Dan Jenkins is very likely the only person who started off writing for the afternoon newspapers in the forties and ended up as a maestro of Twitter. But although the Fort Worth legend’s longevity is mind-blowing—next month he’ll cover his sixty-fourth consecutive Masters Tournament—even more impressive is the effect his funny, bracing writing style has had on American sportswriting (newbies looking to sample Jenkins’s prose should start with his pro-football novel, Semi-Tough). This month he’ll publish His Ownself: A Semi-Memoir, which takes stock of his epic life, which he sat down to discuss in January at Colonial Country Club, in Fort Worth.
JAKE SILVERSTEIN: The college game has been under a lot of scrutiny of late—people talking about paying players and the playoff coming and injuries. Does it strike you as a different game than it once was?
DAN JENKINS: It is and it isn’t. I hate to sound like a coach, but it’s still blockin’ and tacklin’. I do hate all the stuff that goes with it now. I mean, I got the best of it: the Darrell Royals, the Bear Bryants, the John McKays. They were fun. You could drink with ’em. My favorite was obviously Darrell Royal. I covered all his great teams. He was smart and funny, and it was just so natural. Now everyone’s so guarded. There’s so much electricity out there, they’re afraid of it.
JS: When did that shift begin?
DJ: It started with television. And then it just grew from there, while my back was turned. The athletic directors became CEOs instead of travel agents. Title IX came along and changed a lot of things for the better, but nevertheless, it meant that money became more important. If we gotta send the girl’s archery team to Hawaii, where we gonna get that f—in’ money?
JS: The amounts of money people were dealing in back then were so much smaller.
DJ: Television has made it less cheap. There’s so much money involved in the BCS, and now the playoff. I mean, can you imagine that because Baylor went to a bowl game, TCU will get a piece of the pie? It’s crazy. And there’s not one university in America that doesn’t care about money first. It should be TCU: Texas Corporate University. That part I hate. The NCAA, they don’t give a shit about anything but money. Don’t get me started.
JS: Oh, I’m here to get you started.
DJ: At the same time, now all I can do is sit back and laugh at it, because it’s out of my hands. Nothing’s gonna stop it.
JS: So you think money is the root of all evil?
DJ: Not that we don’t like it.
JS: True. Which sports have been least ruined by corporate greed?
DJ: There isn’t one. I mean, everybody in the Olympics is paid. Lindsay Vonn is going to make a million dollars whether she skis or not. [Maria] Sharapova is the highest-paid tennis player and hasn't won near the majors that Venus [Williams] has.
JS: So what about college football players? Should they get paid?
DJ: Sure, they ought to be paid. They oughta stop kidding around and pay them.
JS: Were you a Johnny Manziel fan?
DJ: I loved him. I wish I could have covered him.
JS: I would’ve loved to read the Dan Jenkins lede on the Alabama-A&M game two years ago.
DJ: I would’ve liked to have been there. The SEC is where it’s really crazy, because they have nothing else in life. Just think about it, what in the name of God would Alabama be without the University of Alabama? What would Oklahoma be without the University of Oklahoma? Nothing. That’s why those people are so rabid.
JS: How do you come down on the recent Mack Brown saga?
DJ: I know Mack, and he’s a nice guy. I never thought he was a great coach. He’d have been gone sooner if it hadn’t been for Vince Young. Vince gave him a lot of years. It’s like our guy here [TCU head coach Gary Patterson] said, everyone thinks Texas is the greatest job in the world, but it’s not. The greatest job in the world is OU, because you’re isolated. You got no media to deal with. Down there in Austin, you got five million bosses. And the Joe Jamails and Red McCombses and Tex Moncriefs—the big-money guys—they’ll give you a while, but if you don’t give them what they want, you’re gone. Stoops? He hasn't won a national championship since 2000—fourteen years ago. And he’s still there. See, he wins just enough. You know, 9-3, that sort of thing. 9-3 is always what coulda happened.
JS: Let me ask you a bit about golf. You knew Ben Hogan well. What made him a great golfer?
DJ: Hard work. He was a poor ol’ runt that came from nowhere and just wanted to make a better life for himself. Golf was the only sport he could play. It took him a long time. Hell, it took him five years to get on the tour. Borrowin’ money, scrappin’ around, but he worked at it. He was so envious of the naturals that didn’t even have to practice—Byron Nelson, Sam Snead. He was so envious of them that he was just gonna outwork ’em. And he did. He just worked his ass off. He had a competitive streak in him. All the great players have a little mean in ’em. A little arrogance and a little mean. It’s like one of my favorite sayings: “It’s not enough to win, you have to let the loser know he lost.” I love that. I apply it to journalism. I spent almost 25 years at Sports Illustrated. When I got there, after 15 years on newspapers, it was flooded with Ivy Leaguers who couldn’t find the f—ing elevator. They’d do two stories a year and spend the rest of the time going to lunch and transcribing their tapes. Meanwhile, I was writing thirty stories a year.
They were great guys. Two of my best friends were Yales