As the airplane droned through the sky between Corvallis, Ore. and Oakland, Calif., Staff Writer Roy Blount Jr. was not getting much work done. Sitting beside him in the plane was Dick Fosbury, the backward-diving high jumper, who was Blount's assignment and who doesn't much care for interviews. Blount did not press him. "He lost interest in talking," Roy says, "and picked up a magazine. I did, too, and the rest of the trip was pleasant, if unproductive." In the end Blount's soft-sell technique proved effective. By the time the Oakland track meet was over, they were engaging in long discussions about jumping tactics and how Fosbury began using his famous Flop—the unique style that won him an Olympic gold medal—all of which can be gleaned from the article beginning on page 24. "As soon as I saw Fosbury jump," Blount says, "I knew we had an affinity. Once in college during an intramural football game I blocked an extra-point try by backing into it. Unfortunately, my own team was kicking. I was at blocking back, and I must have retreated more than I thought."
Blount's college was Vanderbilt, which he attended on a Grantland Rice scholarship. He edited the school paper, The Hustler, and once assigned himself to a story on sky diving. To get the right feel for the sport, he jumped from a Piper Cub at 2,500 feet—and landed in a patch of cockleburs. After graduation he went to Harvard on a Woodrow Wilson fellowship for prospective teachers and earned a master's in English. But he also became disenchanted with formal education. "On one comprehensive exam," he says, "they gave us a list of obscure lyric poems from the English Renaissance, which we had to place in chronological order. We also had to identify the poets. If it had been a comparable baseball quiz on obscure third basemen, where we had to list what teams they played for and when, I probably would have enjoyed it. But I didn't think it was any way to study literature. I found it impossible to unite the traditions of Rice and Wilson, so I went into the newspaper business."
Since coming to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED from The Atlanta Journal, where he was an editorial writer and columnist, Roy has done stories on Clark Graebner and Jim Ryun, spent four months writing our SCORECARD section and, just before Fosbury, traveled with a group of air junketeers to the Super Bowl for an article two weeks ago. "I just stood around quietly watching," he says of that assignment, neglecting to mention that at one point he was the star of the trip. Driving between West End and Freeport, Fla., some junketeers were launched strongly into There Is a Tavern in the Town, when they discovered that no one knew the last verse. Except Blount. "Dig my grave both wide and deep...," he began. An instant hero. The junket was saved.
AUTHOR BLOUNT: HE KNEW THE VERSE