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 stories of the members of 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 eighth installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Tim Cohane was the 1987 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.
By Gene Duffey
College football used to be a big deal in New York City. Fordham University was one of the top teams in the country and a young Tim Cohane was in the middle of the action. After graduating from Fordham in 1935, he spent the next five years as the school’s sports information director.
Fordham, which played its home games at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, went undefeated in 1937. The Rams played in the first televised football game, professional or college, in 1939.
The 1936 and ’37 Fordham teams were led by an outstanding line, featuring Alex Wojciechowicz, who went on to become an all-pro with the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles. Vince Lombardi, who would become one of the greatest coaches in football history, was another member of the Fordham line.
Cohane discovered a newspaper clipping from a 1930 Fordham game that referred to the line as “The Seven Blocks of Granite.” He revitalized the nickname and it stuck forever.
He left Fordham in 1940 to join the sports staff of the New York World-Telegram. He covered college football and the Brooklyn Dodgers and wrote a column called, “Frothy Facts.” He also developed a friendship with Army football coach Earl “Red” Blaik. Cohane even suggested that Blaik hire Lombardi as an assistant coach.
“Tim Cohane was a big, gregarious Irishman who never gave up his allegiance to Fordham,” said Murray Olderman, the 1991 Bert McGrane Award winner.
Blaik and Cohane later co-authored a book titled, “You Have To Pay the Price.” Cohane also wrote “The Gridiron Grenadiers,” a history of Army football, and “The Yale Football Story” among his five books.
One of Cohane’s classmates at Fordham was Wellington Mara, who would become the owner of the New York Giants. “He urged Mara to hire Vince Lombardi away from Army as an assistant coach for the New York Giants,” said Olderman.
Lombardi was godfather to one of Cohane’s daughters.
Look Magazine started in 1937, a competitor of the Saturday Evening Post and Life, which was part of the Time Inc. empire. All three were large size weeklies that emphasized photos. Cohane moved to Look as its sports editor in 1944.
He stayed true to his newspaper roots, writing news stories as well as features. He broke the story in Look that Brooklyn’s Jackie Robinson planned to retire after the 1956 season.
He never steered away from controversy.
Former heavyweight champion Joe Louis once sued Look for half a million dollars over a Cohane article that claimed Louis was broke and owed $175,000 in back taxes. In 1964 Cohane was found guilty of criminal contempt for failing to reveal his source for a baseball story he wrote for Look.
One of the best known features of Look was the FWAA All-America team it published from 1946 to 1970. “He was a great supporter of the FWAA,” said Furman Bisher of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the 1982 McGrane winner. “He had the All-American voters as Look’s guests in New York each year.”
Cohane’s son, Tim, became a basketball coach. As an example of the strong loyalty that Cohane had built among those he covered, his son received a letter of support after resigning as the coach at Dartmouth following a 7-19 season in 1983. Tim had been arguing with the administration over recruiting policies.
The letter came from Earl “Red” Blaik.
Cohane founded the FWAA’s Grantland Rice Trophy that was presented annually to the national college football champion through the 2013 season. UCLA claimed the first Grantland Rice Trophy in 1954 and Florida State the last one after the FWAA determined it was no longer necessary to crown a champion in light of the new College Football Playoff.
Cohane left Look in 1965, six years before it folded.
In 1968 he took a job teaching business writing at Boston University’s School of Public Communications, finally retiring in 1978.
Cohane suffered a stroke in January 1987. His wife and son accepted the Bert McGrane Award for him in Dallas.