Everyone knows that winning isn't everything, but few have explored that notion as deeply as senior writer William Nack, who says, "The losing locker room is more interesting than the winning one." Because of his skill at conveying the feelings of down-at-the-heels or down-in-the-dumps athletes, Nack has been asked several times during his nine years at SI to do just that. He has written about a high school football team in Glenville, Minn., that had lost 68 straight games (SI, Nov. 4, 1985). And he profiled Butch van Breda Kolff, former coach of Bill Bradley at Princeton and Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West with the L.A. Lakers, who at age 61 was teaching and coaching at a high school in Picayune, Miss. (Feb. 20, 1984).
For this issue Nack wrote two articles about men who have seen better days. His story about Joe DeForest, beginning on page 68, recounts DeForest's three-game career as a replacement player for the New Orleans Saints. He's now an engineer back in his hometown of Titusville, Fla. "Nothing will ever replace football for him," Nack says. "That special dream disintegrated before him."
Nack's piece on Denny McLain, which starts on page 92, tells of how the 31-game winner of 1968 ended up in a Florida prison for loan-sharking, extortion and drug possession.
McLain, who is free but will be retried, told Nack that he had reached a point about a year after he entered prison "when I realized I couldn't blame anyone else for what had happened to me." Says Nack, "I don't believe in a man going through character transformations. But in McLain's case, prison made him realize he doesn't want to go there again. In that sense, I believe, he changed."
McLain told Nack he's closer to his wife and children than he was before prison. Similarly, DeForest said he had never felt closer to anyone than he had to his replacement teammates in New Orleans. "Like a platoon of doomed soldiers," says Nack, who speaks from experience. In 1968 his Army unit was trapped under siege at Tan Son Nhut Air Base for a week. "I never sensed such a feeling of closeness," says Nack.
Some might find it depressing writing about athletes who have had bad times. Not Nack. "I've seen a spark in all of them—hope," he says. DeForest has been invited to the Saints' camp next summer. McLain is trying to put his life in order. Van Breda Kolff is coaching at Lafayette College. And in September 1986, Glenville High won a game. "None of them gave up," Nack says. "There's something buoying about that."