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on December 21, 2017
Writers can be a competitive group, particularly those in journalism. They always want to tell stories, of course. In some cases, it matters to be the first to tell a story; in others it simply matters to do it well. Listen to writers talk, and eventually you'll hear some putdowns of other writers along the lines of "That should have been better." Translation: "I wish I had written it."

I'm not sure that Frank Deford's work ever received such a putdown. There's never been a better writer/reporter when it came to the long-form features that he used to do for Sports Illustrated. He usually wrote the type of stories that could be re-read days or weeks later, with the craftsmanship instead of the content jumping out.

As a result, the more literate of sports fans have tried to follow Deford's work over the years. He's done work on a variety of mediums over the years. In 2012 he got around to writing down some of his personal experiences in a memoir, "Over Time." Yes, Deford makes this look easy too.

One of the author's best qualities comes across loud and clear here. Yes, he's smart -- from Princeton, with a few cultural and historical references that will send you off to the nearest encyclopedia or search engine for explanations. Yes, he's been lucky to have had access to the greats and near-greats, as the words "Sports Illustrated" could get him in a few extra doors once upon a time. Besides the magazine was willing to spend money to capitalize on that access.

But mostly, Deford is a student of human behavior. He comes up with conclusions almost in passing, insights that the rest of us would probably consider worthy of the centerpiece of a sociology book. Deford starts every chapter in this book, and there are 46 of them, with such a quote from one of his stories.

For example, ponder this: "Perhaps no man is so haunted as the one who was once stunned by instant success, for he lives thereafter with the illusion that tomorrow is bound to bring one more bolt of good fortune." I read that shortly after writing a brief biography (five paragraphs, that's how brief) of Joe Charbonneau for my newspaper. Deford could have been talking about Joe, but he could have been talking about many people.

This almost reads like a series of essays, staying on one chapter with one particular theme and then moving on. As could be expected, his families, childhood and adult, get some coverage, as do his days at college. Then there are the jobs, and not just with Sports Illustrated -- even though SI gets more ink than anything else. Deford was the editor of "The National," a great editorial idea with an apparently unworkable business model. He's done radio commentaries for National Public Radio and feature stories for HBO's Real Sports. Then there are novels and screenplays, among other projects.

Naturally, there are good stories about people along the way. Bill Bradley. Bob Cousy. Don King. Bobby Orr. Bob Knight. And so on. Yet, this is that rare autobiography by a sports writer where the main attraction is not those he or she encountered along the way during a fine career. It's the author himself or herself.

The pages go by quickly, which almost comes across as a parlor trick. How could a book with this much insight seem to be so effortless? Must have something to do with the author.

"Over Time" ought to appeal to any student of the human condition, which should be just about anyone. It's a definite keeper.
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on September 13, 2013
This is an entertaining and insightful memoir of the author's half century long journey through the world of sports. As a writer for "Sports Illustrated", the editor of an ill-fated national sports newspaper, as a novelist and as a commentator on NPR, Deford covered sports ranging from the NBA to bear wrestling to roller derby and his comments and antidotes make for an enjoyable read. Although many of his stories are poignant or humorous, Deford is not afraid to be candid when candor is called for. He confesses that he was extremely lucky to be born in the late 1930s which placed him in the generation that hit between the wars in Korea and Vietnam and put him on the job market just before the tsunami of baby boomers glutted the market. He also pulls no punches in his assessment of celebrities like Rodney Dangerfield who was one of Deford's teammates on the famous Miller lite beer TV commercials.

On the other hand, Deford's admiration for tennis star Arthur Ashe shines through in what is perhaps the most memorable section of the book. Along the way, Deford weaves in the history of sports writing as a profession, his own family's riches to rags story, the world of the NBA in the early 1960s, the glories of being a tennis writer and even lets the reader in on a really funny tale about what happened on a long night of drinking with Dallas Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones.

In more serious moments, he poses thoughtful, if unanswerable questions, like why do we always think that the greatest all-time performers in sports are current stars while in other fields like music and literature the "greatest" are always the masters of the past. As someone who has written about sports history (HOOP CRAZY: COLLEGE BASKETBALL IN THE 1950S), I found Deford's book to be a thinking man's sports memoir filled with good writing, delightful stories and self-effacing humor.
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on July 15, 2016
I can understand any of the attacks on this book - the ruminations of a wealthy, white, privileged sportswriter, lots of name dropping, etc. But the truth is that I quite liked it, enjoying the stories of the early days of Sports Illustrated, sports journalism, random stories about memorable people, and similar stories. Not life-altering or brilliant, but very competent, very interesting, and quite fun essays that I gobbled right up.
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on August 1, 2012
Frank Deford is an American treasure as a writer, who just happens to focus most of his energies on sports.

In "Over Time", he reminds us of so many events and people he has been able to write about - in a classy, elegant style that makes everyone who aspired to be a writer envious.

Someone mentioned to me that DeFord spends a lot of time "praising" or elevating himself in this book and being a name dropper. They wanted more in-depth material on other people from him. Well, duh - It's his memoir!!! If you want to read essays, I suggest you start with the great "World's Tallest Midget: The Best of Frank De Ford" (if you can still find it).

You'll notice I have spelled his name three different ways in this review - I never did figure out what the correct way was from the book. Small complaint about a terrific read.
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on January 11, 2018
This is a fascinating insight into the changing times of sports journalism over 40 years. Frank Deford is intelligent and funny. This book is chock full of funny and touching anecdotes.
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on July 16, 2013
Frank Deford states at the outset of this book that it is a memoir of his career as a sportswriter, so if the reader is looking for a tell-all examination of his life, this isn't it. What it is, however, is a combination of his own take on the history of sportswriting mixed with a series of stories (some longer than others) that entertainingly describe how he got into the business and some of his adventures and friendships earned along the way.
If you grew up waiting for the Andre Laguerre-era Sports Illustrated to land in your mailbox every Thursday, or if you are a fan of Deford's weekly NPR commentaries, you'll enjoy this book, because he devotes generous space to both topics.
The cliches can occasionally be cringe-worthy, but are more a reflection of a style that was popular in the generation in which Deford came of age. And along the way, he sheds a different light on some of the athletic figures he has covered (in particular, Arthur Ashe).
A good companion book to this one is Michael MacCambridge's The Franchise: A History of Sports Illustrated Magazine, which rounds out the picture that is painted here of the author and his long-term employer.
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on June 30, 2016
Thanks to his NPR commentaries and the reviews stating one needn't be a particular sports fan to enjoy this book, I ordered -- and loved -- it. A quarter of the way in I sent a copy to my father, who also loved it. Great stories about sports figures, sports journalism, extremely well written. The only chapter I did not care for was the one on the spelling of his name ~~ which kept changing anyway in that chapter and throughout an otherwise good Kindle edition.
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on August 12, 2016
I only knew Frank Deford through his weekly comments on NPR. Always pictured him as a be speckled scrappy little guy. Who da that he is 6'6". So he's a scrappy tall guy. Had no idea that as late as the early 60's when he graduated from Princeton to Being the kid at the almost fledgling Sports Illustrated that baseball was really the only game in town and all the other sports were bush. And he seems to have been there at all of the roll out of the great ones who immortalized sports with his irascible scrappy commentary.
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on May 23, 2014
If you are familiar with Mr. Deford from his weekly radio appearances, you'll be able to close your eyes and hear his voice as you read. In this wide-ranging volume, he guides the readers through places, people and events in ways that very few can. You can see his training and talent as a writer, and feel his gift as an observer. His career spans enormous changes in the sports and sportswriting landscape, as well as changes in athletes and their relationship to writers and the public. It is that breadth that made this such an enjoyable read. If you're short of attention, the book itself is long (the only reason for four vs five stars) but each installment is concise and tidy.
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on September 24, 2012
When sportswriter/author/broadcaster Frank Deford published his memoirs in 2012, his fans were ready and waiting. Salivating, even.

Included were people who tune in to his weekly sports sermons on NPR Radio, and those who know him from his perceptive articles in Sports Illustrated and other national magazines. There are also some published books with his name on them.

Frank Deford knows words. Lots of words. And while he writes about sports, he sees them whole - warts, hypocrisies and all.

In one passage in Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter, he astutely points out that an obsession with sports reveals a flaw of either character or culture, or perhaps both. His point is that couch jocks need to get a life. Watching or even playing sports should be an add-on, not a holy mission.

In today's sports media there are relatively few practitioners who echo Deford's sentiments. Most TV sports commentators are more earnest about the games they report on than war correspondents. (Parenthetically, too many of the commentators get by on nine-word vocabularies, which pretty much eliminates anything like nuanced analysis.)

While Deford doesn't denigrate their sporting heroes, he does humanize them.

He sees the star athletes of the day - any day - as life-sized, not demigods. Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, Mickey Mantle, basketball politico Bill Bradley ... Deford knew these wunderkinds in their prime and over time. He watched them flourish, mature and fade from their central identities. And quite often, that's when they became most interesting.

In turn, the athletes he dealt with came to appreciate him. They knew they could talk frankly with Deford and he wouldn't hit them with any cheap shots in print. Just the truth of their past and present. And he usually got it right.

What Deford brings to the table is perspective. If the TV sports commentators want to learn a new word, there's one that might come in handy: Perspective.

Never mind. It's more than two syllables.

- Al Hooper
- More reviews at E-HOOPER.COM.
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