Telander hunts and pecks his way to the top

By The Columbia Chronicle

Rick Telander can’t type. Nothing wrong with that. He’ll even be the first to confess, though no one has questioned it … yet.

“I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me if I could type, and the answer is no,” said Telander, a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and a contributing writer for the new ESPN: The Magazine.

He also co-anchors a sports roundtable called “The Sports Reporters” in New York once a month and is an established author.

When you’re a well-known sports writer, “hunting and pecking” with slow fingers could pose a problem.

You know, deadlines and all that requires speed in what Telander calls a “hurry-up offense kind of time.”

But truth be told, the soon-to-be 50-year-old Telander has been the one leaving everyone behind in the past half-century.

Maybe its his experience playing defensive back in college that has helped him to cover sports astutely.

Telander left the purple pastures of Northwestern University with an English literature degree in 1971after a standout four-year academic and football career. Then he joined the Kansas City Chiefs the same year as an 8th-round draft choice.

They cut him before the season began.

That’s when Telander started carving out his career.

He armed himself with a portfolio that contained almost everything he had written: three stories from the Daily Northwestern, a few clips from his hometown paper— the Peoria Journal-Star– and a couple of items from the old Midwest Magazine in the Sun-Times.

And he headed to Sports Illustrated with a battle plan.

“It was brash. I didn’t know who to send (the story) to and I was very apologetic. I wanted to have something to show them, so I showed them the stuff I had written.

“I knew that what I was writing was something that SI might be interested in.”

“Obviously I had no background or credentials. But two things I did right were: For one, I was very familiar with SI since I’ve read it, so I knew their format. And second, I knew I had a pretty good first-person story to tell.”

Many more were soon to follow.

SI hired Telander as a writer, and he labored for his love for them until the early ‘90s, when he landed at the Sun-Times as a columnist.

He also penned a number of books, beginning in 1974 with “Heaven is a Playground,” which was later made into a movie.

In fact, Telander is currently at work on another novel. But this time he’s trying something a little different — a fiction piece written from the point-of-view of an 8-year-old. It tells the plight of a boy’s life gone so wrong that the woods seem like a better place to be.

“I don’t know why the hell I’m writing it. I have no idea why, but I’ve wanted to for years, so I’m doing it,” said Telander. The book is already 40,000 words long.

The human aspect is what drew him into this field and what keeps him going.

“The passion, the athleticism … that’s there even at the lowest level at the junior-high game or the pee-wee league game. That’s the part I like. You run the gamut of human emotion in sports.

“I know I’ve even cried at a couple of my kids’ events,” said Telander, who has four children, 16, 15, 12 and 8. “Just because it’s so tear-jerking. Seeing your kids happy or sad is such an emotional moment.”

Keeping sharp is something that Telander wrestles with on a daily basis. “Whether with wit or humor, I try to be intelligent,” he said, “and keep them from getting bored.”

Never being satisfied will drive anyone to greater heights, and that’s especially true for Telander.

“The feeling that, ‘Holy mackerel, I can do this,’ is incredible. Everyone needs that feeling — you have to get it at some point. But then that feeling is immediately replaced by, ‘can I do this again?’”

In Telander’s case, the answer has been a resounding yes.