Perhaps the urge started with Andy Reid’s mom getting him a subscription to Sports Illustrated when he was about 6 years old, soon compelling him to start reading an article if he liked the pictures that went with it and then coming to admire the work.
Perhaps it was because he grew up in the Los Angeles area, a mile or so from Hollywood Boulevard and able to see the lights of Dodger Stadium at night from his home. He was motivated by the sterling writing of sportswriter Jim Murray, whose eloquence and humor are compiled in The Jim Murray Collection that Murray’s widow sent Reid with a note that he keeps in his office.
Or it could have stemmed from his creative parents, his father an artist at Disney, his mother a radiologist who made many of her own clothes, or from being challenged by great English teachers.
Or the high school typing teacher who assigned students to write a journal their junior year that led to Reid filling volumes of them over the years — including as recently as last week.
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Whatever stoked the thought, Reid, the Chiefs coach who generally offers only name, rank and serial number to the media, through college was entertaining the idea of becoming … an ink-stained wretch.
“There’s a point in college where you’re not exactly sure what direction you’re going, but I always thought it would be fun to write for Sports Illustrated,” Reid said in his office on Thursday.
Although he’d term it a “pipe dream,” he embraced the notion enough that when he was a senior at Brigham Young he wrote a weekly column for the Provo Daily Herald.
There’s a point in college where you’re not exactly sure what direction you’re going, but I always thought it would be fun to write for Sports Illustrated.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid
Reid was minoring in English, and on a flight back from a game in Hawaii chatted with one of the Daily Herald writers about his interest, leading to the opportunity.
“I did a bad impersonation of (Murray) with my articles … It was mostly verbal caricatures of the players and coaches,” he said, laughing. “I’d just make stuff up and go with it — a real writer.”
Reid still has all the articles but didn’t want to share them on the premise that “it would be a bad, ugly deal.”
No matter. Through the magic of microfilm and a well-placed source in Salt Lake City, The Star procured eight of them from the Provo City Library.
Reid’s articles, written in 1980, offer some insight to the considerable imagination and sense of humor that Reid typically conceals from the media now …but more on that later.
Here’s a sampling of one of the bylined pieces, headlined “A Teammate’s View of Jim McMahon”:
“As the election season closed, our country found a new leader. No more conflicts between friends and neighbors. No more high-strung debates, brainwashing the public who the right man really is. No more ego-demoralizing interviews.
“Will our country test our new President like the public tested Jim McMahon? The answer is Yes. The final results are unknown. If our new President does half as well as Jim McMahon is doing, our nation will be a winner.”
In the same piece, he described how he believed a reporter had twisted McMahon’s words in an interview.
“Jim ran into a reporter who seemed to pull words from the heavens and mix them with poison until the potion painted Jim McMahon (as a) traitor, egotist, anti-religionist and, worst of all, anti-BYU. ...
“Jim McMahon is not a traitor. Traitors do not sacrifice their bodies on Saturday afternoons. Traitors do not take badmouthing from their fans. Traitors leave at the first opportunity or devise schemes to sabotage their counterparts. This is not part of Jim McMahon and never will be. Jim McMahon is not a traitor!
“Jim McMahon is not an egotist. Sounds funny talking about a guy who has the Heisman Trophy in sight, but it’s true. Egotists do not believe in team efforts. Egotists have no friends or support from their counterparts. Egotists never become true winners. Jim McMahon is a winner, not an egotist. ...
“Jim is as true to BYU as mothers are to their babies. How could Jim McMahon be anti-BYU?”
Reid returned to the election theme at the end of the column:
“After all that has been said, Jim McMahon is still the number one candidate at his position in the nation.
“Let us hope that our new President is as worthy of his new position as Jim is of his!”
Whatever thoughts Reid had about going forward with the notion of being a sportswriter subsided later during his senior year, when BYU coach LaVell Edwards asked him if he’d ever thought about coaching.
But writing stayed with him.
When he was an assistant coach at the University of Missouri, assigned a recruiting area north of Interstate 70, he loved to go to Hannibal.
He’d gaze out at the Mississippi River and think of Mark Twain and picture Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer coming to life around him.
And he still gets fulfilment from the journals he uses as a release, creative, therapeutic or otherwise.
He has kept the dozens of volumes, if not hundreds, he’s filled up over the years. He typically writes once a week even during the season.
“It depends on what mood you’re in,” said Reid, who wanted only to speak in generalities about what he writes. “I don’t complain about things; it’s not like ‘Peyton Place’ (an old soap opera) or something.
“It’s just events that happen, or whatever. It can be a variety of things. If you titled each one, I’m sure they’d all be different.”
I can find the positive in a crushed grape. Well, if you’re a wine drinker, there is.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid on his viewpoint as a writer
At least for sportswriters, it’s fun to imagine what approach Reid would’ve taken. As colleagues and I discussed this, we had a laugh picturing the heel-turn of him just ripping coaches all the time.
“I can find the positive in a crushed grape,” he said, pausing and adding, “Well, if you’re a wine drinker, there is.”
If he were covering the Chiefs, Reid said, “They’d be fun articles to read. You’d look forward to reading them.”
With a smile, he added, “They’d be colorful. Colorful. I’d use my imagination and not just write from a script.”
So why doesn’t that color show up more often when Reid addresses the media — or like it did when he was the offensive line coach at Mizzou from 1989 through 1991 and as outgoing and funny as can be?
Turns out that’s also because of his understanding of the meaning and value of every word.
“Words can affect a lot people. We know that. And the person who has the pen last wins,” he said. “Even if you come back with a rebuttal from my side, it’s not going to hold weight.
“Even if you come back and erase publicly what you said as a mistake, it’s still going to stick with what was originally said and written. So you’ve got to be measured. You’ve got to think before you talk.”
Most of all, Reid is conscious of the context of his job.
“As a head coach, you have a responsibility to the players and to the organization, and so there are going to be certain things thrown at you that you can’t answer and won’t answer. And it’s a business,” he said. “My deal isn’t to put people on the spot.”
So if a player needs to be criticized, he’s going to the player, man to man, to talk to him, not airing that in public.
Besides, he added, “If you really look, there’s normally a story in there somewhere that you can use. But I’m not going to be the comic. That’s not what I’m here to do.”
This still remains against his instinct to express himself, so he often pauses before he answers a question.
“If you knew what I was thinking when I pause,” he said, laughing, “you might not ask the question.”
Even if he generally avoids reading the sports pages now, he still can relate to the work.
At a recent news conference, he said everything could be improved with his team.
Then he smiled subtly and added that so could anything that might be written about it … a tortured sportswriter at heart yet.