Remembering Chris Dufresne, Our Friend and Founder

Herb Gould

 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.

Comments (19)
No. 1-10
Daybot7
Daybot7

I was left stunned when I heard the news of Chris' untimely passing. I was preparing for the opportunity to work with him and the rest of TMG Sports once again for this upcoming College Football Season, despite the sad state of world affairs in which we find ourselves entrenched. Chris, I'm so happy our paths crossed and I got to meet and know you. I also wanted to thank you for allowing me to help you produce our 17 Episodes for TMG's Podcast, and for seeing and putting value in me and in my audio engineering trade. Again, thank you so much! Rankman, you were taken from us way too soon!

rlopezmba
rlopezmba

I have known Chris for over 15 years, playing racquetball at LA Fitness in Chino Hills, have followed his column since his days with the LA times. Since the news broke of his passing, I am still in shock, still can't believe. I call Chris the King of Misdirection on the court, straight forward and honest off of it. After our games, from time to time, we would chat about our families. He was extremely proud of his, as I am of mine. It has been my extreme privilege to have known him.
RIP my dear Friend- You will be missed

WrightTX
WrightTX

Herb, thanks for the nice article.

Probably the best prize I will ever win came when I finished on top of the TMG bowl picks contest a couple years ago. Sheila contacted me about a nominal cash prize. I asked to trade it for lunch with Chris. They agreed, so Chris, Sheila, my wife and I met for a nice lunch in Pasadena with conversation that went well beyond college football.

It's a real heartbreaker to lose a guy who could work Richard Nixon's sidekick into the college football rankings.

Chris, you had me at Bebe (Rebozo).

Godspeed.

terrymark
terrymark

Along with many others, I was shocked and saddened to learn of Chris's passing. Although I never met Chris, I had been corresponding with him through email back into his days at the Times. The first time I sent him an email, I received a quick reply, which was a pleasant surprise. I figured any national columnist wouldn't have time for a regular schmuck like me. That first email led to numerous ones over the past 20 years. I subscribed to TMG immediately on hearing of it's organization, and continued to write to Chris since. It's strange, but I felt like I personally knew Chris as a friend. When he and his wife went to Spain, he was nice enough to give me suggestions on where my wife and I might go if we visited Spain also. How many sportswriters would reach out to their readers with such personal advice?

So today I feel as if a dear friend has left. Please give my deepest regards to his wife and family, and assure them that Chris was loved outside his family as well by hundreds of others, even though they may have never met. I live in Maryland, and would not be able to attend his funeral, but I will be there in spirit.
Terry Coldiron

2 Replies

Honeyman
Honeyman

My situation was very similar. A die-hard Spartan, I e-mailed "Rankman" out of the blue when I was surprised at how he had us positioned. Was shocked when I got a thoughtful and immediate reply. Our discourse went on for a few years, usually Spartan related. We discussed Craig Stanke, a great friend of mine and co-hart of Chris's from the LA Times who also passed way too soon. A terrible loss....Godspeed to his family.

Herb Gould
Herb Gould

Editor

Yes, Chris was always up for engaging with readers. That's one reason we were buddies. Our blue-collar spirits. He was so humble and appreciative. Even when he was sick, he was never bitter. . . . thanks for sharing your perspectives.

IrishBrian
IrishBrian

Oh my goodness - I’m just shocked - and very sad! Sheila and kids you all are in my prayers tonite.
I’ve been reading & loving Chris the Rankman forever.
He was one of a kind and I know this sounds silly but I truly felt like I knew him & was a friend of his.
I always quote Chris when I talk to my friends about college football as I always thought his opinions were the best opinions.
I am really sad about his passing - I just can’t imagine not reading his columns and imaging his smile as he turns a phrase and makes me smile and laugh out loud.
There will never be anyone like him.
RIP Rankman - I hope the LA Times names something memorable in your honor.
Sincerely, Brian

Bcorig
Bcorig

“ He always had time for people.”.
I met Chris at our Chino Hills LA Fitness around 2000. My workout partner said “that’s Chris Dufresne”. He was sweating outside of a racquetball court after demolishing another opponent (he was ferocious in the Racquetball Court). I went over and introduced myself and thus began a long in-gym friendship. He always had time to discuss CFB, gracious and genuinely funny. I recall he predicted Coach O’s winning game plan against Stanford the Thursday before - he was spot on right down to the last seconds field goal.
When he formed TMG I was one of the first subscribers. He then introduced me to more great writers, because of him I got to read “The Run Don’t Count” (twice), learn about and be interested in Boston College, get Big 10 insights and get to see what the SEC is.
Last time I saw him several months ago, he had been absent the gym for a while, still upbeat, but concerned. He sent me a private message on Twitter Thursday, but I’ve abandoned that medium, so I didn’t see it until today.
I feel so bad for his sons and wonderful wife, who fixed the glitches, and kept things going.
God’s Speed, Chris. I know we’ll see you again someday.

Jeff Faraudo
Jeff Faraudo

Sad news. A loss for anyone who loved reading about the people in sports.

Jake Curtis
Jake Curtis

Shocked

Scott Kennedy
Scott Kennedy

Our thoughts and prayers are with Sheila and Chris' very large extended family.

hawksvoice
hawksvoice

Thank you, Herb, for these wonderful words. I'm so sad to learn the news about Chris. I'm hoping you all will carry on, keeping Chris' spirit alive in these pages. A very sad day. We all grieve for his family. College football and the writing industry has lost a dear friend.


Herb Gould

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