Pillars of the FWAA: Maury White (1919-1999), Des Moines Register

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 stories of the members of the organization, we will 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 11th installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Maury White was the 1980 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.

 By Gene Duffey

Marc Hansen was a young columnist for the afternoon Des Moines Tribune. He and Maury White, the veteran columnist of the Des Moines Register, were friendly rivals, often riding together to college football games.

“They were like being in a seminar,” Hansen said of the drives to college campuses at locations such as Lincoln, Neb., or Champaign, Ill. “I learned how to be organized. (Maury) said the last thing you want to be doing on deadline is flipping through a bunch of papers. He was very professional in the way he went about his job.”

Maury White, 1980 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

Maury White, 1980 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

Hansen recalled one of those trips to Nebraska when the two columnists attended the Cornhuskers’ Friday afternoon practice. Coach Tom Osborne interrupted practice to come over and say hello to White. White introduced Osborne to Hansen, who was impressed by the respect that the Nebraska coach showed the veteran columnist.

“Maury was as fair as they came,” said Forest Evashevski, the successful Iowa football coach during White’s prime writing days. “He had great respect for the truth.”

Maury White was a very good writer. If you didn’t believe it, just ask him.

“He was almost as good as he said he was,” said a laughing Hansen, who teamed up with White when their papers merged in the early 1980s. “And he would be sure to let you know about it. Maury did not lack self-confidence. He thought he knew everything, and he pretty much did, and he told you that.”

White’s ego never made him aloof to his colleagues. “He couldn’t have been more helpful to me,” said Hansen.

White had covered most of the major sporting events, including the 1968 Olympics in Mexico and the 1976 Games in Montreal. But when the Olympics were staged in Los Angeles in 1984, Hansen received the assignment, not White.

“He could have taken that very badly,” said Hansen. “(But) he went out of his way to help me.”

Track was one of White’s favorite sports, along with college football and golf. He developed a close friendship with Bruce Jenner, who came out of Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa, to win the gold medal in the decathlon at Montreal. “The first time he came up to me, I felt like I was talking to a legend,” said Jenner.

The outstanding male athlete at the annual Drake Relays now receives the Maury White Award.

White was a good athlete himself. He played football in high school, scoring 128 points his senior year at Manilla High School in western Iowa. He went on to play at Drake.

He scored both touchdowns to help the Bulldogs upset Iowa State 14-13 in 1941. White took umbrage when a newspaper reported that he had caught the Cyclones “off guard” considering his outstanding high school career.

White served in the Navy during World War II, then joined the Register. The newspaper game was part of the family legacy. His father, grandfather and great grandfather had all worked in the business. Maury described himself as “an ink stained ragamuffin.” He became a columnist full time in 1965 and president of the FWAA in 1967.

Winning the Bert McGrane meant something special to White because McGrane had also worked at the Register.

He gained respect wherever he went.

“I never saw a better interviewer than Maury White,” said Joe McGuff, former sports editor and columnist at the Kansas City Star.  “He always asked all the right questions as well as questions no one else would think of asking.”

White usually managed to find a different angle for his columns. “He did not write what everyone else was writing,” said Hansen. “He looked for the story within the story, that little nugget that nobody else had. He took pride in writing what nobody else was writing.”

White wrote for the Register for 41 years before retiring in January 1988.

“He had opportunities to go elsewhere,” said Hansen, who is now retired. “There was no other paper as far as he was concerned. He could have written for any section in the paper. He knew what was going on beyond the outfield walls.”

One year at the Rose Bowl, White thought another writer was taking far too long to finish his game story. To make a point, White set the guy’s copy on fire. When a security guard hurried over to investigate, White confronted him: “Don’t you know who I am?”

That was Maury White.