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Thursday, February 2, 2006

Flashing Before My Eyes — Book Review

Despite swearing off sports-related books after reading a number of them last year, Dick Schaap’s autobiography, Flashing Before My Eyes, had taunted me from the bookshelf long enough. Luckily for me, the recently deceased sportswriter who devoted his life to his craft, left us with a view of the last half of the 20th century’s sports scene, and at times just the last half of the 20th century, through the stories of his acquaintances with those who made the headlines of the period — seemingly all of them.

It’s a coincidence that I finished the book during Super Bowl week, but incredibly fitting. Sports’ biggest party will again be without the guy who could have introduced just about any celebrity gathering in Detroit to any other celebrity in the place to be seen. Schaap, no doubt, would have made some sort of quip about Detroit, of all places, being the place to be seen, and done so without offending even the most devoted resident of Motown.

“Name dropper” is usually not a flattering moniker, but Schaap accepted it with pride. He didn’t really know everyone, but while reading this book you’ll think he did. From President Bill Clinton, Norman Mailer, Bobby Kennedy, Wilt Chamberlain, Joe Namath, to Muhammed Ali, Billy Crystal, Bo Jackson . . . I could go on, but as Schaap admits, the list is almost as long as the book . . . the lifelong reporter either covered, befriended, or wrote a book about them. Sometimes all three. He even covered the Son of Sam, and likely resisted the urge to offer to ghost write his book based on his ethics, smothering his pursuit og a good story.

Schaap proves to be a master storyteller, crafting tales which entertain, inform, and never bore. My favorite was his recollection of his wife meeting Chamberlain, who claimed to have had sex with thousands of women. After shaking hands with the basketball legend, she asked if that “counted.”

Schaap covers a half century of sports without ever detailing a game, which just never works in a book, yet makes readers feel as though they’ve been there for it all. Having watched him on ESPN’s Sports Reporters until he passed, I do think his frequent punchlines are as telegraphed in writing as they were on the air. That minor flaw does little to detract from insights he offers into people and the many jobs he’s held, including that of broadway critic, which I found especially interesting. At times I felt a bit overwhelmed reading about all he had done in his career — his first 10 years constitute my dream career for the rest of my life — but a bump on my ego was more than worth reading the book.

Sports fans can’t ask for more from Flashing Before My Eyes, and others may want to make a point to read it.

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