Early this month an Ecuadorian newspaper noted that a "Special Envoy" of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Craig Neff, was covering the IV World Aquatic Championships in Guayaquil. Neff probably should appear on our masthead as Ambassador at Large instead of Staff Writer; during the past three months he has traveled to seven countries to cover competition in seven different sports. His latest posting: London, where he covered Sebastian Coe (page 16).
On June 1 Neff left New York for St. Louis and never stopped passing Go. He went to Kansas City, then Lawrence, Kans., back to K.C., on to Memphis, then Atlanta and Athens, Ga., back to Atlanta, to Dallas, Salt Lake City, Provo, Salt Lake City, Chicago, Pittsburgh, State College, Pa., then Pittsburgh, New York ( Washington, New York for a wedding), Cincinnati, Knoxville, Atlanta, back to New York. Most of the above was for college football scouting reports. Then he really took off, heading for London (track), Oslo, London, New York, London; New York, Los Angeles, New York, Los Angeles, Quito and Guayaquil (aquatics); Miami, New York, Toronto, Edmonton (wrestling); Toronto, New York, Zurich, London (track). Now he's in Cologne (track) with miles to go ( Koblenz, Brussels and London) before he sleeps.
Neff estimates that all told he has flown 86,000 miles in 1982, spending 175 hours—more than a full week—aloft. Yet as he heads into his last weekend of travel before a vacation at home, he feels rejuvenated. "Now," he says, "it's like going into the World Series, or final exams."
Among other things, Neff saw the Rockies, Andes and Swiss Alps in a span of three weeks. He detested the cuisine of Norway (pickled fish) but loved the Chinese food there. He was forcibly removed from the scene of a police clash with demonstrators in Guayaquil. He left London two days before the terrorist bombings, and Ecuador two days before an expected coup. In South America, he and other visiting Americans were treated like rock stars and mobbed by young autograph seekers; a woman was raped by a soldier beneath Neff's hotel window; and a Spanish-speaking cabbie couldn't figure out if our envoy and two other Americans were seeking entertainment or posing a philosophical question when they asked to be taken to Infinity, a disco.
Nothing seemed to faze our globetrotter, until he stopped back in New York for an SI softball game. The usually sure-fielding shortstop, weakened by typhoid, tetanus and hepatitis shots, made two errors.
"Looking back, it seems like the travel's been fun," Neff says, before recalling all the lost luggage and the suitcase that fell apart in Edmonton. "But people think all the travel's terrific; they don't realize you're working out there."
Those people aren't the only ones to have misunderstood Special Envoy Neff. On one flight, as Neff removed the earphones of his tapeplayer, his seatmate said, "You shouldn't shut yourself off from the world."