PORTRAIT OF BILL
Frank Deford's story of Big Bill Tilden (Hero with a Tragic Flaw, Jan. 13 and 20) is one of the most affecting, poignant, splendid pieces of writing and reporting I have seen. Please convey my congratulations to him for his accomplishment. Please accept my congratulations for printing it.
GEORGE V. HIGGINS
In my opinion Frank Deford's story was the finest piece of writing ever to appear in the pages of SI, a magazine with a long history of well-written articles. Deford presented to me an athlete about whom I knew very little, and brought him to life. It is hard to believe that he never knew Big Bill personally, so sensitive was his approach to the man. At the end of his article Deford states that Bill Tilden's gravestone "is the only monument of any kind anywhere in the world...that pays tribute to the greatest tennis player who ever lived." Wrong. Hero with a Tragic Flaw serves as a far greater and more meaningful monument to the man's lifetime than a gravestone ever could.
South Ryegate, Vt.
If anything, these two articles, besides telling of Tilden's tragic flaw, show an even greater flaw in man: his callousness and insincerity toward his fellow man when one falls on hard times or is going through a crisis.
RONALD J. ROGACKI
In my 33 years I have never before written a letter to an editor, and probably never will again. However, I can't resist thanking Frank Deford for his moving articles on Bill Tilden. It strikes me that Big Bill experienced "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" in his effort to discover what it means to be alive. Thanks, Frank, for giving Big Bill a fair shake.
As Bill Tilden's great-nephew, I was most interested in your articles on him. Unfortunately, I only met Uncle Bill once, and have no memory of the experience. But I'll always regret that I never had the chance to know him as a person. Your articles confirmed my belief that he was a fascinating individual. Tilden may have been childlike, but he was never small. His triumphs, mistakes and shortcomings were all larger than life.
Lord knows, Tilden had unique family and personal problems that plagued him his entire life. However, he faced a more general problem, one that every dedicated athlete must face during his lifetime. Anyone who spends his formative years developing a purely physical talent to the exclusion of all others must realize that at an early age his ability will deteriorate for the greater portion of his adult life. The deterioration of one's major talent, the talent by which one defines one's self, prior to middle age, must require a tremendous psychological adjustment. As Deford implies, Tilden's homosexuality and personal problems increasingly manifested themselves as his physical talents declined. Uncle Bill's failure to adjust to his physical deterioration created pressures that he could only release through socially unacceptable activities.
Perhaps Uncle Bill's greatest tragedy was that he possessed talents which, if cultivated, might have sustained him throughout his life. As Deford correctly indicates, Tilden was an abominable novelist. However, he was an intelligent and analytical writer who wrote several books on tennis, Match Play and the Spin of the Ball for one, that are still considered classics. People have told me that Tilden clarified the game for them as no one else ever had. But Uncle Bill's concentration on tennis, which consumed all his time and energy, forced him to neglect this talent which, as a result, remained essentially dormant. Had he found time to develop his journalistic abilities, he might have discovered a release for his growing frustrations. Tilden's singleminded pursuit of excellence in one field forced him to waste his other talents. This is the Catch-22 situation every dedicated athlete faces.
WILLIAM T. TILDEN IV
Thumbs up to Dan Jenkins for his article on the Super Bowl ( Pittsburgh Punches It Out, Jan. 20). He captured all the excitement and color of New Orleans and the superb Pittsburgh defense. It's a shame Minnesota Coach Bud Grant could not accept another defeat, and admit Super Bowl IX was a game well executed by two fine teams. Art Rooney, Chuck Noll, the Steelers and all Pittsburgh fans can be proud of a great season and a richly deserved NFL title.
DIANE M. BRANAGAN
Dan Jenkins told it the way it was, with the Steel Curtain rampaging through the line and pressuring Fran Tarkenton into throwing some passes that were intercepted and others that didn't make it past L.C. Greenwood. The Vikings' third Super Bowl loss only confirms that there's no stopping Franco's Army once it gets rolling.
Bellows Falls, Vt.
It is all too obvious now, so Viking fans can stop making excuses. Minnesota just can't win the big one. It's as simple as that.
S.E. KILDAHL JR.