Those of us who make a living writing about and talking about college football understand that we are a fortunate lot.
There is no heavy lifting and, aside from the occasional excesses from fans (I’ve had three death threats), and night-game deadlines, the job is pretty stress free. We get good seats to witness and then write what Washington Post Publisher Philip L. Graham called “the first rough draft of history.”
But you know what? Getting to travel and cover big ball games is not the most satisfying part of our business. It’s not even close.
The best and most gratifying part of what we do is seen in the photo above.
First, some background.
There is a core group of us who grew up in the newspaper business together covering college football. We were young and thought we knew everything.
We didn’t. Not even close.
We would go to hospitality rooms and see the veteran writers—Furman Bisher, Blackie Sherrod, Dan Foster, Jim Murray, Dave Anderson, Hubert Mizell, Edwin Pope and many more legends of our business—gathered together and telling war stories. There were a lot of miles, late nights, and early flights on those faces. And you knew if they could do it all over again they wouldn’t change a damned thing.
But in our youthful arrogance we thought: “That will never be us.”
Well, if you had been at the media hospitality room at the most recent CFP national championship game in New Orleans, you would have seen our merry band of scribes gathered around a circular table and wondering: “Where did all of these kids come from?”
The worst thing about the job is having Friday night dinners alone on the road during football season. So we bonded over dinners in places like Austin, Columbus, Tuscaloosa, Ann Arbor, and Lincoln, just to name a few.
Many years ago we started an annual golf outing, usually in June. We would gather at our selected location for dinner, play 36 holes of golf the next day and 18 the next. Then there was another nice dinner and the next day we would head back home and start thinking about the next season.
This outing has taken us to California, where we sat overlooking a beautiful vineyard late in the day with a nice bottle of local Merlot.
We went to Steamboat Springs, Colo., and stayed in a beautiful home owned by a relative in our group. The stars in that part of the world are magnificent.
But last year’s trip to Chicago gave us this image, which means even more to us today than when it was taken. We gathered together on a cool June afternoon at Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs lose to the Rockies. We welcomed some special guests in Jim Delany, the outgoing Big Ten commissioner and his successor, Kevin Warren. That was a big deal.
But the reason that we are holding this image close to our hearts today is the guy up front wearing the wide-brimmed hat. That is Chris Dufresne, who spent 21 years (1995 to 2015) covering college football for the Los Angeles Times. And he covered the hell out of the sport with sharp, crisp writing and reporting skills that favored the truth over everything else. His dad, a long-time employee of the Times, got Chris a job on the loading dock in 1976 and from there he would become the 2011 California Sports Writer of the Year.
As the years rolled past Chris, his wife Sheila, and their three boys became like family members to all of us.
Our family took a big hit on Monday when we lost Chris at the way-too-early age of 62.
It was sudden and it was gut punch of major proportions.
You need to know that Chris Dufresne had a lot of friends and admirers in the college football industry. His honesty and integrity had a lot to do with that. But so did his talent. The dude could flat out write and his style was just as popular in South Georgia as it was in Southern California. Funny is funny no matter what time zone you’re from. And when Chris turned into Rankman, his alter ego, he was incredibly funny.
I got messages and calls from all over the country on Tuesday when the news about Chris became public.
Chris would not want us to linger too long over this. If we were going to have anything like a regular football season 2020, he would tell us to find an appropriate watering hole during an early game, make a few toasts, tell a few stories and that would be that. We are going to do that when we can.
We have had loss before in our extended football family. On those occasions we rallied to help and tried to be of comfort.
But this time one of our charter members was taken away from us way too soon. This one is going to hurt for a long, long time.
Several years ago, when we were looking over that wonderful vineyard in California, it was Chris who uttered the line that best summarizes how blessed we have all have been to do what we do--and to do it together.
“Sometimes it’s good to be us,” he said.
Yes it is, Chris. And you are a big reason why that is still true. As long as we have your memory, it will always be good to be us.
RIP, my friend