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'Morning Edition' Sports Commentator Frank Deford Dies At 78

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's remember Frank Deford, who died at 78. His sportswriting career included decades of commentaries on this program. Frank Deford could rage against the practice of allowing soccer games to end in a tie.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

FRANK DEFORD: It's exactly this kind of thinking, I believe, which is why they can't fix the bloody euro. The dollar is a winner. The euro is a tie. Get off the dime, Europe, and play to win.

INSKEEP: Deford also declared, I believe professional wrestling is clean and everything else in the world is fixed. Frank had been suffering from a lung condition, which is why he announced his retirement on MORNING EDITION this month. We reviewed some of his remarkable life then. And today, we hear him in conversation. Five years ago before an audience in Washington, I got to ask him about his sportswriting life.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

DEFORD: The hardest thing in the world is to write something critical about someone and then show up the next day in the locker room. I mean, that is not fun and that takes an awful lot of guts. And I never enjoyed that. I remember one time I wrote something very, very critical about Wilt Chamberlain.

The next time I saw him - and Wilt was not a man, as huge as he was, he was not a man of confrontation. And we were in the Lakers locker room. And he sent Jerry West over and he said, Frank, Wilt would like you to leave.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: You sense there what made Frank Deford special. It was less his analysis of a game than his observations of the people who played.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

DEFORD: When I was covering games, and this is back in the '60s, you'd go into the manager's office. I can still visualize Earl Weaver from the Baltimore Orioles. I can just see Earl now in his underwear...

(LAUGHTER)

DEFORD: ...With a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other holding court. And that was the way it was done then. And you could sit and chat...

INSKEEP: Some things are better today...

(LAUGHTER)

DEFORD: And chat forever.

INSKEEP: In that talk in 2012, Frank Deford spoke of retiring, or rather not retiring.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

DEFORD: Most guys hang on as long as they could. To use me as an analogy, I'm hanging on to writing as long as I possibly can until, you know, they put me away.

INSKEEP: That's about what Frank Deford did, writing for this program until weeks before his death. Those who met Frank got to know him to be a gracious man and so he remained. After his final commentary, we exchanged notes. And then last Tuesday, he sent one note more. You have a great job, he wrote, but a tough one.

Keep the MORNING EDITION banner waving high as dawn breaks. And I hope the spoken sports are trenchant, fun, creative. I'll be listening. With thanks and all good wishes, Frank.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLEEPER'S "PRAY FOR SOUND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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