Feature flashback – L.J. Shelton

This feature on Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman L.J. Shelton appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Aug. 7, 2003.

Healthy Shelton expecting big year

By Ed Odeven

Despite playing with an injured right ankle last season, L.J. Shelton had his finest all-around season as a pro.

The injury, originally a sprain, occurred in Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks.

Now, the Arizona Cardinals’ starting left tackle is looking forward to having an even more productive, injury-free season. He underwent arthroscopic ankle surgery on May 2. That was followed by eight weeks of rehabilitation, which ended just before the start of training camp.

“I had a bad sprain. I played through it for 14 games, so it worked out pretty good for me, being that I was hurt,” Shelton said after Thursday’s morning practice at NAU’s East Fields. “But it’s a scary feeling out there not knowing what’s going on, then finding out later that there’s a piece of bone floating around in there.”

While enduring the pain in his ankle, Shelton was able to concentrate on fine-tuning his skills.

“My injury forced me to focus on my technique a whole lot more, so I was able to really get my feet under my balance,” said Shelton, whose father, Lonnie, was a 10-year pro in the NBA and played for the 1978 NBA champion Seattle SuperSonics.

“I had to really focus on the footwork to keep my balance because the muscles in my ankle weren’t strong.”

Which is why he’s not trying to do too much in the preseason.

“I’m a little rusty because I didn’t do any of the mini-camps because of my off-season surgery. I’m not too hard on myself right now,” he said. “I know I’m able to play, but I want to play at a high level. I’m not quite there yet. I have four preseason games and a bunch more practices to get me there, so I’m not too worried about it right now.”

Adding depth to the o-line has been a key objective for the Cardinals. Guard Cameron Spikes, who played for the Houston Texans last year, was a free-agent pickup during the off-season. Guys like centers Steve Grace and Jason Starkey; tackles Reggie Wells, Kendrick Rogers and Watts Sanderson; guards Tony Wragge and Teag Whitting; and guard/tackle Raleigh Roundtree (who is recovering from a splenectomy) are vying for spots on the roster. Another lineman, Frank Garcia, will miss the first four games of the regular season after violating the NFL’s drug policy by testing positive for ephedra.

In 2002, the Cardinals’ starting offensive line was besieged by injuries. Center Mike Gruttaduria (knee), tackle Leonard Davis (knee), guard Pete Kendall (knee) and tackle Anthony Clement (triceps) all missed games. Shelton was the only one to start all 16 games.

“We’re not just counting on five guys to get it done,” Shelton said. “We’re counting on all eight or nine guys to make this team and get it done. We’re aware that it’s hard for the whole line to make it through 16 games. Injuries are going to happen. We’ve got to be able to have guys step in.”

When you’re 6-foot-6 and 335 pounds, like Shelton, size and strength are the physical attributes people notice about you right away. The untrained eye might not see how exceptional Shelton’s footwork is.

“His biggest asset is his feet,” offensive line coach Pete Hoener said. “He has remarkable feet for a big man. (He has) quick feet, he’s athletic, he has great balance, and those are things that you need to have playing left tackle.

“I think he’s a heck of a player. He’s very gifted athletically. He understands the game. Again, once he continues to master his techniques he could be one of the best.”

Shelton, a No. 1 pick (21st overall) by the Cardinals in the 1999 draft, is in the final year of a five-year deal, a year in which he’ll make $560,000. He said he’s not dwelling on getting a new contract.

Instead, his focus is on the football field.

“Last year was a big year for me just as a confidence-booster, my first year playing consistently at a high level,” Shelton said. “I just want to carry that over to this year. If I can build on last year, then all the rest of it financially will take care of itself.”


Jack Mitchell: Oklahoma’s All-American QB in 1948

This article on former quarterback and football coach Jack Mitchell appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on July 13, 2002.
(Reporter’s note: Mitchell died in 2009 at age 85 in Sun City, Arizona.)

Memories of football glory

By Ed Odeven

Old guys love to tell tales of their younger days. Jack Mitchell, a former All-American quarterback for Oklahoma, is no exception.

In a recent interview at his Munds Park home, Mitchell, 79, reminisced about his career — a career that brought him in close contact with exceptional athletes like Gale Sayers and Wilt Chamberlain.


Mitchell grew up in Arkansas City, Kan. and was an all-state basketball and football player and a state tennis champion.

“I played athletics all through school, from first grade and up,” he said. “The Lord was just good to me in that direction.”

Mitchell went to the University of Texas to play for coach D.X. Bible in 1943 after graduating from Arkansas City High School. He spent one semester at the university before he was called to serve in World War II. He was a platoon leader, an Army lieutenant in an infantry division, serving in Germany, France and England.

After the war, Mitchell resumed his football career. It was a time of fierce competition.

“We were all back from the Army,” Mitchell said. “In other words, when we came back in ’46, there were three classes all together in one. The competition coming back was all mature. We were all in the same boat. … The competition was much more severe in ’46, ’47, and ’48.”

Mitchell went to Oklahoma in 1946, and the Sooners won the Big Six Championship, when the conference consisted of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa and Iowa State. Mitchell earned all-conference accolades at QB in 1946 and 1947.

In 1948, he was named an All-American quarterback, leading Oklahoma to a 14-6 Sugar Bowl victory over North Carolina on New Year’s Day.

Mitchell was named the Outstanding Player Award for the 1949 Sugar Bowl.

“I didn’t play my best game,” he said, “but I’ll tell you why I got the trophy, mainly. It was a defensive game all the way.”

Perhaps his best work, however, was done in the film room during pre-bowl preparations.

After an Oklahoma defender returned an interception back deep into Carolina territory in the first quarter, Mitchell’s smarts were on display as he called running play after running play, plays that kept gaining positive yardage.

“On the film I had noticed that [North Carolina] went into its eight-man front, its goal-line stand, at the 12- or 13-yard line,” Mitchell explained.

“As long as they were going to line up that way, you were going to make two or three yards.”

Mitchell kept running QB sneaks and finally picked up a 2-yard touchdown run, the game’s first score.

“I was basically not a good passer,” he said. “I did; I had to throw some.”

Mitchell also excelled on special teams. He holds the NCAA career record for punt-return average (23.8 yards per return). The record for most punts for touchdowns is shared by three: Mitchell, Nebraska’s Johnny Rodgers and Kansas State’s David Allen.

Looking back, he’s proud of those accomplishments.

“In those three years I can’t remember if I ever made a fair catch,” he recalled. “Today, 90 percent are fair catches, and when you do catch it they are all right on top of you, because they are all rested. They are specialty teams. They are covering like hell. They are all picked for speed. So that’s why it’ll never be broken. … I don’t think the career average will be broken”

Another highlight of Mitchell’s playing day was appearing in the 1949 Chicago College All-Star Game at Soldier Field. That game pitted the defending NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles against college’s best gridiron stars.

“It was a big thrill when you ran out and they had that full house,” Mitchell said. “And they played the Oklahoma ‘Boomer Sooner’ (song). “[The announcer said], ‘Now, at quarterback will be Jack Mitchell, All-American from Oklahoma.”

Mitchell’s counterpart in the game was Tommy Thompson of the Philadelphia Eagles, who was blind in one eye.

The Eagles won the game, 38-0, and Mitchell separated his right shoulder in the game. Although he was signed by the Green Bay Packers, he never played due to his injury.


In 1949, Mitchell started coaching at Blackwell (Okla.) High School. It was a challenge for which he felt prepared.

“By gosh, with my background, with [OU coach] Bud Wilkinson and through my college career and the little time I had with the pros and the All-Star game and all that, I was so far ahead of the old guys that were coaching high school,” Mitchell said. “It wasn’t even funny.”

Mitchell’s college coaching career lasted from 1953 until 1966, with stints at Wichita, now called Wichita State (1953-54), Arkansas (1955-57) and Kansas (1958-66). He was named the Missouri Valley Conference coach of the year in 1954 and the Big Eight coach of the year in ’60.

He coached three times against Alabama’s legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant, when Mitchell was at Arkansas and Bryant was with Texas A&M.

Asked what those experiences were like, Mitchell said, “It was just playing against another team. The guy that’s got the best players is going to win. They are all good coaches when you get in college.

“High school is a different story,” he continued. “You can out-coach a lot of them, because, heck, I played defenses that did stunts, and then I had an option play. They didn’t think you could do that in high school. And I put in the option play and taught the quarterback how to do that. Hell, we ran ’em crazy. We went to the state finals and they’d never been to the finals in the history of Blackwell.”

Mitchell guided the 1961 Kansas team to a 35-7 Bluebonnet Bowl victory over Rice.

Once dubbed “a great motivator,” Mitchell now wonders if that’s an appropriate description of his coaching style.

“You never know if it’s because you’ve got great players or if it’s because you are motivating them,” he said. “But I had to get them. We were fortunate in doing good recruiting. We worked awfully hard on recruiting players.”

Mitchell crossed paths with Chamberlain, when “Wilt the Stilt” was an exceptional all-around athlete at KU. Mitchell tried to persuade Chamberlain to join the football team for a specific purpose — short yardage situations.

“I was going to play him at quarterback, but never put him in the game unless we just needed a yard. … “He could step over them.

“In track, he could out-high jump, out-shot put everyone. He was not only 7-foot-2, but he was built like a guy 6 feet with strength and muscle who could run just as fast. He said he wanted to box. He would’ve been a helluva boxer.”

Mitchell mentioned former KU quarterback Johnny Hadl, who earned All-Pro distinction with the San Diego Chargers and Sayers, the ex-Chicago Bears great, as two of the best players he’s ever coached.

“Sayers might’ve been the finest running backs I saw, and one of the great defensive players,” said Mitchell, an avid golfer.

Of all the college football rivalries Mitchell has been associated with, he said the biggest one involves Ole Miss and Arkansas.

“By God, that’s a war,” he said.


Mitchell retired from coaching in 1966 to pursue a full-time career in business. He’s been involved with running a variety of different businesses ever since, including a bank, an insurance company and Mitchell Publications, Inc., which owns several newspapers in Kansas.

Although he’s no longer coaching, Mitchell, who also maintains residencies in Sun City and Kansas, is still passionate about football. That’s especially true during the autumn.

“I love to go the high school games,” he said, revealing he attends several games in the Phoenix area during the fall.

On Saturdays, Mitchell prefers to remain home rather than go screaming and shouting at a college football venue in the Southwest or Midwest.

“I don’t go to college games, because I want to stay home and be able to watch Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. I get to see three or four of the games on Saturday,” he said. “If I go to a game, I don’t see anybody else.

“I’ve got two TVs going and a radio on the side. Most of my buddies do the same thing,” he continued, smiling.

Karen Crouse’s recipe for success: A passion for sports and writing (and knowledge) shines through in every article

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (Feb. 25, 2015) — Her latest story appears on Page 1 of the International New York Times, bundled together with The Japan Times as a two-newspaper package available throughout the Land of the Rising Sun. In this piece, also displayed prominently on The Times’ website, she writes with clarity and depth about the state of men’s golf in 2015.

One brief passage, which appeared on the story’s jump page, immediately grabbed my attention because of its clever word play and broad viewpoint: “He has a twinkle in his eye, a strut to his step, a howitzer for a driver and 2.3 million Twitter followers.”

She was writing about Rory McIlroy, the 25-year-old golfer from Northern Ireland.

She is … Karen Crouse, a 1984 graduate of the University of Southern California and former Lady Trojans swimmer.

She has paid her dues in this business, reporting for newspapers located on the West Coast and East Coast. Her career has included stops at the the Savannah (Georgia) News-Press, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, Orange County Register, Los Angeles Daily News, Palm Beach Post and The New York Times.

I recently conducted this interview with her.

Who are three or four must-read sports journalists you read on a weekly basis? What makes their work appealing to you?

Anything by J.R. Moehringer, and if you read his piece on Alex Rodriguez in ESPN The Magazine, the reason why will be self-evident. His collaboration with Andre Agassi on Agassi’s autobiography is the gold standard of sports memoirs. I greatly enjoy our Sports of the Times columnists, especially Michael Powell, whose dexterity with the English language is laudable. His column from Madison Bumgarner’s dad’s home during the decisive game of the World Series was an instant classic. Sally Jenkins consistently writes thought-provoking columns, and her writing is so lyrical it could be set to music. I’ll read anything by Chris Ballard or S.L. Price in Sports Illustrated because of the depth of their reporting and the loveliness of their prose and I always look for Johnette Howard at ESPN.com.  I read a LOT of non-sports non-fiction. I just finished “Leaving Before the Rains Come” by Alexandra Fuller, whose writing is beautiful.

Do you have an all-time favorite favorite print journalist?

Jim Murray, because he could wound without drawing blood – he wasn’t vicious in his criticism – and his columns were unfailingly original, entertaining and artfully crafted. And a more humble person you will NEVER find.

Considering the ebb and flow of an NFL game (one of your past coverage beats) and a “typical” day of pro golf, how does your note taking, reporting, writing, interviewing … the whole enchilada differ?

In football, I filled my notebook with facts and numbers. In golf, my notes contain much more description of scenes, of player and crowd reactions, of dialogue. I have much more freedom in golf to find different stories because of the sheer number of players posting scores every week, and because they are in action from dawn to dusk, I have a lot more time to sniff out stories and report them than when I was limited to 15 minutes of watching practice, a half hour of locker room access or one game a week.

Is pro football and golf reporting equally intense, but different?

The misconception about golf is that it is a deadline dream job because it ends before dark. The reality, for me, anyway, is that I’m typically at the course from dawn to dusk most days, which is much longer than I spent at football stadiums on game days.  I love the freedom the sport affords me in plucking stories from all over the course. But one of my friends, after observing me at work one week, said it’s like I’m trying to write like (John) Cheever while keeping a wire service reporter’s hours. I’m not sure about the Cheever part, but the days are very long and four years into the beat, I haven’t really figured out how to strike a better balance.

What do you consider your chief strengths as a journalist?

My curiosity, my ability to ask good questions (which is a consequence of pretty exhaustive research, if I’m working on a profile), my genuine interest in what makes the people I’m writing about tick, my doggedness (a leftover quality from my competitive swimming days, I suppose), my desire every day to tell the readers something about my subject that they haven’t read before.

There are challenges, biases, and obstacles that female sports journalists have faced and continue to face that their male counterparts never do. But is there additional respect given to you when you identify yourself as a New York Times journalist? Does that open doors or provide greater access/opportunities that you wouldn’t have normally received in past newspaper jobs that you have had?

I definitely get calls back from people who almost certainly would have ignored me if I had contacted them when I was with any of my nine previous employers. I never take for granted the doors that open to me, if only a crack, because of where I work. And I never kid myself about why many people choose to talk to me – while I’d like to think it’s because of my sparkling personality or reputation (ha!), in many cases it is entirely because of I have the Times’ stamp of approval.

I’m not sure I’m automatically accorded more respect because of where I work. If anything, my work and how I carry myself is more closely scrutinized by people inside and outside the business. I’m keenly aware there are many people who would love to have my job, and who think they would be better at my job, and so in some respects I feel like I have to work harder than ever to prove to outsiders that I’m worthy of occupying such a prized position. I remember not long after I was hired by the paper, I was covering a football game and a fellow sportswriter, a man, congratulated me on the job and said, “I didn’t know they were looking for a woman to fill that position.

”Bless him, but it never occurred to him that the editors might have thought I was the best hire for the job. He assumed that if I was hired, it was because I was a woman and the paper was looking to diversify its sports section.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in this profession?

Treat the people you cover the way you’d like to be treated. Remember they are people first, athletes second. Don’t assume anything.

Maybe the biggest thing I’ve learned, and perhaps this is unique to me, is all these years I’ve been digging into people’s lives and asking all kinds of questions, it is ostensibly because I’m trying to make sense of their lives, but what I’m really trying to do in a very elemental way is make sense of my own and our collective lives.

A  mentor’s words of wisdom?

Don’t try to fit in because it’s your differences that set you apart.

Perfect is the enemy of good.

Steer clear of the comments under your stories

A past lesson you learned that served you well for future work?

At the 2012 Masters, I was misquoted in a national sports blog – in the headline, no less — and suffered greatly for it. It was an invaluable experience, being on the other end of an interview and seeing firsthand how your words can be a boomerang that knocks you off your feet. It gave me a greater appreciation of how vulnerable people become when they entrust you with their stories and their beliefs. The experience strengthened the empathy I already felt for the people I cover.

These days, because of their prolonged time away from the game, how much of a void is there without Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa winning frequently and traveling the world over for the LPGA? Which LPGA golfer now in the game do you feel has the greatest potential for legendary status?

Lydia Ko is 17 years old and already No. 1 in the world. Never mind Rory McIlroy, Lydia may end up being the next Tiger Woods. She has said she plans to play until she is 30 and then embark on another career.  She has a bubbly personality, a beautiful swing and is as gracious as Lorena, which is saying a lot.

Who has a better sense of humor in a one-on-one setting with a reporter for an interview — Tiger Woods or Michael Phelps?

I’ve been told Tiger has a wicked sense of humor, and I don’t doubt it. I’ve seen shades of it over the years. But since I’ve never had a one-on-one with Tiger, unless you count walking and talking to him as he strides purposefully to the practice range or his car, I’ll have to say Michael.

Has there been a years-long Phelps boom in increasing popularity in swimming that’s clearly noticeable in terms of participation numbers

There has been a noticeable Michael effect. There was a definite spike in club swimming participation after the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. I didn’t appreciate how much he transcended swimming until he showed up at the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medina Country Club outside Chicago to play in the pro-am and drew a larger gallery than any golfer, Tiger included. Michael made swimming look fun and effortless. Of course, the rub is that anybody who gets into it on a year-round level quickly discovers the sport can be very time intensive and demanding, and the sensory deprivation can be so great — staring at a black line for hours on end is not everybody’s cup of tea, and so while Michael may have brought a lot of people to the pool, he alone cannot make them love the grind. That has to come from within and not everybody is wired that way. For that reason, I’m not sure the sport will ever take off, though when you see teens  like Katie Ledecky and Michael Andrew, there’s reason to hope.
in the U.S.

Are there female U.S. Olympian swimmers who also ought to be recognized for helping achieve this?

Natalie Coughlin has been huge, Missy Franklin, by her actions and her attitude, has won over a generation of impressionable youngsters while endearing herself to the casual fan.  Katie Ledecky, through her humility and her dominance, is raising the profile of the sport stateside.

And now … a bit of word association and descriptions that immediately come to mind from your experiences observing them and interacting with them over the years…

-Paola Boivin – one of my best friends in or out of the business, writes with humor and compassion

-Bill Plaschke –likes to tug at the heartstrings

-Edwin Pope – a sports journalist legend

-Donald Sterling – personifies a very small subset of Los Angeles

-Elgin Baylor — underappreciated

-Phil Mickelson – a born entertainer

-John Daly — complicated

-Arnold Palmer — beloved

-Jacques Rogge – the Beijing Olympics on his watch taints his legacy

-Gary Hall Jr. —  showman

-Don Shula  — old-school

-Joe Namath – misunderstood

-Teemu Selanne – a prince of a player and a person

-Jackie MacMullan — fierce

-Linda Robertson – wonderful writer, one of the best in the biz

-Jim Murray – singular talent; my favorite writer of all-time

-Bruce Jenkins – terrific wordsmith, I’ll read ANYTHING he writes on baseball

-Natalie Coughlin – admirable longevity and I’d eat meals she concocts!

-Federica Pellegrini – broke freestyle barriers with the help of the buoyant suits

-Pat Summitt – the all-time greatest college basketball coach of either gender

How many Olympics have you reported from?

Nine (every Summer Olympics since 1992 and every Winter Olympics since 2006)

Which assignment(s) brought you the greatest thrills/adrenaline rush to watch and report on them?

The Los Angeles Kings’ Stanley Cup Finals run in 1993 – I hadn’t covered much hockey and was thrown into this incredible postseason run, starring Gretzky and including series in Toronto and Montreal, cities that are the cradle of the NHL.  And Michael Phelps collecting his eight golds  in the 2008 Olympics. I started swimming competitively after watching Mark Spitz win seven golds in 1972 so to be able to cover the man who supplanted Spitz in the record books for The New York Times felt like my sporting life had come full circle.

And which off-the-beaten path Olympic stories are among your favorite stories you think you’ll be recounting to family, friend and colleagues in 20-30 years from now?

At the very first Olympics I covered, in 1992, two of the U.S. Olympic team members were swimmers I had grown up training with in Northern California. So it was kind of surreal to be covering their races as a journalist. And Mike Bruner’s victory in the 200 butterfly at the 1976 Olympics is a result that will always be near and dear to my heart. He let me interview him for an eighth-grade project before the Olympic Trials. I brought a copy of the interview to the Trials, which I attended with my father, and he later credited the interview with putting him in the right frame of mind to make the Olympic team.

What do you think is the biggest misconception the general public and/or sports fans have about a sports reporter’s job?

That it is glamorous and easy. That we come at our jobs as fans when, in truth, most of us bring to the workplace the detachment of anthropologists observing unfamiliar tribes in their natural habitats.

What are three must-read sports nonfiction books and three non-sports books you would recommend to anyone to read?

“Open” by Andre Agassi with J.R. Moehringer; “Swimming to Antarctica” by Lynne Cox; Jim Murray, “The Last of the Best, Seabiscuit” by Laura Hillenbrand

And a sampling of my favorite non-sports books; “The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace” by Jeff Hobbs; “Gold” by Chris Cleave; “Glass Castle”s by Jeannette Walls. “The Skies Belong to Us” by Brendan Koerner. “The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert. “The Good Spy” by Kai Bird. “Fire in the Lake” by Frances Fitzgerald.

Is Dan Jenkins’ sense of humor (http://www.golfdigest.com/golf-tours-news/2014-12/dan-jenkins-fake-interview-with-tiger) something that Tiger will refuse to relate to? Or was Tiger’s reaction to what Jenkins wrote a by-product  of his drop in win totals and simply a public way to blow off steam?

My sense is that Tiger Woods’ inner circle was more upset by what Dan wrote than was Tiger, who I really, truly (believe) does not seem to care what anybody writes or says about him.

You’ve written, I believe, several thousand articles now during your colorful career in this business. Can you think of three or four stories that resonated the most with readers (and your professional colleagues)?

These are some stories that resonated with readers and that I’m also proud of because of the positive impact they had on their subjects:

In 2005, during the first month of my first Jets season, I wrote a profile on the receiver Laveranues Coles in which he talked about for the first time publicly being sexually abused as a child. After unburdening himself of this secret, his personality blossomed. I had a Jets front-office official come up to me a few years later and tell me that that story helped Laveranues come out of his shell and set him on the path to becoming one of the most beloved (instead of misunderstood) players in the organization.

While with the Palm Beach Post, I did a project in 2004 on the 1976 U.S. Women’s Olympic swim team and how the members were among the first competitors to face a playing field tilted against them because of competitors using performance-enhancing drugs. The anchor of the piece was Shirley Babashoff, who might have equaled Mark Spitz’s Munich gold medal outlay in Montreal if not for the fact she was going up against East German competitors pumped full of steroids. Shirley was famously reclusive, but I persuaded her to talk and the result was a really powerful piece that I hope gave people who don’t see understand why athletes using PEDs is such a big deal a different perspective.

In 2010, I did a series of pieces for the Times on the challenges faced by women whose prime years as child bearers coincide with their prime years as athletes. I did a piece on the golfer Cristie Kerr, who was considering surrogacy; on the tennis player Gigi Hernandez and the golfer Jane Geddes, who adopted two children after Gigi battled infertility; on the driver Sarah Fisher, who retired from racing so she could try to start a family, on Taj McWilliams-Franklin, a WNBA player then with the (New York) Liberty who experienced motherhood right out of high school, scuttling her college plans, and then again after she was established as a professional.

Also in 2010, I wrote a profile of the swimmer Amanda Beard in which she talked for the first time about her struggles with drug abuse, bulimia and cutting. The story led to her writing her autobiography for Simon and Schuster.

In 2008, I wrote a really fun profile of Kurt Warner and I included 8 Family Rules for being a Warner. It also was developed into a book, which Kurt and (his wife) Brenda did with the help of a ghost writer.

In 2012, I wrote an essay for the New York Times sports section about how I became a sports journalist and told the story of interviewing Mike Bruner when I was a youngster, and how impactful it was when he credited the interview with his making the Olympic team. That story really resonated with readers and colleagues alike, I think because it’s such a pay-it-forward type of story, a really feel-good tale for these tough times in journalism.

During your times covering the NHL, was Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux the more magnetic superstar in your view?

Definitely Wayne, because even though he is a shy man, when he had the puck on his stick your eye was inexorably drawn to him.

Follow Karen Crouse on Twittter: @bykaren

Here’s a link to her New York Times archive: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/c/karen_crouse/index.html

You’ve got to start somewhere

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (Feb. 18, 2015) — NFL Films founder Ed Sabol’s recent death at age 98 triggered many memories for those who crossed paths with him over the years.

Sports columnist Dave Wiggins, who grew up near Philadelphia and became a high school football coach in the area, remembered Sabol’s work before NFL Films became an institution and a driving force of the NFL’s popularity from coast to coast.

“Believe it or not, before he got into NFL Films, Sabol used to work developing game films for Philly area high school football coaches,” Wiggins, who pens the Man About Sports column for The Japan Times, wrote in an email. “My first year as a head coach, I used to drop films off at his house to be developed and then pick them up later. After that, he moved on to the big time.”

Wiggins described his interactions with Sabol as “really pretty much all business.”

“He was a friend of my principal, who suggested I use him (our booster club provided the funds),” Wiggins recalled.

“I would just knock on the door of his big house out on the Main Line (ritzy area of Philly suburbs) and give him the films to develop and then come back later and pick them up.

“We’d just exchange pleasantries and he would ask if we won or not.

“I think it’s when he was just building up his business after he got out of the selling of coats because it wasn’t as much fun as film work – which he had dabbled in as a young adult onward. He began by filming his family, I believe.”

Recommended reading: http://thestacks.deadspin.com/idol-makers-how-steve-and-ed-sabol-turned-nfl-films-in-1685482922

“Call his yacht phone”

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (Feb. 18, 2015) — Some phone calls stick with you years later, providing amusement or smiles when you think about them unexpectedly. The same can be said for certain phone messages.

While working as the assistant sports editor for Arizona State’s State Press in the September 1997, I was planning a big feature on former Sun Devils football great Danny White. The university was planning to retire the quarterback’s No. 11 jersey that month during a ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium.

So the plan was to interview several people about White’s college and pro career, including those associated with the Dallas Cowboys, his NFL team, for the article. Former teammates were reached by phone and they dished out interesting insights.

A planned interview with longtime Cowboys president and GM Tex Schramm took some time to set up. But persistence paid off.

One day while I was away from the sports desk for a few hours — at class or lunch, I think — Schramm’s secretary returned one of my phone calls, one of my requests for an interview. The proof was on my desk.

A hand-written note from one of the student media staffer’s relayed the secretary’s message: Schramm is away from his office for a few days, fishing in the Florida Keys. But that’s OK.

“Just go ahead and call his yacht phone,” the note said.

And so I did. And, as the note informed me, Schramm was out at sea and would be available to talk. The fishing would wait…

It was a quality 10- or 15-minute interview that touched upon various aspects of White’s personality as a football player, team leader and other general views Tex had about White’s coaching career in the years that followed.

A feared pass rusher (Jeff Charleston)

This feature story on future NFL defensive end Jeff Charleston appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun in November 2005.


By Ed Odeven

If you ask Jeff Charleston to explain how he became a successful first-year starter on the Idaho State defense, he’ll give you a modest answer.

“It was pretty much having to come in and work every day,” Charleston said Wednesday.

If you ask coaches why he’s become one of Division I-AA’s most feared pass rushers, you’ll get a more detailed response.

“He is extremely fast,” said NAU coach Jerome Souers, whose team plays host to Idaho State Saturday at 3:05 p.m. at the Skydome. “He has a great feel for the game and he’s a tenacious player. … You’ve got to know where (he’s) at on the field at all times.”

But even if you know where Charleston is, he still makes plays. He is fourth in I-AA in sacks (11) and is one of 16 finalists for the 2005 Buck Buchanan Award, which is given annually to I-AA’s top defensive player.

Four times this season, Charleston has recorded two or more sacks, getting three against Eastern Washington and two apiece against Southern Utah, Montana State and Sacramento State. He has 51 tackles (25 solo stops) in nine games for the 5-4 Bengals.

This productivity doesn’t surprise Bengals coach Larry Lewis.

“The biggest thing is his relentless work ethic,” Lewis said. “He just never quits.”

One textbook example illustrated this point, a scene repeated week after week on the Pocatello, Idaho, campus.

After practice, “he’s just in the dome (working out) when we get done,” Lewis said. “He’s self-made. Nobody can outwork him (on this team). I’ve just seen very few kids work as hard as Jeff Charleston does.”

Charleston, a 6-foot-4, 260-pound senior defensive end, grew up on a 50-acre farm in Monmouth, Ore. It is there where he learned the value of hard work, while tending to cattle and sheep and bailing hay, and how much fun it is to play football.

“Every summer after you get done working, you look forward to football camp. It’s a lot easier than working in the field,” said Charleston.

Nobody’s ever said it’s easy to go up against 300-pound offensive linemen for four quarters. But Charleston makes it look easy.

“If you’re a tackle and you know he’s on the outside edge, you are going to have your hands full,” Souers said. “You’ve got to have great technique.”

NAU’s young offensive line — senior Jacob Wolfe at left tackle, two sophomores and two freshmen are slated to start Saturday — will be tested by Charleston and his linemates.

“As a game plan, we cannot be in a dropback, predictable (passing) situation,” Souers said. “That’s when he’s at his best.”

In 2004, Charleston transferred to Idaho State from Division II Western Oregon, a school in his hometown. He said he just wanted a change of scenery and a chance to play at a higher level.

Or as Lewis put it: “He really wanted a bigger challenge. Jeff had great goals ahead of him. He needs that challenge every day. He wants to prove that every day (he’s one of the best).”

Charleston had to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules.

Which is why Charleston has made such a big splash on the I-AA scene this season.

This year, NFL scouts have started to pay big-time attention to Charleston.

“He was off the radar a year ago,” Lewis said.

And now?

“They said, ‘We haven’t seen this kid. We don’t have video on him,'” Lewis said, recounting conversations he’s had this season.

“He’s gone from a kid whose gone from nothing to ‘oh, man we better go see this kid,'” Lewis added.

And in the process Charleston has drawn comparisons to ex-Bengal sack maestro Jared Allen, who won the 2003 Buck Buchanan Award as a college senior. He’s in his second season with the Kansas City Chiefs and leads the team with five sacks through Sunday.

Now as his college career winds down — the Bengals have two remaining games — Charleston has his sights set on a career in the NFL. Yet he still looks back on his college career with fond memories.

“Just being able to play on Saturdays is a big thrill,” he said.

A conversation with Art Spander, part I

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (Oct. 10, 2014) — Art Spander belongs on any who’s who list of premier sports journalists of the past 50-plus years.

His work is prolific. The streaks he’s put together (see below, in his own words) are jaw-dropping. And he continues to pursue big-time assignments.

In other words, he’s been there and done that.

But now in his mid-70s, Spander remains busy, filing stories for various print publications and websites. He traveled to Scotland for the recent Ryder Cup. He remains a fixture at Bay Are pro sporting events.

This is this first installment of a wide-ranging interview with Spander, who’s received prestigious honors for his journalistic excellence from the PGA and NFL, among others.

* * *

How was working for UPI (United Press International), starting in 1960, as a news writer before moving to the Santa Monica Outlook as a full-time sportswriter in 1963 a valuable experience in your career? What did you learn most, or develop most, while working for the news wire?

UPI was journalism at the gut level. The summer of ’60 after graduation I was looking for work (and contemplating law school) when UPI called and asked if I would work as a copy boy/chauffeur during the Democratic convention in LA, the one at which JFK was nominated. When that ended, I was hired to work full-time. Three days a week 10 p.m.-6 a.m., two days 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Rewriting stories for the PM cycle. Weekends able to do sports (LA bureau did pm-ers and roundups even when am-ers on Dodgers, LA Chargers, Rams, UCLA, etc. came from another city. Four a.m. backbone wire announcements from NY (it was 7 a.m. there) continually asking about Marilyn Monroe committing suicide. From 3-6 a.m., only I and an old wire operator were in the building. In a way, I think every kid should go through the seat-of-the-pants learning, but it wouldn’t happen 50 years later. Then I then went into the Army for six months (Jan-July ’61) and came back for another couple of years. No more overnights but a lot of late nights and some coverage.

One hallmark of your career has been the sheer volume of big events — golf, tennis, college basketball and the NFL, for instance. How does the tradition of returning to an event year after year benefit a resourceful reporter in terms of the quality of the work he/she produces? And in your own work, can you provide a few examples of the knowledge gained from being there as an annual tradition that helped you improve what you delivered in your articles and columns?

Obviously, the more you know about something/anything, the better you’ll be able to put situations in perspective. In today’s TV-dominated world, especially ESPN, the attempt is to make the viewer believe what he or she is watching is the single most important even ever held. (My totals right now: 61 straight Rose Bowls, starting as a program salesman in 1954), 38 Super Bowls (last 36 in a row), 152 (or is it 151?) major golf championships (last 47 Masters in a row, 45 of last 48 U.S. Opens), 31 straight Final Fours, every Cal-Stanford football game since ’68, 46 of last 48 Crosby/AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Ams; seven Ryder Cups.

You hear this all the time, and it’s true. Nothing is as it used to be, because of size, commercialization, TV control. When I wanted to talk to Nicklaus or Palmer I’d walk up to them on the putting green. Try that with Tiger.

The knowledge: Knowing the sources, the other writers (I gleaned so much about tennis from Bud Collins; he then stayed close to me at the ’72 British Open which Globe had him cover after Nicklaus won year’s first two majors); management. Was going to write a feature on Dave Casper when I was Raiders beat man in mid-late ’70s. Al Davis said, “I’d wait a day or two” Casper was traded the next day.

I paid my way to Britain even back when I worked for the Chronicle, Examiner, so in way I have to be more than crazy, but that’s the way it is. Radio stations call but they don’t pay.

As the NFL comes under scrutiny and criticism for its handling of the Ray Rice case, what do you the late, longtime Raiders owner Al Davis would’ve said to the media and to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about the situation if he were alive today? Do you think he’d have been a vocal critic of what’s transpired on Goodell’s watch?

Al Davis was a maverick, and a sharpie. He never forgave the NFL for bouncing him as AFL commissioner during the 1966 merger. Al could be a charmer (he’d return calls at 1130pm, then shmooze with your wife) and be vindictive. Yes, he would have been critical of Goodell, because Al had his own power base. His pals were the late Ralph Wilson and others from the old AFL.

A few short hitters…
Was Jerry Rice a greater football player than Jim Brown?

Rice-Brown? I do not like to compare athletes from different eras or in this case different positions. Could Marciano beat Louis–or Ali? You can debate forever. Brown was the greatest running back of his time when the rules and style of the game were different. Never saw a receiver better than Rice, but if he had been on a team that emphasized the run he wouldn’t have broken those records.

Who was a better all-around player, Rick Barry or Pete Maravich?

I was too close (still am close) to Rick Barry, who could shoot, rebound and dribble. Pistol Pete was flashy and talented. I think I would take Rick. He did help win a championship, and that counts.

If Wilt Chamberlain had been a longtime NFL player, do you believe he would’ve excelled more as a defensive end or tight end? Why?

Wilt? Impossible to answer. Great athlete, who high-jumped something like 6-9, broke 50 seconds in the 440. Let’s say receiver, because of those hands.

Who are a handful of the most underrated sports journalists of the past 50 years?

Underrated journalists? Columns? Beats/reporting. All I can tell you are the people I respect, and here’s only a few: Ross Newhan, Long Beach/LA Times;  (Mike) Lupica isn’t underrated or humble, but I gained appreciation of him at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics.

He was the lone rep from the NY Daily News, matching in content, and overwhelming in quality, the five (or) six from the NY Times.

Art Thiel of Seattle gets overlooked, Tom Cushman of San Diego, Betty Cuniberti (pioneer), SF Chronicle, Ira Miller, San Francisco; Chris Dufresne, LA Times. The writing the last 20-30 years has improved tremendously. Every day I pick up a paper and say, “Wow, this person can write.”

* * *

Visit Art Spander’s website:  http://artspander.com