As sure as The New York Times copy editors put periods in “N.C.A.A.” or The Classical essayists reference hip hop, Sports Illustrated writers use third person. Sure, on the back page column, you’ll find an occasional “I” or “me,” and sometimes the magazine allows athletes or agents or, most recently, photographers. But the magazine generally has flouted the first-person trend taking over thoughtful sports writing.
The opening line of Price’s profile of TCU football coach Gary Patterson, then, stunned me. “ ‘So, do you think I’ve changed?’ Gary Patterson asks, almost shyly, the words coming from so far out of nowhere that I know he’s been wondering awhile,” Price writes.
Price is the modern king of the sports profile. He’s written definitively on Calipari and Meyer and Djokovic and Messi and all sorts of other folks in all sorts of other sports. He profiles the biggest names in sports, and he does it with a grace and truthfulness that is difficult to top. He’s consistently ranked among the best working sports writers, and his work has been published in six editions of Best American Sports Writingfor good reason.
Here, he tells his own story as it crosses over into Patterson’s story. The two were housemates as young professionals in Davis, Calif., and Price recalls stories of the precocious young football coach living above the kitchen. “I didn’t think much about him—not professionally, anyway—because I was writing about Reggie Theus, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, inside stories about comebacks and feuds and self-made winners, and thought I had an infallible sense of what all that looked like,” Price writes.
The story is about two bachelors destined for great things living in a cramped house in a Sacramento suburb. It’s a profile. But it’s also a personal essay. It’s unusual for Sports Illustrated, even more so for Price. But it’s essential: It’s one of the best writers of our generation breaking out of his shell just a little while preserving the polish and flair that has come to define him.