Christmas Eve brought sad news in the world of sports writing. One of the legends of the business -- Oscar Madison -- had passed away.
Jack Klugman died at age 90 on Monday, but for my generation and others who recognized wit, he always will be Oscar Madison, who took in Felix Ungar as a roommate after Felix's wife told him never to return.
He never wrote a word in a real newspaper, but Oscar Madison was a role model of sorts, the sports writer some of us, I would dare say, wanted to be: a single, cigar-chomping, drinking, gambling New York wise guy who hung out with some of the greats of the game.
Contrast that to the other sports writing character from a hit TV sitcom -- Ray Barone in "Everybody Loves Raymond" -- a whiny, henpecked, boring suburban slug who could have been a pharmacist as much as a sports writer.
Who wanted to be Ray Barone?
"The Odd Couple" is one of the rare works that was great in nearly every incarnation -- first as a Neil Simon play, starring Walter Matthau as Oscar and Art Carney as Felix; second as a movie, starring Jack Lemmon as Felix and Matthau reprising his role as Oscar; and then as Garry Marshall's television version, featuring Tony Randall as Felix and Klugman -- who had followed Matthau in the stage version -- as Oscar.
The show ran for 114 episodes from 1970 to 1975 and arguably is among the funniest sitcoms in TV history.
Take, for instance, Oscar's view on Christmas: "Don't talk to me about Christmas, will ya? All that sticky, phony goodwill. I'd like to get a giant candy cane and beat the wings off a sugar plum fairy."
Or his response when Felix complained about Oscar using ketchup on his salad: "I like ketchup. It's like tomato wine."
And then there's what Oscar said to his girlfriend when she complained about his weight: "Honey, that's fun fat. Everybody has that." To which Felix replied, "I don't." And Oscar shot back, "You don't have any fun, either."
Klugman and Randall, close friends who worked together on and off for 50 years, clearly had fun in their roles as Oscar and Felix. They brought celebrities into episodes on a regular basis.
Howard Cosell was on several episodes, reprising his war with sports writers as he battled with Oscar. Miami Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian was on the show about a year after his infamous Super Bowl pass against the Redskins that Mike Bass returned for a touchdown.
They did a classic episode with Bobby Riggs in which Oscar lost everything to the tennis hustler in every competition imaginable -- including Felix. The episode ended with Riggs playing pingpong against Billie Jean King.
When I interviewed NFL Hall of Famer Deacon Jones at the Super Bowl one year, I mentioned his appearance in an episode, and his eyes lit up as he talked about how much fun he had and how great it was working with Randall and Klugman.
Oscar Madison -- goodbye to a sports writing legend.