The former longtime Oakland Tribune columnist and KNBR sports announcer has a new book out on football great Slip Madigan.
Dave Newhouse likes to describe himself as the kind of guy who can’t tell you about America’s gross national product, but he sure as heck knows all about Pudge Heffelfinger’s Yale football record in the late 1800s. (Pudge also went on to become our country’s first pro football player). In that same vein, the former longtime Oakland Tribune columnist and KNBR sports talk show host just published a book on one of football’s greatest minds that you’ve probably never heard of: St. Mary’s College’s legendary skipper from the 1920s through 1939, Slip Madigan. Relying on scrapbooks put together by Slip’s secretary and preserved by Madigan’s son Ed, Newhouse was like a cold case detective combing through the files when it came to unearthing lore about Madigan for his latest tome, The Incredible Slip Madigan: The Flamboyant Coach Who Modernized Football. Among other things, Madigan is credited with introducing night football, flashy uniforms, and coast-to-coast travel to the college game — and all at tiny St. Mary’s, first at its Oakland campus and later in Moraga, a move he spearheaded. Along the way, Madigan’s teams beat mighty USC, Stanford, Cal, and other much larger schools. And in his post-gridiron career, he became a Contra Costa developer designing and building many homes that still stand today. I collared Newhouse recently before he gave a Commonwealth Club talk about his book to find out more about Madigan, and, since he was available, Newhouse himself.
Paul Kilduff: Why tell the Slip Madigan story now?
Dave Newhouse: What fascinated me was unearthing forgotten history. And it would be the first book on Slip Madigan. Why would I want to try to write the 1,500th book on Abraham Lincoln or the 2,000th book on Jesus Christ? Those are the two biggest booksellers of all time. I like writing about people who haven’t been written about before or who have been gone a long time and are in the trunk of history. I like to unearth history.
PK: Slip played for Knute Rockne at Norte Dame. Do you think you have to have a distinctive name to be a legendary football coach?
DH: Well Knute was born Knute.
PK: But Slip? Where’d that come from?
DN: It’s apocryphal, but what I was told was he slipped on the ice skating ponds as a kid. I guess he didn’t have good balance. He could play center for Rockne, but he slipped, and so he got the nickname. I wouldn’t say he was an illusive guy in terms of slipperiness, but he had a lot of sides to him. I think he was very inventive and entrepreneurial.
PK: Sounds like it. Talk about using most of your brain, huh? Wow.
DN: That’s a very good description.
PK: What were some of his football firsts?
DN: Travel. He was the first mainland coach to play a game in Hawaii. He was innovative in style. Most of the uniforms back then were khaki and cotton. Slip dressed his teams in silk. But it wasn’t such a good idea on hot days because silk doesn’t breathe.
PK: He is not exactly a household name though.
DN: He’s not known. He’s in the College Football Hall of Fame like a lot of forgotten coaches, but think about the Bay Area’s history, Paul. You’ve got two faces on college football’s Mount Rushmore of coaches who Slip coached against and beat. Pop Warner was at Stanford. He coached against Amos Alonzo Stagg when he was finishing up at Pacific. He beat them both. He beat Stanford so badly, Stanford never played St. Mary’s again. I can’t think of anyone who changed football more than Slip. He’s credited with playing Saturdays and Sundays. He’s credited with setting up the training tables, spring football practice.
PK: Why did the Bay Area Catholic college football programs disappear?
DN: What hurt the Catholic schools here — St. Mary’s, Santa Clara, and USF — was that they had to play on Saturdays just like Cal and Stanford, which had big stadiums that drew huge crowds. So the Catholics started to play on Sunday. That worked fine until the 49ers got the rights to Kezar Stadium on Sunday. The Catholics had to go back to Saturday, and they couldn’t compete with Cal and Stanford. Those three schools dropped football. They came back later with a small college version of football, but even that didn’t last.
PK: I’ve always looked up to guys like you who were wrote for newspapers when they were thriving. What do you think of the state of newspapers today?
DN: It’s depressing. I mean, I’m not a tweeter. I’m not a blogger. I don’t have an iPhone. I have a cellphone in my pocket. It doesn’t ring that much. But I’m still a product of those days. And newspaper work was hard. I didn’t always go to games. I had shifts in the office from 7 at night until 3 in the morning, or 5 in the morning until 1 in the afternoon. And you had a lot of deadlines. It wasn’t a cushy job. We were a morning paper, and I was in Pittsburgh, and I had to grab the elevator. But it was a Monday night game, and Howard Cosell — he conveyed it for himself. He was the only guy in the elevator. They wouldn’t let anybody else on. He just kind of waved at us. The Raiders won. It was snowing. I ran across the field, got to the other side, went up the stadium steps, ran into the locker room of the Raiders, got as many quotes as I could, took the same steps back over the field, sat down, and I had a half an hour. Because in those days, you flew back with the team, so I couldn’t stay over. All I heard was clickety clack, clickety clack, clickety clack. And you just go. And then you get on a plane and go home and hope it’s good enough.
PK: How did you approach doing your sports talk show?
DN: Even though I was on the Giants station, I didn’t want people to think I was a homer. I loathe that term, and I never was a homer. But eventually I got fired. New management came in, and they liked Ralph, because Ralph was a homer. Nobody would deny that Ralph Barbieri was a homer. But he was under me. He was the afternoon sports guy, and then I’d come in and do the talk show. And he rose to fame.
PK: He sure did. Why?
DN: Because his style works better than mine.
PK: Or was it his annoying voice?
DN: In radio it’s good to have a schtick. I never had a schtick.
Got an idea for The Kilduff File? E-mail Paul Kilduff at PKilduff350@gmail.com.
Birthplace: San Mateo (but grew up in Menlo Park)
What’s your sign, bruh? Leo
Book on nightstand: Becoming
Baseball “Walk Up” Music: “I’m Walking” by Fats Domino. “But, I’d rather be hitting.”
Motto: Live life with passion.
Fun factoid about Dave: Newhouse is the only Bay Area sports journalist to write a daily newspaper column and host a weeknight sports talk radio show — a feat he accomplished with the Tribune and KNBR respectively in the 1980s.