WHAT MADE RICHIE RUN?

As a showboating youth, it was applause and the promise of celebrity, but then the clapping stopped and heroin became his substitute goal
January 24, 1972

One day in the late summer of 1965, Richard Connors, a sheetrocker in Bridgeport, Conn., left work early and drove to nearby Fairfield University where the New York Giants were holding preseason workouts. Without the slightest hesitation, Connors leaped over the restraining ropes meant to separate spectators from players and approached Head Coach Allie Sherman, who was standing on the sidelines. Before Sherman could speak Connors said, "Mr. Sherman, my name is Dick Connors and it would be to your benefit to give me a tryout with the Giants." Connors continued, not skipping a beat. He explained he was 23 years old, a graduate of the University of Miami and in perfect physical condition. "I've been preserved from injuries for the past four years," he said. "I've gone to bed every night at 9 o'clock. I haven't touched a drop of liquor or eaten too much starchy food and I can beat anyone you've got on this club."

Sherman stared at Connors curiously. At 6'1" and 200 pounds, he did look to be in excellent physical condition. He was so thickly muscled he seemed about to burst from his gray T shirt and Bermuda shorts. But somehow Connors did not look like an athlete. His black hair was short enough on top, but for an athlete it was unusually long on the sides and combed into what had been known in the '50s as a D.A. Connors was an exceptionally handsome man. "Chiseled" is the word you can see the movie scriptwriter using to describe his features. His large, square-cut jaw gave more than a hint of stubbornness. Connors looked faintly like Victor Mature, only younger—but not so young as he claimed. The skin under his eyes was puffy and dark. His teeth looked too perfect. The more closely one examined his face the more one noticed that what once might have been an untouched prettiness had been replaced by a shattered handsomeness, as if the face, like those of horribly wounded soldiers, had been destroyed and then painstakingly rebuilt, the features the same as before only now not fitting quite so tightly, so naturally, but rather glued together with the cement of human experience.

Connors finished his speech. Sherman was silent for a moment. Then he told Connors to report to the team doctor for a physical examination.

"I was really high that day," says Connors, looking back. "Higher than I'd ever been in my life—and I'd been pretty high at times. My heart was beating so fast I was afraid to see the doctor. He might think I was on something."

After a few days of practice, it was apparent that Connors, a linebacker and offensive end, was as physically talented as any player Sherman had. It was also apparent that he had very little football playing experience. He made glaring mistakes. He blocked the wrong people. He beat his man with devastating fakes and then ran to the wrong spot. When he ran to the right spot he dropped easy passes. He caught one pass with his nose and was almost knocked unconscious. Still, by sheer determination and tenacity, Connors survived the Giants' first cut—something a few All-Americas did not. He was even accepted by the team's veteran players, who admired his enthusiasm. But shortly after the second cut, which Connors also survived, he noticed players began avoiding him. When he sat down at the training table, everyone else got up and left. Connors guessed what had happened. He said nothing and ate alone. He realized the pros must have discovered that he, Dick Connors, was the man known in the Bridgeport area as Richie Connors. Richie Connors was almost 30 years old. He had been preserved for the last 37 months, not at the University of Miami, but at Wethersfield State Penitentiary, where he had been sent by a judge as "an incurable drug addict, a thorn in the side of society who must be cut out and put away."

Richie Connors was born on Halloween in 1936 in Bridgeport, a large factory city where the outstanding cultural event each summer is a festival dedicated to the memory of P.T. ("There's a sucker born every minute") Barnum.

Connors' father, an electrician for a vaudeville theater, deserted his mother before he was born. Mrs. Connors supported herself by working as an usherette, and later she managed a theater that featured slapstick comedy and aging strippers. Frances Hurley Connors, a strikingly beautiful woman, enjoyed her work. She took pleasure in rising late and sitting for hours at her dressing table making up her face for a day that began near noon and ended at midnight. "My mother came from a Boston Irish family that had pampered her," says Connors. "She tended to think of herself in a theatrical way."

Connors inherited both his mother's good looks and her tremendous ego. He thought of himself as a star, though with no father and a working mother he was a star without an audience. Left in the care of grandparents and occasionally an aunt, he soon took to the city streets, where he built a reputation as an athlete—and a troublemaker. At 10 he appeared in Madison Square Garden leading an 85-pound basketball team to victory in a game played between the halves of a college doubleheader. The next year he branched out from picking off passes to picking apart parking meters with a screwdriver. One afternoon he stole a basketball from a downtown department store and made his escape dribbling between shoppers all the way up Bridgeport's Main Street. At 12 he was thrown out of a parochial school for defying a nun; at 13 his mother committed him to Junior Republic, a school for orphans and unruly boys in Litchfield, Conn. There he satisfied his thirst for attention by making up three years of grammar school in six months, thus gaining recognition as the school's prize pupil. Connors also continued to excel in sports, especially football, which he played for the first time on an organized level. At 15 he left Junior Republic with a fine recommendation and returned to Bridgeport to enter Bullard-Havens technical school. In his freshman year he became the school's most celebrated athlete. He led the basketball team to the state tournament, only to be suspended. In his exuberance at winning the last regular-season game by one point, Connors threw the ball into the air at the sound of the buzzer. The referee tagged him with a technical foul, which allowed the opposition to tie the game and eventually win it in overtime. The Bullard-Havens coach was so angry he vowed Richie Connors would not play varsity sports again at the school—and Connors did not. Denied that outlet, he was frustrated. He began skipping classes, and early in his sophomore year he quit school altogether.

Now what basketball and football he played was with the area's semipro teams. Competing against tough clubs like the Holyoke (Mass.) Knights and the Franklin (Pa.) Miners, against men eight and nine years older than himself, the 16-year-old Connors held his own. He was one of the best all-round athletes in the city, and yet he was virtually unknown, since Bridgeport newspapers did not cover semipro sports in the splashy way they did high school athletics. Only the few people truly knowledgeable about city sports knew Connors even existed.

That winter, after the end of the high school basketball season, a tournament was held at the North End Boys' Club. It was a meaningless event, really nothing but a showcase for a 6'5" all-state center from another part of the state. The center appeared for warmups looking splendidly aloof—blank-eyed, crew-cut, his sweat socks of the purest white and rising, as if starched, all the way to his muscled calves, where they terminated in three red rings (his school colors). His adversary for the center jump was Richie Connors. Connors was two years younger and five inches shorter. His sweat socks were wilted in a way that only has become fashionable since Pete Maravich. With his slicked-back D.A., he looked more like some wild Teen Angel.

The first time the all-state center got the ball he moved across the key and launched into what sportswriters had called his "classic hook shot." Connors climbed his back and smashed the ball into his face. The second time he began his classic hook shot, Connors stole the ball, leaving the center poised at the foul line, his right leg raised and his right arm extended in exquisite form. The crowd watched, stunned at first, but soon there were roars of approval as Connors overwhelmed his opponent. Relishing the underdog's role, Connors played with a savage intensity. He held nothing in reserve. He opted always for the risk, the blocked shot, the stolen pass, the big fake, the existential leap that left him exposed to either cheers or ridicule. With every humiliation, Connors' opponent grew more cautious, his moves more deliberate and constricted. Finally he was overwhelmed, a victim of Connors at his finest moment.

For Richie Connors, young and talented and thinking himself the cock of the walk, such triumphs were too infrequent. They were sandwiched around too much dead time, and so, like his mother, he began rising late, then drifting downtown to pass the slow city days in pool halls or on street corners with other dropouts, men older than himself who had interests of their own.

"He had no first name," Connors remembers. "No last name either. We just called him Murchie, Murchie-man. 'Murchie-man's got the goods,' we'd say. He was maybe 20 or 21. He said he was from Texas. Even though he didn't play sports, I thought he was cool with his 'Heh, man' talk. He used to say he couldn't hit the side of a barn with a football, and then he'd smile and add, 'But I can hit a vein a mile away.' Who knew what he meant in 1953? I found out one day. Jeez, it's not the kind of thing you like to reminisce about, but I won't forget that day. Late July, about 4 p.m. It was hot downtown. We were standing outside a newsstand and Murchie asks me do I want to get high. I said, 'You know I can't buy liquor in Bridgeport, Murchie-man. People know me.'

" 'I don't mean booze,' he said—God, I can hear him now, that whiny voice—'I don't mean booze, Richie, I mean horse.'

"I was laughing. 'What the hell you gonna do with a horse, Murchie-man? You ain't in Texas now. You gonna go riding down Main Street Bridgeport?'

" 'Come on, I'll show ya,' he said, and we walked up a hill to his car. He kept it right in the glove compartment in glassine envelopes. In those days police weren't on the lookout for the stuff, it was so rare. He said you take it with needles. I told him I couldn't stick a needle in my arm. He said he'd show me an easier way, and he rolled a dollar bill into a funnel. 'You can snort it,' he said. I said, 'You sure this ain't bad stuff, Murchie-man?' and then I snorted some. I got sick at first and then I got high. A few days later I snorted again. Then every day.

"By the time the football season started I was shooting up morning and night. One evening before a football game I waited until the team went onto the field for calisthenics and then I shot up in the locker room. It was hard to get the needle in my arm with all those pads and just as I did, one of my teammates walked in. His eyes almost fell out. In those days drugs weren't an In thing. It was a disgrace, something only blacks did. I played that first half higher than a kite. I must have been a real pussycat because the other team ran all their plays at me. But I came down hard at halftime. I even got a little sick, and the rest of the game I was a tiger. They couldn't believe I was the same guy. They thought someone else had put on my uniform."

Connors continued to play but his performances deteriorated. His weight dropped from 190 to 175 pounds. He began spending more time with Murchie. He learned that it had been no whim of Murchie's to turn him on to drugs.

"He and his friends had run out of ways to get money," says Connors. "They had hocked everything they owned and borrowed from everyone they knew. Murchie had even dismantled his mother's bed and sold it while she was at work. They needed new blood—mine. But even if I'd known that, I'd probably still have gotten involved. I couldn't let anyone think Richie Connors was chicken, could I? Besides, I wanted to be a part of that group. We stole together; we copped [bought drugs] together; we shot up together. We were fooling the world, which at the time was pretty easy since there were only a dozen white junkies and 40 black ones in a city of 160,000. It was all so easy we had to make it look hard. We flattened against walls, barricaded cellar doors with oil burners, hid the stuff behind bricks in walls; we were real cute. I think we got a bigger kick out of the cops-and-robbers suspense than the drugs. But mostly it was a togetherness thing. We needed each other. One guy had a car, another had connections; we each had something the others could use. We even had a crippled guy in with us. He'd been crippled in a motorcycle accident and had become an addict when they gave him too much morphine to kill the pain. We went through his $30,000 insurance settlement in a year. Finally, though, they needed me the most. It felt good, too, to know there was always someone who would say, 'We gotta wait for Richie. We can't cop without Richie. Richie's got the guts.' I would do things none of them would. I was the only guy who would go into the black sections of town to cop drugs. I was the only white guy the black pushers trusted, because they knew I wouldn't talk if I was arrested. One pusher liked me so much that on Christmas he put green and red tape on all the envelopes. It was his way of saying, 'Have a Merry Christmas.' "

Since heroin was considerably purer in the '50s than it tends to be now, a $5 bag would sustain an addict like Connors for an entire day. (That same bag costs $20 today.) At first it was not hard for Connors to turn up his daily $5. He borrowed money from relatives and athlete friends, and when those sources were tapped he began selling small items from around his home—clocks, silverware, knickknacks, etc. One day he lugged his mother's washing machine out of the cellar and wheeled it downtown to a pawnshop. As the number of salable items dwindled, Connors began stealing loose bills and change from his grandfather. When his grandfather would come home at night he would toss his money on the bureau and fall asleep. Connors was careful to steal just enough so that when his grandfather woke he would think he had spent the missing money on the previous night's drinks. "Every morning when he counted the cash he'd smile," says Connors. "He thought he was a helluva drinker."

When the group began stealing in earnest to support habits that required $30 and $40 a day, Connors solidified his position as the most important member. He was an audacious sneak thief. He could lay bare an unattended cash register in seconds. He robbed the same grocer of small amounts seven times.

"Of course, stealing was easier in those days," Connors says. "People were less cynical. They weren't afraid to turn their back on you. I no longer played any sports. I had no interests but drugs. I was still the star of the game, but now it was a different game."

Connors and his friends stole haphazardly at first, whenever they came across an item—car, radio, watch—that was an easy mark. Once they stole a truckload of furniture when they saw the driver go into a bar for a drink. But as they grew sick more frequently in the mornings they needed a daily plan to get money. They went into the "construction business" by day and the "gas station business" by night.

After an eye-opening shot, they would dress in construction clothes and travel from one newly built but as yet unoccupied house to another, stripping off copper pipe. They could clean a house in minutes. Once they ripped out water pipes while someone was taking a bath upstairs. When the bather yelled out, Connors shouted that they were from the water company. When it grew dark the addicts piled into Murchie's battered Cadillac and drove toward New York City on the Boston Post Road. Along the way they stopped at gas stations. At each, Murchie would ask the attendant to check under the hood, while Connors would go inside the office, ostensibly to use the men's room. When Richie saw the car's hood go up and the attendant's head disappear behind it, he would rifle the cash register. He was careful to ring up the identical sale already recorded on the register and to take only clean bills, which could not be traced.

One night during a snowstorm Connors rang up a sale on a register and nothing happened. No matter how hard he banged and pried he could not budge the drawer. In desperation he hoisted the machine under his arm and carried it outside. He was almost to the car when he was jerked to a halt. He looked down and noticed a black wire leading back into the station. He went back, unplugged the cord, and was halfway to Murchie's car again when the attendant spotted him. Murchie drove off with the hood up and left Connors standing in the snowstorm holding a 50-pound cash register. Connors started to run, the register cradled under his arm like a football, with the attendant in close pursuit. Dodging between buildings, leaping over bushes, his legs pumping, he began to put distance between himself and his pursuer, and as he did he felt the register grow lighter and rounder and smoother and he knew for sure he'd beat his man to the goal line.

Connors was arrested the following morning. Murchie had been caught by the police the previous night and had squealed. A few months later Richie was sentenced to Cheshire Reformatory, a maximum-security prison for youths under 21, for a term of from 18 months to five years. Connors still has a picture of himself as he looked on the day he was arrested. It shows a gaunt, unshaven youth with heavy-lidded eyes and sunken cheeks and a carefully combed and gleaming D.A. He was 19 and weighed 162 pounds.

At Cheshire, Connors was forced to kick his $30-a-day heroin habit without the aid of medicine. "Kicking cold turkey wasn't so bad," he says now. "I got chills and cramps and a fever for a few days, just like the flu, and then it was gone. It certainly wasn't anything like having a cartilage operation, or as they picture it in the movies. Murchie and I saw The Man with a Golden Arm and when Frank Sinatra started screaming and beating the walls from withdrawal pains we laughed. Of course, we had just shot up so we could afford to laugh."

After 15 months at Cheshire, Connors had gained 20 pounds, become the prison's best athlete and earned his high school diploma. He was released in August 1957 and was declared a cured drug addict.

"I didn't want to go back on drugs," he says. "But I didn't know what to do. I saw no direction, no future, no college scholarship in sports, there was nothing for me to shoot for. I got a construction job and began playing semipro football again. I also had a girl friend and a new father."

After 20 years, Frances Connors had remarried. Her new husband was a chef. He did not like the idea of having a 21-year-old ex-junkie living with him, and he kept hinting to Richie that he should get married and go off on his own. Finally, one night Richie's stepfather had a heart-to-heart talk with him while his mother was at work. The chef told Connors that he was concerned for him and that he felt he would be happier married, that it would be in the best interests of both Richie and his mother. After that talk Connors' stepfather prepared an elaborate meal for the two of them.

"I went to bed thinking that everything was going to work out," says Connors. "He kept saying I was a good boy and how much everyone loved me and I fell asleep feeling fine. While I slept he started drinking alone and it must have been about 2 a.m. when he went into the bathroom and crushed a dozen antihistamines into a fine powder and put them in tinfoil by my bed. Then he called the police. They arrested me at about 3 a.m. I couldn't believe what was happening. I had been clean for over a year. At the jail they said the stuff in the foil was the purest heroin they had ever tested, and they locked me up. I stayed in prison for 30 days before they received a report from the Hartford laboratories that the stuff wasn't heroin. But during those days no one had believed I wasn't back on drugs. Everyone told my girl friend, 'Once a junkie, always a junkie.' Even when I was released no one believed my story.

"I got married, but things went downhill pretty fast. We argued a lot about my playing sports. My wife thought it was a waste of time, and I couldn't get her to see it was the only way I had of rationalizing my existence. When I was laid off my construction job at Christmas I went back to drugs."

Connors devoted the next few years of his life to the pursuit of heroin, and by the time he was 24 he had a $50-a-day habit. He had been arrested a dozen times, had served a number of short jail terms and had been sent to the federal hospital for drug addicts in Lexington, Ky. After seven days there he was thought to be cured, and the afternoon he was released he shot up about 20 yards beyond the prison gate.

"I look back now," he says, "and see that I was almost a vegetable. I was a liar, cheat, thief, you name it. You couldn't lay 10¢ in front of me that I didn't steal it. My mother used to take me by the hand to get a haircut because I couldn't be trusted with the money."

When Connors was arrested for larceny in 1961, and the presiding judge noticed the number of narcotics-related arrests on Connors' record, he declared Richie a thorn in the side of society and sentenced him to the State Penitentiary at Wethersfield.

"I thought it wasn't fair, all that was being done to me," says Connors now. "I was The Champ, the best athlete in the world, even if I hadn't played sports in years. People always said you couldn't kick junk, but I never doubted I could. I could do anything. I'd always thought that I could do anything, that if I had wanted to I could have been the world's greatest athlete. It became my new challenge. I would be the only guy who ever kicked heroin. It was my Super Bowl, my World Series, and it was the biggest sports contest ever because this was no imitation of life and death, it was the real thing. That thought excited me. I was fighting all the odds—my lack of weight, knowledge, maturity, my attitude, past, everything. It was the thought of this competition that really motivated me."

Within 10 months Connors had built up his weight to a muscular 215 pounds. He worked with barbells in the prison and once more began playing football and basketball. Soon he so excelled that he began thinking of himself as somehow different from the other inmates. "They were the criminals," he says. "I was there only because of a mistake, a misunderstanding, which would be straightened out." Even his fellow convicts and the prison guards began to think of Connors as someone apart. He was an athlete, not a con, they said, and they treated him with a deferential respect. He was given the softest jobs, such as painting the prison's electric chair. "I used to sit in it when I was finished to see how it felt," he says. "It felt comfortable, especially since I knew I could get up and walk away from it." When his girl friend came on visiting days (he was divorcing his first wife), word of her presence spread quickly.

"It was almost comical," says the present Mrs. Connors, a blonde who resembles Kim Novak. "I felt so conspicuous. Then Richard would come strutting into the visitors' room, his hair combed, his khaki clothes pressed in a knifelike crease. I said to myself, 'This man didn't just step out of a cell, he stepped out of a Botany 500 ad.' "

"I had everything back—my looks, weight, ability," says Connors, "when suddenly I realized I was still the same junkie. I still thought of myself as having been shortchanged by everyone but me, and I knew only a few months back on drugs would destroy what I had regained in prison."

Connors began making a conscious effort to become introspective. He began to read, to question and to spend more time with the most intelligent of the prison inmates—the lawyers and doctors and judges. He sat with them by the hour, entranced by their knowledge. "They were the best teachers a man could have," says Connors. "They had plenty of time to think out life's answers, only they couldn't apply them to their own lives. I took bits and pieces from rapists, embezzlers, murderers, and put my life back together again. I realized I had turned to drugs to get recognition and attention, even to the point where I had become the biggest junkie and best sneak thief around. Perhaps I was afraid I might not be able to make it in sports, that I would never become a Ray Nitschke, and so I used drugs as an excuse to fail. When I got out of prison in 1963, I knew I'd never go back to drugs. I also found it strange that I never again sat down to talk philosophically with people the way I did with those prison cons. There never seemed enough time."

When Richie Connors was finally cut by the New York Giants in 1965, his fiancée was at once furious and terrified. She was furious because she felt he had been cruelly treated by the Giant players who had discovered his past. "But Richard didn't let it bother him," she says. "He believed this was the kind of treatment he should expect. That he would have to prove himself in the community before expecting anything better."

She was worried, too, because she had been warned repeatedly that there was no such thing as an ex-junkie. Only a little setback would start Richie off again, her friends had said.

"The night Richard was cut," Claudette Connors recalls, "I phoned his house and he sounded so depressed. I asked him what he was going to do."

"What is there to do?" he said. "I'm going back to the same old thing."

"What do you mean?"

"Sheetrocking," he said. "I'm going back to sheetrocking tomorrow."

Richard Connors, sitting at a lunch counter in the Bridgeport railroad station, looks no different from the dozens of other commuters waiting for the 7:37 a.m. to New York. He is an impeccably dressed businessman in a double-knit blazer and slacks. He is now assistant to the president of an electrical contracting firm. An attaché case rests at his feet. His hair is no longer combed into a D.A. It falls across his forehead, modishly cut. The waitress places a cup of coffee in front of him and asks if he would like a roll, too.

"What kind do you have, dear?"

"Poppyseed."

Richie shakes his head. "I've been off that stuff for years," he says, and laughs loudly.

Connors has not touched heroin in over 11 years. When he was out of prison for only a short time he ran across Murchie downtown. When Murchie offered him a free bag of heroin just for starters, Connors threatened to kill him. "At the time I was working for Herman Isaacs, a soap manufacturer," he says. "All night long we ground dead animals into soap. I told Murchie if he came near me again I'd make him into a bar of Ivory."

Connors was working as a sheetrocker by day and a soapmaker by night. On weekends he played minor league football with such teams as the Hartford Knights, the Meriden Merchants, the Long Island Bulls and the Bridgeport Jets, a farm team of the New York Jets. He played football for eight years before finally retiring. He played, he says, because it was a perfect outlet for his frustrations, but his wife claims there were other reasons.

"When Richard got cut from the Giants," she says, "it dawned on him that he might have become an NFL player if it hadn't been for drugs. After that he was obsessed with catching up on the career he had lost. He thought at 30 he could still make the pros. And secretly, I think if he could tell someone tomorrow he was only 25 and they'd believe him, he'd try out for the Giants again."

These days Connors confines his sports activity to daily workouts at the Y, and to his assistant coach's duties with the Bridgeport Jets of the Atlantic Coast Football League. He paces the sidelines at those games, shouting orders, stabbing the air with his hands, getting so emotionally involved that often he has to be censured by referees for moving onto the playing field. For his team's final game this past season he suited up for the first time in a year and led the defensive unit with 16 tackles.

In the summer Connors is an instructor at the Offense-Defense Football Camp in Mount Snow, Vt. The camp is attended mostly by young athletes who want to learn the game from NFL players like Don Maynard, Tucker Frederickson and Joe Morrison—not to mention less renowned players like Dick Connors. Dick Connors has been voted the camp's best coach by the students the past two summers. But he does not attend the camp solely for the love of sport. Like some of the boys he teaches, his greatest satisfaction probably comes from rubbing elbows with famous athletes like Maynard, because even now he harbors an adolescent's worship of those men who possess something he feels he has been cheated of all these years. Connors mentions his famous acquaintances casually—"When Joe Willie and I had lunch the other day...," or "Wilt and I decided...." He keeps a scrapbook filled with mementos of his sports past—no matter how insignificant—a note from Joe Morrison asking Dick Connors to pick up his laundry; a letter from the Boston Patriots advising Dick Connors that his invitation to their rookie camp had been canceled. ("It seems they had this idea I was only 25," says Richie, "and then they discovered I was closer to 30.") These items follow the picture of Connors as he appeared on the day of his first arrest. He does not like to look at that picture. He would rather show a visitor one of several larger-than-life photographs of himself in a Bridgeport Jets' football uniform, his hair properly tousled with sweat and his helmet cradled under his arm much in the way he once cradled that cash register. He prefers to think of himself as Dick Connors, "the former New York Giant linebacker." That is how he introduces himself to strangers. The license plate on his used white Cadillac reads "NYG1."

There is a corner of Richie Connors' mind in which he thinks of these small liberties, these delusions of grandeur, as being proper, as being his right by ordeal. He should be a New York Giant; he should be asked for autographs. This slightly distorted sense of his own abilities is, ironically, the very aspect of his personality that motivated him to beat his drug addiction. He was better than others! He was a great athlete, not a junkie! The star! This has not gone unnoticed by his acquaintances in Bridgeport, one of whom says, "Richie lives an innocent lie." Not surprisingly—indeed, with all good reason, because his home town knows him too well—Richie Connors prefers to spend both his working and his free time in New York City, surrounded by people who know him only as "Dick Connors, formerly of the New York Giants."

Yet despite his fascination with the trappings of professional sports, Connors will say of himself, "If I'd ever become a famous athlete I'd probably be obnoxious. I think I'm a better man for the way I used sports. Maybe I do respect famous athletes more than I should, but I don't for a moment think of them as being better than me. I've done more with sports in my life than they could ever hope to do."

Today, Connors is doing more with his life than many people. He seems always to be savoring what others overlook. He laughs often and boisterously at the smallest incidents—such as at the woman who almost choked on her coffee when she heard Connors say to a friend, "My number in prison? I think it was 20231." Seeing the woman's discomfiture he smiled and said, "No, no, that was my first number. During my second stretch my number was...."

"Richard really does love life," says his wife. "I only wish he didn't love turmoil so much, too. I really don't think he could live happily if things went smoothly. Sometimes I think he creates difficulties just so he can master them."

Connors has worked at as many as four jobs at once because of his frenetic desire to make himself respected and successful. He seems always to be playing 1,001 hands to win the jackpot he feels he has missed. "I'm still searching for the form and pattern of my life," he says. "I'm not sure what I should do with it. For 10 years I was on ice. I want to catch up. Sometimes I actually do think of myself as being 25."

THREE ILLUSTRATIONS

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)