We were on the practice field last week at USC when John Robinson, no doubt tired of talking about his job, asked about mine.
"Nervous?" he said.
About 24 hours from the Trojans' kickoff against Notre Dame, I could have asked him the same thing.
Instead, I said, "Of course."
I am not particularly nervous about writing this column. I have been writing professionally for 27 years. It's not that hard. As Bob Knight once said, "Most of us learn to write when we're in the third grade and move on."
What I am nervous about--and I realized immediately that this was the reason Robinson asked the question--is filling the space that Allan Malamud commanded so expertly.
I marveled at Allan's ability to comment perceptively on such a wide range of sports and looked forward to reading him, but I did not recognize the extent of his popularity until his death last September, too soon at 54.
As a student of sportswriting, I know from the comments I have heard from readers who miss him dearly that he was every bit the legend in his town that Jimmy Cannon and Red Smith (New York) and Ring Lardner (Chicago) were in theirs.
Often when discussing this endeavor with friends, they mention something about taking Allan's column.
I tell them that no one will ever take Allan's column. He was a unique person and a unique writer. I will fill the space as best I can. But no one can replace Allan.
Sitting in the Coliseum press box Saturday night, I could not help but think that it would have been a glorious occasion for Allan. Not only did his Trojans end their 14-year winless streak with an overtime victory against Notre Dame, he was inducted into the USC Hall of Fame at halftime. . .I think he would have been equally honored by the announcement last week that an annual journalism scholarship at USC will be established in his honor. A fund-raising dinner has been scheduled for Feb. 12 at one of his favorite places to contribute money, Hollywood Park. Those attending will receive a collection of the most memorable "Notes on a Scorecard." For details, call (213) 740-4632.
No, I am not the guy who wrote the Bottom 10.
I have been haunted by that question since my byline began appearing on sports pages, haunted because I was not blessed with the wit, creativity or cynicism of the man who did write it. Steve Harvey is not a relative of mine, but I was pleased to discover when I arrived in Los Angeles 15 years ago that he would be a colleague at The Times.
I came to Los Angeles from New York after also working at major newspapers in Chicago and Dallas. Based on my experiences, I am convinced that Los Angeles-Orange County is the country's most sophisticated sports market.
Dallas is so enraptured with the Cowboys that ministers end sermons early on Sundays so that no one in their congregations misses the kickoff. Chicago so loves MJ & Co. that a World Series game this year on the radio was preempted there for a Bull game--a Bull exhibition game. Imagine what would happen if the Cubs ever won it all. As depicted on the famous "New Yorker" cover, New York is the world's biggest little town, passionately involved with its own teams but otherwise peering beyond the Hudson River only when the Giants play in the Meadowlands.
As for L.A., most fans here seem to have placed professional sports in their proper perspective--as part of the entertainment industry. If the teams are competitive or at least offer a pleasing ambience, people go to the games (provided they can afford tickets). If the teams are bargain basement, people don't go.
The teams that understand that have had success here, such as the Dodgers and Lakers. The teams that don't understand that leave. En route to St. Louis, Ram owner Georgia Frontiere said that she couldn't believe so many people in Southern California tried to tell her how to run her business. I can't believe she expected consumers to support a product that offered so little value for the money.
Catching up with some of the bigger issues facing the sports world today, I believe: the designated hitter is good for baseball, Pete Rose shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame, Don Sutton should be, these Lakers need more than one season together to become title contenders, the Ducks will win the Stanley Cup before the Kings, Michelle Kwan will win the Olympic figure skating gold medal in 1998, no one can lie to his bosses eight times and get away with it, Mike Tyson would have been just another opponent in the days of Ali and Frazier, Michael Johnson will smoke Donovan Bailey at 150 meters, "Raging Bull" is the best sports movie ever.
In days to come, I will offer more opinions. I promise to try to be fair. In most cases, I probably will be kind. But I don't mind hearing about it even if you aren't. As Alice Roosevelt Longworth once said, "If you can't say anything nice about someone, sit right here by me."