Pillars of the FWAA: Murray Olderman (1922-), Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA)

ffaw_redesignThe Football Writers Association of America is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015. Founded in 1941, the FWAA has served the writing profession and college football during a time when the world has changed greatly and the sport of football has along with it. In an effort to tell the history of the organization, we will, over the next four months, publish each week a sketch on one of the FWAA’s  most important  leaders—all Bert McGrane Award winners. 

The Bert McGrane Award, symbolic of the association’s Hall of Fame, is presented to an FWAA member who has performed great service to the organization and/or the writing profession. It is named after McGrane, a Des Moines, Iowa, writer who was the executive secretary of the FWAA from the early 1940s until 1973. The McGrane Award was first bestowed on an FWAA member in 1974. 

For a list of all the winners go to:   http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/mcgrane/index.html. 

The following is the third installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Murray Olderman was the 1991 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch

By Gene Duffey

Murray Olderman learned how one headline can spoil a long-time relationship. In the early 1960s he wrote a story for Sport Magazine on Johnny Unitas, the talented quarterback of the Baltimore Colts who had won two NFL championships.

Olderman had always gotten along well with Unitas. He wrote 14 books, including a coffee table book titled “The Pro Quarterback” that featured Unitas on the cover.

But the headline on the story in Sport Magazine read: “Is Unitas Washed Up?”

Murray Olderman, 1960 FWAA president and 1991 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

Murray Olderman, 1960 FWAA president and 1991 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

“He was 28 and played until he was 39,” said Olderman. “He didn’t talk to me much after that.”

Much like Unitas, Olderman was a cut above most people in his profession. In addition to being a fine writer, he drew cartoons as well. Cartoons were a staple of the sports pages in those days.

“There were 12 papers in New York City then and 10 had sports cartoonists,” Olderman said of his days growing up in Spring Valley, 30 miles northwest of New York City.

He never had any formal training as a cartoonist. He did take a couple of art classes while a student at the University of Missouri and began drawing for The Columbia Missourian, the paper in Columbia, Mo., that is manned by journalism students from the university.

“They’re both work,” Olderman said of his ability to write and draw. “It gave me a little bit of an edge because I could do both.”

In the past, Olderman’s drawing served as the masthead for the FWAA’s newsletter, “The Fifth Down.” It depicted a writer and a broadcaster, with a pin, pad and microphone in hand, respectively, appearing alongside a center hiking a football to a quarterback.

The son of Ukrainian immigrants, Murray first stepped into the business while a senior at Spring Valley High School, working for the weekly Rockland County Leader. He covered high school sports and wrote a column.

Olderman headed off to North Carolina, but stayed only a year. “Ran out of money,” he said. A year later, he enrolled at Missouri, one of the top journalism schools in the country.

He graduated from there in 1943 and went right into the Army. He served as an intelligence officer in Gmunden, Austria, in the Third Army during World War II. He also earned a degree in humanities from Stanford while stationed at the university in a language program.

After military service Olderman enrolled at Northwestern, his fourth college, on the G.I. Bill. He received a master’s in journalism in Evanston.

He began drawing sports cartoons for the Chicago Daily News while at Northwestern.

He returned to the West Coast for his first full-time job after college, writing features and doing cartoons for the Sacramento Bee. After four years there it was off to the Minneapolis Star in 1951.

NEA, a Scripps-Howard syndicate, offered Olderman a job.

“Their headquarters were in Cleveland and their home office was in New York,” he said. “Guess where I wanted to work?”

Olderman returned to the Big Apple. He became sports editor of NEA in 1964 and executive editor in 1968.

Living in New York City gave him access to the NFL and NBA offices. In 1955, at Olderman’s urging, the NFL named its most valuable player award after Jim Thorpe. A year later, the NBA began presenting the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, named after the league’s first commissioner, to its MVP, with Olderman again being the idea man behind the award.

He actually did road work with heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano, who was training at Grossinger’s, once a lively resort in the Catskill Mountains of New York.

“I went up to do a story on him and ran with him in the morning,” said Olderman. “He was 5-11 and I was 6-feet. I had longer legs. I was able to keep up with him. He was a very down to earth, nice guy. Not very polished.”

Most people credit the 1958 NFL Championship, when Unitas led his Colts to an overtime victory against the Giants in New York, for popularizing pro football.

Olderman also believes the 1956 title game, when the Giants routed the Chicago Bears in New York, played a significant part. “Madison Avenue caught on to the Giants (after that),” he said. “The 1958 game solidified it. That’s when football passed baseball as the national sport.”

Olderman, president of the FWAA in 1960, talked NEA into allowing him to move to the San Francisco area, where he met his wife in 1971. He officially retired from that job in 1987 and moved to Rancho Mirage, near Palm Springs.

He has continued to write for various magazines, illustrating his own articles. “I retired from my job, but I never retired,” he said.

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Pillars of the FWAA: John Mooney, Salt Lake City Tribune

ffaw_redesignThe Football Writers Association of America is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015. Founded in 1941, the FWAA has served the writing profession and college football during a time when the world has changed greatly and the sport of football has along with it. In an effort to tell the history of the organization, we will, over the next four months, publish each week a sketch on one of the FWAA’s  most important  leaders — all Bert McGrane Award winners.

The Bert McGrane Award, symbolic of the association’s Hall of Fame, is presented to an FWAA member who has performed great service to the organization and/or the writing profession. It is named after McGrane, a Des Moines, Iowa, writer who was the executive secretary of the FWAA from the early 1940s until 1973. The McGrane Award was first bestowed on an FWAA member in 1974.

For a list of all the winners go to:   http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/mcgrane/index.html.

The following is the second installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series, on John Mooney, the 1983 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.

By Gene Duffey

The year was 1969 and Texas and Arkansas sat atop the college football world. ABC-TV had the foresight to ask the schools to move their traditional October game to the end of the season, a Dec. 6 showdown in Fayetteville that became know as “The Shootout.”

John Mooney was the FWAA President in 1969. He had the foresight to write a letter to President Richard Nixon, not only inviting him to the game, but also asking him to present the national championship plaque to the winning team.

John Mooney, the 1983 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

John Mooney, the 1983 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

President Nixon bit on the offer, made the trip to Arkansas and, after a memorable 15-14 Texas victory, presented the trophy to Coach Darrell Royal and his Longhorns.

Notre Dame nearly ruined the impact, leading Texas 17-14 in the fourth quarter of the Cotton Bowl. Then James Street & Co. rallied to beat the Irish 21-17 and clinch the national title. Dick Rosetta, who worked for Mooney at the Salt Lake City Tribune for 27 years before succeeding him as sports editor in 1990, pointed out the true irony of Nixon being put on stage by the FWAA. “Mooney was a lifelong Democrat,” Rosetta said.

Mooney took greater pride in helping bring attention to college football in his part of the country. Players such at Utah State’s Merlin Olsen and Utah’s Larry Wilson achieved All-America status largely because of Mooney’s influence on the FWAA All-America Committee. In 1961, Olsen claimed the FWAA’s Outland Trophy, which annually has been awarded to the best lineman in college football since 1946, and went on to a stellar career with the Los Angeles Rams.

“Hopefully I had a part of bringing football respect to the Rockies,” he once said.

“He was more known outside this state than inside,” said Rosetta, citing Mooney’s relationships with many of the top sports writers and college football coaches across the country.

John James Mooney competed in nearly every sport in high school, football, basketball, baseball, swimming and track. He went off to the University of Iowa where he continued to play sports and was even a member of the boxing team, then an intercollegiate sport. But he achieved much less success in athletics in college than in high school and began concentrating on journalism. He became sports editor of the student newspaper, the Daily Iowan.

He worked for the Chicago Tribune and briefly in New Orleans before moving to Salt Lake City to take a job with the Salt Lake Telegram. He served as sports editor of that paper from 1940-48 before switching to the Salt Lake Tribune, also as sports editor.

Mooney became famous for his notes column, “Disa and Data,” which was also the title of his book. “He probably got more names in the paper than anyone,” said Rosetta.

John Mooney wasn’t just part of the community in Salt Lake City. He was the community.

He donated generously to charities such as the United Way and the St. Vincent de Paul Center, where he volunteered in their soup kitchen. He was a member of the Elks, the Knights of Columbus and the Hibernian Society. The Elks named him Citizen of the Year. He served as grand marshal for the Salt Lake City St. Patrick’s Day parade. The Multiple Sclerosis Society honored him as its Sports Person of the Year at their annual Dinner of Champions.

He received more awards than most of the athletes he covered, including one from the county sheriff’s office in 1985. “John Mooney stayed at boxing events, when nobody else was there, often from 7 p.m. to 2 and 3 a.m., getting winner’s names for the newspaper,” said Sheriff Pete Hayward. “His efforts greatly aided fund-raising efforts for many sports programs.”

Rosetta said that none of the organizations that Mooney belonged to meant more to him than the FWAA. He was a regular at the annual meeting, often paying for the trip out of his own pocket. He knew people from all walks of life, but he liked the people in his own profession the best.

“There is no caste system in sports writing,” he once said. “(Big timers) will share a drink or a story with a guy from the Rockies.”

The press area in Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah was named after him.  He was named sportswriter of the year seven times in the state of Utah.

“He was my hero,” said Rosetta. “He was a pure joy to work for. We had our battles. Mooney was an icon and I was a grunt guy. He referred to me as his illegitimate son.”

Mooney’s last column appeared Dec. 31, 1990. “My greatest fear is to be one column ahead of time and die,” he once said.

Mooney signed his interoffice memos “P.O.J,” which stood for Poor Old John. “That’s how everybody knew him on the desk,” Rosetta said.

 

Pillars of the FWAA: Fred Russell (1906-2003), Nashville Banner

ffaw_redesignThe Football Writers Association of America is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015. Founded in 1941, the FWAA has served the writing profession and college football during a time when the world has changed greatly and the sport of football has along with it. In an effort to tell the history of the organization, we will, over the next four months, publish each week a sketch on one of the FWAA’s  most important  leaders — all Bert McGrane Award winners.

The Bert McGrane Award, symbolic of the association’s Hall of Fame, is presented to an FWAA member who has performed great service to the organization and/or the writing profession. It is named after McGrane, a Des Moines, Iowa, writer who was the executive secretary of the FWAA from the early 1940s until 1973. The McGrane Award was first bestowed on an FWAA member in 1974.

For a list of all the winners go to:   http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/mcgrane/index.html.

The following is the first installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series, on Fred Russell, the 1981 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.

By Gene Duffey

In 1940, Fred Russell’s influence and ability to judge talent was never more evident than when he suggested to Vanderbilt football coach Red Sanders that he should hire a young Bear Bryant.

Russell was then Sports Editor of the Nashville Banner, but had known Sanders from their college baseball playing days at Vanderbilt.  So he merely gave Sanders the heads up on this young assistant coach at Alabama. Sanders had wanted to hire a promising Mississippi State assistant named Murray Warmath. But Russell was pushing Bryant, whom he had first gotten to know as an Alabama player at the 1935 Rose Bowl (1934 season) and later as an assistant for Crimson Tide coach Frank Thomas.

Fred Russell, winner of the 1981 Bert McGrane Award.

Fred Russell, winner of the 1981 Bert McGrane Award.

Sanders stopped in Tuscaloosa, Ala. and interviewed Bryant on his way to Mississippi State. Sanders called Russell back in Nashville and told him, “I got my man” and passed the phone to his new assistant coach.

“Congratulations Murray,” Russell said in a welcoming tone. “You’re going to love Nashville.”

“Who the hell is Murray?” said the voice on the other end. “This is Paul Bryant.”

Sanders went on to coach UCLA to a national championship in 1954. Warmath eventually became the coach at Minnesota and led the Golden Gophers to back-to-back Rose Bowls. That young guy Bryant did pretty well for himself, too.

Russell was a man of influence. “He was a real mover and shaker,” said Doug Segrest, who worked for Russell at the Banner from 1984-91. “He was probably the second most powerful man in Vanderbilt athletics.”

Segrest recalled playing in Tennessee coach Johnny Majors’ annual Kickoff Classic golf tournament and being paired with Joe DiMaggio. Segrest said little to the baseball legend until the ninth hole when DiMaggio found out that Segrest worked at the Banner.

“If I worked with Freddie Russell I had to be a good guy (according to DiMaggio),” said Segrest. “I got a great interview with him. He took me back to his condo and talked for an hour and a half.”

Russell came from tiny Wartrace, Tenn., his family moving to Nashville when he was 6. He attended the Duncan School, Vanderbilt and Vanderbilt Law School — not your normal path to a sports writing career.

His took his first job after law school with the Real Estate Title Company. He lost his job when the company merged with another. He started with the Banner in June 1929. He was offered the choice of selling ads for $25 a week or being a reporter for $6 a week. He took the reporter’s job, covering the police beat. He became sports editor a year later.

“Ever since I began reading the sports pages at seven or eight, I had envied the sports writers as much as the athletes,” Russell once said. “I’d always imagined that sports writing must be the greatest life in the world.”

He named his column “Sidelines.”

Russell covered the first Masters in 1934, the World Series and other major sporting events. He also covered the Tennessee State women’s track team, including Wilma Rudolph, at the 1960 Summer

Olympics in Rome. When he was honored at a dinner in 1953, the guests included Bobby Jones, Red Grange and Jack Dempsey.

He was president of the FWAA in 1965.

“He had a distinctive style,” said Segrest. “He was an easy read and always told you something you didn’t know.”

In a business that breeds familiarity, where copy boys call managing editors by their first names, many people called him “Mr. Russell.”

“The only people who called him Freddie were his peers and family,” said Segrest.

Russell was a practical joker. He pulled one of his best ones on his chief desk guy at the Banner, Bill Roberts. Roberts was from Brooklyn and broken hearted when his Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. In the days of teletype machines at newspapers, a bell would ring to alert the newsroom that a major story was about to move.

One day the Associated Press reported that after one year in Los Angeles, Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley was going to move the team back to Brooklyn. Roberts was ready to buy drinks for everyone in the newsroom, before being told that Russell had set up the whole thing and that the AP report was sent only to the Banner.

Russell wrote seven books in addition to the Pigskin Preview for the popular Saturday Evening Post from 1949-62.

He served as chairman of the Honors Court of the College Football Hall of Fame for 29 years from 1963-91 and Southern chairman of the Heisman Trophy selection committee for 46 years. He received the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award from the American Football Coaches Association in 1981. When Vanderbilt Stadium was rebuilt in 1982, the press box was named after him.

The Nashville Banner folded in 1998. Mr. Russell wrote a weekly column for The Tennessean until retiring in 1999.

Cancer survivor and 2011 FWAA Courage Award winner signs as free agent with Dolphins

By Chris Solari
Lansing State Journal

After beating cancer, Arthur Ray’s odds-defying journey back to football will finally take him to the NFL.

The former Michigan State offensive lineman agreed to terms with the Miami Dolphins and will join the team’s rookie mini-camp that begins Friday in South Florida, his agent Paul Sheehy said Tuesday.

Ray, a Chicago native who is 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, is expected to be either a guard or center at the pro level. He started 14 games over the past two seasons at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., after being granted two extra seasons of eligibility by the NCAA in January 2013. He last played for MSU in 2011.

ffaw_redesignIn Miami this week, Ray will rejoin former Spartan teammate Tony Lippett, a cornerback/wide receiver taken by the Dolphins in Saturday’s fifth round. Former MSU tight end Dion Sims and punter Brandon Fields also are on the Dolphins’ active roster.

The camp will be a foot-in-the-door tryout for Ray, who went undrafted in the NFL draft over the weekend.

“I’m on the phone with my main man Dion Sims all the time. … Dion Sims is truly one of my best friends from Michigan State,” Ray said last week before the NFL draft. “We always talk about me and the process. We were just joking the other day about me possibly coming down to the Dolphins. I was just laughing with him, telling him, ‘Yeah, I wouldn’t mind backing up (starting center Mike) Pouncy’ and going down there and playing with Dion.”

It’s been a long and sometimes rocky path to the NFL for Ray, who turns 26 next month.

Ranked as one of the nation’s top offensive guards as part of Mark Dantonio’s first full MSU recruiting class in 2007, he was diagnosed with cancer in his right tibia in April of his senior year at Mount Carmel High in Chicago.

Ray underwent nine surgeries on his lower right leg and chemotherapy, battling bone infections and countless hours of rehabilitation on his leg while spending more than two years on crutches. He deferred his enrollment and didn’t begin classes at MSU until 2008. Dantonio and his staff honored their scholarship commitment.

In the spring of 2011, Ray was finally cleared to practice. During the Spartans’ opening game that August against Youngstown State, a tearful Ray received the starting assignment at left guard. He went on to play against Florida Atlantic and Indiana and received his only varsity letter at MSU, receiving the team’s “Biggie” Munn Most Inspirational Player Award at the team banquet.

Conquering cancer also earned Ray the Discover Orange Bowl/Football Writers Association of America’s Courage Award and was the Most Courageous Performance by the Big Ten in 2011.

Dantonio left Ray off MSU’s 2012 roster. Ray received a medical disqualification and finished his degree in communications that December before transferring to Division II Fort Lewis College, where he was a two-time captain and tore his meniscus in his right knee during the 2013 season. He returned to the field last fall and was a second-team All-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference selection at left tackle.

FWAA announces ‘Super 11’ sports information departments in 2014 season

ffaw_redesignDALLAS — The Football Writers Association of America has selected its sixth “Super 11” group of sports information departments deemed the best in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision for the 2014 season.

The winners: Auburn (SEC), Bowling Green (Mid-American Conference), Colorado (Pac-12), East Carolina (American Athletic Conference), Iowa State (Big 12), Nebraska (Big Ten), Pittsburgh (ACC), Rice (Conference USA) Rutgers (Big Ten), UNLV (Mountain West) and USC (Pac-12).

USC is a five-time winner of the award and Auburn, Bowling Green, Colorado, East Carolina, Nebraska, Pittsburgh and Rutgers are multiple winners. The committee honored Rutgers because of the exceptional work of former football Sports Information Director Jason Baum, who consistently provided exemplary service when he worked with the school’s athletic department.

New winners of the award are Iowa State, Rice and UNLV. Over the six-year period, the FWAA has honored 45 different schools.

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