Frank Deford's article on trucker Tyrone Malone, which begins on page 66, is the 55th bonus piece that he has written for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. "Bonus piece" is the term used around our offices for the long article near the back of the magazine. For the writer, it is a challenging form, not only because of its length but also because of the depth of perception and feeling required to bring it off successfully. It is, by any reckoning, one of the toughest and most rewarding ways to earn a byline, and Deford, who wrote his first bonus piece in 1965 on a mail-order racetrack tout, has more such bylines to his credit than anyone else on the staff. So many, in fact, that some of his subjects are coming around again. Ten years ago he wrote a bonus piece on Malone and his frozen whale (SI, Aug. 11, 1969).
Deford has dealt—at length—with a variety of subjects that defy classification, ranging from such individuals as Bill Tilden, Al McGuire, Billy Martin and Jimmy Connors to such places as Oakland, Cincinnati, Washington and Boston, and such topics as religion, television, history, sex and death. In the course of his research, he has wrestled a bear in Colorado, traveled with Arthur Ashe through Africa, watched Sadaharu Oh hit homers in Japan and beaten the Harlem Globetrotter defense for eight points in Italy.
"I guess I've written about every sport known to man," Deford says. "I've been on the baseball and basketball beats, but I much prefer variety."
Of his penchant for long stories, Deford says, "I sort of shoot for that length with all my ideas. I guess I'm windy. Or maybe it's because I never worked for a newspaper, except in college.
"If I'm writing about someone who's really well known, I assume our readers already know a lot about him, so I try to add another dimension. You have to have something more about a person than a long list of facts. I try to relate him to his world, his culture and his game."
This only hints at Deford's greatest strength as a writer: the manner in which he brings so much of himself to nearly every story he does, without intruding on the subject.
As if writing bonus pieces were not taxing—and time-consuming—enough, Deford also writes every other kind of piece for SI, including movie reviews. And that's not all, folks. He has also written five books, and is currently working on his third novel and putting the finishing touches to a screenplay and the script of a TV movie.
Away from his typewriter, Deford devotes a great deal of time to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, of which he is a national vice-president. It is a cause he embraced when it was discovered that his daughter, Alexandra, now seven, had the disease.
All of which probably explains why it has been a couple of years now since Frank has had time to judge a Miss America contest.