Freelance writer Jack Falla, whose story on top NHL prospect Pat LaFontaine begins on page 38, has three rather disparate heroes. "The individuals I'm most intrigued by are Jacques Plante, the great NHL goalie, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and Thoreau," he says. That explains why Falla has, at his home in Natick, Mass., three editions of Walden, 26 Beach Boys LPs (including a real find, the Christmas album) and a hockey net in his driveway.
Actually, the net is now sitting in the driveway because the arrival of spring has melted Falla's homemade rink. Last week, during breaks in reporting and writing the LaFontaine story, Falla chopped up the remaining chunks of ice on the rink, removed the boards and rolled up the 70 X 40-foot sheet of plastic over which water had been frozen to make the rink's surface. Skates stored away, Falla is now ready for street hockey and maybe a little stickball.
"We've played every sport imaginable here at the Bacon Street Omni, as we call the area around the house," says Falla, 38, whose playmates include son Brian, 11, and daughter Tracey, 9. "The garage windows have all been shot out by tennis balls. Brian set up a three-hole golf course in the yard, and once we even tried building a ski jump from the top of the garage. But the jumper would have hit the neighbor's fence at breakneck speed, so we decided we'd better drop that."
This spring, when he isn't playing at the Omni or staking tomato plants to broken hockey sticks—"KOHOs grow the best tomatoes," he says—Falla will be found at his typewriter. Which is where he generally has been ever since he graduated from Boston University in 1967. Thereafter he worked in sports information and public relations at Babson College and spent two years as a copywriter and publicist for a Boston ad agency. "That was my only brush with what [SI Senior Writer] Dan Jenkins calls the Eastern, striped-tie, lockjaw Establishment, and it convinced me to stick with sports," says Falla. After a season as a p.r. man for the NASL's Boston franchise, he became director of development and unpaid hockey coach at the Rivers School in Weston, Mass. and a freelance writer on the side.
"That's where I discovered Jack Falla," says SI Associate Writer Ed Swift. "I was the editor of Hockey Magazine, and we bought a 10-line poem he sent us in 1977. We paid him $15." The poem was the first writing on hockey sold by Falla, who later became a "roving editor" for the now-defunct publication.
Falla started freelancing full time in 1979, when he signed his first book contract, for a history of the NCAA. His second book, on Boston College sports, was published March 1. When we were looking for a writer to do some hockey stories last fall, Swift suggested Falla, who has since written nine pieces for SI. "I love freelancing," says Falla. "I was prepared for it to be tough, but, aided and abetted by Barbie the Nurse [his wife Barbara, an R.N.] and with a 9% mortgage, I'm doing all right."
Truth is, you're better than all right, Jack.
FALLA: HE'S A WRITER HOOKED ON PLANTE AND PLANTS