Senior writer Tim Layden, who recently joined our staff primarily to cover college football, belies the image of the sedentary sportswriter. Yet he has found that key moments of his sports career revolve around the bench.
In 1978 Layden, then a Williams College senior, was in the midst of a 6-14 season as coach of the Mount Greylock (Mass.) High boys junior varsity basketball team when his Mounties visited Hoosac Valley High. Mount Greylock led 49-48 and had possession of the ball with less than a minute to play when Layden, perhaps lightheaded from the prospect of a rare victory, arose from the bench. With a purposeful gait he headed toward his point guard, barked directions to set up in a stall and—tweet! "The ref gave me a T for violating what was known as 'the seat-belt rule,' " Layden recalls ruefully. "I'd strayed too far from the bench. Of course, Hoosac made both free throws, and we lost by a point."
During that same senior year it was a bench, and not Layden's spirits, that crumbled at the climax of a game. Doing radio play-by-play of a Williams football game at Wesleyan for the Williams campus station, Layden and his two partners, John Bessone and Dan O'Connell, shared one mike and a brittle wooden bench as the Ephs lined up on offense for what would be a game-clinching first down. "The three of us steadied ourselves to stand at the snap of the ball," says Bessone, "and the bench collapsed under our weight as we pushed off of it. We were doubled, tripled over in laughter. Meanwhile, the fans were roaring, and our listening audience was utterly flummoxed."
Layden, 38, who wrote this week's cover story on top-ranked Arizona as well as some scouting reports and our POINT AFTER, has simply never found the pine saddle a comfy fit. A three-sport star at Whitehall (N.Y.) High, Layden moved on to Williams, where he played—"in the loosest sense of the word," he says—quarterback on the freshman football team. He also spent one year as a guard on the varsity basketball team before earning a starting position as sports editor of the campus semiweekly, The Record. For each football game Layden would not only do the radio play-by-play and act as Williams's de facto sports information director but also write and deliver four stories: one for The Record and three more for area newspapers. "An industrious attempt to increase my circulation," he notes dryly.
After graduation Layden wrote for two upstate New York newspapers—including Albany's Times Union, for which he won one of horse racing's Eclipse Awards in 1987—before beginning a six-year stint at New York Newsday in 1988. When not spending time with his wife, Janet, and their two children, Kristen, 6, and Kevin, 3, Layden maintains a healthy rate of circulation by jogging 20 miles a week—at the age of 27 he ran a 4:21 mile—and by, of course, writing for SI.
He is especially eager for the college football season to begin. "You walk into a special culture when you step onto a college campus," he says. "And the ideals, passion, vigor of youth—it all has a confluence at one place: the football stadium."
The racetrack was where Layden was last week, covering Saratoga's Travers Stakes (page 20). We obviously have no intention of keeping him on the bench.