The 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 personal histories of those in the organization, we will, over the next few 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 seventh installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Blackie Sherrod was the 1985 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.
By Gene Duffey
When Blackie Sherrod finally retired at the age of 80, he put his life ahead of him in perspective for his readers. “Retirement is like a steam bath,” wrote the man of wonderful words. “Once you get to it, it’s not so hot.”
Sherrod did it all in the newspaper business. He wrote stories and he wrote columns. He worked as an editor. He wrote op-ed pieces and finished his marvelous journey by writing a notes column called “Scattershooting.”
“I always thought he was as great an all-around newspaperman as he was a columnist,” said Dan Jenkins, who Sherrod hired at the old Fort Worth Press and went on to become one of the top writers at Sports Illustrated and a noted author.
Sherrod worked as an assistant managing editor at the Dallas Times Herald, outside the sports department. He conducted writing seminars for the reporters. He was so well respected as a newspaperman that the paper sent him to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to cover the 1969 moon shot, although he had never been a science writer. He also covered the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
William Forrest Sherrod, the son of a barber in Central Texas, began his odyssey playing quarterback in high school, making the all-district team as a senior. He enrolled at Baylor on an academic scholarship in 1937, where he enjoyed much less success in football than in high school. He transferred to Howard Payne, in Brownwood, Texas, where he played wingback for a year to little acclaim. Wisely, he spent his last two years there studying journalism.
He graduated from Howard Payne in 1941 and served as a tail gunner and radio man on a torpedo bomber in the Pacific in World War II. He served on the USS Saratoga and USS Santee and was stationed on Guadalcanal.
He landed his first full-time newspaper job in 1946 with the Temple (Texas) Telegram. He didn’t stay there long before joining the Press, the afternoon paper in Fort Worth.
Sherrod covered only one beat in his life. That was the Fort Worth Cats baseball team, at the time part of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ farm system. The Cats gave him an avenue to the Dodgers spring training camp, where he became friendly with some of the top sports writers from New York City, including Red Smith.
He joined the FWAA in 1950 and served as President in 1963.
When Sherrod became sports editor in Fort Worth, he built an outstanding staff of writers, including Jenkins and Edwin “Bud” Shrake. Jenkins and Shrake were students at TCU, Jenkins recommended his friend to Sherrod.
The writers often needed to be in the office by 6 a.m. to help put out the P.M. paper. And you better be on time.
“Blackie kept us all scared to death,” said Shrake. “We liked him, and we hung out with him, but it wasn’t (ever) considered that you’d be a minute late. And God forbid if you got something wrong.”
“I always thought I was a better editor than a writer,” he said. “I was never a very confident writer,” which is like Willie Mays saying he was a better hitter than an outfielder. He was pretty good at both.
After 12 years at the Press, Sherrod moved over to the Times Herald in Dallas, where he worked for 26 years.
In 1962 Sports Illustrated invited Sherrod and Jenkins to come up for a tryout. “I wasn’t going to audition for anybody,” said Sherrod.
He recognized the impact of television before most in the print industry. If there was a major sporting event on TV that night, Sherrod would put the time and channel in a box in the sports section. “My approach, even then, was that you’d better make it work for you,” he said of the fledgling TV business.
While many sports writers of his quality pen book after book, Sherrod wrote only two, one about Texas football coach Darrell Royal and the other with Longhorn Freddie Steinmark, a member of the Longhorns’ 1969 national championship team who died 18 months later of cancer.
Sherrod switched to the Dallas Morning News in 1984. He finally said goodbye in 2008.