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I really wanted to get to know McEnroe, so I put myself in his face with the hope that later we could connect. Remember, he went to a top prep school in New York City, went to Stanford. He was a smart guy and brilliant player. But he was often a real a------. Still, there was something compelling about him: You couldn't help but watch him. Wimbledon was his pièce de résistance, with the British tabloids calling him Super Brat and McBrat.
So these two weeks are going by, and, believe me, McEnroe knows I'm there. One day we're on Court 1, and the photographers are in the first row, level with the grass, a great angle for shooting. I have the inside position, at the net right where the players come out of the tunnel.
John had a problem with the film rewind, which made this humming noise. But I had no choice; I had to rewind film. I tried to do it on changeovers. Anyway, in this match I hit the rewind button one time, and I could hear the silence around me. John looked over and said, "You have to do that now?"
My first response was to look down the row of photographers, as if to say, You know I wouldn't do that, John. But John looked right at me: "No, you, the one pretending he didn't do it. You." This was Round 1 of an endless bout between us that would go on for those two weeks and the two weeks of the U.S. Open in August and September.
So we get to the Wimbledon men's singles final, and before the match starts I walk out to shoot McEnroe. He looks at me and says, "You f------ son of a bitch. You f------ c---------." This is before the final. Really, this is what he's going to spend his energy on?
He loses the final to Bjorn Borg. The next day I'm at the Concorde lounge bringing the film back to New York City, and I'm talking to Arthur Ashe and his wife, Jeannie. I say, "I'd really like to meet John."
Arthur says, "I've seen him mistreat too many people. Jeannie can introduce you, but I don't want to."
So Jeannie and I walk over. McEnroe's all in denim: jean jacket, jeans. He's sitting hunched over, as usual, removing himself from the world.
Jeannie says, "Hi, John. I'd like to introduce you to somebody."
He looks up at me and says, "You're an assassin. You're all assassins." He starts getting really pissed off. He says, "Why can't you use just one roll of film?"