Associate Writer Pat Putnam's piece on WBA junior welterweight champion Aaron Pryor (SI, Nov. 8) took him to McAfee, N.J., and the following week's cover story on Sugar Ray Leonard's retirement found him in Baltimore. No knocks, of course, on either locale, but Putnam was very happy to escape to Miami last week to cover the Alexis Arguello-Pryor bout (page 34 in this issue). "It was in Miami that I got my start in the newspaper business," Putnam says. "Those were the salad days. Meaning I was green.
"In the fall of '54 I found myself in Miami with a traveling carnival, working what they call the 'flat stores,' or games—the buckets and swingers—and I decided to look for another job. I sent in two applications, one for truck driving, at $85 a week, and the other to be a copy boy at The Miami Herald, for $32.50. The morning I got a telegram asking me to report to the Herald, I gave up $52.50."
Putnam credits Bob Elliott, the Herald's tough and demanding executive sports editor, with making him a sports-writer. "It took me two weeks to get up the nerve to ask him to teach me," Putnam remembers. " 'Do you think you can?' I said. To which Elliott replied, 'Why the hell not?' If it hadn't been for him, I'd be driving that truck."
When Putnam joined our staff in 1968, he sent Elliott a telegram that read, "It's not I joining SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, it's you." "The best present I ever received," Elliott says.
"In the '50s, you had to cover a beat on your own time," Putnam says. "I'd do eight hours on the desk and then be at the gym from five p.m. to two a.m. I never missed a day at either."
Putnam quickly became a regular at the Fifth Street Gym, then run by Chris and Angelo Dundee. "It was amazing," recalls Angelo. "He just blended into the scene, doing a hell of a number. He had superb rapport with the fighters, a real camaraderie, and he was so perceptive."
In those days there was a real fight show every week in Miami. The best came in—Willie Pastrano, Luis Rodriguez, Ralph Dupas, Florentino Fernandez. "It was like going to grad school," says Putnam, and by the first Cassius Clay-Sonny Liston fight in 1964, he was up to turning Liston into a pussycat. "Sonny was one mean s.o.b.," Chris recalls. "He didn't trust the news guys at all, and Pat just cut him down to size." (Pat not only cut Liston down to size, he also was the only one in a local pool to foresee Liston losing to Clay.)
In his 14 years with SI Putnam has covered a wide variety of sports all over the world, but it was last week, back in Miami, that he got the word he is the front-runner for the 1982 Nat Fleischer Memorial Award for excellence in boxing writing, that decision to be announced next month.
The symbol at the top of page 82—the opener of Ray Kennedy's profile of LAOOC President Peter Ueberroth—is that of the '84 Summer Olympics. Its appearance marks the beginning of SI's pre-Games coverage, and it will henceforth be used to denote all stories that have Olympic import. Similarly, the symbol of the '84 Sarajevo Winter Olympics will be affixed to pieces pertaining to those Games.
PUTNAM: BACK AT THE FIFTH STREET GYM