BUD SHRAKE—one of 13 veteran journalists who contributed their behind the scenes memories to SI's Super Bowl preview package (page 60)—chose the writer's life early. Just after his freshman year at Texas, Shrake had a job interview with the legendary Blackie Sherrod, sports editor of his hometown paper, the Fort Worth Press. Looking around the newsroom that day, Shrake instantly knew he belonged. "It was a rackety, dirty city paper, with the teletypes clacking and a sense of urgency everywhere," Shrake says. "A copy editor was eating tuna fish out of a can, and the bowling writer was drinking bourbon, and I thought, This is the world I want to be in."
After stints at the Dallas Times Herald and the Dallas Morning News, Shrake moved to SI in 1964 and stayed till '79, covering eight Super Bowls including number III, in which the Jets whipped the Colts, an upset Shrake had predicted (sort of, page 75) in the magazine a month earlier. Along with SI writers such as Mark Kram, Jack Olsen and Dan Jenkins (a fellow graduate of Fort Worth's Paschal High), Shrake drank deeply of Manhattan nightlife and helped define the erudite yet earthy style of SI's formative years.
Working alone or in collaboration, Shrake has authored 19 books, among them a novel set in the early years of the Republic of Texas and the best-selling golf manual Harvey Penick's Little Red Book. These days he focuses on the stage because "I love the theater, the casting, the rehearsals, the drama of opening night."
Shrake had a taste of that drama in 2002 when his play Benchmark, written with his old British pal Michael Rudman, opened in London. "It was one of the hottest September nights in the city's history," says Shrake, "and the air-conditioning broke. The place was like a Burmese jungle. Actors, pouring with sweat, were forgetting lines; I saw a guy in the audience stand up, take his shirt off and wring it out. But it's like Sam Goldwyn said, you've got to take the bitter with the sour." (Benchmark, however, was a hit.)
His next playback, about Lee Harvey Oswald's killer, Jack Ruby, was also co-written with Rudman and will hit the boards in London this year. Shrake knew Ruby in passing. "We had a show business relationship," he says. "I was writing a newspaper column, and Ruby owned a nightclub in Dallas and wanted to be everybody's friend. This is a study of why he murdered Oswald."
LEIGH MONTVILLE, who recalls that he had "the most literary night of my life" in Houston the Friday before Super Bowl VIII, worked at SI from 1989 to 2001, after 21 years at The Boston Globe. Montville had a quiet dinner with New Yorker writer and editor Roger Angell, then returned to the Hyatt to find friends heading out with Hunter S. Thompson, author of Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72. In the hottest Houston nightspot the group could find-a new T.G.I. Friday's—Montville listened as an insightful Thompson spoke of the New Hampshire primary, during which he had talked football with Richard Nixon for two hours. ("He knows his f-----' football, but not much f-----' else," Thompson opined.)
Although Montville reminisces hereabout football (page 62), he considers himself more of a baseball man. His fourth book, Ted Williams: Biography of an American Hero, comes out in April. Says Montville, "It's the first biography since the New Testament in which the subject dies and his status is still in doubt."