Chris Dufresne, award-winning L.A. Times sportswriter, dies at 62
Chris Dufresne, one of the country’s most respected college football writers, had a humble start to his newspaper career. A few days after graduating from high school, he got a job loading bundles of papers onto Los Angeles Times delivery trucks.
“My first memory of the job is being petrified after getting assigned to be a companion rider on a midnight delivery run into a seedy section of town,” Dufresne wrote in his farewell column for The Times in 2015. “My second is bundles, not raindrops, falling on my head from the mail room chutes while doing the splits between the dock and the truck bumper.”
Dufresne died of undetermined causes Monday night while dining at home with his family in Chino Hills. He was 62, and had been awaiting the results for what appeared to be a late-stage melanoma recurrence.
Dufresne was a Times sportswriter for 35 years, after working the loading docks at the newspaper from 1976-81. He covered the USFL, NFL, Olympics, and golf, but perhaps was best known for his writing on college football and basketball, where he became one of the most trusted and treasured resources in the business. After retiring from The Times, he helped found the TMG (The Media Guides) website.
“His writing, always rock-solid reporting, had this verve,” said longtime Sports Illustrated writer Austin Murphy, now of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. “He was bracing, funny, a pleasure to read, and more of a pleasure to sit and tip a pint with.”
Dufresne’s weekly “Rankman” column was among the most popular elements in the sports pages, featuring his own college football and basketball rankings and pithy observations on the teams.
“While I didn’t always love what he had to say about me or my program, I respected his opinion and his balanced approach,” said Rick Neuheisel, whose football career included coaching stints at Colorado, Washington and UCLA. “It was clear that he loved the game and worked hard to understand its nuances. As a coach, that’s all you can ask for from a journalist.”
Said Times colleague Bill Plaschke: “His stories … were must-reads nationally, and carried a resonance that helped define the current college football era. Duf’s hilarious weekly Rankman ratings were the cause of both laughter and outrage, and his weekly college football roundups were the stuff of poetry.”
ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski wrote, when covering a college football game, “there was no better moment than when you walked into a press box, looked at the seating sheet, and realized that Chris Dufresne of the L.A. Times would be sitting next to you from kickoff to deadline filing. … He was revered and respected, of course, but most of all, he was liked — universally.”
Dufresne won multiple awards, including California Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Assn. in 2011.
“He was a clever and graceful writer,” Times sports editor Mike Hiserman said. “He also provided the greatest gift a journalist can offer his readers: Chris didn’t just report the news in an engaging, entertaining way. He explained it, told you what it meant, why it was important and why you should care, or not.”
Born April 11, 1958, in Fullerton, Christopher John Dufresne grew up in La Habra, and graduated from Cal State Fullerton in 1981 with a degree in journalism. His father worked in the Times’ transportation department for 37 years, helping his son get his first job loading those trucks. But Chris was destined to become a sportswriter.
“I worked as a copy boy for the Orange County edition, surrounded by clacking typewriters, glue pots, and loud ringing things we used to call telephones,” Dufresne wrote in 2015. “I jumped one day when the edition’s sports editor, Marshall Klein, the man responsible for hiring me, shouted my name for a big assignment. It was to fetch him a deli sandwich at the Lil’ Pickle.”
Dufresne got his big break in 1983 when legendary Times sports editor Bill Dwyre assigned him to cover the fledgling United States Football League.
“The stories were always three times as good as the football,” Dwyre said. “He always wrote like a dream. He suffered no fools and could be entertaining, tough and informative, all in the same paragraph.”
Eventually, Dufresne moved on to cover the L.A. Rams and Raiders. He started covering college football in 1995, when those NFL teams moved away.
“My competitive advantage was that my alma mater, Cal State Fullerton, dropped football years ago, meaning I had no pigskin in the game,” he wrote. “College football is foundationally rooted in where you went to school, so it was great to be Judge Judy. I never cared who won — unless it meant a bowl trip to New Orleans instead of Detroit.”
Dufresne is survived by his wife, Sheila, and their three sons, Daniel, Drew and Joey. Funeral plans are pending.
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