Don Van Natta Jr.’s career in journalism has reached peaks only imagined by most of his colleagues. A winner of multiple Pulitzer Prizes at the Miami Herald and the New York Times, Van Natta is also an accomplished author and in relatively short time with ESPN, he has made an indelible mark on the company’s sports journalism.
But it wasn’t until yesterday’s episode of the long-running game show, “Jeopardy!,” that Van Natta truly ascended to a place few will ever reach. He shares his story with Front Row:
A pal left the voicemail message at 7:57 last night: “Dude, the $1000 clue today on JEOPARDY!… ‘Wonder Girl,’ under Sports Biographies. It was awesome.”
This was an awesome surprise. “Wonder Girl” is the title of my third book, a 2011 biography of the phenomenal all-sport athlete, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, widely considered the greatest female athlete in American sports history. Born in 1911 in Port Arthur, Texas, Babe was an All-American basketball player, won two track and field gold medals at the 1932 Olympics and became a champion golfer before making an astonishing comeback from cancer in the mid-50s.
“Wonder Girl” making Jeopardy! as a clue in the category, ‘Sports Biographies” (“A sports star of the 1930s”) was as cool as hearing that contestant, Cecily Squier (see tweet below), gave Alex Trebek the correct response: “Who is Babe Didrikson Zaharias?”
— Cecily Squier (@cisslepants) May 23, 2013
Everyone in my family is fans of Jeopardy! (my mother never misses an episode — she, too, was watching last night). Making Jeopardy! is a cultural touchstone, like discovering your name or your book’s title in the New York Times crossword puzzle. (I came close, in 2003, when my first book, “First Off the Tee”, was the hidden answer in a Times’ acrostic).
Better yet, the timing was fortuitous: “Wonder Girl” was just published in paperback. My book won the United States Golf Association’s Herbert Warren Wind Book Award, a great thrill.
But I was as thrilled to hear about Jeopardy!’s nod. A couple of Twitter friends shared in my special moment:
@dvnjr You should probably go ahead and retire now. It won’t get any better.
— Paul Flannery (@Pflanns) May 23, 2013
— Erik Malinowski (@erikmal) May 23, 2013
Today, I noticed Alex Trebek had hardly turbo-charged my book’s sad Amazon sales ranking. But I’m not letting that spoil this party.
@readyowl Between us? Yes. Very cool… Thanks!
— Don Van Natta Jr. (@DVNJr) May 23, 2013