My Ocala: His Ownself, The Great One

<i>The Boys From Old Florida: Inside Gator Nation</i>

When people ask me about my favorite sportswriter, I usually mention three, but only one of them is living. For pure enjoyment, I’ve never gotten more pleasure in reading anybody than author/sports columnist Dan Jenkins.


Recently, I had a chance to dine with the famous Texan at the Vinoy Hotel in St. Petersburg. We discussed our favorite sports to cover.


“College football,” said the man self-nicknamed His Ownself. “I do love college football, even though I never won an award for [writing about] it.”


His Ownself didn’t say this, but, of course, he had won a gazillion awards for his writing about small-ball.


“I love college football, too,” I said. “What was it Roy Hobbs said in The Natural? ‘God, I love baseball!’”


To which Ownself replied: “What did Patton say, talking about war? ‘God, forgive me. I do love it so!’”


Ever since I started out as a young sports writer in Ocala, I was a Jenkins junkie and would run to the mailbox in the early 1960s for my copy of Sports Illustrated to see his work. He was just starting out a career that would take off: 20 books and 20 screenplays.


One day, we became friends in New York and have been so ever since. Over the years, we’ve dined at various sites of the U.S. Open, from San Francisco to Pinehurst to Tulsa; in the clubhouse at Augusta; at his former home and restaurant in Ponte Vedra; and even a few New York eateries. My most memorable visit with my favorite sportswriter, however, was a seven-hour road trip from Augusta to Washington, with Ownself behind the wheel while I held him hostage, chewing off his ear about sports.


Ownself surrendered choice stories like the one about growing up with his grandmother and at age 11 re-typing stories about World War II from the Fort Worth newspapers. He also talked about falling in love with TCU football before puberty. That’s the closest I could ever get Ownself to talk about himself.


Jenkins The Curmudgeon is a hard man to convince to do anything. For example, he was dragged into the 21st century kicking and screaming at the thought of swapping his beloved Underwood typewriter for a computer.


I begged Jenkins for five years to play one of my favorite golf courses, Black Diamond, in Lecanto. Once he teed it up there, Black Dia-mond became to him what the Internet was to Al Gore: “I not only love it, I invented it,” said Ownself.


We talked for years about him coming to “The Swamp,” which he almost did while living in Ponte Vedra. Most likely he’ll never visit it now since he doesn’t do much traveling anymore. But after TCU, he admits to being a semi Gator fan.


It only took three years for us to get him to speak before a younger group of writers at the Poynter Media Institute in St. Pete, which he recently did in stellar fashion. As I knew he would, Ownself embraced the Sports Journalism Summit and thoroughly enjoyed the occasion. After which he wrote about the young people he met: “I no longer feel as hopeless as I did about the younger generation of typists.”


That’s the closest thing to a compliment you get from His Ownself. 


Watch for the release this fall of Urban’s Way,
Buddy Martin’s authorized biography of 
Florida football coach Urban Meyer.
Visit WWW.buddymartin.org for more info.

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