Staff Writer Rick Telander was an All-Big Ten defensive back in 1971, his senior year at Northwestern, and his football future seemed promising when the Kansas City Chiefs drafted him. It seemed otherwise a month later, when they cut him, but Telander had also been a two-time member of the Academic All-Big Ten team, and an English major, and he wrote his first SPORTS ILLUSTRATED story from that disappointment.
He thus began a career as one of our most productive free-lancers. He signed on as a Special Contributor in 1976, and this September he joined the staff full time. Telander has written for us on a variety of subjects—archery, geckos, penitentiary sports, the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame—but football would seem to be a natural: His 47th SI story is on Dallas Cowboy Running Back Tony Dorsett, and it starts on page 86 of this issue.
Says Telander, "I'm only 32, not much older than Dorsett is, and I do know football. Still, he wasn't very enthusiastic about talking to me at first. He has had so much written about him that he feels as if he's living his life in the papers. But then the days passed and we became pretty good friends. One of the great things about working for SI is that on this kind of story you have time to go easy; you don't have to come on like a bolt out of the blue, the way many newspapermen do, demanding a guy's whole life story in an hour."
Though Dorsett may feel he's living his whole life in the papers, Telander believes sportswriters have rather underrated him. "People are always making lists of running backs, including this guy and that guy, and at the end they say, 'Oh, yes, and Tony Dorsett.' It's strange for a guy who has never rushed for fewer than 1,000 yards a season. Maybe it's because he makes it look so easy."
Telander spent eight days with Dorsett before returning home. At present he's living in Chicago, because his wife, the former Judy Hansen, has a new job as a counseling psychologist at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, Ill. Their home in Key West, Fla. is rented for the moment, and Telander says he and Judy may be the only people in history to winter in Illinois and summer in Key West. He does miss playing pickup basketball under a warm sun, and "poking around the backcountry in my boat, just looking at the water." He doesn't miss softball, however. He played for a while for Sloppy Joe's Bar, and then, in 1979, for the Blossom Grocery team, which fielded a county judge, a district attorney and, most crucially, as Telander recalls, "a star shortstop who got busted for importing 13 tons of marijuana. The team went downhill after that, and one day I found myself standing in leftfield wondering what I was doing there, so I quit."
While Telander occasionally draws urgent-deadline assignments—he reported his alma mater's record-breaking 29th straight football defeat last month—he will do more contemplative features than fast-breaking news stories. Presumably he hopes so. "I'm a very slow writer," he says. "I labor over words too much." Please don't tell Telander that the computerized video-display terminal looms on every journalist's horizon. "When it comes to typing," he confides, "sometimes the mechanics just throw me."
TELANDER: NO BOLT OUT OF THE BLUE