If the blazer fits, wear it

In 1978, Bill Walsh gave Ivan Maisel some secretive information. Fifteen years later, Maisel gave the legendary coach the clothes off his back.

Originally Published: July 30, 2007
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

Because of Bill Walsh, I learned that a Hall of Fame head coach put on his pants one leg at a time. Or, 15 years later, that a Hall of Fame coach put on my blazer one arm at a time.

Let me explain: I met Walsh when I was an 18-year-old sportswriter.

As a writer for The Stanford Daily, I went to interview Walsh. You have to understand, I grew up in Alabama, where my concept of the Head Coach As Deity took root. Coaches, or at least a certain one in my state, walked on water. That was the genesis of a popular Crimson Tide bumper sticker of my youth: "I Believe."

I went into Walsh's office with some trepidation. I didn't have any business in there. Why would he answer my questions? What was I doing asking them? And would my flop sweat ruin the chair in front of his desk?

Walsh couldn't have been more accommodating. In fact, he was too accommodating. We take it for granted now, three Super Bowl victories later, but in 1978, the notion that a head coach scripted his first 15 plays seemed novel.

Bill Walsh, left, and Ivan Maisel
Bill Walsh, left, eventually got to wear his own blazer. Ivan Maisel got his story.

As my colleague and I interviewed Walsh, he offered to share his play script with us. I don't remember the plays. I don't even remember the opponent. What I remember is the terror that overcame me.

This is supposed to be secret.

I can't know this.

Why is he telling me this?

The secrets survived, despite my coming unglued, and somewhere in a dusty volume of the Daily lies what is surely an unreadable story. Walsh went 8-4 in that, his second season at Stanford. Then he left to go 25 minutes up Highway 101 and coach the San Francisco 49ers.

Our paths did not cross again until the early 1990s, after he returned to Stanford to replace Dennis Green.

Walsh came to Dallas to speak at a luncheon. As the college football writer for The Dallas Morning News, I arrived at his hotel for a scheduled interview over breakfast. I showed up in a blazer and tie. He came down to the lobby wearing a sweat suit and a sheepish look.

"My luggage didn't arrive," he said. "I'm supposed to speak at this luncheon and I don't know what I'm going to do."

He was distracted and distraught. I needed him to be on his game. I had a story to write.

"What size sport coat do you wear?" I asked.

"Forty-two long," he said.

"That's what I'm wearing," I said. "Why don't you wear mine?"

He protested, but not very long. He wore my blazer during a pre-luncheon news conference. As we headed toward the hotel ballroom for the luncheon, a bellman raced up with Walsh's luggage. Walsh took off my blazer, and I put it on. I wish I had had a camera to record for posterity the strange looks from the people milling around him.

Afterward, someone took a picture of the two of us that I still have in my desk. I pulled it out the other day and looked at it.

I think he looked better in my blazer than his.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com