Recently I’ve been corresponding with a man on death row. I work for a newspaper which covers sports at the Ohio State University, the main focus being football and the continuing endeavors of the OSU Buckeyes. The condemned man who wrote to us is a self-described “displaced Buckeye” in a Florida prison. He wanted to know if he qualified for a subscription discount as his funds were “limited.”

“I am the number one Buckeye fan on death row,” he wrote. “The guards give me a hard time because they are Gator fans.” It did sound like hell. I asked our publisher about a discount and he decided to give him half-off. We might have given him a better rate but times are tough, especially for newspapers.

I was curious to see if the man really was on death row so one of my co-workers Googled him. We found him right off the bat. It was true, the man had been on the row since the mid 1980s. He was part of a robbery gone wrong. There were witnesses and one recognized them and had to be dispatched. Our Number One Fan was the clean-up man. He went back and shot the man in the head. Over twenty years later the man was still sitting on death row.

But he remained a fan.

Twenty years on death row will change a man or woman. That is not news. Early in our lives we realize our time on this planet is limited. Our contract will be terminated but we don’t know when. Like the ‘Replicants’ in Philip K. Dick’s “Do androids Dream of Electric Sheep,’ we are curious as to when our expiration date will occur. We could die anytime. Life on death row however, certainly puts a capital F on Finite though our Number One Fan appeared to be making a career of it. I admired his optimism for ordering a one-year subscription. Had he been on death row so long that he thought he’d never get the call, do the Green Mile, be a Dead Man Walking? Had he forgotten they were serious about killing him? What would his last meal be, had he thought about that? Would he have a tailgate party? Was he haunted by the images of the man whose head he shot?

Football is probably easier to think about. In our fan’s case, is his ability to to care about the Ohio State Buckeyes in the face of a government-issued death warrant a sign of detachment from reality or perhaps the very opposite, a striking and determined surmounting of the impending ending of hislife? What if they executed him in the middle of the season? He might miss a Rose Bowl or BCS game. This could perhaps be his true punishment. Even the writer Hunter S. Thompson, a lifetime fan of the NFL, waited until the season was over before he killed himself. Our Number One Fan will not have that choice. What, I wonder, goes through our fan’s mind.

Picture yourself on death row. Would you care about football? Would you care about anything? What would you hold unto to keep your sanity? The bible? Cross word puzzles? Writing letters to crazy teen-aged girls? And what about the guards? Are they such hardcore Gator fans that they would rejoice to see a Buckeye fan put to sleep?

I would like to think not, after all, it’s only football. I don’t think Woody Hayes would want to see a Michigan fan dead. He might want to punch them out but kill them? Probably not. I don’t think.

Last week our Number One Fan wrote us and said a check would be forthcoming from his prison account and in a couple of days, it arrived. We signed him up imediately. He would now be reading about our tortured victory over Iowa and our complete stomping of Michigan. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for a cold-blooded killer but I hope our paper brings the Number One Fan a modicum of comfort in his final days. Perhaps when his time finally does come, his last words will be GO BUCKS!

Everyday we receive letters and email from readers who claim to be the number one Buckeye Fan. I have seen possibly every combination of email addresses denoting in one form or another, their proclamation of being the true and only number one fan in Buckeye Nation.

But they are not. They are poseurs, cranks and madmen. There is only one Number One Buckeye Fan and we know who he is. He is living in a five by four cell, waiting for the next issue of our paper to arrive, hoping to live long enough to read about one more game, hoping like all the seniors on the team, to go out on a winning season.

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DAVID C. BREITHAUPT was born in the heart of the Cold War, in 1959. He grew up in central Ohio, the youngest of four brothers. His mother was an artist; his father, a political rabble rouser. He studied fine arts in college. Lived in NYC in the 1980s where he worked in various bookstores, including the great Brazenhead on East 84th street. He was an archives assistant to Allen Ginsberg and worked with his amazing staff. Did some part-time work as a newsstand checker for Rolling Stone. Quit drinking in 1987. Fell in and out of love. Kept moving. Moved back to Ohio with his family, Christa, Kate and Jo - worked in a college library. Snuck his work into various magazines like Exquisite Corpse, Rant, Main Street. Wrote bio-lit essays for the American and British Writers Series (Scribners) on James Purdy, Anna Kavan and Denton Welch under the editorship of Jay Parini. He edited a book on the works of writer poet, Charles Plymell called Hand On the Doorknob (2000 Water Row Press). Buy it now, please. His work is in the anthology, Thus spake The Corpse vol. 2, Best of the Exquisite Corpse (Black Sparrow Press, 2000). (Please buy that, too.) Breithaupt currently lives and work in Columbus, Ohio, for a sports newspaper while making occasional contributions to his federal restitution. He just finished a memoir with the working title Dada Entry: Picasso, Proust and Federal Prison as well as a collection of short stories, My Curves Are Not Mad with an intro by Jonathan Lethem. He is looking for publishers. Thank you.

27 responses to “Dead Fan Reading”

  1. Art Edwards says:

    What a funny thing to want, David. Thanks for sharing.

    I wonder if being on death row gets you half off the TNB Book Club?


  2. 22 says:

    A lovely bit of writing, but a 5 by 4 cell?

  3. Quenby Moone says:

    I don’t watch sports, but I love this piece. Thanks, David. This was great.

  4. Ashley Menchaca (NOL) says:

    I’m a huge football fan and although I couldn’t imagine being on death row, it’s even more difficult to imagine life without football. Wouldn’t happen.

    So, letting you all know now, if I finally lose it for real, you guys better send me all the Saints shit you can get your hands on. WhoDat!

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      I think that there are rules surrounding what can and can’t be sent. Like weird, arbitrary sounding rules. I’m not sure that sports team stuff can be sent because of gang affiliations, etc. But maybe I’m mis-remembering.

    • Dave Breithaupt says:

      Saints fans never end up on death row.

    • dwoz says:

      …a man from NOL died, and found himself in Hell. Every day, or whatever passes for a “day” in hell, he spent in the furnace of misery, his flesh eternally boiling off his bones while the dogs and goblins ate his eyes.

      Then one ‘day’, there appeared in front of him a strange, wonderful thing. A little white snowflake! Then another, then another, and soon he found himself in a full-on snow storm.

      At that moment a tremendous joy filled his heart, because he knew it could only mean one thing…The Saints had won the Super Bowl!!!!

  5. Zara Potts says:

    Lovely piece of writing, David. You hit all the right notes.
    I can’t even imagine what it must be like to sit in a prison cell year after year – let alone death row. I guess it’s the little things that we have to hold on to to make life bearable.
    I wonder if he was a NFL fan before he went to prison or if he became a fan afterwards?

    • Dave Breithaupt says:

      I have a stack of letters from this guy now, enough to write his autobiography at this point. He was always a Fan, unfortunately it did not deter him from the wrong path taken. Ah well…like Lawrence of Arabia said, it must have been ‘destiny.”

  6. I’ve been waiting a while to read this, David, and it didn’t disappoint. An extremely interesting perspective.

    Liked the reference to HST, too. Very apt.

  7. david Breithaupt says:

    Football, death and Hunter are all tied together now. Speaking of which, we have a sad anniversary coming up next month. Let us salute the man in proper fashion! Thanks David.

  8. Excellent!

    Go Blue though! 😉

  9. Slim says:

    The only problem is, the poor guy doesn’t have a bowl of corn flakes to accompany his reading. I guess prison really does suck. As always, we can expect the unexpected from DCB. Kudos!

  10. Irene Zion says:

    I think after already waiting 20 years on death row, a person would start to believe the waiting is permanent. He probably believes, (and may be correct,) that he will die a natural death waiting on death row.

    • David Breithaupt says:

      I agree. I think death has become an unreality for this guy. What a shock if the end ever comes. Football will have one less fan. This poor fellow keeps writing me and always sounds so upbeat, he makes me feel guilty whenever I am depressed, as if I have no right. And I don’t really, compared to him. Looks like he’ll make it through anouther Super Bowl.

  11. Piet de Best says:

    Hi Dave,

    Just released from the Hospital with a Certificate of Good Mental Health (nontransferable, sadly).

    Does the state still execute people where you live? The Iranians just hung a Dutch/Iranian woman for drug smuggling and belonging to an organisation that the government doesn’t like. Our foreign minister called it ‘a barbaric act’.

    But, I suppose like war and torture, it ain’t barbaric if the Americans are doing it.

    Yours in Health,


    • David Breithaupt says:

      This guy is in Florida but Ohio is snuffing prisoners fast as they can. So fast in fact, that the country has run out of the lethal injection chemicals needed to send one on his or her way. Ohio, ever the leader, is about to be the first in the USA to put a prisoner down using only barbituates. This technique is being challenged in court as there are objections to this method for The Big Sleep. Normally, the US likes to farm out its dirty laundry outside our borders butI guess we don’t everyone else to have all the fun.

  12. Dr. Richard L. Stahl, Ph.D. says:

    Hello David…I have some material that I would like to forward to Jerry Stahl..writer.screenwriter…and you a copy if you are interested in doing a story on my book…I am not sure where to locate an address for Jerry…please email and/or call me..828-719-6823…my book is on Amazon.com and Kindle as it would make a great movie or tv series as I have been told by everyone who has read it…the book entitled, “How I Saved Howards Knob Park in Boone, North Carolina from Monte W. Green, AKA “Hitman”/Enforcer for Brother, Former U.S. Ambassador, Steven J. Green” is a true and tragic story published by me in September, 2014…thank you for listening and hope to hear from you soon…Best…Dr. Richard L. Stahl, Ph.D….byw I was born in Mansfield, Ohio and received my Ph.D. from Florida State University…

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