Remembering Chris Dufresne, Our Friend and Founder
We are all in shock today at TMG college sports. Devastated and grieving.
Our founder, Chris Dufresne, is gone.
I’m not really sure where to begin. I remember when Chris approached me with the idea of starting a free-wheeling college football website. Four old sportswriter buddies would gather in one place from the four corners of the country. Chris in L.A., Mark Blaudschun in Boston, Tony Barnhart in Atlanta, me in Chicago—and put on a show.
We would write what we wanted when we wanted. Chris was taking a buyout at the L.A. Times, but still wanted to write about the college sports scene that he loved. And he correctly had the feeling that Mark, Tony and I felt the same way.
It seems like we were just getting started. But then, I feel that way about Duf, as he was universally known. Sixty-two years old? This is cruel and wrong. And words can’t describe the empathy I feel for his wonderful wife, Sheila, who turned Chris’ TMG dream into reality, designing our website and guiding four old scribes through the modern digital obstacle course that went with it.
It’s the same with their three sons, Danny, Drew and Joey, who have lost their father far too soon. I just want to give them all a hug, and a shoulder to cry on.
I am thinking now of the first time I really got to know Chris. A lot of laughs and meals and toasts would follow.
But the first time was when Duf delivered a marvelous story about Bobby Knight during the 1997 NCAA tournament. Over a late-night beer, he told me he had followed Knight walking alone in the rain back to his hotel after a discouraging blowout loss.
"Really?'' I kept saying. "Then what happened?''
You know that movie Broadway Danny Rose, where the comics sit around a deli listening to a story and throwing in their two cents? You've got it.
I just kept asking him things. He told the backstory so well. It was fascinating and worthy of a journalism class at the same time.
The enterprise he had shown in finding the story, the writing skill he had shown in serving it up to his readers, were what I admired about Chris Dufresne the sportswriter. He could be a gumshoe, he could turn a phrase, he saw the details and the big picture.
The wry way he told what he found and how he handled the story were what I cherished about Chris Dufresne the man.
He was cynical, a common trait among good newspaper people. But he also was gentle and understated. He was interesting, but he always was interested. He always had time for people. He had a great perspective on life.
And what a great life. This was a guy whose father drove a newspaper circulation truck, who worked his way up from the L.A. Times loading dock to become a beloved senior voice in the sports section.
And this was a guy who was a great friend to so many people in the newspaper business and many other arenas of life. If the measure of a person’s life is, as they say, how many people he or she touches, there’s no measuring stick big enough to describe the impact of Chris Dufresne.
God bless, you, buddy. Those last days were filled with cancer-caused pain that you bore with great dignity. R.I.P. We will miss you. Big-time.
Here’s that Bobby Knight article that Chris wrote for the L.A. Times back in 1997.
Knight Takes Road Less Traveled
By CHRIS DUFRESNE
MARCH 15, 1997
TIMES STAFF WRITER
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — “He’s crazy,” the arena employee said as he pushed the elevator button.
“Who’s crazy?” I asked.
“Knight,” the guy said. “He’s walking back to town. It’s not safe.”
It was 12:45 a.m. Friday morning, an hour or so after Indiana had been humiliated by Colorado in an East Regional first-round game, 80-62.
It was raining outside. Lawrence Joel Coliseum officials scurried about, wondering what to do.
“Let him go,” one said.
It was 2-1/2 miles from the arena to the hotel where the Hoosiers were staying.
I got in my rental car and tried to guess which way Knight might have headed. There was only one logical route, University Parkway, a four-lane, divided highway. As I drove toward the city lights, I saw a man walking briskly and boldly against traffic in the far lane. I made a U-turn to get a better look, took the right-hand lane and drove toward the silhouette. He was wearing a dark jacket and a houndstooth hat pulled low over his forehead. Rain fell against my headlights as I passed.
It was Bob Knight.
To be sure, I executed two more U-turns and made another run toward him. He was walking, eyes fixed ahead, in the middle of the lane. I drove straight at Knight to see if he would move to the side of the road. He did not, so I switched to the left lane.
With red signals flashing, his season on the blink, Knight crossed the intersection at University and Northwest Boulevard and began to walk up Cherry Street, a man alone with his thoughts.
The Colorado defeat had to rank with one of Knight’s lowest moments. His team was flat and listless and never in the game. To borrow the metaphor of the highway, this is the loneliest stretch in Knight’s 26 seasons at Indiana. He has won 598 games, 40 in the tournament, three NCAA titles, but his program is in mini-crisis.
For the third consecutive year, his Hoosiers had been eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“When you’re soundly beaten, there’s not an awful lot you can say beyond that,” Knight had said after his latest NCAA loss.
Knight has gone four years without winning a Big Ten title, the longest drought in his career. The Hoosiers have been to only one Final Four since last winning the national title in 1987. Knight’s teams remain well-coached but have lacked the skill players to compete beyond the Big Ten. The Hoosiers shot only 35% against Colorado, making 19 of 54 shots.
Knight had no answer for Colorado guard Chauncey Billups, who scored 24 points in 32 minutes.
“He is an exceptionally good guard and we really tried to work to do some things to contain him and we just didn’t at all,” Knight had said.
And afterward, there was nothing Knight could do, except take a long walk on a rainy night.
I lost Knight on my third pass, near downtown. I did notice a red, late-model sedan idling on a side street. I suspect it was an Indiana official keeping watch on his enigmatic, legendary coach.
Just like the rest of us.