A JERSEY GUY: Rankman was No. 1
One of the pleasures of having spent 50 years (next month) in the business of writing about sports is not the games you see or the athletes and coaches you cover, but the people you get to know.
In a business, which usually required travel and working on weekends as pre-requisites, fellow sports writers often became part of your extended family.
Such was the case with Chris Dufresne, my TMG co-partner and former sports writer for the Los Angeles Times. who passed away Monday night.
In a business where egos can run amok, often far out distancing the talent level, Duf was the opposite. He never over promoted or did much self promoting.
What he did--better than most of us, was do his job in a clear, entertaining fashion.
He was a college football writer, who turned his seasonal character of Rankman into a must read each week.
He was a feature writer with a human touch.
He was an Olympic writer who found the stories in sports people only cared about every four years.
Duf and I (among more than a few others) traveled the country covering college football for almost 20 years.
And did we have stories--away from the field--we could tell.
There was the time in Seattle when I (writing for the Boston Globe) and Duf, writing for the Los Angeles Times, were both working on a story on Washington football.
That was back in the pre-twitter era when papers in different parts of the country could work on the same story at the same time.
We were headed to the airport when he took then Washington Sports information director JIm Daves (now at Virginia) to lunch.
We split the bill between us, each tossing down a corporate American Express Card. We then headed to the airport, where he was going to fly to Los Angeles and I was going to fly to Boston.
When I landed later that evening, there was a phone message from Duf, asking me to call him.
I did and he was laughing when he answered. ""Check your American Express Card, he said. I did and saw "Chris Dufresne, Los Angeles Times.''
Express Mail across the country corrected that mistake.
Then there was the time we were in West Virginia doing a story on Marshall wide receiver Randy Moss, who was still more of a controversial figure than a Hall of Fame football player.
We both interviewed him, using tape recorders, and Moss spilled some frustration and anger that the Marshall Sports information director (who also sat in on the interview) said he had ever heard Moss utter.
Duf and I both knew what was on our recorder and suggested to the SID that he might prepare for some crisis management issues.
Sure enough, the stories came out in both papers, Moss said he was misquoted and life went on.
And then there was the time we were in Grambling, Louisiana to chronicle Hall of Fame coach Eddie Robinson's last home game.
We had watched the final practice, which had ended in the darkness, with the only lights being provided by cars in the parking lot and the entire Grambling team surrounding Robinson, singing the Grambling fight song.
I still get chills recalling the moment.
There were those stories and so many more.
But there was a world beyond sports writing that Duf kept in the background, which only he, his wife Sheila and their boys Danny, Drew and Joey were privy.
Duf was a closet rock star, part of a band in his youth. He still dabbled with it in his garage with his boys.
We were talking about it one time and somehow I mentioned that I was a big Ricky Nelson fan as a kid and remembered a song he recorded called Garden Party.
Duf knew the song, so I challenged him to put together a mix of the song and send it to me.
Which he did.
I then sent it to some of his sports writing friends around the country and asked a simple question: Who was the artist?
Needless to say, nobody mentioned Chris Dufresne.
Another Rankman talent.
In the last few years, our greetings over the phone were extensions of TMG
"Rankman,'' I would say from 3,000 miles away from the home headquarters in Chino Hills, Ca. "Jersey Guy would be the reply."
And then we would be off dissecting the world of sports from two different perspectives.
Mine would be a Jersey Guy attack mode. His would be California cool (except if there was ever any criticism directed against Nolan Ryan or the California Angels).
For the past few months, Duf had battled with what turned out to be a recurrence of melanoma, which was in the process of being diagnosed.
He was ready to fight off the latest attack with a series of treatments beginning Tuesday.
On Monday night, I texted him and asked him how his weekend had gone. "Ok, texted back. "Bracing for big weeks ahead.''
Now that voice has been silenced and we at TMG are in mourning.
Rankman, you will be missed and not forgotten.