As a 22-year-old student at TCU, I found myself face-to-face with journalism royalty.
Professors selected me as the recipient of a sports writing scholarship sponsored by Dan Jenkins. As a part of the honor, I was escorted by a professor to the home of the Horned Frog alumnus to meet the legendary writer.
My professor and Jenkins exchanged pleasantries. I managed a confident smile, but my nerves were obvious. What question or interesting banter do you direct at a man who has seen and accomplished seemingly everything in the realms of sport and prose?
Jenkins died Thursday at age 89. According to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, his health had deteriorated for several days.
The Fort Worth native broke into the industry with the now-defunct Fort Worth Press and Dallas Times Herald. He made a name for himself through more than 25 years of work for Sports Illustrated, during the golden age of the magazine’s chronicling of the world of athletics.
In 2014, four of Jenkins’ articles were named to a list of the top 60 in the magazine’s history. One of those was “The Disciples of St. Darrell on a Wild Weekend: A Texas football odyssey,” which profiled former Texas head coach Darrell Royal during the Longhorns’ 1963 season.
He left Sports Illustrated in the ’80s to pursue life as an author, penning 23 books including bestsellers Semi-Tough, Baja Oklahoma and Dead Solid Perfect. He closed his journalism career by opining on the links for Golf Digest.
It is an understatement to say he held a deep love for the written word. While attending an awards ceremony at TCU, he took notice of all the students who declared a degree emphasis in broadcast journalism. I was sitting next to him. He leaned over to double-check that my chosen path involved ink-stained hands.
“Good man,” he said with a nod when I answered in the affirmative.
The walls in Jenkins’ office were lined from baseboard to crown molding with plaques and awards, including the Red Smith Award and the PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing. He is one of three writers to be enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
One small plaque caught my attention that day. The same wooden base with a gold, metal facade hung on a wall of my grandparents’ house, honoring my grandfather as an inductee to the Texas High School Sports Hall of Fame. This fact was among the first words I muttered to Jenkins.
“Who was your grandfather?” Jenkins asked, as his interest perked.
I detailed the athletic history of Jack Brown, an All-State basketball player at Dallas Crozier Tech High School who became an All-American down the road at SMU.
A wide grin materialized on the former Fort Worth Paschal Panther’s face.
“I was given the unfortunate task of guarding Jack Brown when we played Crozier Tech, and he got the best of me every time,” Jenkins said.
Retelling this story to my grandfather, who passed away in 2016, was one of the proudest moments of my life.
In an interview with Mac Engel of the Star-Telegram, Jenkins modestly said, “I haven’t done anything other than type and know people.”
He gave a gift that eased private-school tuition anxieties for me and my family. That gift helped to jumpstart a sports writing career for the grandson of Jack Brown, one of the countless people Jenkins just happened to know.