The best of Boz

Fifty years of Thomas Boswell’s favorite Washington Post stories

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Thomas Boswell’s first byline in The Washington Post was a 250-word high school football game story about Archbishop Carroll’s Metropolitan Athletic Conference title-clinching win over DeMatha on a last-second safety in November 1969. The look of the Sports section and the names of the other writers who filled its pages would change over the next 52 years, but Boswell was a constant and delightful presence, chronicling the biggest moments in Washington and national sports with millions of words filed from around the world.

As he heads into retirement, here’s a look at some of Boswell’s favorite and most memorable work, which showcases the depth and breadth of a writer who entertained and educated while sharing observations about life through sports.

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Nov. 16, 1969

Carroll wins on late safety; DeMatha loses bid for title

Carroll used a safety on the final play of the game to overcome DeMatha, 10-8, yesterday at Carroll, win the Metropolitan Athletic Conference championship and complete a 10-0 season. The area’s top-ranked team recorded its second safety of the game after time had expired. Robin Lawrence, DeMatha’s reserve quarterback, inserted in the lineup for one last desperation pass, was tackled in the end zone by John McGowan. Read more

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Feb. 18, 1978

Nobody knows king of pool

King James Rempe, the hellhound of pool, stalked the table with a werewolf’s hypnotic stare, his eyes at last alive, his mane bristling as though a full moon had finally broken through the midnight clouds. Read more

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June 22, 1980

The Fight: Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Roberto Duran

MONTREAL — Boxing at its best is beastly.

If that assumption holds no appeal, then you cannot relish the stirring and horrid spectacle of Roberto Duran’s public assault on Sugar Ray Leonard here on Friday.

Boxing is about pain. It is a night out for the carnivore in us, the hidden beast who is hungry. Read more

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May 31, 1981

Vice, vigor and vision: A portrait of the rebel as baseball’s Barnum

You may notice his wooden leg first, but it’s his face that you remember. It’s a wreck, as in Veeck. Here is a man with a gift of radiant homeliness. “How can you be a sage if you’re pretty?” rumbles Bill Veeck, with a rhinocerine laugh. “You can’t get your wizard papers without wrinkles.” For 35 years, with various hiatuses for exile or illness, Veeck has been both baseball’s most intellectual sage and its most gleefully vulgar wizard. Read more

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June 28, 1981

London calling: The plight of an improper stranger

The proper way to arrive at one’s first Wimbledon is to hail a shiny black London cab beside Hyde Park, then sit back in luxury until one has been chauffeured past the long queues of ticket-hungry mortals in Church Road and deposited regally at the main gate of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

It is not considered proper to leave one’s wallet, with all one’s money, credit cards and credentials, in the back seat of the taxi.

Nor is it considered absolutely de rigeur to drop all one's parcels in the middle of the street, then chase the cab as it heads back to London, screaming as one goes, “Stop that taxi!”

However, I did it my way. Read more

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April 8, 1984

Thompson: Magnificence, obsession

Late Monday night in Seattle, John Thompson gathered his Georgetown Hoyas around him and told his new NCAA champions where he hoped they would direct some of their thoughts in their hour of joy.

“There were a helluva lot of players who came before you who are not in this locker room tonight, but who helped make this possible,” Thompson said he told his players, thinking of many a Merlin Wilson and Craig Shelton, Derrick Jackson and Tommy Scates. “Don’t forget all the people who got this program where it is now.” Read more

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Feb. 6, 1986

A dose of success without a portion of excellence is not a healthy mixture

There is no substitute for excellence. Not even success. Many people, particularly in sports, believe that success and excellence are the same.

They're not.

No distinction in the realm of games is more important. Read more

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April 14, 1986

Nicklaus a master again

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Some things cannot possibly happen, because they are both too improbable and too perfect.

The U.S. hockey team cannot beat the Russians in the 1980 Olympics.

Jack Nicklaus cannot shoot 65 to win the Masters at age 46.

Nothing else comes immediately to mind. Read more

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July 21, 1989

The sorrowful truth: Nothing to forgive

This is for Bill Buckner, Ralph Branca, John McNamara, Tom Niedenfuer, Don Denkinger, Johnny Pesky and Gene Mauch. It’s for the ’64 Phillies, the ’78 Red Sox, the ’87 Blue Jays and every Cub since World War II. In particular, it’s for Donnie Moore, who shot his wife, then committed suicide this week.

You, and countless others who get branded as “goats” in sports, didn’t do anything wrong. We know it, though we almost never say it. Just once, let’s put it in words: The reason we don’t forgive you is because there’s nothing to forgive in the first place. You tried your best and failed. In games, there’s a law that says somebody has to lose. Read more

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March 6, 1993

Yielding to weight of night

Millions of people face the problem, not just Joe Gibbs. It's so basic that William Butler Yeats just called his poem “The Choice.”

“The intellect of man is forced to choose perfection of the life or of the work,” wrote the Irish poet.

The best poet of the 20th century knew that the idea of “having it all” was nonsense before anybody ever dreamed up such a fatuous phrase. If you want to win the Super Bowl or write “The Tower,” it doesn’t just happen. You slave for decades at your craft. And hope you get lucky too. Coaches call it “sacrifice” and “dedication.” What they mean is that for every ounce of excellence that you want to add to your professional life, you have to rip a pound’s worth of soul out of the quality of your private life. Read more

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Sept. 7, 1995

History, fans embrace Ripken in 2,131st game

BALTIMORE — After 10 minutes, the cheers had not begun to subside. No matter how many curtain calls Cal Ripken took or how many fireworks exploded on the roof of Oriole Park at Camden Yards tonight, it was simply not enough. Not after the top of the fifth inning, when Ripken had just, officially, played in his 2,131st consecutive game, breaking Lou Gehrig’s monumental record that had stood since 1939. Read more

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Nov. 27, 2004

If sports is a game, why do its lessons last a lifetime?

In 1964, St. Stephen’s led Landon by one run in the bottom of the last inning with the Interstate Athletic Conference baseball championship at stake. With one out, Landon loaded the bases. The next batter hit a groundball to third base.

The St. Stephen’s third baseman had a choice. Take the easy forceout at home plate or try to start a quick around-the-horn game-ending championship-winning double play. He picked the latter. But, in a split second of haste to get the throw started toward second base, he forgot to catch the ball. The grounder went through his legs untouched. Two runs scored. Landon won.

And we lost. Or rather I lost, since I was the 16-year-old third baseman. Read more

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April 15, 2005

At RFK, good times are here again

Baseball arrived in Washington at precisely 8:14 last night at RFK Stadium when Vinny Castilla sliced a triple into the right field corner in the fourth inning of a scoreless game. Two swift Nationals, Jose Vidro and Jose Guillen, raced around the bases to score the first runs in a major league game in this town in 34 years. As Castilla slid into third, the crowd behind the home dugout jumped up and down in unison, just as it had risen as one at the end of the first half-inning in a spontaneous ovation for two strikeouts by starter Livan Hernandez. Read more

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Dec. 14, 2007

The Rocket’s descent

Now, Roger Clemens joins Barry Bonds in baseball’s version of hell. It’s a slow burn that lasts a lifetime, then, after death, lingers as long as the game is played and tongues can wag. In baseball, a man’s triumphs and his sins are immortal. The pursuit of one often leads to the other. And those misdeeds are seldom as dark as their endless punishment. Read more

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July 20, 2009

There’s poetry in this near miss

Sport is one method by which mankind tests the limits of our humanity. On Sunday at the British Open, Tom Watson almost redefined us all.

Almost. Read more

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Nov. 3, 2016

You knew it couldn’t come easily, but the Cubs are World Series champions

CLEVELAND — The Chicago Cubs won the World Series here Wednesday night for the young, the old and the long dead, too. Of course these Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians, 8-7, in 10 thrilling, brain-warping innings in Game 7 for themselves, for their own joy and glory. Read more

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Jan. 20, 2017

In sports, rules and results matter. That’s increasingly refreshing.

As a sportswriter, I live in a strange place: a realm where facts are still facts. And fans of sports live there, too.

How is this possible?

Aren’t we living in the well-publicized “post-fact age”? Hardly a week passes when we don’t see more theories on how our Information Age devolved into a post-truth disinformation pox. Read more

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June 8, 2018

For Capitals and their fans, tears of joy replace years of frustration

LAS VEGAS — The Caps’ cup, their Stanley Cup, runneth over, at last. For decades, the Washington Capitals and their fans could have filled the huge Stanley Cup with their tears of frustration. Now they can fill it with tears of joy. Read more

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April 15, 2019

After Sunday, there’s no debate: This is sports’ greatest comeback ever

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods plays golf with his hat on so we don’t see his balding head, meaning many found it easy Sunday to mistake this year’s 43-year-old Masters champion — the once and current king of golf’s most glowing moment — for the elegant 21-year-old who won his first green jacket here 22 years and one day earlier. Read more

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Nov. 1, 2019

Nats’ postseason upset run was the greatest in MLB history, with moments we’ll never forget

HOUSTON — Often, the morning after a big sports event, you wake up and think, “Oh, no.” You don’t like what you wrote. Or, sometimes, you even figure out — while you were sleeping — what you should have written, as if the central kernel of the subject floats up from your unconscious, then sticks its tongue out at you as you drink your first cup of coffee.

But Halloween morning, everything in me awoke and said, “Oh, YES!” Read more

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Feb. 14, 2020

This was the time for the Astros to own their cheating. Maybe they missed their sign.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — On one side of Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, Houston Astros owner Jim Crane was deep into damage control and implausible deniability Thursday. On the day his team picked to give rehearsed remarks and canned answers to why his team cheated to win the 2017 World Series — “we feel remorse . . . I’m sorry . . . we made bad decisions . . . let’s move on” — Crane couldn’t stop putting his foot in his mouth.

“This didn’t impact the game,” he said, “and we won the World Series.”

What!? Read more

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Oct. 20, 2020

The World Series has framed my life. After 44 years, I’m sitting this one out.

Since 1975, I’ve covered every World Series game for The Washington Post. My streak will end Tuesday at 252 games. Including travel days, I’ve spent more than a year covering the World Series.

Last month, I decided not to go to this World Series, because I don’t think it’s smart for a 72-year-old man in a pandemic. But I still hated making that call.

No matter the reason, I’ll miss the marvelous misery of covering the World Series this year. Read more

Scott Allen has written about the Capitals, Nationals, Washington Football Team, Wizards and more for The Washington Post's D.C. Sports Bog since 2014.
Brianna Schroer is a print and digital designer for The Washington Post.