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Over Time

Deford's new memoir captures his polished crustiness.

June 8, 2012

Over Time: My Life As a Sportswriter By Frank Deford Gove/Atlantic 288 pp.

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Reviewed by Peter Lewis for The Barnes & Noble Review

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"Soccer is the coitus interruptus of sports." Ah…Frank Deford, the justly celebrated sportswriter from whose keyboard drop sparkling aperçus like so much ripe fruit. Consider, too, that other game of football: "Football players love coaches who are mean to them, because, I suppose, you've got to be mean to play football."

Salty opinions -- "Big-time college sports is, of course, a complete fraud, a fountain of deceit" -- come by the bushel-load in Over Time, Deford's new memoir, which captures his polished crustiness. He writes with brio, dash, and without pretension (he complains that nobody spells his name correctly, so he misspells it DeFord as a running joke throughout the book); when he harks back to a better time, he doesn't sound like a fogy or a snob, but beguilingly evocative.

His family had lost their sizable bankroll by the time Frank came along in 1938. It didn't matter; they were happy. He grew up in a Baltimore that was no longer a cosmopolitan jewel, the gateway to Dixie, but "a tentative place only a stream of two short of a backwater" that, still, left an important mark: "I was raised -- infused -- with a distaste for the smug and the high-hat." He found employment -- he sought employment -- at Time-Life's most déclassé, sweaty, financially calamitous ragamuffin: Sports Illustrated.

Thus, excepting the bed of ivy he slept in at Princeton, Deford's home was in the bush. But this was good, for in the bush were stories worth telling. When he started in the sportswriting business, if it wasn't baseball, boxing, or horse racing, with a little golf, track and field, and the occasional Olympic blip, "all else was, well…bush," everything that didn't meet the standards of "the approved athletic ecclesiastical calendar/atlas. There were bush towns, of course, and bush events and bush promoters and bush leagues. If any American sportswriter had ever bothered to go to the World Cup, it would surely have been labeled as bush. So too the countries where it was played. Bush countries."

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