd, every time he lost and he had some really expensive ties, I mean, we're talking Armani stuff, $200 ties, he would never wear the tie again. So he would give it away, most of the time it would be to Mike Kern, who was the beat writer for Temple through much of Chaney's career. And Chaney was great anytime, but he was always best after losses. And I remember one night in the... It was in Madison Square Garden and I was covering a game for some reason, I don't know where Mike was and they lose the game, I go into the locker room and he says, "Hey, come on over here. I got to show you something." I said, "All right, coach, what do you got?" He shows me a picture of like five guys legs sitting on a bench and they're clearly basketball players, right? And he says, "This picture is racist." I said, "What do you mean John?" He says, "I went to the guy who painted this picture says, this is a racist picture since they're all the white guys. They're only white guys in the picture. "The guy who painted the picture says, "John, all the black guys are on the court."

Todd Jones:
Chaney. How many years was Chaney at Temple?

Dick Jerardi:
Boy, I want to say like-

Todd Jones:
30?

Dick Jerardi:
25. Now keep in mind-

Todd Jones:
Yeah.

Dick Jerardi:
He had a long coaching career at Cheyney State before he ever came to Temple.

Todd Jones:
Right.

Dick Jerardi:
As John only he could tell that story, I would not be able to tell the story, keep in mind that was John Chaney's voice telling that story, but he's accusing the artist of being racist. It was glad that John's laughing the whole time he's telling the story. But yeah, and when John left he had the greatest line ever, they'll set [inaudible 00:18:12]them up Joe line from Frank Sinatra song which is, excuse me, while I disappear from this press conference. And yeah, John quite a character, I-

Todd Jones:
He used to walk to work, right? He lived in a row house in Philly?

Dick Jerardi:
He lived in Manayunk right near Spady. He couldn't walk to Temple, it wasn't far, but yeah, he didn't walk. He grew up in South Philly and he grew up in a time when the Big 5 was not recruiting black players. He was the city player of the year, the same year in high school, the same year Tom Gola was the Catholic League player of the year, John was the publicly player of the year. He had to go to Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach, Florida because at that point in time, it's hard to believe in Philly, but there were no black players on any of the teams in Philadelphia until the mid 50s.

Todd Jones:
Wow. That's amazing. I mean, think about how sad that was.

Dick Jerardi:
Yeah, for sure.

Todd Jones:
Well, I have one treasured moment with John Chaney myself, I was in Philadelphia on a trip and I lined up a chance to go visit with him and they would practice at like five in the morning-

Dick Jerardi:
Yes.

Todd Jones:
Some ridiculous hour before the kids went to classes. And so Chaney invited me to come to his office and so I go to the arena and I go to his office and it's literally like a broom closet. There was like wood paneling, no windows, it was just piles of stuff everywhere. I mean, some of these coaches, you go into their office and it's like The Taj Mahal. You go into this thing and it was so tiny and we sat there for two hours and talked mostly about the OJ trial.

Dick Jerardi:
That sounds like John.

Todd Jones:
He Went off on his tangent about the OJ Simpson murder trial and I couldn't get him to stop and I couldn't control the interview to try to get him, I'm trying to write about John and do a profile and he was going on and yet I didn't want him to stop because it was fascinating just to hear him talk about this. And anytime you could get someone like John to go off script, it was a moment you just couldn't believe.

Dick Jerardi:
He would say anything. I went in there one day to do a story on Mark Jackson when he came to the [inaudible 00:20:22]sexiest, he's going to want a John's players we ended up going off on a tangent, he ends up... We spend the whole time, he shows me how to cook corn on a microwave. Really? You never knew what you were going to get. And that was the beauty of it. I remember one time I called him for sign, I don't remember what it was for anymore and I didn't even ask a question, he talked for like 15 minutes he says, "What do you want anyway?" I said, "I'm good coach."

Todd Jones:
[crosstalk 00:20:52] The crustiness, but the heart was always underneath the surface, right?

Dick Jerardi:
Yeah, he always told me, he says, "Look, you can be as tough as you want, but at some point you got to put an arm around your players." And that's what he did.

Todd Jones:
When I think about Philadelphia and all the great players and all the great coaches there's a name that unfortunately, it's been so many years that you don't hear mentioned anymore, but I always recall it and that's Hank Gathers.

Dick Jerardi:
Yes.

Todd Jones:
Hank Gathers a Philadelphia legend who went on to Loyola, Marymount and had the heart issue and died on the court in 1989 or-

Dick Jerardi:
1990. Yeah, March of 1990.

Todd Jones:
1990.

Dick Jerardi:
Yes.

Todd Jones:
And I think about the great story you did, the 25th anniversary story. And can you tell me a little bit about Hank Gathers and your experience with that story in particular?

Dick Jerardi:
Yeah, absolutely. This probably would be in my all time top five, you mentioned I wrote 7,000 for the paper. I think it got probably more reaction than any story I ever did. So it was... We did it, I want to say late February of 2015 as you said, the 25th anniversary of Hank's death, he played for Loyola Marymount and for the people that don't remember in 1990, they were setting scoring records that are just unsurpassed. They were trying to get a shot up every five seconds. I mean, they were putting up 120, 130, 150, just crazy numbers for a 40 minute college game, shot threes with impunity press the whole game and Hank Gathers was their star center and along with Bo Kimble had gone to Dobbins Tech in North Philly and won the city championship back when he was in high school, and sadly as Todd said, passed away during a conference tournament game playing against the University of Portland, oddly enough the guy who he made his last dunk over was Erik Spoelstra who is the coach at the Miami Heat. He played on that Portland team-

Todd Jones:
I didn't know that. Wow.

Dick Jerardi:
So my then sports editor Chuck Bausman said, "Hey, we need to do something on the 25th anniversary of Hank Gathers," I said, "Absolutely." So, yeah, I went back and I was actually... The night it happened, I was in Albany, New York with the great La Salle team, Lionel Simmons, Doug Overton-

Todd Jones:
Yeah.

Dick Jerardi:
Who was a high school teammate of Hank Gathers and Bo Kimbel and they were winning their conference semifinal game when the word got to Press Row, this is pre-cell phone, it's somebody got to me from the office, "Hey look, Hank Gathers has died. Can you get some reaction from the La Salle guys?" Many of whom had played with or against him in high school. And so I framed it from that night on, it was just such a heartrending time. The NCAA Tournament is about to start, Loyola is going to play in it, La Salle's going to play in it. So I went back in researching the story, I found out where Hank was buried, that's actually how I started the stories, buried not far from the Philadelphia Airport then went back and visited where his funeral was and I attended the funeral, I wrote about it and I just pieced it all together, found out that he had a son, who was five or six years old at the time who would come into a lot of money and as he said to me, spent it unwisely, ended up spending five years in jail, but he turned around his life. And just pieced all that together for this story about this real Philadelphia legend who died way, way too soon. He scored 46 points that year against Shaquille O'Neal-

Todd Jones:
Wow.

Dick Jerardi:
[crosstalk 00:24:20] LSU. That's how good he was. I mean it's hard to believe against Shaq. So that's how good Loyola was. That was a legendary game on CBS. But yeah, it was a difficult story to write but a memorable story for me because it brought back so many memories because I was so close to it at the time and then you go back and revisit it, retalk to people, I spent a lot of time with Bo Kimbel and Doug Overton, talked very briefly to Hank's mother Lucille Gathers and you could see to this day, 25 years later, it was still so raw for her.

Todd Jones:
Those were all... I mean, when you have to recount something like that and revisit you feel like you shouldn't be doing this-

Dick Jerardi:
Yes.

Todd Jones:
But then when you do it, I think sometimes people are so happy that you are doing it and so that they're not forgotten. Yeah. I never had the opportunity to see him play in person. There was a time when he had a heart episode before the one that he passed away from-

Dick Jerardi:
That's right.

Todd Jones:
And they were traveling around, the trainer would have a defibrillator on the bench. And I remember I had a story where they came to Cincinnati and the trainer forgot the defibrillator and so they played that night with no defibrillator in the building, and there was no ambulance at the building and so it was an eerie story that this could have happened that night in the Cincinnati Gardens-

Dick Jerardi:
Right.

Todd Jones:
Yeah. There's so many moments in the NCAA tournament that stick with us especially from the 80s and 90s when the tournament really blew up on television and you covered 25 Final Fours or you're in the US basketball writer's hall of fame, you were the president of the association at one point, you saw so many major basketball moments, March madness moments, which ones stick out for you?

Dick Jerardi:
Yeah, probably a couple. Gordon Hayward was literally dribbling right in front of me when he took that shot against Duke for Butler that if it had gone in, the half court shot would have won the championship.

Todd Jones:
Looked like it was going in.

Dick Jerardi:
It did. I had that great view where he was... When you're behind the ball and you can look at the trajectory and you're going, "Hey, that has a chance," and of course it just missed. That one, and for me the next one for the Final Four is obviously the Chris Jackson shot for Villanova in 2016. We had... I don't know, between the Inquirer and also at the time we'd combined staffs at that point. We had, I don't know, 12 people there or whatever. So I was writing a column that night and I had written a column, I don't know, most of it on the theory that Villanova was going to win the game because they had taken control of the game lead at like a 10 point lead. And as you know, when you're sitting on deadlines and that was the deadline game for me, you got to write while the game's going on. So I have it done and everything is good.

Dick Jerardi:
Now, all of a sudden North Carolina makes a couple crazy plays page, that's what Marcus Paige, it's a crazy three. It's a tie game. And I'm thinking, "All right, Well, there's only one really bad thing that could happen here. If North Carolina steals the ball and scores then I'm totally screwed. I got nothing because I got like two minutes left," but they don't steal the ball. Villanova gets it in Ryan Arcidiacono the point guard from the Chamonix high school, which is right down from where I live, flips it back to Chris Jenkins in [inaudible 00:27:47]Nepal's in the here and the buzzer goes off and it's in, and I have like two minutes to file this column. And the good news is I already have Villanova winning. I had a lead, I changed about two things in that out another hour to write it correctly, which I was able to do, go out on the court and talk to some players that puts a perspective on it.

Dick Jerardi:
And I remember calling into the desk and I said, "Look, how much space do I have?" They said, "Just keep writing until you get tired." I said, "Sounds good."

Todd Jones:
You always want to hear that as a writer.

Dick Jerardi:
Yeah. That's how we do.

Todd Jones:
Well, my favorite moment from the Final Four involving you, I think it has to involve... It's about the poker games that would go on Sunday nights-

Dick Jerardi:
Yes.

Todd Jones:
Before... Because the national championship game on Monday was at 6:00, the press conferences on Sunday, where in the morning everybody would knock their stories out and you had a long night-

Dick Jerardi:
Right.

Todd Jones:
And I remember walking in to a hotel room, I think it was in Indianapolis-

Dick Jerardi:
1997.

Todd Jones:
You and some guys, I won't name names, but guys from the East were playing around a poker-

Dick Jerardi:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Todd Jones:
This is probably, I don't know, 3:00 in the morning.

Dick Jerardi:
It had to be. Yeah, no doubt.

Todd Jones:
And these two college-aged kids wandered in and they stood around the table and looked like they were mocking you guys and you said, "You guys want to play?" And they thought that, "They're all full of themselves." They sat down and you and your poker buddies proceeded to wipe those guys out within minutes. [crosstalk 00:29:22] They left, all their money was gone, all their pride was gone, they had to leave and that's a Final Four moment that I will always remember involving Dick Jerardi.

Dick Jerardi:
Yeah.

Todd Jones:
NO, no. That's why I stayed and watched those guys get wiped out. So gambling leads us into horse racing.

Dick Jerardi:
Yes sir.

Todd Jones:
The Final Four ends in April-

Dick Jerardi:
Yes.

Todd Jones:
It's early may and you go down to Louisville, Kentucky for the Kentucky Derby. I think you covered almost 40 in a row or something.

Dick Jerardi:
I did 31 in a row.

Todd Jones:
31 in a row.

Dick Jerardi:
Yeah. I've been to 33. Everyone from 1987 to 2017.

Todd Jones:
I had the pleasure of covering a few. I was born and raised in Kentucky so that meant a little something to me. Can you describe what the Kentucky Derby is like? Because for me it is like a slice of Americana. It always felt like it was 1917. You're in this bowels of this old ship or something when you're walking around the grand stand. What was it like for you to cover the Kentucky Derby?

Dick Jerardi:
Right. So I'll never do it as well as Hunter Thompson and obviously everybody needs to go read Hunter Thompson's magazine story when he and Ralph Steadman ended up at the Derby. I mean, there's nothing like it. And so there's 125,000 people there on Friday for the Kentucky Oaks, then 175,000 or whatever for the Derby on Saturday. Hey, you growing up in Kentucky, I mean Louisville is a small town that just blows up that one weekend a year and I had certain rituals that I performed after a while because I was mostly just looking at cash of bet, but not by Derby time. Yeah, so I was there to write stories, I was always prepared, I went out early, did my work, but while I was out there, I was also asking questions of different trainers like, "What's going on with your horse? What about that guy's horse?"

Todd Jones:
Really doing your homework.

Dick Jerardi:
Yeah. Yes I was writing. Yes I was being paid to be there. I was flown down and my hotel room was paid for, but yes, I was also looking to potentially hit the Superfecta. There are just all these people coming from, literally all over the world, money, celebrities, infield filled with just, I mean, people somehow would get drunk at 8:00 AM and stay drunk until midnight, I don't know how people did it, but that was the Derby experience. And they had the old grandstand, they tore that down about 2004. Then the new one went up and we had the great press box up there where you were looking down over the finish line, I said to a couple of my friends, I said, "We ain't going to be here long."

Todd Jones:
No.

Dick Jerardi:
And we weren't. They got us out of there, sent us downstairs. That's where Michael Jordan and Tom Brady and those guys hang out-

Todd Jones:
Right. Right.

Dick Jerardi:
In what's called the mansion now a top the grandstand at Churchill Downs.

Todd Jones:
That press box you could literally turn around and place a bet.

Dick Jerardi:
It's the one sport where if you don't participate, you don't understand, because if there's no gambling, there's no game. Everything is funded through gambling and people used to say to me, "Well, that's a conflict of interest." I said, "No." I said, "I was understanding of horse racing first through the gambling lens. If you don't understand the gambling part of it, you really don't understand the game." So yes, they had a betting window in the press box.

Todd Jones:
Let's be honest. You won a ton of awards covering horse racing, you knew what you were writing about. You won the 2004 David Woods Award for the coverage of the Preakness, three time Joe Hersh Award for coverage of breeders' Cup, five time winner to the Red Smith Award for the Kentucky Derby coverage. I mean, you knew your stuff. I wanted to ask you about 2006 when you won the Eclipse Award for a series that you wrote about Barbaro. That was a story that seemed to go way beyond horse racing when Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby and then Nicole suffered a tragic injury in the Preakness. Tell me about Barbaro and why that seemed to touch a nerve beyond just the horse racing fans.

Dick Jerardi:
So starting in 2004 Philadelphia based horses won the Derby twice, the Preakness twice and the Belmont Stakes. First, it was smarty Jones then it was Afleet Alex and then finally, as you're saying, Barbaro in 2006. So it was the most impressive Derby victory I saw alive, Barbaro in 2006.

Todd Jones:
What made it so impressive?

Dick Jerardi:
You don't do what this horse did. The pace was really fast, he was sitting very close. Typically what happens in that spot, Todd, is horses, they might win, but they won't be running their best at the finish. Well, this horse was running faster at the finish than he was at any time in the race and if you kept watching after the finish line, he galloped out 20 lengths ahead of the field. It was just an awesome performance and you're thinking, "You know what? The other Philadelphia horses won two thirds of the Triple Crown. This horse is going to win all three." So you go to Baltimore and you're thinking, "All right, it's just a question, how much is he going to win by?"

Dick Jerardi:
And then 100 yards into the race and still it's unclear exactly how it happened. Some have speculated that he was stepped on from a horse from behind, but whatever his right hind ankle was just shattered. I mean, to the point where, I mean, think of an ice cube and somebody just hits it. It was just shattered into that many pieces. And I knew instantly that it was really bad because the horse barely made the finish line the first time. Then of course they ran the race and I rushed down to the track and you were hoping that they put up what we call the green screen, where often horses are euthanized right on the track. This was Barbaro though. This was a horse that the Jacksons wanted to try to say, would have been put down immediately because the injury was that catastrophic.

Dick Jerardi:
And the very next day, we're at the new Bolton center, not far from where ironically enough, the Jacksons lived and Dr. Dean Richardson, the surgeon who performed the surgery that next day, that Sunday on Barbaro after they'd taken him from Pimlico said, "How often do you see injuries like this?" And his answer was never, he says, "Because they usually don't make it to me." But he did everything he could, they repaired all the fractures. For a while, it looked like it was going to have a happy ending. He ended up getting a hoof disease called laminitis, which eventually affected all four of his hooves.

Dick Jerardi:
They put him down in late January of 2007 and yeah, I wrote stories about him, all that Summer and Fall and it was incredible, the reaction. And then when he actually... The worst was put down, I got emails from people that were not horse people at all. They were people who had pets at home, who had lost their pets. Everybody could relate to it. It was like, this was it. It wasn't just as this was a Derby winner and potentially an all timer. There's no telling how good this race... He could have been as a race horse, but everybody felt like it was their pet. That's why it became such a gigantic story and I think, I didn't count them, but I think I got more emails on the story I wrote the day the horse was put down than any story I wrote in 33 years.

Todd Jones:
Yeah. It's like they become like part of you.

Dick Jerardi:
Very much so.

Todd Jones:
And the thing is, like you mentioned about how his performance was so great, I think sometimes when people say, "Well, thoroughbreds they're not..." They talk about it, "It's a sport, but they're not athletes," but I'm like, "No, no, no, if you've ever stood next to these, there's just magnificent these horses, that you stand next to them, they have a presence and they have these skinny little ankles and these big, powerful way that they run and to see those horses even just working out in the morning on the backstretch of the Kentucky Derby and it's just something mystical about seeing a thoroughbred."

Dick Jerardi:
Well, yeah, I mean, issue with resources and what happened at Barbaro. These are 1,000 pound animals who can run 35 miles an hour on legs that are smaller than ours. It's what makes them so fast. It's also what makes them so fragile.

Todd Jones:
Well, another horse that didn't suffer that type of injury, but really grabbed the people's attention around the nation and became like a character was one that we both love and smarty Jones in 2004, he wins the Derby, he wins the [inaudible 00:37:59] pregnant and he's going to the Belmont, he's a Philadelphia horse. Tell me about smarty Jones and how he captured everybody.

Dick Jerardi:
So, yeah. It was a Philadelphia horse to the point where he was stable at what was then called Philadelphia Park, which would at best be a AAA track, maybe even AA, horses don't come out of there to run to the Derby much less win but he was a Pennsylvania bread trained by John Servis, local guy grew up in West Virginia, but had been in Philly forever, owned by Roy Chapman and his wife Pat, Philly people, ridden by Stuart Elliott, Philadelphia Park jockey and he wins his incredible races at Philadelphia Park in November of 2003 and you're thinking, "God, this horse is way better than just a local horse," and John Servis the trainer realized that he put him on the road to the Derby random, once in New York, three times in Arkansas, won the Arkansas Derby, again in Kentucky, and Todd you remember that day, there was an absolute monsoon-

Todd Jones:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Dick Jerardi:
Of about two hours before the race, the track was a quagmire-

Todd Jones:
Yes. Yes.

Dick Jerardi:
And he comes running through the quagmire, wins by almost three lengths and he's on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And all of a sudden I'm covering this incredible story of this horse from the wrong side of the tracks, that's won the Derby. It goes to the Preakness wins by the biggest margin in the history of the race. What we call, the racetrack runs out of the TV set, literally couldn't see him, you couldn't see the other horse if you're watching it on TV and heads for the Belmont. And every day before those three weeks, I'm out at the track at 5:00 in the morning because they close the track to all the horses but him, they let him come out there by himself because they didn't want any other horses getting in the way, they didn't want any accidents, they didn't want anything happening.

Dick Jerardi:
But as the training went on for the Belmont, the wear and tear was starting to get to the horse. You could watch him, it was harder for him to warm up in the morning, you start to get a little arthritic but they thought they could get through and still win the Belmont and win the Triple Crown, which hadn't been one since 1978. And they had the biggest crowd in the history of Belmont Park-

Todd Jones:
Amazing.

Dick Jerardi:
[crosstalk 00:40:05] 20,000 people. That was insane. I mean, Belmont Park for people who haven't been there, it was just gigantic. But that day you could hardly move because people just grasped on the story, of course half of Philadelphia was there to watch the horse run. He comes into the top of the stretch with a four leg lead, the place is going crazy. I'm looking through by monoculars and I don't like what I see, because I can see the stride start to shorten. I can see what I'd seen in the mornings that I was hoping he could get through one more race. Well, the last 100 yards, he gets passed, loses to a horse called Birdstone by one length, the rest of the field is like eight legs behind, Birdstone was more just... He just happened to be the horse that was still running.

Dick Jerardi:
Smarty Jones was the best horse by far, he was denied the Triple Crown, he should have won it. Never ran again, had arthritic knees and ankles, was never able to train again. But it just missed being nine for nine unbeaten, Triple Crown winner and if he had won the Triple Crown, I mean, he'd be an all time all timer but he just missed by that one length and just unfortunate. It was circumstance. And in horse racing, a lot of times circumstance decides the result not really who the best horse was.

Todd Jones:
Well, I distinctly remember being in the press box and Smarty Jones is coming around that turn and the noise from that record crowd-

Dick Jerardi:
Yes.

Todd Jones:
Was just deafening and when Birdstone passed Jones, it like went silent. I remember all that noise just went away and everybody was just crushed. Even in the press box with the cynical sports writers who aren't supposed to feel anything or get roots, that was the saddest press box I was ever in because everybody wanted to write that story of Smarty Jones winning the Triple Crown and I'll always remember the silence that happened immediately. This story transcended [crosstalk 00:42:03] horse racing. They sent a guy like me to the Belmont.

Dick Jerardi:
Yeah. Everybody was there.

Todd Jones:
So I'm there and the scene, I remember there were nuns visiting the [crosstalk 00:42:14]

Dick Jerardi:
Correct. Yes. That's right.

Todd Jones:
And there was a guy with a guitar playing a song about Smarty Jones that he had written to tune of Born to Run, I'm sure Springsteen wants a cut, but they had songs written about him, nuns showing up, and it was just this Americana scene of this horse brought everybody together, right?

Dick Jerardi:
Yeah, no doubt. This horse's story had so many twists to it. There are a lot of times, it's not like sports where the better team almost always wins. Generally, I mean, there's enough time. A football game or basketball game, you can have a bad quarter or bad five minutes. There's enough time, the better team will come back and win. Yes, there are upsets. But in horse racing, the best horse often doesn't win because it happens in such a quick timeframe, in the Belmont stakes less than two and a half minutes, if a couple of things happen during the race they can ultimately change the result. So yeah, to me he's always the Triple Crown winner to me.

Todd Jones:
Well, to me, the best stories in sports aren't always about the result. It's not always the win or the loss.

Dick Jerardi:
Yes.

Todd Jones:
Sometimes it's the story, it's the people around it. It's everything that you learn about it that makes it a communal experience and your career has been full of those type of moments, but I really appreciate the time. It's always great to catch up with you and thanks for being on the show.

Dick Jerardi:
Absolutely. Thank you, Todd.

Todd Jones:
Thanks for listening to the Press Pox Access. You can find us here with a new episode every other Wednesday. If you enjoyed this episode, please be sure to subscribe and follow us on Apple podcast or on your favorite podcast app. We love for you to review us. Five stars would be nice. Follow us on social media. Drop us an [email protected]@gmail.com and be sure to spread the word, everyone is welcomed here. This has been a production of Evergreen Podcast. A special thank you to executive producers, Michael DeAloia and Gerardo Orlando, producer Sarah Willgrube and our audio engineer, Dave Douglas. I'm your host, Todd Jones. It's closing time. Rock on.

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