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Last week Writer-Reporter Jill Lieber spent her 27th birthday in Denver, helping Writer Ralph Wiley cover the USFL championship game. It was Lieber's second title game in six months, the other having been Super Bowl XVII in January. She spent last summer working on The First College & Pro Football Spectacular edition of SI and in the fall she became immersed in the college season. This week she is back in New York working on the second football spectacular.
She prefers it that way. Lieber, who grew up 40 miles from Green Bay, in Neenah, Wis., was weaned on the Packers. Sitting through the Pack's games with her father could get chilly, to say the least, so when it was time for college, Lieber chose warmer climes; she matriculated at Stanford, with the secret desire to play quarterback in the Cardinals' offense.
As a freshman she had to settle for intramural football while she continued her music studies—she has played the violin since age nine. She was concert-master of her high school orchestra, and in 1974 won the National High School Orchestra Award. But at the end of that first year a friend dared her to host a noon radio sports show on the campus station, KZSU, and, as she says, "There went my plan to play in a major symphony orchestra." Lieber switched to a communications major and two years later was co-sports editor of The Stanford Daily. She even took a course taught by Coach Bill Walsh in the phys ed department, and got an A + in Theory and Technique of Football. More pragmatically, Writer-Reporter Brooks Clark says, "She doesn't throw a football like a girl."
After school Lieber returned home to work as a weekly columnist and feature writer for the Milwaukee Sentinel, covering pro and college teams and the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. She also made Best Sports Stories 1979 for an article based on her report from the Chicago Bears' locker room: "It was zero degrees in there," she says, "and all these guys were running around in their raincoats."
It was three years later, in August 1981, that she joined the SI staff. Once in New York, Lieber turned into an inveterate taxicab fan, riding four blocks rather than hoofing it at night, and she took to the other aspects of the city with equal enthusiasm. No one was ever more excited to pass Woody Allen on Sixth Avenue, and she was the first person on our staff to get on the mailing list of Heartbreak, currently the city's dancing hot spot.
Last February Lieber was in another hot spot—Florida—having a look at USFL teams. "I was amazed by the Boston Breakers," she says. "I'd never seen a pro team practice for what seemed like 20 minutes and then head to the ice chest for a beer. They played golf on Saturdays." She renamed them the Boston Chaise Lounges.
Well, things aren't always as they seem; Boston finished one game out of the playoffs. And the USFL learned its own lesson last week. All season the league had been sending mail addressed to Jim Lieber. "Then Jim showed up at the pregame black-tie dinner in a cocktail dress with a slit up the side," Jill Lieber says with satisfaction.