From his formative years as a Dallas Morning News layout man, when the rest of the sports desk might or might not return from dinner, through composing room riffs with the likes of Billy and Augie and Gator to the point and click of soulless pagination, Ed Knocke left a mark on multiple media generations.
Not only did his tenure cover the characters in the business, he was central to the cast.
And not just because Knocke, who died from a stroke Monday at 79, was also a member of the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame.
“Ed Knocke was a legendary and beloved figure for decades at SportsDay,” said Garry Leavell, assistant managing editor for sports. “Readers came to know Ed through his hall of fame work as the nation’s preeminent rodeo writer. What they didn’t know was that Ed was also a hall of fame-caliber editor and page designer.
“And no one could spin a tale quite like Ed.”
Knocke — pronounced Kuh-KNOW-key — had a story for any occasion. Often the same one, not that anyone minded the retelling.
He had stories about baseball, stories about barbecue, stories about Buicks and the Texas Longhorns and rodeos and South Texas dance halls.
“Name a town,” said Nels Jensen, a former SportsDay assistant sports editor, “and he could immediately tell a story about a honky-tonk or the best barbecue joint.
“It didn’t matter where, his range was far and wide. Tyler. Odessa. Anywhere.”
Growing up in the Central Texas town of Schulenburg, Knocke demonstrated early his lifelong passions and pursuits. As a kid, he cut up newspapers and rearranged the results. He graduated from the University of Texas in 1962 and immediately embarked on his life’s work. Storytelling was at the center of it.
Built like a grand prize teddy bear, with a demeanor to match, he sounded like a defensive tackle and giggled like a little girl. It had a profound effect on his reception. Occasionally, it was hard to tell who enjoyed it more, the narrator or his audience.
One of his early favorites was about a sports information director at Texas Lutheran named Kermit Westerholm, who’d recently been promoted. The second paragraph of the subsequent news release, which Westerholm wrote, began, “The likeable Swede …”
“Fifty years later,” said longtime sportswriter Randy Galloway, “I still tell that story, too.”
Galloway was hired at The News a few months before Knocke, who started in the spring of 1967. As a night slot man, Knocke dutifully shepherded an unruly bunch, particularly the sportswriters pressed into double duty.
After the state edition went to bed at 8 p.m., everyone but Knocke would go to dinner at one of the fine establishments downtown. Many times they’d even return for the final editions.
“That story gets exaggerated,” Galloway said. “When we left at 8, did we get back at 9? Well, maybe not 9. Everybody eventually came back.”
Before giving up drinking in the ’80s, Knocke patronized several Dallas bars frequented by media types after the paper was “in the tub,” as he put it. There’s even an unsubstantiated report that Knocke and 18 pals owned a bar in Dallas. Or maybe it was Austin. He once talked his way out of a ticket by explaining that ice cream was melting in his back seat. He was nearly as fortunate when Dallas cops running a DWI check stopped him. Knocke passed, put his car in gear … and rolled into a police car.
For anyone drunk or hungover, Knocke had a ready punch line: “Must have been bad ice.”
But it wasn’t all fun and games. Though a first-class gentleman, Knocke could be demanding, even gruff, on deadline. Hard feelings didn’t last because of Knocke’s good nature and accepted standards.
“He was unsurpassed when it came to layout,” said Dave Renbarger, who worked with Knocke until the latter’s retirement in 2006.
“When breaking news happened, he could adjust better than anybody.”
Case in point: Knocke was the only editor left in the newsroom at 2 a.m. on June 5, 1968, when wire machines rattled awake with news that Bobby Kennedy had been shot in Los Angeles. Knocke ripped up the front page and redesigned it in time to give North Texas readers the awful news.
Besides his work on the sports desk, Knocke wrote a weekly rodeo column for The News. He became interested as a college student, in town for the Cotton Bowl, when he bought a ticket for the National Finals Rodeo on a whim. He covered his first NFR in 1973 and became a staple.
“He took that professionalism as a sportswriter to rodeo, and he did it a lot of good,” said Brett Hoffman, a fellow Texas rodeo columnist. “It’s safe to say that, in the latter part of his career, he was the dean of rodeo coverage.
“He set the standard for all of us.”
The image of Knocke in boots, buckle and cowboy hat was hard for some of his newspaper pals to reconcile. Renbarger recalls Knocke in full cowboy regalia at a Las Vegas lounge during the NFR. Everyone knew Knocke, from cowboys to media to the entertainer offering a shoutout from the stage.
He was just as big at The News or with his family. His former stepdaughter, Nicole Long, whose mother, Judy, was married to Knocke until her death in 1998, said he was “damn good to us kids. He was beyond fair. Kind to us. Generous.”
Doc, they called him on the sports desk. His bedside manner made work a delight.
“No matter how tough the night ahead might have looked,” former SportsDay assistant sports editor Mike Hashimoto wrote on Facebook, “it was a comfort to have Doc drawing the lines. He was the best we had, night after night after night.”
Knocke leaves a wife, Mary Ann. Services are pending.
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