Sometimes, it feels like it was a thousand years ago.
It was 1971, May, late May. i had dreams. There are about a million things i could include here about me, but that’s not what this is about.
This is about Jack Case.
Jack Case was my boss. He was not Grantland Rice. He was not Red Smith, Jim Murray, or my hero Fred Russell. Jack was from a different world from the one i knew. He was an upstate New York old time sports writer. The world was different. The times were different, and Jack…Jack certainly was different.
My job was to take his place.
Jack was retiring at the turn of the year. John Johnson, my Vanderbilt fraternity brother, was in line eventually to become the publisher of The Watertown (NY) Daily Times, succeeding his father. John had asked me before i headed to Vietnam if i would like to work for the Times after that year and my release from active duty. While plowing the sea between Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, i assessed that would be the best option for pursuing my goal to become a sports writer, columnist, and author. i jumped at it.
So after our wedding Kathie (nee Lynch) at her parent’s home in Paris, Texas, we drove to Watertown.
That’s when i met Jack Case.
Jack was a portly gentleman with a wry smile, a sincere man devoted to his sports writing with unwavering allegiance to his newspaper and his hometown. He was also old enough to have become what i am now, a curmudgeon. He was a lovable one. We don’t know about me on that point yet.
Jack had been writing sports since the 1920’s. He loved sports language. All coaches were “mentors.” All football fields were “gridirons.”
Jack looked like an old-time sports writer. He wore a suit, white shirt, and tie, every day. He never left the building without his brown fedora, and because of the climate close to the Canadian border, he often sported a thick, worn overcoat.
We called him “the dean of sports writers in the north country.” He was.
i had learned sportswriting from JB Leftwich at Castle Heights. i learned how to write sports columns by reading Fred Russell every day except Sunday for twenty-four years. i learned the underbelly of running a sports department and how to make up a “hot type” page from Bill Roberts of The Nashville Banner.
i learned from Jack Case how to do it all for real.
When i took his place, i announced i would not write a daily column. i felt until i had the wide knowledge of sports in Northern New York and access to a number of national sports figures, i would be struggling to come up with something every day, and the column would show that it was just writing for filling space. i didn’t want to disservice the readers.
In retrospect, i wish i could have come up with a way to get Jack to write a column on a regular basis after he retired, perhaps one or two a week. i would have called it, with his permission, “Just in Case.”
i did get his opinion on several crises in national sports crises and quoted him on several occasions, but that idea of a column from him had merit.
Jack had access to many of the sports figures of the time. On the day he retired, December 31, 1971, i ran a full page of photos of Jack with some of the bigger stars of the past.
In one dated 1926, Jack is standing in front of several trees. The tall stocky guy in a sports jacket and bow tie with a pipe in his right hand next to Jack is Lou Gehrig, one of the noblest of all sports figures and “The Pride of the Yankees.” In another, he is beside a microphone interviewing Walter Hagen on WWNY radio.
In a head-to-calf fur coat standing next to Jack in December 1952 snow is Sonja Henie.
In the middle of that page is (yeh, i saved that page) Jack playfully separating Maxie Rosenbloom, the former light heavyweight champion, from Max Baer, the former heavyweight champion whom you might remember more about his son, the junior Max who was “Jethro” in “The Beverly Hillbillies.” They are promoting a “revue” later staged at the state armory in Watertown (1946).
One photo that took my breath away then and did so again while i gazed at it just now is Jack with Roy Campanella in his wheelchair. After his illustrious career with the Brooklyn Dodgers was ended by an automobile wreck, Roy was often a motivational speaker, this time at a Watertown Elks meeting.
At the bottom, Carmen Basilio is at the microphone with Jack when Carmen after he claimed the welterweight championship. The other photo on the bottom is Jack with four of the Boston College 1941 football team that went undefeated and won the Sugar Bowl.
There is one more photo, taken in 1939. I placed it in the upper left corner, to me even more prestigious than the one to the right of Lou Gehrig. Jack is in the foreground with his ubiquitous cigar. Posing in his boxing shorts and gloves in the center is Ray Robinson. Ray was the first, the real Sugar Ray, Sugar Ray Robinson, regarded by many pugilist experts (yep, “pugilist” is the word Jack would have used) as the best boxer of all time.
Sugar Ray attributed his nickname to Jack Case. After winning an amateur bout in upstate New York in 1939, Ray was visited in his dressing room by Mister Case. As he was leaving, Jack turned around and said, “Ray, you are as sweet as sugar.”
Jack Case was one of a kind in the “Golden Age of Sports.”
It is good to remember him.