“My life has been very lucky,” Dan Jenkins once said, “but I made some of that luck.”
For seven decades, Jenkins wrote about golf and college football, his wit earning him a national reputation as maybe the greatest sportswriter of all time. Twenty-four book covers came to bear his name, and some of them became movies starring the likes of Burt Reynolds (Semi-Tough) and Lesley Ann Warren (Baja Oklahoma).
At age 90 (or 89 — there are differing accounts as to the year of his birth), Jenkins and his cotton-white hair could oftentimes be spotted in the TCU press box that the university named in honor of its illustrious 1953 graduate.
It wasn’t spotted, though, on the night of Tuesday, March 5, when TCU played the University of Texas in a women’s basketball game. A community newspaper editor who always scoured the reporters’ gallery for a glimpse of his hero (his favorite line from a Jenkins novel had to do with poot stains in teachers’ underwear) noticed that Jenkins was MIA. It later became clear why. Jenkins died Thursday night at a Fort Worth hospital.
A sportswriter whose resume included Sports Illustrated, Playboy, and Golf Digest, Jenkins was right that he created much of his own good fortune, though “earned” might be a better word. He had natural talent — that’s why the legendary Blackie Sherrod at the Fort Worth Press hired him while Jenkins was still a teenager after reading a humorous column that he had written for the Paschal Pantherette. But Jenkins also had an inexhaustible work ethic.
“A sportswriter’s life means never sitting with your wife or family at games,” Jenkins once noted, “still working after everyone else has gone to the party.”
Last year, we wrote about Jenkins for a story about a band of sportswriting greats that was hatched by the Press in the 1950s (“Mourning Dark,” Jan 3, 2018). Besides Jenkins and Sherrod, there was Bud Shrake, Jerre Todd, and Gary Cartwright. Now that Jenkins has called a cab (as Jenkins himself once described Shrake’s 2007 earthly exit), only Todd remains.
Jenkins’ last book –– a collection of essays titled Sports Makes You Type Faster: The Entire World of Sports by One of America’s Most Famous Sportswriters — was published last August by TCU Press. Although his professional accomplishments were many, his greatest achievement may have been not letting it all go to his head.