The Old Days

By Tris Wykes

The Old Days is a periodic look back at unusual, memorable and offbeat happenings during my 27 years in sports writing. Today, we retreat to my first work day at the Los Angeles Times, where I somehow landed an internship straight out of college at the University of Minnesota.

The day before, I’d ridden a commuter train from suburban Simi Valley to downtown Los Angeles, where our intern class convened. There were about half a dozen of us and we were assigned to various parts of the paper, which then boasted a daily circulation of more than a million and had bureaus in Orange County and the San Fernando Valley. The Internet was not regularly used by anyone I knew.

We youngsters were given a tour of the Times facilities, told about the paper’s history and had lunch in the executive dining room atop the Times building. I was assigned to the San Fernando Valley bureau, which served an area of about 2 million people and where our sports department kept tabs on more than 85 high schools.

My first story was a profile of a standout running back at Van Nuys High, the alma mater of former Major League star Don Drysdale and film stars Marylin Monroe, Robert Redford and Natalie Wood. Oh, and let’s not forget onetime American Idol judge Paula Abdul.

This running back’s name was Larry Reed and as I was sent out the door at the Times’ massive and gleaming facility, I was told he was related to then-Buffalo Bills star receiver Andre Reed. Make sure you work that in, the editor said, as I nervously jangled the keys to my 1986 Honda Civic DX, the version made with only one side mirror.

I putt-putted across the Valley’s massive floor, each block seeming to contain more humanity than my hometown of Hanover. At Van Nuys High, I talked first with Reed’s coach, who also mentioned the Andre Reed connection. Larry Reed said he knew of the connection from his father, a former University of Texas standout who’d played a couple years for the Cleveland Browns. The teenager added he hoped to meet his famous relative one day

I called Larry’s dad and, while we mostly discussed his son, he too mentioned his time at UT and in the NFL.

I rang the University of Texas sports information office to double check on Larry Reed’s father and perhaps get a photo sent to us. No record of anyone with that name, I was told. Same thing with the Browns. Uh oh.

I asked my editor how to proceed. He suggested calling Mr. Reed and asking if perhaps I’d “misunderstood” what I’d been told. A gentle way to tell him something seemed amiss.

The father was silent for several seconds after I explained that I’d come up empty in my research. Then he spoke in a low, confidential tone.

“Many years ago, I saw a crime committed,” he said. “I’m in the Witness Protection Program.”

What?! Then why would you keep your last name? Isn’t first rule of the Witness Protection Program that you don’t disclose your membership? This shot through my mind in a couple of seconds.

I put the phone to my chest and relayed this sharply-angled plot twist. My boss began laughing and pantomimed hanging up the receiver. We’d write the story without any mention of the father or Andre Reed.

All these years later, I wonder if Larry Reed ever found out he wasn’t related to the NFL star with whom he shared a surname. Part of me hopes he did not.

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