Joe Doyle’s double life

By Eric Hansen/South Bend Tribune

Joe Doyle

Joe Doyle

For years, they talked every Monday over breakfast about almost everything but the thread that pulled them together in the first place, Notre Dame football.

Politics, world geography, family, life – and one day sorting through the news of a plane crash in some far off place.

That’s the first time Notre Dame coaching icon Ara Parseghian got a glimpse of Joe Doyle’s double life.

“It was years into our relationship,” Parseghian said of his longtime friend, who chronicled the College Football Hall-of-Famer’s 11 seasons in South Bend (1964-1974). “And it really came up in passing. But once he mentioned it, I had lots of questions for him, because I found it so fascinating, his double career.”

Externally, anyway, it looked like two separate existences for the former president of the Football Writers Association of America (1979), who passed away this past May at the age of 92. But the longtime South Bend Tribune columnist/sports editor/luminary blended his two passions so seamlessly it all felt like a singular destiny.

Joe Doyle in the Notre Dame Press Box covering the Irish.

Joe Doyle in the Notre Dame Press Box covering the Irish.

“From the time he was 8 years old, he knew he was going to write and he knew he was going to fly,” said Doyle’s widow, Doris, whom he married in 1985. “He said it suited him. And he was always confident he could do both. He had no qualms about it. He said it was easy to do and he never found it stressful. In fact, he found it just the opposite of stressful.”

Doyle had joined the Tribune in 1949 after graduating magna cum laude from Notre Dame that year at the age of 28. He was named sports editor in 1951 and held that title until he retired from the Tribune in 1981, but he kept writing long after that. His career touched 11 ND coaching regimes.

A long military career, with a beginning that preceded his Tribune days, ended up overlapping them, with Doyle serving as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve. He retired from the military in 1973 after 30 years (active and reserve).

Joe Doyle (right) with Gene Tippy (left) and Joe Pound.

Joe Doyle (right) with Gene Tippy (left) and Joe Pound.

“There really were weekends when Joe would hustle off his stories after a Notre Dame football game and then be the navigator on a plane taking troops and/or supplies into or out of Vietnam the following day,” said Bill Moor, the man who followed and added to the Doyle legacy as Doyle’s successor as sports editor.

“While Notre Dame fans were living and dying with the Irish again by reading his accounts in the Sunday paper, at that same moment Joe himself may have been dodging anti-aircraft fire halfway around the world. But chances are he would be back in time to have coffee with Ara Parseghian at Milt’s Grill early Monday morning.”

Parseghian, in fact, can’t remember one he missed.

“You never got the sense that his mind was somewhere else or that he had been somewhere else,” said Parseghian, himself a Navy veteran. “And it was not like he was going to another state. He was going to another country. I was amazed at the places he would go to and the time changes that go with that sort of travel.


Joe Doyle (left) with Stan Pisek (center) and legendary Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian

Joe Doyle (left) with Stan Pisek (center) and legendary Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian

“I’ve always had an appreciation for our people in the military. You admire the discipline that’s necessary and all the conditioning and all that sort of thing and the maturity that goes with it. A lot of these guys were going in at 19-20 years of age in World War II, which was my vintage. And if they survived, they grew up in a lot of ways. Some of these kids who were drafted had never been out of their own house and had been sheltered through all of those years. It’s quite an experience. I’m proud to have been friends with Joe Doyle.”

And he’d be likely proud of the 2013 Class of nominees for the Armed Forces Merit Award, presented by the Football Writers Association of America. The goal for the Armed Forces Merit Award is “to honor an individual and/or a group within the realm of the sport of football that has created, developed and/or produced a program which provides care, concern and support for past or present members of the United States armed forces and/or their families.” The recipient will be announced on Veteran’s Day, November 11.

This year’s nominees are:

Programs: The National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics – Wounded Warrior Project™ and Kansas State Football Team & 1-28 Black Lions.

Active college players: Kelly Davison, UCF; Michael Kelley, UTEP; Brandon McCoy, North Texas; Steven Rhodes, Middle Tennessee; Daniel Rodriguez, Clemson; and Jake Sheffield, Arizona State.

Coaches: University of Colorado defensive coordinator Kent Baer.

Moor, too, blended military with sports writing and was actually concerned when he applied at the South Bend Tribune that those in charge of hiring might not be too keen on his one-weekend-a-month commitment in the Army Reserves.

“I didn’t know about Joe’s background at the time,” Moor said. “He was not only fine with it, he embraced it.

“Joe Doyle was one of a kind, really,” Moor said on the day Doyle died. “I don’t know anybody who knew Notre Dame football like he did. He loved it, and I think he made a lot of other people love it too, just by his writing.

“He had some demons that he overcame and went to Mass, I think, every morning and became an even better man as he got older, I think. But he was a good boss. I learned a lot from him. A lot of other people have to credit Joe with getting our careers going.”

Coaches too.

“He was very helpful to me and gave me the lay of the land, because Notre Dame is a unique place,” Parseghian said. “I came in from Northwestern, and he was very helpful to me in that regard, because he knew all the personnel, the administrative personnel as well as the rest of the athletic staffs. He knew what had happened in the past and what could be helpful in the future.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Joe Doyle was the FWAA President in 1979, when he was Sports Editor of the South Bend Tribune. Eric Hanson, a sportswriter for the South Bend Tribune and FWAA member, authors the article on Joe Doyle, who spent nearly 7,000 military hours in a dozen different aircrafts through three wars with the Army Air Corp (World War II) and Air Force (Korea and Viet Nam). Doyle’s flying days military ended in 1973 as a Lieutenant Colonel. He passed away May 10, 2013.