In his 18 years at SI, senior writer Pat Putnam has filed stories to us from each of the 48 continental states and more than 30 foreign countries. Of his many destinations, the place Putnam has visited most often is that highly exotic locale, Las Vegas. Putnam reckons he has been sent to Vegas on assignment no fewer than 60 times, mostly to cover prize fights.
Putnam finds the rhythms of Las Vegas to his liking: rising late, staying up all night and crawling back under the covers just as the sun comes up. But he does not stay up all night in order to slam-dunk quarters into the slots. He stays up writing. His latest nocturnal effort is the story on the Michael Spinks-Larry Holmes heavyweight title bout that begins on page 22.
Over the years Putnam has written about 400 SI stories. "Four hundred nights without sleep," he says. "That's more than a year of my life spent under the gun filing overnight stories. But that's what I like. That's what I am."
He thrives on the adrenaline rush of deadline writing. He also knows its perils, witness the time he borrowed an electric typewriter to do a piece on the Minnesota Vikings. In the middle of that wintry night in Bloomington the power went out. Putnam called the front desk of his hotel and urgently explained that he could not write without electricity. A well-intentioned bellhop showed up with a candle.
To turn on the creative juices, as distinct from the electrical kind, Putnam sometimes finds his muse by taking a break in midstory to read a few pages of A.J. Liebling's The Sweet Science or something by Red Smith. Before the Thomas Hearns-Pipino Cuevas title fight in Detroit in 1980, Putnam had a chance to show a small measure of gratitude to Smith. Smith was 75 at the time, and Putnam carried the older man's typewriter from the Hotel Pontchartrain to the Joe Louis Arena. Putnam says, "Now, when people say I couldn't even carry Red Smith's typewriter, I can say I did."
Putnam began covering boxing in 1960 for The Miami Herald. He became a regular at the Fifth Street Gym, run by Angelo and Chris Dundee. Before one bout, Herald sports editor Jimmy Burns told Putnam, "It only takes two people to have you committed in this state. I just need to find one more." The remark was prompted by Putnam's prediction that one of Angelo Dundee's fighters, a youngster named Cassius Clay, would beat heavyweight champion Sonny Liston.
Over the next few years Putnam got to know Clay/Ali well, and he has a confession to make. "Angelo and I used to help him write those terrible poems," Putnam says.
In 1965 Putnam was already well traveled and in the mood to see a bit more of America than one can from an airplane. Consequently, he rode a bus from Miami to Lewiston, Me. to cover the Clay-Liston rematch. But he would never go to such lengths to visit Las Vegas. Although he insists he still isn't tired of the place, he does admit, "The days are long gone when I would go there on vacation."