We were so sorry to see Frank Deford died.
We had the greatest respect for the man. We read him often - there is nothing in modern sportswriting any finer than his Sports Illustrated piece on Bobby Knight, The Rabbit Hunter.
It reads like it was written last week. It was a stunning piece of work and, as Alexander Wolff says, quite rightly, it’ll follow Knight to the grave - and beyond.
It was that good, that finely crafted and realized.
We read his piece on Deford’s passing and some of the articles came rushing back even though we hadn’t read them in years, not least of all his piece on Jimmy Connors.
It’s a measure of how good he was that those articles came back with bright, shining pictures.
Yet in recent years, like a lot of people, we caught him on NPR.
It was never anything intentional. We just managed to flip around on the radio dial in time to catch him. A lot of times we’d catch him again when NPR repeated it later in the morning.
He was just immensely likable and smart. A lot of times we wouldn't agree with him bu it was Frank Deford, so you listened anyway. You got a sense of something special every week. It was kind of like Jim Valvano said. You got to laugh and think and occasionally, if not cry, at least get emotional.
He was the real deal.
Not too long ago we caught him as usual, by chance, saying that he was cutting back on his NPR appearances. And then very recently, we heard his final appearance.
His voice was clearly weakened and we knew he was elderly but had no idea that he was ill but he didn’t sound good.
But he was still Frank. The wit was there, the heart, the decency of the man was with him until the end.
He was a treasure of a writer. Calling him a sportswriter is appropriate but limiting. It’d be like calling Stephen Curry a shooter or Usain Bolt fast. They’re all perfectly true, but it’s a gross understatement.
Like Curry and Bolt, Deford set a standard that very few will ever meet. Wildly gifted? Sure.
What made him special though was not just his gifts but that he made you feel like he let you in on something special every time he wrote or said something. He had an ability to bring you in, to make you feel like you saw something you would never have seen without his presence.
So it’s not just sports fans who will grieve for Deford. It’s anyone who came across his work and was enchanted. To say he’ll be missed is a terrible understatement.
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