Staff Writer Craig Neff has a problem that a lot of us would like to have. He appears somewhat younger than his age, which is all of 24. That makes Neff our youngest writer, and if he looks less than his years, he writes beyond them, as you will see from his story on The U.S. Swimming International that begins on page 103.
Still, there's that baby face. You can almost understand the reaction of Pitt Football Coach Jackie Sherrill when Neff arrived to interview him last October. "Are you sure your mother knows you're here?" Sherrill asked. That Sherrill kept repeating the remark annoyed Neff. So did the fact that at a swim meet not long ago ABC sports-caster Jim Lampley mistook our 130-pound reporter for a student gofer—a risky error, because Neff isn't a man to be trifled with: He was a state finalist as a prep school wrestler, albeit at 112 pounds.
Neff comes from a small town in a small state, Roxbury, Conn., and first indicated his journalistic precocity at the age of 10, when he taped his own imaginary broadcasts of Baltimore Colts games—play-by-play, locker-room interviews and all. To this day, he can do a passable Johnny Unitas.
He attended the Canterbury School in New Milford, Conn., where he lettered in cross-country and baseball as well as wrestling. In college, at Colgate, he majored in political science, worked for the school radio station and served the Colgate News, one of the two weeklies on campus, as both sports and executive editor. He spent several summers working on a farm and says, "After watching what they do to pigs and chickens, journalism can seem pretty attractive."
It was in the summer of 1978 that Neff first came to SI as an intern. "He looked like a refugee from Our Gang," recalls fellow writer Steve Wulf, "but my doubts about his maturity were quickly dispelled when I saw how much range he had at shortstop—and at the typewriter."
After graduation from Colgate in '79, Neff took a job as a general assignment reporter for The Register in Torrington, Conn., but he left after only three weeks—The Register still has a Craig Neff Memorial Chair in its offices—when SI asked him to come back as a reporter. He became a writer last November.
In his relatively short time with the magazine, Neff has covered football, basketball, track, road running, wrestling and swimming, the last being something of a specialty, although, he says, "My own butterfly is not yet out of the cocoon."
By and large, Neff has found his youthful countenance to be an advantage on the job. For his Rose Bowl story two weeks ago, he went undercover in gold and black to an Iowa pep rally, where "two people came up to me and swore they knew me from Des Moines." And last year, while working on a prospective story on Kentucky wrestler Ricky Dellagatta, he went down to the wrestling room for a workout and established an immediate rapport with the team members. They thought he was a high school recruit.
NEFF: MAKING A SPLASH AT A TENDER AGE