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At Stage West, the Origins of Sports as We Know It
by Stephen Becker 9 Feb 2012

A play debuting Saturday in Fort Worth takes place in 1966 during the Dallas Cowboys training camp preceding the first Super Bowl. And the changing dynamics at the time provided plenty of inspiration for comedy.

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Mark Fickert and Chuck Huber play dueling reporters in The Sports Page at Stage West.

A play debuting Saturday in Fort Worth takes place in 1966 during the Dallas Cowboys training camp preceding the first Super Bowl. KERA’s Stephen Becker reports changing dynamics at the time provided plenty of inspiration for comedy.

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The Sports Page explores a time of major change in the country’s sports landscape.

“That period – ’66, ’67, right in that area – that’s when the whole world of media and sports salaries shifted,” says Jerry Russell, who is directing the play for Stage West. “And this play’s about that.”

Through the first half of the 60s, professional athletes and sports writers weren’t far apart in salary. That changed when television became more interested in sports and networks began paying leagues huge money to air their games. Athletes suddenly made much more than the media members who covered them. And men who once considered each other equals were now reassessing their relationship.

“Any time you have expectations dashed in one way or another, you’re going to have something funny happen,” says Larry Herold, who wrote The Sports Page. “When people are wanting to stay with things the way they are and somebody else comes in and says, ‘Hey, we might want to do things this way,’ comedy ensues.”

Herold has seen and heard plenty of funny stories that arose from this new conflict. He began covering sports in the late 1970s at the Waco Tribune-Herald and has written for everyone from The Dallas Morning News to D Magazine to local airline magazines.

In his play, a couple of veteran sports writers deal with the new reality of their profession during a Cowboys training camp. One of the star players on the team decides he doesn’t need to speak to the media – a plot point gleaned from former Cowboys running back Duane Thomas. And when a Cowboys PR man named Red announces that a female television reporter wants to cover training camp, the writers’ patience is put to the limit.

REPORTER DOYLE MILLER (played by Mark Fickert): “Red, when Floyd Patterson went up in the mountains to train for the heavyweight championship of the world, you think he took women with him? He did not! He went up there to escape women.”

RED GAGE (played by Jeff McGee): “Well, it gets worse. She wants to sleep in the dormitory.”

REPORTER ZINC TUCKER (played by Chuck Huber): “Oh, well, that is different. Put her in with me!”

Herold’s media career began about a decade after the shift that his characters experience. For him conflict had always been a part of the job.

In the early 1980s, he was covering a Mavericks game against the 76ers for the Associated Press. One of Philadelphia’s star players, Darryl Dawkins, had been ejected from the game, helping the Mavericks to a rare win.

After the game, Herold approached Dawkins, who was icing his knees in front of his locker. He asked the player if his ejection cost his team the win.

“So Dawkins stands up – and I mean he really stands up. He’s about 6-9, 275,” Herold says. “He looks down at me and he says, ‘Am I going to have to kill me a sports writer?’ And then he turned and went in the shower. We never got an answer.”

These days, every sports reporter has a tale to tell about a run-in with a player, coach or owner. It’s part of the job. With The Sports Page, Herold will have a new audience for his stories.

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