The Eighty Yard Run

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The 80 Yard Run
WBAI And NPR Playhouse
Original Broadcast Date
Joe Frank
Narrative Monologue, 60 minutes
Preceded by: Summer Notes
Followed by: White Elephants

Now the story of my, as I like to call it, my infamous eighty yard run, is a rather twisted, convoluted tale.

The 80 Yard Run is a program Joe Frank produced as part of the series WBAI And NPR Playhouse.


Joe tells stories of boxing in the early '60s. He begins by describing the notorious Emile Griffith - Benny Paret match (1962 March 24). His account is factually wrong. He must have known the facts. I propose he chose to make it more dramatic. The differences don't violate the essence of the story.[1]

He moves on to bouts between Griffith and Luis Rodriguez (Joe says they fought 3 times; it was 4.), Griffith and Ruben 'Hurricane' Carter (the guy in the Bob Dylan song), culminating with Rodriguez's upset victory over Carter. I haven't read accounts of those fights but Joe got the winners right.

24:10: "Hydra" (Grover Washington Jr)

25:20: Joe talks about bullfighting.

27: Joe tells of the first great bullfighter to admit fear, 'El Gallo' (a nickname) Rafael Gómez y Ortega.[2]

31:30: Joe recurs to his 80-yard run; he's off to the University of Iowa for grad school at the Program in Creative Writing (nicknamed Iowa Writers' Workshop).[3] He says the director when he was there was Paul Engle. Engle was the second director of the program, the one who promoted it to fame. He left this post in 1965. Joe says Engle dubbed Iowa City 'the Athens of the Midwest'.[4]

33:20: Joe says Iowans love football.[5] He says their team was rated #1. The last year this happened was 1960, when Joe was 22. Joe says that Forest Evashevski was the coach; 1960 was his last year as coach. (He went on to become the athletic director until 1970.)

34: Joe tells of the mounting excitement before a football game.

39:10: Joe tells of the festivities after a major football game. Joe attends a showing of old silent comedies at the university auditorium. It's crowded. A woman behind him presses against him. He gets excited. Because of the darkness and the crush he doesn't find out who she is.

46:20: Joe joins a late-night football game played by intoxicated people with a pair of socks rolled up into a ball in a pasture. There are no boundaries so you can run as far sideways as you want. Joe gets the ball, outruns and fends off all defenders, makes the eponymous run, but bulls keeps him from scoring.

Legacy Synopsis
  • Boxing - a small boxer fights a very large boxer.
  • Bullfighting - the first bullfighter to show fear, and his final dedication.
  • Iowa city - the Athens of the midwest.
  • Football in Iowa.
  • An erotic encounter in a crowded theater.
  • An amateur football game with no rules.



Some radio personalities on The Eighty Yard Run:

"The 80-Yard Run" was the first Joe Frank program I ever heard. It was produced back in 1977. It confused me and scared me a little, because while it was hypnotizing, it was also unsettling. Part of it seemed like autobiography, part of it was about boxers of the 1950s, and the end just spun off into a surrealistic dream. In other words, it had some of the same elements that Joe continued to perfect during his decades of work.

"I know that Joe didn’t like The 80-Yard Run very much. His is voice higher than his later shows, the sound mix isn’t always perfect, and Joe even takes a break to get a cup of tea halfway through. But I like the roughness of that very early episode. It shows Joe’s creativity while it was still percolating, while he was still getting a handle on what he was doing." ("On Joe Frank’s Hallucinogenic Journeys") - Bob Carlson from KCRW

“I felt everything I understood about radio was broken in an instant,” Glass says, “when he said, ‘I am going to fix myself a cup of tea, and be right back in a moment.’ And there is this break” (Joe Frank Signs Off") - Ira Glass


    1. About 1:50 into this episode Joe says,'Now Griffith disposed of all his challengers in the early 1960s and I would like to give an illustration at this time of his ferocity in the ring by describing his fight with a challenger whose name was Benny "Kid" Paret.'
      Benny Paret was the welterweight champion at the time of this fight, 1962 March 24, having beaten Griffith 1961 September 30.

      About 2:20 Joe says,'I believe he designed women's clothing as well.' - I think not, just hats.

      About 3:50 Joe says, 'Griffith went after Paret with a kind of concentrated fury, a controlled rage which he sustained throughout the rest of the fight until finally - and I don't remember exactly what round, probably around the fourth or the fifth - he caught Paret in a corner and opened up with a two-fisted attack and hit Paret with incredible punches to the head so that at a certain point Paret lost consciousness, but because he was leaning up against the ropes, in the corner, he couldn't fall back onto the canvas and he couldn't fall forward because Griffith kept punching him back up into a standing position.'
      Paret knocked Griffith down in the sixth; Norman Mailer, who was there, wrote that Griffith had trouble getting up.

      In the twelfth round Griffith caught Paret in a corner and beat him unconscious. He held Paret against the ropes with his left and hit him with his right.

      Joe says "A few hours later, at a nearby hospital, he was pronounced dead." - but Paret lived for another ten days:
      This fight was broadcast on nationwide TV; the Wikipedia entry claims it was 1 of only 2 times a man was killed on television, the other Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. Apparently there's video on YouTube.

      Norman Mailer wrote an account, Death, published in Esquire and his book Presidential Papers:

      'This fight had its turns. Griffith won most of the early rounds but Paret knocked Griffith down in the sixth. Griffith had trouble getting up, but made it, came alive and was dominating Paret again before the the round was over. Then Paret began to wilt. In the middle of the eighth round, after a clubbing punch had turned his back to Griffith, Paret walked three disgusted steps away, showing his hindquarters. For a champion, he took much too long to turn back around. It was the first hint of weakness Paret had ever shown, and it must have inspired a particular shame, because he fought the rest of the fight as if he were seeking to demonstrate that he could take more punishment than any man alive. In the twelfth, Griffith caught him. Paret got trapped in a corner. Trying to duck away, his left arm and his head became tangled on the wrong side of the top rope. Griffith was in like a cat ready to rip the life out of a huge boxed rat. He hit him eighteen right hands in a row, an act which took perhaps three or four seconds, Griffith making a pent-up whimpering sound all the while he attacked, the right hand whipping like a piston rod which had broken through the crankcase, or like a baseball bat demolishing a pumpkin. I was sitting in the second row of that corner - they were not ten feet away from me, and like everybody else, I was hypnotized. I had never seen one man hit another so hard and so many times. Over the referee's face came a look of woe as if some spasm had passed its way through him, and then leaped on Griffith to pull him away. It was the act of a brave man. Griffith was uncontrollable. His trainer leaped into the ring, his manager, his cut man, there were four people holding Griffith, but he was off on an orgy, he had left the Garden, he was back on a hoodlum's street. If he had been able to break loose from his handlers and the referee, he would have jumped Paret to the floor and whaled on him there.'

      Jonathan Coleman attended the fight when he was 10, remembering it in 2013 for The New Yorker.

    2. The brief Wikipedia article says that it needs additional citations for verification. It is so much like Joe's account I don't trust it. An Internet search turned up "Ahora Que Viene La Feria Taurina De San Isidro", which has a brief description of him; 2 other links copy this (I don't know which is the original.) Joe's account is consistent with this article; I suspect they didn't get anything from Joe. If someone knows more about bullfighting or an expert to consult I'd love to hear about it. In his next show, Arena, he mentions waiting for a book about another bullfighter.
    3. I e-mailed the workshop; they only keep records of alumni; Joe didn't graduate.
    4. I can't find this citation, though others have made it and credited Engle for having made it that. Just about every Midwest town with a large university (e.g., Ann Arbor, Columbia MO, Madison WI) has claimed this title. I've been: it's okay; haven't been to Athens - hope it's better.
    5. This wasn't the case when I lived there, but their teams were weaker then.