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Bernard Fernandez: Fame comes to notable boxing writers

FIRST AND FOREMOST, boxing is about fights and fighters. Every now and then, though, a nod of appreciation should deservedly go to those astute observers who chronicle the action and the personalities of a sport so rich in both.

FIRST AND FOREMOST, boxing is about fights and fighters. Every now and then, though, a nod of appreciation should deservedly go to those astute observers who chronicle the action and the personalities of a sport so rich in both.

Over the past couple of weeks, two skilled and veteran journalists were honored for bodies of work that, in their own way, rival those compiled by the finest fighters they made even more familiar to newspaper readers. On Sunday, retired Associated Press boxing writer Ed Schuyler Jr. was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Nine days earlier, Newark Star-Ledger columnist emeritus Jerry Izenberg received the John F.X. Condon Award from the Boxing Writers Association of America for long and meritorious service.

I am proud to call both of these giants of the profession my friends, and, more than that, revered role models. They serve as constant reminders of how high the bar has been set for those of us who deign to call ourselves fight writers.

Schuyler, known to his many friends and admirers as "Fast Eddie," might have been the last of his kind, an old-fashioned journalist who frequently dictated his copy back to his office from ringside. He always made deadline, too, quite a feat for a relative dinosaur in an era of increasingly space-age technology.

"I was a summer replacement," Schuyler, 75, said of his hiring by the AP's Pittsburgh bureau in 1960. "It turned out to be a helluva long summer."


Schuyler covered his first fight for the wire service in September, 1963 - Farid Salim vs. Rubin "Hurricane" Carter - and in 1970 he took over for Murray Rose (who did round-by-round updates) and Jack Hand (who did the lead story) as AP's national boxing writer, juggling both chores. For nearly 32 years, he covered nearly every big fight (and a bunch of not-so-big ones) throughout America and around the world until his retirement in April, 2002.

"I was at all the Ali-Frazier fights, and Ali-Foreman in Africa," he said. "I covered all the fights between Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns. I did 22 Muhammad Ali fights and 39 Larry Holmes fights. I covered boxing at seven Olympics."

By his estimate, Schuyler - who has mentally stored more jokes (and can deliver them with the same sort of comedic timing) than did the late stand-up legends Henny Youngman and Jack Benny - was at ringside for 2,250 or so boxing matches.

"Now, that's about 2,000 bad fights," he said, only half-kiddingly. "It's also 250 really good-to-great fights."

One thing Fast Eddie and Jerry have in common is their memories, not particularly pleasant, of the time they spent in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) leading up to Ali's riveting knockout of George Foreman on Oct. 30, 1974.

"The fight started at 4:30 in the morning local time," Schuyler recalled. "When it ended, it was like a monsoon. It was almost deep enough to swim in the parking lot. There were, like, 7 inches of water in the AP darkroom.

"Those of us who were there, we can all look back and laugh. It was quite an experience. But it wasn't all that great when we were there. The scary part was, they took our passports. We didn't get them back until we were ready to leave.

"You know what I say about Zaire? I wouldn't even fly over that country now because I might crash and live."

Izenberg - whose eloquence is captured in his latest book, "Through My Eyes: A Sports Writer's 58-Year Journey" - has this to say about his encounter with a government-appointed censor who objected to a line of copy Jerry had authored.

"This story cannot be sent by you," Jerry, 82, quotes the official as saying in his book, which includes several chapters on boxing, his favorite sport. "In Zaire, there are no dusty roads."

"I think you don't understand," the American columnist replied. "This is a way of our people getting to know your people and . . . "

"No dusty roads. Country roads!" the official thundered, and then he smiled.

"Dusty, country roads," Jerry countered.

"Pretty country roads," the official shot back.

"Pretty damned dusty country roads," came Jerry's final retort. And then he suddenly realized he was in the middle of a three-sided, barbed-wire-enclosed compound with the river behind the only open area. Large brown logs floated down that river . . . or at least Jerry thought so until the logs opened their mouths. Crocodiles.

"Pretty country roads," Jerry agreed, maybe the first and only time he ever yielded on a point of personal artistic expression.

Eddie and Jerry might modestly say that their awards are largely the result of having been around for a very long time. But it's not just a matter of longevity; "career excellence" means you had to do it really well, too.

Thanks, guys, for giving the rest of us something to shoot for.

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