I can't begin to tell you how many hours and days and weeks I spent hypnotized by a microfilm reader as page after page of newspapers whirred past during my research.
Waking this morning to the sad news of Ali's passing, I dug out my thesis. Flipping through it I wondered why I never sought out a comment from "The Greatest" himself. It's a great regret that I didn't at least try.
I never met Ali, but I did have the chance once to interview Joe Frazier, who was in town to perform with his, uh, band called The Knockouts. I was determined to ask him something – anything – about Ali. Sports editor Don Mahler and I went to the Howard Johnsons to interview Frazier and toward the end of our interview, I screwed up my courage and asked him if he considered "The Champ" a friend. I don't have a copy of the story and while this isn't verbatim, it's really close to how he answered:
"He's not the kind of friend you eat with and sleep with. He's the kind of friend you have to watch."The story appeared in the paper the next day and Don and I were at our desks when one of Frazier's posse showed up at the newspaper. I remember being a little nervous because clearly Smoking Joe had wanted to talk about his band, and we wanted to talk to him about boxing. My immediate thought was that he was embarrassed by the Ali quote, which Don and I had chuckled about on the drive back to the office. But no, it turned out the former champion liked the picture Don took that accompanied the story and simply wanted a copy of it. Whew ;-)
•Speaking of pictures, here are a few snaps I took yesterday of denuded Memorial Field: