Now, more from my interview with Washington Post sports columnist John Feinstein, the author of 35 books.
“Quarterback” was the prolific author’s current book when we talked by phone while he was driving back East after attending the Final Four. Among his New York Times bestsellers is 1986’s “A Season on the Brink.” That’s the book about the year he shadowed Indiana University’s basketball team and its infamously (wink) equanimous coach Bobby Knight.
There’s a Minnesota connection to “A Season on the Brink,” thanks to Sid Hartman, Strib sports columnist.
Q: When was the last time you crossed paths with Bob Knight, and how did that go?
A: It was May of 2018. It was at the players championship. He was participating in a celebrity event. I was standing in the lobby talking to David Cone, the old pitcher, who was also playing in the event. Bob was on the other side of the lobby talking to a guy named Jeff Sluman, who once won the PGA championship. David said to me, “If Bob Knight comes over here right now, what’s going to happen?” I said, “David, I have no idea. He might ignore me, he might curse me out, he might hug me.” I’ve had all those responses from him at different times.
Bob came over a few minutes later and could not have been more friendly. David said, “What happened?” I said, “Well, I guess he remembers who I am, but he has forgotten how much he hates me.”
Q: Isn’t Bobby Knight in his 70s?
Q: OK. Well, Sid Hartman, who was still a pistol through his 70s and 80s, just turned 99, and he’s finally mellowing, somewhat.
A: I saw him at the games this weekend. I’ll tell you a Minnesota story.
As I am sure you know, Sid has been friends with Knight for years and years and years. Indiana lost a game at Iowa on a Thursday night. They got hammered. Then Knight flew from Iowa to Minneapolis because they were going to play Minnesota Saturday night. After a loss, Knight would make coaches stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning looking at the tape because he knew there was a secret in there somewhere.
So we got up for breakfast the next morning on about four hours’ sleep and Sid came walking into breakfast. When [Knight] is in a bad mood he’ll just ignore people, even friends of his. He wouldn’t even look up and Sid sat down. He understood what was going on, he didn’t say anything.
Walking out of breakfast, [Sid asked Feinstein], “What are you going to do all day in the snow?” It was February. Surprise, it’s snowing. I said, “Well, I’m just going to do what I do every day, Sid. I’m going to follow Knight around,” and Bob whirled, pointed his finger in my face and started screaming. “Don’t you ever call me Knight! Who do you think you are? You’re 28 blanking years old. You call me Bob. You call me coach. Don’t you ever call me Knight!”
I had learned by then you can’t have an argument with him in front of his coaches. He’s got to win the argument. I said, “Well, I’ll see you at practice.” And I went for a walk in the snow.
I was very frustrated and tired and I said to myself: “Every day we’re on the brink of another disaster. Win or loss, we are on the brink of something every single day.” And I said, “Wait a minute. That’s the title to the book, ‘A Season on the Brink.’ ”
So, Sid Hartman was indirectly responsible for me coming up with the title to that book.
Q: That’s very sweet, but let me get this straight. It’s OK to call him “coach” or “Bob,” but “Knight” is disrespectful?
A: Someone got fired because a kid walked past him one day and said, “What’s up, Knight?” and Knight went ballistic. When Knight went testy, I wasn’t talking to him. I was talking to Sid. What I was doing was putting myself down, like I don’t have any life, I’m just going to follow Knight around like I always do.
C.J. can be reached at email@example.com and seen on Fox 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.