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My Little Red Book

By Sports Week George Solomon
Sunday, December 28, 2008

William Gildea, who for 40 years wrote beautiful stories for The Washington Post before retiring three years ago, would keep his important phone numbers on little scraps of paper stuffed in his pockets. Somehow he could always get his hands on the phone numbers he needed.

My system for keeping important phone numbers was more advanced than Gildea's. It was a tattered red address book. I had three of them in my 36 1/2 years at The Post, the last one held together the past 12 years with a rubber band.

No Palm Pilots, BlackBerries or iPhones for us.

On Thursday, I join Gildea and too many other newspaper people more talented than I in the ranks of Washington Post alumni after a 5 1/2 -year stint as your Sunday sports columnist that followed a 28-year marathon as the sports editor of this great newspaper.

Writing a "man about town" sports column that appeared on the same day as Shirley Povich's weekly notes column ("To Whom It May Concern") once ran in this newspaper was an honor and privilege. But it's time to move on, as changes in this newspaper and the business in general demand. If that includes something else in this space next Sunday, so be it.

There will be no tears from me today. I had too much fun for too many years for that. And worked with too many terrific people. Instead, I'm pleased to share with you some of the people (and memories) listed in that red address book.

Red Auerbach: The late coach and president of the Boston Celtics who won nine NBA titles as a coach and another seven as the team's president and general manager. In my view, the greatest basketball coach and executive in the history of the NBA, running the most storied team in the league for 29 years. A graduate of George Washington University and D.C. resident even when running the Celtics, he hosted a weekly lunch in town for years with friends that continues in his memory. He died two years ago at age 89. In the Jewish tradition, relatives and friends shoveled dirt onto his casket as it was lowered into the ground at the cemetery. Except former Celtic Paul Silas, who said: "I won't be throwing dirt on Red Auerbach."

Dr. Charles Abrams: Prominent Washington internist charged with keeping me alive. A medical genius.

Ben Bradlee: Former executive editor of The Washington Post who was my boss from 1972 to 1991. Wonderful leader, unless you got beat by the other paper in town or got the story wrong. Had a habit of marking the other paper's scoop with a red question mark and the words: "What's this?" If Clinton Portis had called Bradlee a "genius" -- as he called Redskins Coach Jim Zorn several weeks ago -- he'd have been right.

John Ed Bradley: Best former college football player (LSU) ever to write sports for The Post. One of my more ridiculous overkills as sports editor was assigning Bradley do a first-person account of trying out for the Washington Federals of the USFL in 1983 while the team was being covered daily for The Post by David Remnick. Remnick went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting in the Soviet Union and is now the editor of the New Yorker. Bradley has written numerous novels, worked for most of the major magazines and his memoir, "It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium," was rated by Sports Illustrated as among the two best sports books of 2007. I, on the other hand, have spent three Fridays this month monitoring WTEM's "Inside the Red Zone," hosted by Vinny Cerrato.

James Carville: Political pundit, college football expert, LSU fanatic.

Charley Casserly: CBS analyst and former Redskins GM who began his career working as an unpaid intern for George Allen while sleeping in his car.

Shelby Coffey: Newseum trustee and senior fellow at the Freedom Forum; also boxing historian, boxer and weightlifter.

Jack Kent Cooke: The late owner of the Washington Redskins, who bought the team from the estate of George Preston Marshall. Cooke ran the franchise with Edward Bennett Williams for more than a decade until 1980 when Williams left to operate the Baltimore Orioles. From 1980 until his death in 1997, Cooke guided and dominated the Redskins, giving GM Bobby Beathard the green light to hire Joe Gibbs in 1981 and winning three Super Bowls. Colorful and irascible, he was a careful reader of newspapers -- his phone calls to this office usually one-sided and punctuated with the most pointed language, ending with his bellowing into the phone: "atta boy."

Lefty Driesell: Basketball coach who took Maryland (1969-86) into the big time, increasing the visibility and popularity of college basketball in the area. When critics claimed he won by recruiting alone, Lefty would tower over you and exclaim: "I can coach." Lefty was right, too. Left College Park in the aftermath of the death of Len Bias.

Donald Dell: Tennis impresario who has run the men's professional tournament in Washington for 40 years. Has also represented many of the top tennis players in the world, was a Davis Cup captain and started sports agency ProServ in 1970, which begot SFX. Dell once partnered with David Falk, another ultra-successful Washington sports agent, the two splitting years ago with some acrimony but remaining friends with me. Is something wrong with me? Did I break them up?

Leonard Downie: Executive editor of The Post from 1991 to September 2008. I should have listened more closely to "Seinfeld" lawyer Jackie Chiles, who advised me often "do not take Len Downie's calls" after 10 p.m.

John Feinstein: Can you believe this guy is the best-selling sports author of all time? But he blew a huge chunk of money in an ill-fated attempt at opening a restaurant in Potomac. However, I do not believe he's involved with Bernie Madoff, despite Madoff wearing a baseball hat on his daily walk through the media with the name ("Doc's") of Feinstein's restaurant that never was.

Joe Goldstein: New York publicist who has handled most of the major independent sports events in the United States over the past six decades, including Evel Knievel's unsuccessful motorcycle leap across the Snake River Canyon in 1974. Goldstein reads six print newspapers a day -- the last American reading more than one.

Donald E. Graham: Known in my circles for his one year (1974) as sports editor of The Post and being the only CEO of a major U.S. company (Washington Post Co.) to own a Michael Ruffin (Wizards reserve, 2004-07) jersey.

Joe Gibbs: Winner of three Super Bowls as coach of the Redskins in Tour I (1981-1992) and two playoff appearances (2005 and 2007) in Tour II. Owns Joe Gibbs Racing, a successful NASCAR racing conglomerate. I liked the story he told of releasing a very large defensive lineman one year and watching that player tear up his office. "If I'd have known he was going to do that, I wouldn't have cut him," Gibbs said.

Ernie Grunfeld: Wizards president who helped the team to four straight playoff appearances. He's in the midst of a "challenging" season.

Harry R. Huang: Red Auerbach's ophthalmologist.

Tracee Hamilton: Deputy sports editor of The Post who, with colleague Bonnie Berkowitz, were office Jayhawks not to be disturbed before, during and after Kansas games.

Tommy Jacomo: Runs the Palm; not likely to be taking calls from retired newspaper guys.

Dan Jenkins: One of the five greatest sportswriters of all time and father of Sally Jenkins, one of the 10 best sportswriters working today who does not appear on TV.

Sonny Jurgensen: No. 2 Redskins quarterback of all time.

Elissa Leibowitz-Poma: For nearly a decade, office manager of The Post sports department.

Stan Kasten: President of the Washington Nationals. Came to town in 2006 with a plan for the team's future he promises will work. But in my lifetime?

Aviva Kempner: Washington's prize-winning film documentarian whose latest project might be "The Decade of Tony and Mike."

David Kindred: Former columnist for The Post who in 1983 wrote this lead for the front page of the Feb.1, 1983 newspaper the day after the Redskins won their first Super Bowl:

"Dreamy, so dreamy, floating in a rosy jewel of a bowl at the foot of mountains caressed by clouds and snow, the Washington Redskins won the World Championship they last held 40 years ago. The Hog who wears the top hat and tails, John Riggins, made the earth tilt the Redskins' way as the chill of the night and defeat settled on Miami's Dolphins, 27-17."

Michael Kane, CPA, Bethesda: He had best come up large, or the chill of the night and defeat will settle on me this year.

Olie Kolzig: Goalie for the Washington Capitals who spent most of 16 seasons between the pipes for the team until being released in 2008. Had the longest career of any Capital. Now plays for Tampa Bay. The ultimate mensch, in my book.

Ted and Mark Lerner: Owners of the Washington Nationals, entrusted by this baseball-starved community to put a respectable team on the field and run a professional operation in a great ballpark built by the city.

Ted Leonsis: Owner of the Washington Caps who had a plan and stuck to it despite much criticism (from me) when the team sunk to the bottom after discarding high-paid veterans. He now sees the fruits of his patience. Also majority owner of the WNBA's Mystics.

Barry Lorge: Best tennis writer The Post ever had. He subsequently moved to San Diego, where he became a sports editor and later opened a public relations firm. Passed away this year.

George McPhee: Capitals general manager who put together a team that reached the Stanley Cup finals (1998) in his first year and saw it slip for several years until rebounding into a Cup contender. Drafting Alex Ovechkin No. 1 in 2004 helped.

Jeanne McManus: Former deputy sports editor known as "Nancy" in Tony Kornheiser's Style columns.

Kojo Nnamdi: WAMU radio host who talks to me once a month about weighty subjects of which I know little.

Susan O'Malley: As president of the Wizards, she was the first female president of an NBA team (1991) and for years the highest-ranking female executive in professional sports. She retired in 2007 as president of the Washington Wizards. In the team's "down" years, O'Malley created ads to lure fans to the arena to see visiting all-stars -- a campaign that could resume shortly. Like next week.

Andy Ockershausen: Comcast executive who, as GM of WMAL-AM, set a record for firing the same two people in one decade when he canned Andrew Beyer and me seven times from our radio show ("It's Just a Game") in the 1970s.

Kevin Payne: President of D.C. United and a force in Major League Soccer. Wants a new soccer stadium.

Abe Pollin: The most important sports figure in the Washington area. Owner of the Washington Wizards and Verizon Center; also brought the National Hockey League to town by obtaining an expansion (Capitals) franchise in 1974 and a WNBA expansion team (Mystics) in 1997. Built, with his own resources, Capital Centre in Landover and 11 years ago Verizon Center that helped revitalized its downtown neighborhood. Sold the Caps, Mystics and a minority share of the Wizards and arena several years ago to Leonsis's Lincoln Holdings.

Pepper Rodgers: Former Redskins executive and head coach at Kansas, UCLA, Georgia Tech and with the Memphis Showboats (USFL). One of few people in town who will still play golf with me.

Matthew Simon: Rabbi Emeritus, B'nai Israel Congregation (Rockville) and lifelong Chicago White Sox fan who, in sermons, often quoted New York Times sportswriter Ira Berkow (never Post writers) -- driving me crazy.

Ray Schoenke: One of the 75 greatest Redskins, in my book.

Leonard Shapiro: Former deputy sports editor who has skillfully covered golf, pro football and the media for five decades.

Daniel M. Snyder: Owner of the Redskins who, for the past 10 years, had built the franchise into one of the most valuable in sports. Has spent huge money in genuine efforts to improve the team but has just three playoff appearances to show for it. Rarely gives on-the-record interviews.

Solomon grandchildren: Bennett (6), Bryan (5), Jake (3) Cassie (2) and Harry (1 week). All talented and gifted, despite questionable parenting.

Mark Taff: Brilliant dentist and Wizards season ticket holder now willing to sell off some tickets to selected games.

John Thompson: A Washingtonian who played at Providence and for the Celtics was Georgetown's basketball coach from 1972 to 1999. His teams went to 20 NCAA tournaments, winning the national championship in 1984. But more important than his records were his stances on social issues that always seemed more important than the trophies and plaques he won. Now a radio and television commentator, what stands out in my mind about him during his time at Georgetown was his keeping a deflated basketball on a table in his office. He simply wanted to show his players that some day the games end.

Talkbackers: Regular contributors Bob Moss, Tom Carr, Bob Credle, Tom Graves, Trish Boswell, Glenn Goldstein, Temple Grassi, Eugene Morgan, Barry Flax, Charlie Jurgonis, Helen Druva, Peter Hamner, Bill Irvin, Ben Mirman, Eric Leiter, Nelson Marans, Marty Chase and Roger Hand.

Binh M. Tran: Physical therapist able to move old bones.

Wes Unseld: Agent 0 (remember him?) notwithstanding, Unseld, to me, remains the player who epitomized the best in professional basketball in this city.

Gary Williams: Maryland's basketball coach whose 2002 team won the school's only men's basketball NCAA title. Seventh-winningest (604-343) men's coach still active. Sweats a lot during games.

Morgan Wootten: Retired DeMatha basketball coach. In the Basketball Hall of Fame with a record of 1,274-192.

Jack Zane: Retired Maryland sports information director who years ago threw Feinstein out of his press room but now denies it.

Ben Zelenko: Lawyer who for more than 30 years kept me out of courtrooms.

Duke Zeibert: The late restaurateur who ran the best eatery ever in Washington, which once housed a case with three Super Bowl trophies. The joint was so comfortable that the late sportswriter Morrie Siegel, when asked why he ate there so often, once said, "Because I don't like going out to eat."

And what a neat way to close this column -- writing about Zeibert and Siegel, who would have correctly complained that this piece was too long.

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