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Articles > Bud Collins: No Bagels for You!

By Rabbi Mitchell Smith

Any tennis fan knows Bud Collins, the long-time tennis commentator who Sports Illustrated said “is to tennis what pasta is to Italy.” But what few know is that the same Bud Collins was Brandeis University’s first varsity tennis coach.

In South Florida recently for the Chris Evert Pro/Celebrity Tennis Tournament, Collins took a few moments to speak with the Center for Sport and Jewish Life . “In 1959 I was working as a sports journalist for the now-defunct Boston Herald, when I got a call from Benny Friedman (yes, that Benny Friedman, the 2005 inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame), who was Brandeis University’s first Athletic Director. He told me they were starting a tennis program and he wanted me to coach it. Well, I was curious. I asked him, ‘What does it pay?’ He said ‘$250…. and all the sweat socks you can steal.”

Collins came on board, and got off to a rather impressive start. “In our first season, we were undefeated. No Brandeis tennis team has repeated that accomplishment.”

Collins had no difficulties coaching in a predominantly Jewish environment (the noted American Jewish historian and first president of Brandeis Dr. Abraham Sacher said to him then, “We’re not a Jewish university. We want to be American.”), but he did have a few surprises. “In the first season, we had one player who had made the team, and he came up to me and said, ‘Coach, I won’t be able to play this week.’ When I asked him what the problem was, he said that the match was on Saturday, and he was Sabbath observant. So I said to him, ‘Have you looked at our schedule? All our matches are on Saturdays.’ So we parted ways. Then we had another guy, we called him ‘Farouk’, I guess because he came from a wealthy family, and sometimes he wouldn’t show up to practice. When I asked him what was going on, he told me he had a late lab. Later on, the other players told me there weren’t any late labs at Brandeis, and we found out he was playing the horses at the daily double.”

Collins coached some notable players during his time at Brandeis, including Bert Strug, whose daughter Keri was part of the 1996 U.S. Olympic gold medal women’s gymnastics team, and a player named Martin Zelnik, one of Brandeis’ best athletes who was inducted into the Brandeis Athletics Hall of Fame. But one player in particular became rather legendary.

“Few people know that Abbie Hoffman (renowned 60’s political activist) was on the Brandeis tennis team. He was so conservative, I could never get him to go to the net. Even then, he had issues with me as an authority figure. When we traveled, I told the guys they had to wear coats and ties. Abbie showed up in a waiter’s jacket and a piece of rope. They say that coaches help mold an individual’s character, but I don’t know if I built his!”

“Like all things, as the years went by, I forgot all about him. In 1963 I left Brandeis when I was offered a job with the Boston Globe. Eight years had passed when I saw Abbie on TV. Later on, he went underground. In 1980 I was doing the U.S. Open and a call came through to me in the press box. It was Abbie. ‘The first thing I said to him was, ‘I suppose you want tickets to the tournament.’ Which he did. And after that, he turned himself in.”

In addition to his newspaper work, Collins was affiliated with WGBH, part of the newly established PBS network, and a pioneer in broadcast coverage of tennis. “We aired the U.S. Amateur Tennis Championships. Arthur Ashe was one of the players. It was the first time anyone had seen him.”

Also in 1968, Collins began covering the U.S. Open for CBS, moving over to NBC in 1972, where he provided tennis coverage at all the Grand Slam events until the Peacock network terminated his services at the conclusion of the 2007 Wimbledon tournament. Shortly thereafter, Collins was brought on board at ESPN.

In his many years of tennis coverage, Collins has been known for some trademark quirks, like his colorful pants, and his referring to a 6-0 set as a “bagel”. “That came about because I used to refer to the doubles team of Harold Solomon and Eddie Dibbs as the “bagel twins”. I later learned that Dibbs wasn’t Jewish. I always assumed he was, since he grew up in Miami Beach!” (Ed. – Dibbs is Eastern Orthodox and of Lebanese heritage.)

Dating back to his years at Brandeis and his tutelage of Abbie Hoffman, Collins has seen a good many Jewish players. “Of course, I would have to say that Dick Savitt (Tennis Hall of Famer) was the best of them. Of all the Israelis, I think that Amos Mansdorf was the most talented. Once when I was doing a match where (former Israeli tennis great) Shlomo Glickstein was playing, we went to instant replay, and I said, “Here is Shlomo in slo-mo… and that is something you’ve never heard on TV before!”

In 1984, at the invitation of a Jewish friend, Collins traveled to Israel, where he saw Mansdorf and Shahar Perkis in Davis Cup competition. “It was a wonderful trip. I had heard so much about Israel, and had always wanted to go. We visited Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and I was very impressed. My friend was a great guy but he had no sense of direction. One day he was driving us from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. It’s not all that far, but after the first hour, he said, “Look, didn’t we pass that same camel a while back?’ But I had a wonderful time, and I hope I can go again sometime.”

While Collins no longer has any contact of note with Brandeis, he continues to be a fan of Division 3 athletics, which do a pretty good job of maintaining the purity of collegiate sport. And as one who has championed the purity of the sport with which he has become synonymous over the years, it’s a safe bet that the legacy of what he began back in 1959 – under the tutelage of such legendary names as Sacher, Friedman and Collins - remains in good hands.

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