Frank Deford, Stand Up Sports Guy

As it happened, the year Frank Deford joined Sports Illustrated was the year it finally became profitable. Sports, too, took off as never before: TV networks began vying for games, the National Football League and National Basketball Association blossomed. “I was suddenly valuable!” Deford says in that booming, gruff voice that has become so familiar on TV and radio. Turning his talents to novels ( Cut ‘n Run , for instance, or Everybody’s All-American ) and book-length nonfiction (on Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, the Miss America Pageant), he became a veritable one-man production line, the author of more than a dozen books. And he has continued as a featured commentator on National Public Radio, HBO, CNN. “The great gift SI gave me,” he says now, “was to let me wander. I was no pioneer, but there wasn’t a road I didn’t take. I led, in every way, a charmed life.”

In 1980, all that fell apart. His 8-year-old daughter succumbed to cystic fibrosis. “When Alex died, my world simply collapsed,” he says. “It was horrible. Horrible.” Gradually and with great effort, Deford found a way to get back into the arena. He struggled to make sense of his family’s tragedy in a memoir, Alex: The Life of A Child (1983), later a TV movie. Eventually, he became the head of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and then its chairman emeritus. “If I’ve done any real good in my life, it was there,” he insists.

But once a sportswriter, always a sportswriter. As years passed, Deford went on to serve as editor-in-chief of the celebrated but short-lived National Sports Daily. He won an Emmy for his work on the Seoul Olympics and a George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting. He was a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a columnist at Newsweek. There wasn’t a medium he didn’t plunge into. Six times his peers voted him Sportswriter of the Year.

How did one man manage to do it?

“I don’t play golf,” he says