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Dick Schaap sets the North American record for name-dropping in his new memoir, "Flashing Before My Eyes," but as one of his battalion of famous friends, Muhammad Ali, once observed, "It ain't braggin' if you can do it."

Schaap has done it. He's on what may be his 12th career now, hosting "The Sports Reporters" each Sunday on ESPN. I first read him -- that's right, "read," since he is an excellent writer -- in the long-departed, deeply missed New York Herald Tribune.

The Trib was one of the greatest newspapers not enough people read. It disappeared after one of those scorched earth strikes that reduced metropolitan New York from a 10-paper area to four papers.

When I first came to The News in 1963, I had a morning ritual consisting of coffee, a doughnut and the Trib. The paper was a feast for anyone who loved good writing. You could jump from Tom Wolfe to Jimmy Breslin to John Crosby and then on to a sports section that made the Times read like the annual report of the Amalgamated Nuts and Bolts Co.

Suddenly one morning Schaap popped up as a columnist, fuming over a piece in Life Magazine which, in his view, presented a blueprint for contaminating the drinking water source of New York City with LSD. I was hooked immediately as a Schaap reader.

It turned out that he arrived as a columnist in an unusual manner. A Grantland Rice fellowship winner at the Columbia University graduate school of journalism, he stepped from the classroom to Newsweek, where he quickly became a senior editor, and on to the Trib as city editor.

Schaap had been a freelancer since he was a teenager. When he started at Newsweek he moonlighted with magazines, including Cavalier, where the editor was a fellow Cornell graduate, retired Buffalo News columnist Bob Curran. Schaap once wrote an article about White Sox pitcher Don Rudolph and his stripper wife, Patti Waggin. Curran gave it the title, "The Pitcher and The Twitcher."

Schaap earned a national reputation when he collaborated with Green Bay Packer guard Jerry Kramer on the first-person book "Instant Replay." It centered on the block Kramer was supposed to have made that allowed Bart Starr to score the winning touchdown against Dallas in the 1967 NFL championship game.

Old Packers still swear the block was executed by center Ken Bowman, but Kramer was more eloquent and the book became a best seller. Schaap named his son Jeremy after Kramer.

Some of the book's anecdotes are wonderful. Once, while writing a book about Bobby Kennedy, then a senator from New York, Schaap was a guest at the Kennedy estate. When Ethel Kennedy took him to the basement to view the Kennedys' exotic mini zoo, Schaap saved Mrs. Kennedy when she was attacked by a marmoset.

Schaap was an overnight guest at the homes of many famous people, one of whom was Wilt Chamberlain, shortly after Chamberlain's book was published with the claim that he had intimate relations with 20,000 women. Sitting in his living room, Schaap's wife touched Wilt's elbow and asked, "Does that count?"

Another of his countless "as-told-to" books was with Joe Namath. Schaap says he smoked grass with the quarterback in Namath's apartment and was among the audience there as Howard Cosell set off on a long soliloquy.

Suddenly Ray Abruzzese, the ex-Bill who was Namath's long-time friend, came out of a bedroom, nude, and moved toward the television set when he spotted Cosell. "Oh, you're here," said Abruzzese. "I was about to turn you off."

Schaap recounts dozens of other encounters with the rich and famous: The time Michael Caine played host at dinner to him and others on six successive nights; the time Peter Falk warned him away from two women -- "those broads are crazy" -- but Schaap married one anyway; the time, as editor of Sport Magazine, he gave Billy Crystal a big break when he hired him as the comic at an awards dinner when he couldn't get Robert Klein. The time that . . .

After a while, you wonder whether Schaap has made friends with any ordinary people over the last 40 years.