Behind The Scenes

The National mini-reunion for alumni of paper with ex-EIC Frank Deford

Some ESPN employees who were “The National” staffers flank Frank Deford (third from left) including (l-r) Craig Winston, Sheldon Spencer, Susie Kamb, Larry Starks, Vince Doria and Alex Kimball. (Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)

Being an ESPN employee means I call some of the best sports journalists in the world my teammates.

About 22 years ago, I had the same opportunity when I joined a fledgling, daring newspaper called The National Sports Daily.

The venture, centrally headquartered at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York City, was launched to feed America’s hunger for sports news in the most thorough and engaging way a newspaper could. Headed by Sports Illustrated legend Frank Deford as editor-in-chief and publisher, the staff was composed of hundreds of the best sports journalism had to offer — and me.

From its Jan. 31, 1990 debut to its June 13, 1991 final edition, The National delivered on its mission to fill 40 pages with great sports information.

The problem was — among other things — The National itself often was not delivered. Delivery trucks would leave the docks before the newspapers — fresh with the latest, West Coast sports news — rolled off the presses.

About $150 million and 18 months into the adventure, The National closed its doors forever.

Last week at ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., headquarters, Deford was a guest of our Newsmaker luncheon series.

The author of the new memoir Over Time, Deford regaled ESPN employees with off-the-record stories about his legendary journalism career, including memories of running The National.

Today, ESPN employs about two dozen alumni of The National, including the folks pictured with Deford above.

Some of the more prominent names include Vince Doria, ESPN’s senior vice president and director of news, who was also the newspaper’s executive editor, and ESPN reporters, writers and contributors such as Chris Mortensen, Ed Hinton, Ed Werder, Tom Friend, Ian O’Connor, Mike Lupica, Mark Fainaru-Wada, Johnette Howard, Gordon Edes, Lester Munson, Norman Chad and Peter Pascarelli.

In June 2011, Grantland published an oral history of The National by Alex French and Howie Kahn. (Check out their Front & Center podcast about that and their Grantland oral history of WFAN.) I was happy to be among the veterans the pair interviewed for the article entitled The Greatest Paper That Ever Died.

A look at the June 13, 1991 final cover of The National Sports Daily and the masthead. (Courtesy Susie Kamb)
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