Associate editor Richard O'Brien tells of the night a few years ago when, during the monthly meeting of his eclectic Princeton, N.J., poker group, he was asked to spin a few yarns about the NCAA wrestling championships, which he had covered for SI that week. As soon as he could O'Brien turned the conversation from himself, as is his wont, by asking Don Schneider, an astronomer then with Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, what he had been up to. "Well," said Schneider, "this week I discovered the most distant object in the universe."
Says O'Brien: "That tends to keep you humble."
We would be willing to bet that Schneider has also discovered a few things while hanging out with O'Brien. SCORECARD is SI's repository for this and that, so it is entirely fitting that O'Brien—who helps to write and edit the section and has been its heart and soul for the past two years—has done a lot of this and a lot of that. He has competed in gymnastics, boxing and marathon running; taken an art history class with Jodie Foster (he received his B.A. in history from Yale in 1981, Foster got her B.A. in American literature in '85); written a collection of short stories (while at Columbia pursuing a master's of fine arts, which he earned in '84); sold running shoes to Dustin Hoffman; lived for a year in a farmhouse in Italy with his wife, Lolly; and fathered two daughters, Daisy, 8, and Valentina, 4.
Since coming to SI in 1988 he has written about cycling, fencing, gymnastics, ice boating, softball, stock car racing and table tennis while also serving as a clearinghouse for information on Irish history, the Grateful Dead and canoeing. Inevitably, in November '92, SCORECARD came calling. "I don't check information out of the library," says senior writer Jack McCallum, who has worked with O'Brien on SCORECARD for the past 11 months. "I just check information out of Rich."
Though O'Brien, 35, is still an avid runner—he is the codirector of the Princeton Fete 10-K—and remembers with fondness his days of shoeing celebrities at the Super Runners Shop on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where he lived before moving to Princeton ("I got Dustin, but I was off the day Mick Jagger came in"), he feels most passionate about boxing. For SI he has profiled ring announcer Michael (Let's Get Ready to Rummmbuuul!) Buffer and gathered information for stories on two heavyweight champions in diverse ways—he sat in NBC's green room while Buster Douglas chatted with David Letterman, and he went bowling with Evander Holyfield. Rich's grandfather Frank O'Brien—"a classic featherweight with gnarled knuckles and a flattened nose" is the way Rich describes him—was a pretty fair boxer in his hometown of St. Louis. "Family lore has it that Grandpa read only one book in his life," says Rich, "and that was A.J. Liebling's The Sweet Science." If Frank were still alive, by now he probably would have added A Boxing Companion to that list, since it was written, in 1991, by his grandson.
Rich was an amateur boxer himself until a couple of broken noses drove him to gymnastics and running. Fine with us. It was all necessary training for him to become one of the most versatile objects in our universe.