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Make it or break it
Robert F. Jones
September 02, 1974
Millions are at stake and a life is on the line for one shot across the canyon
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September 02, 1974

Make It Or Break It

Millions are at stake and a life is on the line for one shot across the canyon

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"No in-depth interviews!" he roars, slamming the floor for emphasis with his $22,000, gold-and-diamond-headed walking stick full of vodka, gin, bourbon and Scotch. "And no tape recorders, neither! I know what you got in that big purse of yours, lady. You got a tape recorder in there! I don't want no one writing up these stories I tell about bank robberies and sexual conquests. No tape recorders!" Slam, bam, bam!

The reporter shrinks back, blanching. She had waited five days to put in her request. She had never met Evel before. She did not recognize the web work of laugh wrinkles at the corners of his eyes—dead giveaways of a classic Knievelian put-on—nor the fact that, where Evel is concerned, there is no such thing as an in-depth interview. Ask him a straight question and one will get 50 crooked answers. The man is a monument to logor-rhea, a master of instant self-history; in the phrase of one of his partners in the venture, "the white Muhammad Ali."

"Come on," says Evel to a companion. "We're going to shoot us some golf."

The Blue Lakes Country Club, a few miles downstream from the jump site, is a verdant oasis tucked away under the rotten lava walls of the Snake River. Limpid streams black-bottomed with big trout wind through the golf course. Evel's adversary in the match is Chuck Cosgriff, a bearded, barrel-bellied Idahoan of 30, who owns the biggest billboard company in Twin Falls and is generally conceded to be the town's best golfer. He and Evel have teamed up in many a celebrity tournament. Today Cosgriff is competing in a Byzantine labyrinth of hole-by-hole and shot-by-shot bets against not only Evel, but the Knievel fils: Kelly, 13, and Robbie. Evel's pretty wife Linda, 31, and his nine-year-old daughter Tracy are along to run messages, fetch lost balls and clubs and zoom back to the club-house at the master's whim for more gin and tonics.

"We've been married 15 years," Evel confides as Linda trots off on one of a few hundred harshly ordered errands, "and you know something? Her face is always the same: a smile. Oh, I yell at her and boss her around, but she says she has only one job in life. To serve me. I made a deal with my kids, though. I promised them that if I ever yell at Linda or at them unnecessarily or too harshly, they can punch me in the nose. If they can hit me, they get $100. If they can knock me down, they get $200."

The golf game is no great shakes. Evel demonstrates a larruping long drive, but his short game and putting are inconsistent if not downright lousy. Cosgriff, by contrast, is steady and smooth, and his constant consumption of double Gibsons during the course of the match seems neither to aid nor to erode his game. The boys show flashes of brilliance and Evel watches them with pride and worry: the burden of fathers everywhere.

"That damn little booger Robbie," he says when the younger boy flubs an iron shot. "Come on over here, Robbie, and give your dad a kiss!" The kid blushes and turns away. "Come on, honey," says Evel with a wicked grin, adding sotto voce: "He thinks he's gotten too old to kiss his daddy good night. So I told him, 'O.K., now, you're going to have to go to work.' The next morning I got him up at seven o'clock and set him to a bunch of chores. That night he come to me and said, 'If I kiss you good night, can I sleep late tomorrow?' The little booger."

"He's a good little golfer, though," says Cosgriff. "They both have the makins. And that's more'n I can say about their daddy."

Evel is up and down, on and off. Between holes he drives his golf cart as if it were a motocross bike. On one late hole he blows both his drive and his second shot, then slams the iron against the golf bag. His rage is open, unfaked. But on the 18th green he sinks an 80-foot putt to retrieve all his losses and win $5 from Cosgriff on the afternoon, an afternoon in which the betting ran to hundreds of dollars in total but finally canceled out nearly even. So much for those $1,000-a-hole golf matches that have entered the legend.

During dinner that night he yells at Tracy. She throws a halfhearted punch that barely grazes her father's nose. He laughs, and peels off a $100 bill.

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