What Grantland Rice had to say about Jess Willard, the 'drab outline'

(ED. NOTE -- The following is culled from a highly entertaining and
informative book, published by Oxford University Press in 1993, entitled,
"Sportswriter: The Life and Times of Grantland Rice," by Mr. Charles Fountain,
an associate professor of journalism at Boston University.)

...(Rice) was particularly disdainful of Jess Willard, who had taken the
heavyweight championship away from Jack Johnson in 1915, calling him "a drab
outline against a dull gray sky." (Page 132)

...Rice must have found it hard to root for anyone when Dempsey met Willard in
Toledo on the Fourth of July. He had never much cared for Jess Willard, the
paunchy Kansan who had wrested the championship from Jack Johnson in 1915.
Willard had been dutifully hailed in the press following his victory -- here
finally was a "White Hope" who had delivered boxing from the "darkness" of a
Negro champion. But Willard proved a less-than-charismatic champion who also
proved less-than-eager to defend his crown. This didn't sit well with Rice,
whose notion of a champion was a man who was eager to stand on the mountaintop
and challenge all comers. Throughout the prewar years Rice commented
frequently about the number of "minutes" Willard had worked since winning his
crown. Willard eschewed defending his title in favor of touring with a circus,
all the while finding it difficult to push himself away from the table at
mealtimes -- habits that earned Rice's scorn. "Why doesn't he challenge one of
his own elephants," said Rice. "In a matter of weight, at least, the match
should be all to the fifty-fifty." When Willard did fight, Rice was scornful
of his performance.

"If boxing, as now conducted in this ten-round, strictly business affairs, is
brutal," wrote Rice after watching Willard successfully defend his title
against Frank Moran in March of 1916, "then dancing should be stopped on
account of its innate cruelty and savagery. There are times when even an
expert can't tell which of the two sports is under way."

When Willard failed to show up for a New York tribute to French sailors in
1917, Rice's disgust was absolute. It was here that he referred to Willard as
"a drab outline against a dull gray sky," saying that the champion's arrogance
and irresponsibility were "an excellent tip-off on the fight game today" --
words that carried an extra edge in light of a push to ban boxing in the state
of New York, a push that was gathering momentum during those months. (Pages

...When Rice arrived in Toledo a week before the fight, he noticed and told
his readers that whereas, in the Argonne the previous autumn there had been
only twenty-two correspondents to record the history-moving heroics of 700,000
American soldiers, here in Toledo there were four hundred to write of two men
whose struggles were of decidedly lesser historic import.

Included among the four hundred were Rice's Tribune colleague Bill McGeehan,
Bat Masterson, Damon Runyon, Otto Floto, Tad Jones, Rube Goldberg and Ring
Lardner. They were necessarily tripping all over one another as they sought to
service their newspapers. Under an unremitting sun, and in temperatures that
topped out above one hundred degrees, the writers moved from camp to camp --
pronouncing Willard as more fit than they had expected to find him, though not
as fit as Dempsey. They found Dempsey the harder worker, but reminded readers
that the more casual champion had six inches and more than fifty pounds on his
harder-working challenger . . . the experts didn't know who the winner would
be, but they expected the win to come by knockout.

Were they ever right. In the thick 100-plus-degree air, amidst a sea of straw
boaters giving the tony ringside crowd a few square centimeters of surcease
from the high, scorching sun, Dempsey exploded at the two-minute mark of the
first round, crashing a left into Willard's jaw. "The champion sat down
heavily," wrote Rice, "with a dazed and foolish look, a simple half-smile
crowning a mouth that was twitching with pain and bewilderment."

Six more times over the next fifty seconds, Dempsey sent the stupefied Willard
tumbling to the canvas. On the seventh occasion, coming near the two-minute,
fifty-second makr of the round, "nothing in the world but the bell could have
saved him," according to Ric. "He sat there, dazed, bewildered and helpless --
his big, bleeding mouth wide open, his glassy bloodshot eyes staring wearily
and witlessly out into space, as the 114-degree sun beat down upon his head
that was rank with perspiration and blood."

At the end of the round, referee Ollie Pecord raised Dempsey's in the air, and
the new champion began to make his way out of the ring, as "Willard was
dragged to his corner, as one might drag a sack of oats." But it was   just a
bit premature. In the din, nobody had heard the bell. Or perhaps it had
malfunctioned. Whatever, the timekeeper ruled that the champion had been saved
by the bell -- "saved" in this case being a relative term; it had really
forced Willard to stand once again, helpless before the maniacal ravages of
the "tornadic" Dempsey.

He lasted an improbable two more rounds. "It was unbelievable," wrote Rice.
"From less than ten feet away we looked on and refused to credit the vision of
our eyes. It looked as if every punch must tear away his head, but in place of
this the fount [of blood] continued to gush, the features continued to swell,
the raw meat continued to pop open in deep slits as the red surf rolled from
his shaking pulp-smashed frontispiece."

When the bell rang to start the fourth round, Willard's attendants threw into
the center of the ring to signify the battered champion's capitulation; it was
mottled crimson with the blood from Willard's many wounds. The move was
greeted with a stunned incredulity and some random boos from the crowd in
Toledo, and immediately the belittling of the fallen champion began. The fans,
perhaps disappointed at having been witness to only nine minutes of fighting,
saw the surrender as unseemly behavior for a heavyweight champion. "Did you
ever hear of any other champion who refused to get up and take it?" Rice heard
after the fight. "Why didn't he stand up like a man and take his medicine? If
he had had any fighting instinct in him . . . he would have groped his way
forward until he was knocked cold. He's nothing but a big quitter."

Rice and Bill McGeehan, who had sat next to him at ringside and wrote the page
one story on the fight for the Tribune, were aghast at what they heard in the
crowd as they moved around in the minutes after the fight. Both men had been
moved by the pluck and gallantry that Willard had shown in accepting Dempsey's
punishment, and both made it a point to say so in their stories. "While
Dempsey gave one of the greatest exhibitions of mighty hitting as anyone here
has ever seen, Willard, in a different way, gave one of the greatest
exhibitions of raw and unadulterated gameness," said Rice. "Never in the
history of the ring, dating back to days beyond all memory, has any champion
ever received the murderous punishment which 245-pound Jess Willard soaked up
in that first round and the two rounds that followed."

McGeehan said: "No one can say of Willard that he lacked courage. He held a
big and stout heart to have carried him through the second and third rounds."
(Pages 165-166)


(Philadelphia Inquirer, Saturday, December 12, 1998)

By Bill Lyon

He always wore a beret, one crocheted by his wife, and a little sprig of gray
goatee on his chin. And the serene smile of a monk. Asked a question, he would
close his eyes and consider it from all sides before suggesting an answer.
You'd swear you could hear the ticking of a grandfather clock.

He was such a peaceful man, you'd never have guessed he'd made his living
hitting other people with his fists. "Never felt any particular ill will towards 
them, though," he said. "It was a job."

The job was to hit and, more important, not be hit. Archie Moore was
especially good at the second part. It was said that he could duck a bullet.
He called himself "The Mongoose," after the furry little fury that is the only
thing quicker than the cobra.

"Constant punching," he would say, explaining his desire to avoid getting hit,
"can cause severe implications."

He never seemed to be in a hurry, and you were never in a hurry to leave him.
You were always afraid you might miss something wise.

"It is true," he liked to say, "that good things come to those who wait. But
the secret, you see, is to be able to wait long enough."

Archibold Lee Wright, a.k.a. Archie Moore, was an engaging and wily self-
promoter who bore no ill will toward anyone and who was forever reinventing
himself. He will be laid to rest this weekend, and if you were ever privileged
to share time with him, you will wish desperately for his reincarnation. There
ought to a Mongoose in everyone's life.

He was a professional fistfighter for 27 years and engaged in 228 bouts, of
which he won 194. That's the equal of 10 careers in the ring these days.

He brought a nobility, a dignity, to a savage sport. For all of boxing's
brutality, the Mongoose treated it with reverence.

"Boxing is magnificent to know," he would rhapsodize, eyes closing, the monk's
smile of serenity spreading across his face. "But she is very demanding. The
price is steep. But if you love her, if you give her your all, ahhhhh, then
she will unfold her mysteries to you, like so. . . ."

And he would spread his fingers, pantomiming the unfolding of a flower.

He was the best show in town. If there was a con, it wasn't detectable. For
some reason, he liked writers and would willingly spend time in their company
-- and not just to drum up interest in himself. He liked to talk about the
creative process, and you always suspected that he had the soul of a poet.

In 1960, he played the role of Jim in the movie The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn. He did research for the part. In the process, he discovered something
even more magical than boxing.


"I didn't have time to read when I was a kid," he said. "I was busy earning a
living. So I read the book before we filmed the movie. Now that I've found
books, I'm really living."

He was well past 40 by then.

His last fight was in the spring of 1963, when he was almost 50. Or so the
record book said. The Mongoose and the record book were never exactly in sync
when it came to the subject of his nativity. That was purposeful on his part.

This was his reasoning: "The less you tell people about yourself, then the
more interested they become."

Presented with what appeared to be irrefutable evidence that he had been born
in 1913 rather than, as he sometimes claimed, in 1910, he closed his eyes and
thought on it for a while, then replied: "I have concluded that at the moment
of my birth, I was 3 years old."

What we do know is that he was the light-heavyweight champion of the world for
11 years, at a time when there weren't alphabet-soup organizations handing out
synthetic titles.

His first purse was $10.

"Haven't seen that money yet," he said. "Don't matter. I was in love. I'd of
done it for nothing."

He fought in Tasmania and in Tiajuana, in Flint and in Fresno, in Hollywood
and in London. He fought men named Piano Mover and Professor, Irish Bob and
Honeyboy, Tiger and Bandit. He fought Rocky Marciano, and he fought Muhammad
Ali. He brought great distinction to a bloody craft.

And when he was done, he took up the fight against drugs.

He married -- frequently. Five times in all, according to his math. The last
one took. He and Joan were together more than 40 years.

The Mongoose was ambassador and mentor, trainer and adviser, saver of lost
young souls. His last appearance in the spotlight was made with George
Foreman, another man of geriatric mystery.
"Archie's my inspiration," Foreman would say. "There aren't many men older
than me. He'd tell me not to worry about my age, that I'm just a growing boy.
He was the only one who could make me do something I didn't want to do. Plus,
he gave me two secrets."

That last remark never failed to ignite questions.

Secrets? What secrets?

The Mongoose smiled serenely.

"They are not to be known by wayfarers and such," he whispered. "They are
breathology and escapology."
Eyebrows leapt.

"You take away the other man's breath," he explained, "and then you escape."

And he closed his eyes and smiled.

                      ARCHIE MOORE WAS ONE FOR THE AGES 

(Dallas Morning News, Saturday, December 12, 1998)

By Frank Luksa

Archie Moore died the other day at age 81 or 84. Moore claimed Dec. 15, 1916,
as his birth date, but his mother, who had better recall of the event, said
her son was born on the same day in 1913.

Ring records adopted the earlier date, and the dispute mattered little over
the span of Moore's 27-year career. He fought young until retiring at a
middle-aged 49. Or 46. Moore was a marvel. A boxer-puncher for all ages.

I interviewed Moore once and recovered the notes upon news of his death in
California. The year of our chat is missing but can be vaguely dated as pre-
Mike Tyson. Archie sounded spry and must have been at least 70 by then. Or 67.

He spoke of his title fight against Rocky Marciano in 1955, and how he had
Marciano down in the second round. He retrieved a less endearing memory of the
youthful Muhammad Ali. He returned to the classic with Yvon Durelle in which
Archie was knocked down three times in the first, once in the fifth, yet kept
his light-heavyweight crown with an 11th-round knockout at age 44. Or 41.

Moore ranked Joe Frazier as the closest replica of a latter-day Marciano. Ali
and Floyd Patterson in his prime had the fastest hand speed of heavyweights he
met. His stories unfolded thusly . . .

Archie spent $50,000 on newspaper ads to goad Marciano into the ring. His
strategy lay in provoking Marciano into such pre-fight anger that the champion
would lose composure under combat. It almost worked.

Moore taunted Marciano at their contract signing with a reminder that he
watched Jersey Joe Walcott put Rocky down for the first time in his career.
That made Marciano sore. Even madder when Moore said he wouldn't be backing
up. Nor would he be getting up. Rocky couldn't knock him down.

Marciano fought the first round under control. He even tried to box. The
second round bell sounded and . . .

"He comes out like a bull out of chute," Moore said. "Swung a punch that
landed on my neck. Swung another. Now I think, 'Here he comes with an overhead
right.' I pulled back with my right foot, set my weight on my right hip and
retaliated with an uppercut."

Marciano hit the deck but didn't stay. He knocked down Moore three times en
route to a KO in the ninth.

"If I could have fought Marciano four or five years earlier, he wouldn't have
been as fully developed. I think I could have handled him. I might've beaten
Rocky earlier," said Moore. The Brawl in Montreal, Moore's title defense 
against the hard-hitting Durelle, was Archie's favorite.

"Even though I lost to Rocky, I thought this one was a more famous fight.
After the third knockdown in the first, I didn't realize I was in a fight
until the fourth round began. I was out of the ball park. That's what punches
can do."

Moore was the only man to fight Marciano and Ali, who knocked him out in the
fourth round in 1962. However, Ali's post-fight conduct insulted Archie's
sense of decorum.

"I'd trained Ali for several months. He knew my stuff," Moore said. "He was
assured of being so young he could move around me. It wasn't much of a fight.
When he knocked me down and they stopped the fight, he crowed like a rooster.

"That was embarrassing to me. He was young enough to be my son. I thought, 'If
he sticks around long enough, it'll happen to him.' And it did in the form of
Larry Holmes.

"When they fought, Ali sat dejectedly in his corner with his head almost
between his knees. Defeated. What he put out came back to him."

Ali offended the old warrior by gloating over a fallen rival. Moore embraced a
loftier code of conduct through 228 fights in which he scored a record 141

"I never pranced around or jumped into the arms of a trainer and got carried
across the ring," he said. "All a fighter needs to do is take a bow. See if
his opponent is seriously hurt. If not, shake his hand and leave the ring.
Then he's a gentleman and a real fighter."

Moore didn't warm to Marciano - even though Rocky did comfort him in defeat -
until years later. Archie answered a tap on his door and there stood drop-in
visitors Marciano and former featherweight champion Willie Pep.

"We sat and talked for about an hour. Mostly about the future," Moore
recalled. "Rocky said he was going to make commercials. He'd invested in some
farm land. Next thing I heard was that Rocky was killed in an airplane crash."

Now Moore is also gone, having fought the good fight. More good ones than most
during a career that began in 1936 at age 22. Or maybe 19.