Award-winning sportswriter Frank Deford keeps only one work-related picture on his desk.
And it's not him at a Super Bowl, or a Final Four or a World Series. Heck, it's not even with his dear departed (and still badly missed friend) Al McGuire sitting at some fine Milwaukee-area greasy spoon enjoying a lunch.
No, it's of him dancing in a bar during the 1999 soccer World Cup.
Deford takes up the story thusly while making his incisive and occasionally sentimental speech at Marquette University the afternoon of Sept. 17. He had gone to Cameroon, home of the fabled "Indomitable Lions", during the World Cup to see if he could juxtapose the reality of the poverty and despair the people of the country face against the sheer joy they express in watching their team play in such a prestigious event
"And they score the first goal of the game," Deford said, "and this short, little fat lady who was standing next me just grabs me and starts dancing with me. My photographer was with me at the time and was able to catch the image. ..It was such a picture of unbridled joy. .. and I was so sad when they later lost knowing that they may never have a chance like that again, while we here in the states can always look forward to next year for our team."
"It was at that moment that I fully understood the power that sport has."
And with that Deford deftly linked Cameroon's obsession with one sport and one team with America's multiple allegiances and multiple obsessions and how it affects education and this country's future. He was speaking as part of the Axthelm series of lectures that Marquette sponsors annually.
He effectively mixed drama with humorous asides such as when he pointed out that such is America's emotional entanglement with sports that: "It is reported that 81 percent of golfers would rather shoot par than spend a night with the most beautiful woman in the world. ..what a sad commentary."
Among other issues that he addressed were:
*An open concern about the boys of America, as more and more they are pushed into sports earlier and earlier ("By adults who should know better"), much to the detriment of their schooling.
He reported that at some point in the near future that nearly 67 percent of all college students will be women, a trend he viewed with horror.
*He also lamented and linked the declining state of serious journalism with the rapid downfall of newspapers. He talked about who will be out there to do the "gumshoe" investigative reporting that is needed to keep the powers that be that run our world honest.
"Sure, blogging is great, it's the return of the diary," he said, "but who's going to do the hard stuff (journalism) that gives the bloggers something to write about? I couldn't do what I do without them (investigative reporters). What's going to happen when they're gone?"
*And the hypocrisy of college athletics.
"It (the tremendous emphasis colleges put on their sports teams) has grave and negative effects," he said. "Coaches and alumni lobby so hard on the behalf of their recruits. You don't see them do that for music majors."
And as added emphasis to that point he noted the Alabama football coach Nick Saban makes more in a year than all the scholarship money the state gives out in a year.
"Sports has two great myths," Deford said "The first is that of 'next year', there's always 'next year' and the second is that university presidents will finally clean up the mess that is college athletics... We're (the fans) all unindicted co-conspirators."
*And he also noted that the emphasis America gives to sports reaches all levels, including the White House, where on one occasion in the 1990s, he and his wife were at a reception where they were to meet President and Mrs.Clinton, but in a curious turn of events, it was First Lady Hillary Clinton who said "I'd know that voice anywhere."
But as Deford noted to great laughter: "The President didn't know me for jack".
His speech was not all doom and gloom. He ingratiated himself easily with the near-capacity crowd at Weasler Auditorium. Erudite and natty as expected in a black suit with a lavender tie, Deford acted every bit the Princeton man that he is but wasn't afraid to let out the slovenly sportswriter in him on occasion.
"I'm always intimidated to be in the bosom of academia," said the man who has been honored by close to a 100 universities for his award-winning commentaries, books and detailed reporting, "As one legendary coach who has been exiled to the wilds of West Texas said: "The best time in any sportwriter's life is the three years he spends in second grade.'"
He was of course referring to the well-known "friend" of media, national-championship winning basketball coach and noted chair-thrower Bobby Knight.
Deford also recalled loving details of his favorite interview McGuire, noting that Al always got interested in a story "like a car slowly coming to rest" and that no coach ever had a better exit (the national title in 1977) than he did.
And he linked this obsession to the rise and fall of sportswriting in this country. How it's been looked down upon by "serious" journalists as nothing but "play", but noting that that scorn was filled with envy because sportswriters can do away with some basic journalistic morays and develop their own strong narrative voice.
He spoke of the stereotypes that fill our minds when it comes to sportswriters and points out that some of them are dreadfully true.
"We are horrible dressers," he said. "You see us en masse and you are looking at the 'anti GQ'".
But sportswriters do serve a purpose, he said, as he sees the members of his profession helping make sense of the vast continuum that is the field itself.
"It's fun," he said. "People want to read it. It has competition, a denouement and a climax. Someone wins, someone loses. It's done by the young and the strong and because they are young they often say things that are the dreams of every journalist. ..It (sportswiritng) has even begun to affect political and entertainment writing."
And because sports is so universal, everyone in this country knows who you're talking about when you refer to Yogi (Berra: who famously responded to a friend he was driving with one time who said they were lost "Oh that's too bad, we were really making good time too.").
Or Ali (As in Muhummad, the world's most famous athlete) who Deford was with as part of a photo shoot of the champ a few years ago at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. Acknowledging that Ali was such a lightning rod during the Vietnam War, Deford was unsure of the response Ali would get from all those visiting the site with its long, striking black wall covered with the names of the fallen.
"But women ran to him and embraced him," Deford said. "They asked me to take their picture with him. I knew at that point that the war was finally over."
Moments like that Deford noted make sports "A unifying agent." Something that people can cling to when all else is going wrong.
"For all its abuses," he said. "It is the ring that holds us together."