Patterico's Pontifications


Dan Jenkins, 1928 – 2019

Filed under: General — JVW @ 10:41 pm

[guest post by JVW]

Daniel Thomas Jenkins, the best sportswriter since, oh, probably Samuel, died last night at the age of 90 (or 89; it’s kind of awesome that no one appears to be exactly sure in which precise year he was born).

This is a really hard obituary to write. I’ve been working it out in my mind (and, in honor of the subject, I got semi-drunk), but I still can’t figure out how to write this. I could lay out all of the reasons why I think he is one of the greatest sporting observers of the last century, with lots of quotes from his articles, columns, novels, and other works; I could focus upon a few select pieces that really meant a lot to me as a reader, removed as I am by a full generation; or I could write about the impact he had on writing, being a contemporary of Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe, and the other progenitors of what came to be known as the New Journalism in which the reporter became an important part of the story. But I’m not going to try to explain any of that. The man’s writing speaks for itself, and if you have never taken the plunge then now is the almost perfect time, if sadly a bit late.

Let me try to provide the briefest of sketches, without losing myself in the minutiae of his fascinating life. A son of Texas, raised in early-Depression Fort Worth, Jenkins grew up as a golf stud (if you are to read but one piece of his, this remembrance of his early golf days is as good as any); attended hometown Texas Christian University during the years when Doak Walker, whom Jenkins always maintained was the greatest college football player of all-time, was across town at SMU; and turned-down the opportunity to pursue a professional golf career under the tutelage of the great Ben Hogan, who like Jenkins finished in second-place at the Fort Worth amateur championships (Jenkins played for the TCU golf squad as an undergraduate). Instead, Jenkins took his writing talents to small local newspapers — sometimes hilariously writing under a pseudonym to mask the paucity of the paper’s actual staff — before landing a gig at Sports Illustrated in 1962 where he would spend the next 22 years.

Jenkins’ ability as a golf writer is celebrated and easily accessible. But for my money, his best material focused on college football, America’s greatest sport. I’m sorry to see that it’s now so dammed expensive, but Saturday’s America is simply the finest book ever written about college football. If you can find it at a better price in a used bookstore, by all means I encourage you to buy it.

Those who aren’t so familiar with Jenkins as a sportswriter might recognize him more readily as fiction writer. He wrote novels mostly in football and golf, but I’m a huge fan of two books he wrote outside of the canon: Fast Copy, which is a fantastic murder mystery set in Depression-era Fort Worth; and, especially, Baja Oklahoma, the first novel of his that I read and the one which made me a lifelong fan. Jenkins was a Texan through and through, though his wry humor — hilarious forty years ago — is sadly archaic in these more sensitive times.

It’s always a pleasant and welcome surprise when the greats get a final act at the end of their lives, and when Golf Digest magazine hired Jenkins at the end of his life they got a veteran writer whose observational powers and wit were the equal of men one-third of his age. His Twitter account became must-read commentary during a golf major, suggesting his wit remained sharp and focused, skewering the content most deservedly. Sadly, some of his most recent tweets were memorials to friends who had passed on, poignant now that he too has gone on to his eternal reward.

I’ll tread lightly in this mostly nonpartisan salute, but Jay Nordlinger at National Review Online has a nice remembrance which suggests that his values were quite traditional and welcome to most of us on this blog. He leaves behind his wife June, and three children, including his daughter Sally, who has gone on to a celebrated sportswriting career of her own. He’s as good as we could expect, and based upon how thing are now we won’t see the likes of him again anytime soon.


CODA: Baja Oklahoma was eventually made into a relatively weak TV movie, but one thing they did get right was the final scene where the barmaid protagonist who is trying to be a songwriter gets her big break.

sicut etiam supra

24 Responses to “Dan Jenkins, 1928 – 2019”

  1. Check out the young Julia Roberts slumming it with Lesley Ann Warren before the multi-million dollar checks started rolling in.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  2. Jim Murray was pretty good back before the LA Times was so woke.

    Kevin M (21ca15)

  3. @2. Grantland Rice.

    Best American sports writer.


    ‘For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name
    He marks -not that you won or lost- but how you played the Game.” – G.R., ‘Alumnus Football’- 1908

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  4. Thanks, JVW.
    He knew college football and golf better than most, but no one could write better about those two sports. His golf writings are worth reading over and over.

    mg (8cbc69)

  5. I agree that Jenkins is the best sportswriter, and I bet he was a dang great guy to spend time with. RIP, Horned Frog.

    DRJ (15874d)

  6. Before my brother, and your gracious host was born, our family lived on Long Island in Port Washington. One of our neighbors, and very good friends was a writer for Sports Illustrated named Bob Ottum. His son and I were best friends so one day Mr. Ottum took us into Manhattan to his office at Times Square. I would have been 12 or 13 at the time. There he introduced me to a fellow writer who happened to be from my hometown of Fort Worth named Dan Jenkins. At that age it meant nothing to me other than he was from Fort Worth. Years later, of course, I grew to appreciate that day a lot. Mr. Jenkins was one of a kind, a true journalist who always hit it Dead Solid Perfect in what he wrote.

    Brotherico (dfc953)

  7. Laughter is the only thing that’ll cut trouble down to a size where you can talk to it.”Dan Jenkins

    I agree


    harkin (58beea)

  8. Did you ever read The Franchise, Brotherico, about the history of Sports Illustrated? It’s a great book. Those kind of Mad Men days in magazine journalism of generous expense accounts, crazy parties, abundant liquor, and life in New York before it became prohibitively expensive always makes for fascinating reading. And the book seems to indicate that Jenkins was the most alpha of all the alpha males on staff.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  9. Ring Lardner is my favorite sportswriter.

    His fiction was brilliant but his mostly forgotten daily columns and sports reports (baseball of course but also college football, boxing, horse racing…he even covered the America’s Cup) reporting was incredible. He often mixed in politics, celebrity, current events and every day life and he was read regularly by millions of Americans.

    harkin (58beea)

  10. Baja Oklahoma is one of the funniest books ever written. I lent my copy to an Okie of my acquaintance and never got it back. And being a Texan I “got it”. Every wonderful phrase. My favorite “Metz? I f***ing took Metz”.

    Thud Muffle (5a4596)

  11. #8. No, I was unaware of that book. I’ll have to get it. Can’t speak about Jenkins back then, but Mr. Ottum was a family man- Mormon. Can’t picture him as a wild party goer, but again I was only 12 or 13.

    Brotherico (dfc953)

  12. I enjoyed reading your post and all the links. Thank you. I also like the article about Jenkins in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

    DRJ (15874d)

  13. I spent some time with Ron Fimrite who used to write for SI out of San Francisco.
    After a few drinks one night he left the dinner we were at and went to walk his dog at the Presidio. He came back and I smelled something foul and noticed some yellow mess on his loafer.
    I told him he had dog crap on his shoe…. his response?
    He took the shoe off, held it up to his nose and took a huge huff… “hmmm, possibly so…”

    steveg (a9dcab)

  14. Thanks for the FWST article, DRJ.

    mg (8cbc69)

  15. Thanks. Also, his daughter Sally’s remembrance piece in wapo. (I don’t think I saw it above, but apologies if this is a repeat.) A most impressive and remarkable guy.

    Q! (86710c)

  16. Wow, that was something. Thanks Q!

    mg (8cbc69)

  17. Jenkins was good.
    We forget how hard it was to get nationwide attention back then, even with a national gig at SI.
    One of the few things that made the dentist office tolerable was the chance to read material from guys like Jenkins… that is unless someone stole the issue to share with likewise subscriptionless friends.
    Back before the libraries were filled with masturbating porn watching homeless, I’d be walking home from JrHi and I’d duck into the Eastside library branch to avoid shitty tempered gangsters and read SI.
    Jenkins could take me to see what he saw, meet his people, laugh with them and learn about their culture. Thank you many many times over sir.

    steveg (a9dcab)

  18. This was the sports writer I grew up with. – Happy Birthday, Sid

    A note about Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Sid Hartman:

    He turns 99 Friday.

    Hartman writes a column every Sunday in the paper. Still working, in his 73rd year as a writer in Minneapolis. On Sunday, he produced this about the University of Minnesota football team:

    The Gophers open spring football practice Tuesday in a unique position for a school that hasn’t won even a share of the Big Ten title since 1967: They will be one of the favorites to represent the Big Ten West in the conference championship in Indianapolis on Dec. 7. Coach P.J. Fleck is bringing back 37 of 44 players from the Gophers’ two-deep chart from the 34-10 victory over Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl. “Our entire offseason has been designated to putting our players in high-pressure situations on the field, off the field and having them perform through that and having them know what that feels like,” Fleck said. “This is what we’ve wanted to do with this program — not only this year but into the future.”

    Hartman was of voting age, 21, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941.

    Hartman was 41 when the Vikings played their first game in 1961. He has covered the team for all 58 of its seasons.

    When the NFL played its first game, in September 1920, Hartman was six months old.

    It’s all pretty amazing to me.

    mg (8cbc69)

  19. that was written by Steven King.

    mg (8cbc69)

  20. I mean Peter King

    mg (8cbc69)

  21. Regarding Saturday’s America: I have a paperback copy. The binding dried out, so all the pages are loose; I keep it in a plastic zip-bag.

    My favorite quote:

    “If I had to watch one of these ever Saturday, I b’lieve I’d drown myself in a bucket of cream gravy.”

    “Wait’ll I get my hat and I’ll go with you.”

    Rich Rostrom (1ec770)

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