Dennis Dodd named recipient of 2022 Bert McGrane Award

INDIANAPOLIS — Veteran sportswriter Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports has been named the recipient of the FWAA’s Bert McGrane Award for 2022, symbolic of the association’s Hall of Fame.  He will be honored during the Past Presidents Dinner here tonight.  

“To paraphrase the great Bobby Bowden upon his retirement,” said Dodd, who was previously a co-FWAA Beat Writer of the Year recipient, “there is only one more big event in your life after you win the Bert McGrane.

Dennis Dodd

“Seriously, I am humbled to join such an accomplished and legendary group. I truly don’t consider myself worthy. The FWAA has been at the core of my professional life. The FWAA’s values and principles have formed the foundation of college sports writing. Its members consider journalism a vocation, not just a job.”

The Bert McGrane Award, since 1974, has been bestowed on a FWAA member in recognition of contributions to the association and to college football and recognized in the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. Dodd was named the Steve Ellis co- FWAA Beat Writer of the Year in 2018 and was also FWAA President in 2006.

“These last 18 months or so have been an inspiration,” Dodd continued. “Some of the best writing in any discipline has come from FWAA members during the pandemic. The virus presented a lot of us with unique challenges. We, as a group, rose to the occasion to frame COVID and its impact on the sport. To be part of this great fraternity remains an honor of a lifetime.”

A rundown of Dodd’s career …

PERSONAL: Married. Wife Janet. Two children — Haley, 29, and Jack 25. Haley is a graduate of Missouri, former Volney Meece scholarship recipient in 2009 and is working in Los Angeles in digital media. Jack is in business development in Kansas City. Dennis has won three first-place FWAA Best Writing Contest Awards. He is one of seven media members to cover all 16 BCS title games. Counting this year’ CFP championship game, that’s 22 of 24 championship games overall in the BCS era (since 1998). He has written two books, one on the history of Missouri basketball and the other on the formation of the Big 12. He calls his wife, Janet, “the absolute light of my life, guidance counselor, travel companion, life coach, cancer survivor and best friend.” One of his hobbies, NCAA Football on the PlayStation, was taken away from him by litigation. That and Jack took the Xbox to college. His passions are Happy Hour, hockey and Friday nights before Saturday games in college towns dining with media friends. “There’s no better fellowship,” he says.

MENTORS:  Kansas City Star co-workers Tom Shatel and Steve Richardson, early on. Richardson, Dodd says, “mentored him when he came to Kanas City in 1981.” Shatel: “I wish I could be him as a writer and a father.” They can all still be seen in San Diego in somebody’s picture of that little joint by the sea. Dodd started going to America’s Finest City 38 years ago to watch the 1983 Holiday Bowl. In his last college game, Steve Young caught the game-winning touchdown. Shatel was along for the ride. Ivan Maisel, a “literary and personal hero.” I also want to thank Vahe Gregorian, Andy BagnatoChuck Culpepper, David Jones, Todd Jones, Dick Weiss, Mark Blaudschun, Tony Barnhart, Chris Dufresne, Pat Forde and everyone who has pounded the keyboards at midnight with me.”

BEST STORIES:  He is most proud of two — one was on Dave Redding. “I drove up to central Nebraska to see legendary strength coach Dave Redding,” Dodd said. “In a profession full of characters, rogues and heroes, he was all three. Red Man had been stricken with Parkinson’s. He lived in a house built on the banks of the Platte River by himself and his dad. His only companions were a couple of dogs and a houseful of memories. He showed me his Super Bowl ring he earned with the Packers.He went in depth on two brothers who made it big in Hollywood before both dying of HIV. He kept asking me if I wanted a drink. It was 2 p.m. It was clear he was lonely. I had to decline because I had to drive back to Lincoln. I’m really proud of honoring him by writing that story.”

“In 2001, I had the idea to drive out to Cottonwood Falls, Kansas, to find the Knute Rockne Memorial where the great coach’s plane had crashed in 1931,” Dodd said. “It was the 70th anniversary of the crash that killed Notre Dame’s legendary coach. Before the days of GPS or Siri, I drove 90 minutes to Emporia, got directions to Cottonwood Falls, and then got directions again to Bazaar, Kansas. That’s the closest spot on a map to the memorial which stands alone on a 1,500-acre plot of land in the Flint Hills.

“I met a gentle soul named Easter Heathman.” Dodd said. “As a 13-year old in 1931, he had seen the plane come out of the clouds and crash. He was one of the first upon the scene. He remembered seeing a body with the legs wrapped with bandages. Years later, Heathman figured that must have been Rockne because the coach had phlebitis. Over the years Easter became a caretaker for the memorial, taking anyone who wanted to see it, up to the site. The landowner had given him a combination to unlock the gate. I revisited the story on the 90th anniversary of the crash this past March. But I had to sneak onto the land which has new owners who prohibit trespassers, including reporters like me. The five-mile hike across the Kansas prairie was worth it to geta cell phone picture of the memorial for the story.”

BEST ADVICE: Came from Janet, of course: “Listen … listen to her, listen to your children, listen to your heart,” Dodd says. “Professionally, listen to your interview subjects. They are doing you a favor by talking to you. They have a story to tell. It’s up to you to communicate it clearly.” Also, “Read (your story) one more time before sending it.”— Several editors.

THE BIGGEST CHANGE IN THE PROFESSION:  Dodd says: “The lack of intimacy. I don’t have to tell anyone in the FWAA how hard it is now to connect with subjects. Open locker rooms are few and far between. Interviews are now ‘media availability.’ A chat must fit into an available ‘window.’ I believe schools sometimes are doing a disservice to these kids. They come to college to grow as people and, sure, as athletes. For a lot of them this is going to be the time of their lives. I’ve said it many times, on the college beat we’re there to write something positive 80 to 90 percent of the time. Don’t make it so hard. I mourn the loss of access. Often the story that gets told is not THE story. COVID has obviously had an impact, but let’s hope we can get back to what we had. 

“On the positive side, the best biggest change is the influx of women into our profession. There still aren’t enough, but they keep coming. That’s a good thing. Thank you, Stef Loh for being our 2018 FWAA President and Heather Dinich this year. I know there are moretalented leaders inthe pipeline. Kelly Whiteside was our first female FWAA President in 2002”.

BEST INTERVIEW:  Jeff Sims.  “He wasthe coach at Garden City Community College,” Dodd says. “When I visited a few years ago, this was before Last Chance U. Sims grew up in St. Louis and had a dad — a cop—  who smoked marijuana in front of him. Sims once waited outside a prison to get a commitment from a player who was completing 3 1/2 years for armed robbery. There’s a book here somewhere about the desperation at the junior college level — for the players to get there, get good and get out. During my visit there, I sat across from a linebacker, Alex Figueroa, who’d been kicked out of a previous school for a violation of school policy. His teammate had body-slammed a high school security guard on camera. These are some of the kids Sims pursued to be on his team. It remains a fascinating interview. Coach and players made no excuses about why they were there in the southwest corner of Kansas — to get out as soon as possible.

John Heisler to receive FWAA’s Bert McGrane Award 1

DALLAS Long-time Notre Dame Sports Information Director John Heisler, now holding a similar position at the University of Central Florida, has been named the recipient of the Football Writers Association of America’s Bert McGrane Award for 2021.

John Heisler

The McGrane Award is presented to an FWAA member in recognition of contributions to the FWAA and college football. McGrane was a sportswriter and editor at the Des Moines Register for 45 years and served as the FWAA’s Executive Director from the early 1940s until 1973. This is the FWAA’s highest honor and equivalent to an association’s Hall of Fame.

Heisler is the 48th recipient of the Bert McGrane Award, which started in 1974 and was first awarded to Charley Johnson of the Minneapolis Star.

“I can’t think of anything that’s been any more meaningful to me,” Heisler said. “I say that because it represents hundreds of relationships over a long period of time, and I hope it means we built some trust, could share some institutional knowledge when it was appropriate, and did at least a few things right in terms of working with the media. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Heisler, a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, is a native of South Bend and returned home shortly after his college days. He learned his trade first under SID Bill Callahan at Missouri and later under Roger Valdiserri at Notre Dame. Both the late Callahan and Valdiserri were long-time FWAA members, with Valdiserri still residing in South Bend.

Heisler started working at Notre Dame in 1978 in the SID office and was the award-winning SID from 1988-2003. Thereafter, Heisler rose further up the ladder in the athletic department as an assistant and associate athletic director and was involved in numerous jobs in communications/broadcasting at Notre Dame. He was also editor and frequent contributor to the highly respected “Strong of Heart,” Notre Dame’s annual holiday book of features on Irish athletics. A member of the CoSIDA Hall of Fame, Heisler has claimed numerous awards and written and edited several other books about Notre Dame sports and its coaches.

“John was a fixture at Notre Dame and helped make the Sports Information Office in South Bend one of the best in the country for a number of years, actually a few decades,” said FWAA Executive Director Steve Richardson. “John has been of great help with FWAA members in a number of ways and provided a path for others in the SID profession to follow. He still does in his relocation to Florida.”

Heisler will receive the Bert McGrane plaque at a later time. His name will be a part of the permanent McGrane presentation at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. Furthermore, a small plate with his name also will be placed on the master board of former McGrane recipients at the National Football Foundation (NFF) offices in Irving, Texas.

Getting to Know John Heisler

Question: Who were your mentors and what did they contribute to your career?

Heisler: “Growing up in South Bend, I covered some high school sports part-time and as a teenager got to know Joe Doyle, Bill Moor, Woody Miller and others on the South Bend Tribune staff. I decided to attend the University of Missouri because of its Journalism School, and that was the best decision I ever made. I arrived there at the perfect time and Mizzou SID Bill Callahan provided me with some fabulous opportunities that I probably did not deserve. At the time he did not have a full-time assistant, so from my freshman year on I had all sorts of chances to be involved. Bill knew everybody in the Big Eight, so through him I became good friends with many of his newspaper and SID cronies — Maury White, Bill Beck, Don Bryant and so many more. Those were the ‘70s, the days of Friday night press parties and Skywriters tours. Then Bill often would have a social gathering at his home after home football games (inviting all the media in town to cover the game) and that was another wonderful chance to meet people and learn the business.

I was at Missouri at a time when there was an incredible collection of sports-writing talent in school at the same time as me — Steve Richardson, Joel Bierig, Jeff Rude, Lonnie Wheeler, Dave Stirt, Tim Sullivan, Cal Fussman, Tom Shatel, Dennis Dodd and Mickey Spagnola and many more. That very quickly helped me understand where the bar stood in terms of being able to write well because it was a competitive environment. I subscribed to six newspapers — two each in Columbia, St. Louis and Kansas City. That’s how you kept up day to day when web sites were still some time down the road. I also spent two years as the summer sports intern for the Kansas City Star — what better way to learn the newspaper business.

“When I went to Notre Dame in 1978, the football team was coming off a national championship season and Joe Montana was still the quarterback, so there was no shortage of interest. Working for Roger Valdiserri, I again had the chance to meet all sorts of people in the college athletic business and, thanks to our football schedule, we played everywhere in the country and worked with media all over. There was seldom a dull moment.”

Q: What are some of the stories you have done that have been the most rewarding to you?  Be expansive. These could be the best two three or more over the years.

Heisler: “I got into all this because I loved to write. Unfortunately, the more time I spent in sports information, the fewer opportunities I had to write. But I carved out a few. The students at Notre Dame for years did a football review magazine, but they stopped for a few years in the ‘80s, so we picked it up and did it ourselves. It was great fun. Then beginning in 2010 we did an annual holiday book titled “Strong of Heart” — feature stories about people connected to Notre Dame athletics who had overcome some sort of obstacle. I wrote many of them myself and loved the ability to kind of go back where I started. There was nothing more satisfying that creating a profile of someone and feeling like you absolutely captured that person the way you wanted to portray them.”

Q: Best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?

Heisler: “I remember someone leaving Notre Dame and moving out of state and being disappointed because all sorts of people they did business with no longer connected with them. It taught me that, maybe especially at a place like Notre Dame, lots of people want to be your friend because of the job you have. So, if you value those relationships, you need to nurture them beyond the working aspect of it — and make sure people understand you truly care about them beyond just helping them do their jobs.”

Q: What have you seen change most in the SID profession over the last 25-30 years?

Heisler: “The technology quite obviously is the difference between night and day. There’s a whole generation of media who don’t know what it meant to have both a morning and evening news cycle. The technology makes so many things easier, yet it also makes it simple to skip the personal connections. It may be simple to email or text, but I remind myself not to forget to pick up the cell phone and call people. I miss the time we all spent with each other beyond the games. The virus hasn’t exactly helped that.

“It’s different now because virtually every game is televised or streamed — and results and highlights are instantaneous. But even if we all know every statistic about any given athlete, there’s no substitute for the in-depth feature story that explains what that person is really all about. And when one of us in our business can help you with some background to make one of those stories into something special, that’s when it all pays off for everybody.”

Q: Best interview you ever had and why?

Heisler: “Quite some time before Lou Holtz’s third season at Notre Dame, I suggested to him that we consider a book on what it’s like day to day to be the football coach in South Bend. For all the things that had been written about the job and how difficult and pressure-packed it supposedly was, no one had explained exactly why that was. I had never done anything like that before, but Lou bought into the idea. It became a national championship season, and the book became a best-seller. And it was fascinating sitting down with him to talk at least twice a week that fall. It was football, motivation, how to deal with people and all sorts of other subjects. And it was magical to see how the light went on with Lou the minute I turned on the tape recorder.” 

Q: What are your hobbies/passions?

Heisler: “I became a sports fan at an early age. As a teenager my combination birthday/Christmas present from my parents was a single Notre Dame football season ticket and another for the bleachers for Notre Dame basketball. I’d go by myself and loved every minute of it. I loved any sort of sports publication — media guide, game program, magazine, book, whatever — and I saved them all. As my wife would be quick to add, it got a little out of control. Throw in bobble-heads and autographed baseballs and all sorts of other sports memorabilia and our basement was a bit of a museum.”

Q: Do you have any sports mementos in your house? Such as an old typewriter, the press pass from the first game you attended, an old glove?

Heisler: “I saved tons of ticket stubs and press credentials over the years. My mother’s younger sister lived for many years in San Francisco, and when I was about 10 they went to Joe DiMaggio’s restaurant. On the back of the menu was a classic photo of DiMaggio and a perfect white area beneath for an autograph (and his calligraphy was perfect). I was never particularly a Yankee fan, but that was an item I’ve always treasured.”

Q: Interesting stories with writers?

Heisler: “Back in the ‘80s Mark Blaudschun worked for the Dallas Morning News. He wanted to write a big-picture story about how athletics at Notre Dame worked. He came to town and we set him up to speak with Gerry Faust, Digger Phelps, Gene Corrigan and Father Ned Joyce —maybe all in one day. My wife and I didn’t have kids yet and lived in a condo not far from campus and so we invited Mark over for dinner. Mark on occasion would mention all that and seemed to express some amazement over how it all happened — but I always thought, well, that’s why we’re there — to facilitate those things as best we could.”

“About that same time Pete Alfano worked for the New York Times. During Gerry Faust’s years we had our share of ups and downs. And it seemed like every year by late October we would have lost just enough games that Pete’s editors wanted him to come to town and write something about how football was going at Notre Dame. I used to laugh and remember the 1978 Alan Alda movie “Same Time, Next Year.” I kidded Pete that we should just make a permanent hotel reservation for him in South Bend for about two-thirds of the way through the season because he ended up coming our way about that time every year.

“In 1993, No. 1 Florida State came for a mid-November game in South Bend. It was the biggest late-season football game in Notre Dame history. It was the first time ESPN Game Day went on the road. It seemed like the entire college football world came to town. We quickly ran out of space in the press box, and we ended up putting maybe 40 media on chairs at the top of rows in the stands. We had a great advantage because our team had an open date the week before, so we had the chance to get organized. We set up a full-blown press area where we did interviews all week long, arranged a working press area and had lunch there every day. Then, on Thursday night before the game, Lou Holtz invited all the media to his house for barbeque and beers. It was an amazing week in many ways, but I always took pride in thinking we were able to handle most of the challenges that came our way that week. And then the game was a classic.”

Q: What has the FWAA meant to you over the years?

Heisler: “As a 20-something in the business (and even a bit earlier than that) I idolized so many of the writers who covered college football. And then it was even better when I had the chance to meet and work with so many over the years. I probably should write a book about all those memories over the last four decades.”


Wally Hall will receive 2020 Bert McGrane Award

By Bob Holt
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Wally Hall is in his 40th consecutive year writing about sports as a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat and Democrat-Gazette.

“Whenever anything big happens in sports in Arkansas, everybody waits to see what Wally says. I can’t say that for any other state in the nation,” said Ron Higgins, who has covered the SEC for several newspapers and is now editor of Tiger Rag, a magazine and website that focuses on LSU sports. “In Arkansas, when you say, ‘Wally,’ people don’t ask, ‘Wally who?’ They know it’s Wally Hall.”

Hall, who was born in Searcy and grew up in Little Rock, has covered all sports since becoming a columnist in 1979, but college football has been a focal point.

Wally Hall, winner of the 2020 Bert McGrane Award, the FWAA’s highest honor. (Photo by Melissa Macatee.)

A member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) for 33 years, including serving as president in 2003, Hall is being recognized by the organization with its highest honor.

Hall will receive the Bert McGrane Award at the FWAA Awards Breakfast on Jan. 13, 2020, in New Orleans before the College Football Playoff Championship Game is played in the Superdome.

“This is our lifetime achievement award,” said Steve Richardson, the FWAA Executive Director. “It’s the Football Writers’ Hall of Fame.”

The McGrane Award is presented in recognition of contributions to the FWAA and college football with the recipients being displayed in the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.

McGrane was a sports writer and editor at the Des Moines Register for 45 years and served as the FWAA’s Executive Director from the early 1940s until 1973.

“Wally is an iconic figure in college football writers’ circles for his longevity and the fact he’s been so passionate about all college sports for so many years,” said Richardson, also a McGrane recipient. “Recognizing him with the McGrane Award is really a no-brainer. He has been very supportive of the FWAA. He’s fought for his newspaper and for writers everywhere as far as coverage and access.”

The McGrane Award has been presented annually since 1974 and is a Who’s Who of sports writers, with past winners including Paul Zimmerman, Furman Bisher, Blackie Sherrod, Edwin Pope, Tony Barnhart and Ivan Maisel.

“Looking at the list of past winners of this award puts me in awe,” Hall said. “I do share one thing in common with everyone who has won this award — a passion for college football.”

Hall is the third Arkansan to win the McGrane Award along with Orville Henry and Charlie Fiss.

Henry, who wrote for the Arkansas Gazette and later the Democrat and Democrat-Gazette and Donrey Media Group, won in 2002.

Fiss, a Springdale native and longtime vice president of communications for the Cotton Bowl, was the award’s recipient in 2017.

“Wally has done it all in his career as a reporter, columnist and editor,” Fiss said. “He has developed an extraordinary following in Arkansas by earning the trust and loyalty of his readers.

“People want to know what Wally is thinking when it comes to the world of sports, and particularly the news of the day about the Razorbacks. I’m one of those readers. His column is like a magnet for me because it’s the first thing I turn to when picking up the newspaper or going online.

“The impact he has made as a journalist and his contributions to the profession are immense The Bert McGrane Award is one of the highest honors a journalist could ever receive and it’s gratifying to see the FWAA recognize Wally in such a special and meaningful way.”

Herb Vincent, the SEC’s associate commissioner of communications, is a North Little Rock native and graduate of Little Rock Catholic High School.

“I grew up reading Wally,” Vincent said. “Even after I left Little Rock, my dad knew that I liked to read him so much that he’d clip out his columns and send them to me in the days before the Internet.

“Then even after the Internet, he kept mailing them to me. It became a tradition where I’d get a package in the mail every week with Wally’s columns.

“My dad would write comments with the columns — and sometimes he didn’t agree with Wally. But he always read Wally, just like I have and so many other people have all these years. Reading Wally always helped me keep up with what was going on back home.”

Along with being a columnist, Hall added the sports editor’s duties in 1981.

“Wally’s a throwback to the old days when the sports editor was the columnist as well as running the department,” Richardson said. “He’s maintained a unique standing in the industry.

“Think of all the coaches Wally has covered at Arkansas. In this day and age someone who has the history and knowledge of the Arkansas program and sports in his state in general like Wally does is very hard to find.

“He’s a wealth of knowledge and has strong opinions. I don’t think anyone has to wonder how Wally feels about a topic he’s writing about. You know how he feels after you read his column.”

Vincent said Hall’s reputation and influence have extended well beyond Arkansas.

“Wally is really a legend in the sports writing industry,” Vincent said. “People across the country know Wally. He’s obviously got a great perspective on the world of sports.

“Wally writes with passion and he writes with an educated point of view. He writes with humor.

“Wally’s always had a great perspective on Arkansas sports through the good and the bad, through the winning and losing. He’s consistently been a sportswriter’s sportswriter.

“Wally knows his audience. He knows who he’s writing for. He’s been around sports for so long now that he knows what people want to know and he addresses that.”

Hall often has had to file his column within minutes — sometimes seconds — of a game ending to make deadline.

“Wally has so much impact with what he writes — and he writes faster than any human being I’ve ever seen,” Higgins said. “He’s given so much not just to the business of journalism in general, but to the Football Writers Association in particular. He’s always been a great advocate for our organization.

“He’s always concerned about how press boxes are run and the media operations part of our business.”

Higgins, then with the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, was covering the Arkansas-Michigan game at the 1998 Citrus Bowl.

“Somebody announced they’d be closing the press box an hour after the game,” Higgins said. “Wally went ballistic, and they said we could stay as long as we needed.

“That’s Wally. He’s never afraid to stand up for what he believes, never afraid to take a stand.

“Wally embodies what a good columnist should be about — ‘I don’t care if you like me or not, but you can respect me.’ That’s probably the essence of Wally right there.”

Hall, who was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2017, has said he has no plans to retire.

“Through all the changes newspapers and journalism have gone through, Wally has stood the test of time,” Richardson said. “I think that’s one of his greatest attributes. He probably has a better feel for what’s going on in Arkansas than anyone else through all these years.”

Blair Kerkhoff named winner of Bert McGrane Award 1

Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star was named the FWAA’s Bert McGrane Award winner on Monday. The prestigious award is tantamount to the organization’s Hall of Fame.

Blair Kerkhoff, Kansas City Star: The 2019 Bert McGrane Recipient

Age: 59

Blair Kerkhoff

College: Appalachian State

Personal: Worked at the Raleigh News & Observer and Raleigh Times as a part timer/intern (1978-80); Roanoke Times (Va.) covered Virginia Tech, small colleges, high schools (1981-89); Kansas City Star have covered Kansas, Kansas State, Big 12/SEC, Royals, Chiefs, national colleges (1989-to present)…

Authored five books, four about college sports. Winner of APSE national awards and state writing awards in Missouri and Virginia. Three children: Nate, 29, was a Volney Meece Scholarship Recipient (2007), Ben and Anna. Karen, wife, of 34 years.

Influences/Mentors: I was influenced by the sportswriters of newspapers wherever we lived, plus those who wrote for Sports Illustrated, Sport magazine, The Sporting News and any other publication that came through our home.

Growing up in Raleigh, I’d attend college football games or listen to them on the radio, take notes and scribble short stories on a legal pad then compare it to the game story in the next day’s newspaper.

The first college football game I attended was in 1971, William & Mary at North Carolina. The Tar Heels beat Lou Holtz’s team 36-35 with a late touchdown and two-point conversion. I was hooked.

The next year I attended every N.C. State home game, walking to the stadium from my home about two miles away. I’d go to North Carolina and Duke games during the day and watch the Wolfpack at night.

Rewarding Stories: If you live in the same place for as long as I have, sometimes you’re privileged to write about people who have influenced you or your family. A few years ago, a coach, teacher and fantastic person at a local high school died at the shockingly young age of 47.

Two of my kids had him as a coach, the third as a teacher and by the end of the day without prompting they had all shared a story about him with me. I was able to construct a tribute from those recollections.

I’ve covered every college football championship game since 1995 and a half-dozen or so Division II championships. Sometimes the better stories and certainly better access is found with the smaller schools.

Blair Kerkhoff

Best Advice: Do your homework, and always be prepared for an interview, event or game that you’re covering. I heard this from more than one mentor.

If I could advise aspiring journalists, build a foundation on the fundamentals of writing and reporting, develop contacts and understand how to use them. Be fair and accurate, and don’t think any assignment is beneath you.

For veterans, do your best to keep up with the changing technology, be open to video and audio. The audience doesn’t always come to you like it once did. You have to find the audience and give it a reason for repeat business.

Best Moments: Too many to count.

*Riding in a limo and chatting with Eddie Robinson on the way to an awards banquet.

*Sitting in a conference room with every conference commissioner as the BCS was being planned.

*Nearly getting tossed in the Riverwalk, accidently I think, by Nebraska fans before a Big 12 title game.

*Taking the media bus back to the hotel from Boise State’s dramatic victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, thinking I had captured the essence of this remarkable game, only to learn about the marriage proposal while listening to a radio show, and scrambling at the hotel to add that detail.

*Having beers with Joe Paterno the night before a game, about the time the bad stuff was happening and wouldn’t be known for more than a decade.

*A recurring one: Having the privilege to vote on the Good Works Team and Armed Forces Award.

Best interview: I can’t single one out, but I covered Frank Beamer’s first two years at Virginia Tech. I was the only media member on a regular basis and instead of using that numbers advantage to shut me out, Beamer and his staff opened their doors and allowed me to gain insights into the team.

What the FWAA has meant: My year as FWAA president was incredible for a few reasons.

I was the last person selected by Volney Meece to serve as an officer and enter the president rotation. It allowed me to get to know Volney, one of the greats in our profession.

After Volney passed the FWAA plunged into uncertainty. I remember at the Nebraska-Florida Fiesta Bowl after the 1995 season. Ivan Maisel was President. At the annual meeting, he was there, along with Vahe Gregorian and myself. We discussed a path forward for the organization and we came up with expanding the directory. At the time it looked more like a pamphlet. Soon, it became a media guide.

Not long after that, Tiger Richardson took over and the FWAA has become a model of stability and a positive force in our profession.

Receiving the Bert McGrane Award: If I’m around next July, it will be 30 years for me at The Kansas City Star, mostly covering college sports.

I greatly appreciate that my bosses have found it worthwhile over the years to send me college football’s title game, and I hope whatever audience I have also found it worthwhile.

Winning the Bert McGrane Award is an incredible honor. The roll call of winners includes people who have gained my admiration and readership for decades.

There are more deserving of this award, none more appreciative.

Wieberg named winner of Bert McGrane Award

ATLANTA — On the day of the fourth College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Steve Wieberg receives the FWAA’s prestigious Bert McGrane Award, tantamount to the organization’s Hall of Fame.

Wieberg will accept the McGrane Award at the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel. It was an honor well-deserved not only for his ground-breaking role on the CFP Selection Committee, which helped determine the four playoff teams the last four years, but for his long career at USA Today from 1982 to 2012.

Steve Wieberg

“Stunned, incredibly grateful and humbled by the greats who have won it and just as much by those who haven’t,” Wieberg said upon learning he was the recipient of the award that goes to a person who has performed great service to the FWAA and/or the writing profession.

In 2014, Steve Wieberg became a past media member on the first CFP Selection Committee. After completing a four-year stint on the committee, he undoubtedly has paved the way for future past media members to be a part of one of college sports’ most influential bodies.

“Steve’s position on the committee was, well, sort of a breakthrough in college sports,” said FWAA Executive Director Steve Richardson. “But it goes to show you there are those in the media who generate great respect from those they have covered over the years.

“He is certainly a person someone entering or now in the journalism field should try and emulate. He wrote stories and covered subjects with tenacity. His ability to explain complex issues in clear terms was classical. And, at the end of the day, the readers of USA Today and our profession were the big winners.”

The McGrane Award was established in 1974 as a memorial to Bert McGrane, long-time Des Moines Register-Tribune sports writer who was one of the founding members of the FWAA. He was the FWAA’s executive director from the early 1940’s until 1973.

“When we decided it would be great to have a former reporter on the selection committee, Steve came to mind immediately,” CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said. “And he exceeded our high expectations. He contributed with his wisdom, analytical mindset and thorough research.

“Steve wasn’t labeled as a reporter by his colleagues on the committee — he was simply a respected peer,” Hancock added. “And besides all that, his self-effacing humor made working with him a real pleasure. You all know this — Steve is a great guy.”

Wieberg, editor in the public affairs department of the Kansas City Public Library since 2013, recalls what one of his fellow CFP Selection Committee members noted. “Condoleezza Rice has said repeatedly — and I think sincerely — that this is the best committee she has ever been a part of,” Wieberg said. “If it was the best for her, you can be certain it is for me.”

Wieberg said he went on the committee with two priorities. Getting the selections right would reinforce the new playoff system. “I also have been keenly aware that I would represent the writers and other media on this committee, and it has been important to me to do a good enough job to validate the CFP’s decision to give us that seat at the table,” he said.

Wieberg forged an award-winning career in journalism at USA Today. He was a frequent winner in FWAA, USBWA and Associated Press Sports Editors contests as well as a recipient of several other awards. A University of Missouri graduate, Wieberg was able to build an extensive network of relationships across the country that had few equals. He could break stories on the national stage as well provide the reader with insight as to why they were happening.

“As an original staff writer, I also took great pride and satisfaction in seeing USA Today grow form a startup in 1982 to a publication with a circulation of more than 2 million and influence on the way newspapers nationwide came to look,” he said. “I knew we’d made it when I saw a USA Today box in a street scene in Ghostbusters in 1984.”

Cotton Bowl’s Charlie Fiss receives FWAA’s Bert McGrane Award 1


Charlie Fiss, winner of the FWAA’s 2017 Bert McGrane Award. (Photo by Melissa Macatee)

TAMPA —The Cotton Bowl Athletic Association’s Charlie Fiss is in the unique position to accept a second Bert McGrane Award today at the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast.

Only this Bert McGrane Award he gets to keep.

About 17 years ago, Fiss accepted the Bert McGrane Award on behalf of the late Field Scovell and then turned the plaque over to the family after he returned to Dallas from the presentation at the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind.

Fiss, in his 33rd year working for the Cotton Bowl, becomes the fourth person from the CBAA to receive the Bert McGrane Award, which is presented annually to a member of the FWAA for distinguished service to the organization and college football. Wilbur Evans (1978), Jim Brock (1989) and Scovell (1999) are the other CBAA recipients.

“Charlie Fiss perhaps more than anyone has been part of the fabric of the FWAA for the last 30 years,” said FWAA Executive Director Steve Richardson, who made the introduction of Fiss in Tampa. “He nearly predates modern computers when it comes to putting together the FWAA Print Directory and mailing list.”

The Award was established in 1974 as a memorial to McGrane, long-time Des Moines Register-Tribune sports writer who was one of the founding members of the FWAA. He was the FWAA’s Executive Director from the early 1940’s until 1973.

“The FWAA and the Cotton Bowl share a special relationship,” Rick Baker, CBAA President/CEO, said. “Charlie has been a leader with his steadfast approach to our partnership with the FWAA. Through his extraordinary efforts over three decades, he’s made a lasting impact on the Cotton Bowl, the FWAA and college football. No one is more deserving. I’m proud that Charlie joins an illustrious group of Cotton Bowl representatives to win the Bert McGrane Award.”

Richardson added: “He is meticulous. Period. End of story. He stews over the mailing list and all parts of the directory he is responsible for and some that he is not. He has been a champion of the FWAA in terms of what is provided during his bowl week — access to players and coaches and maintaining strict standards of decorum in the press box itself.

“Charlie runs a model press operation at the Cotton Bowl. For years the Cotton Bowl has been an example of how it should be done. He puts together a bowl operations staff that is second to none. I think most people in the profession, whether it be writers, sports information directions or other bowl executives, know that, but it also needs to be said.”

His first Cotton Bowl was in 1984, during which time he was serving as the Assistant Director of Media Relations for the Southwest Conference from 1984-1993. In 1994, Charlie was hired by the CBAA to serve as the Vice President of Communications and became a fulltime member of the staff.

Through his 30-plus years with the Cotton Bowl, he has worked with six Heisman Trophy winners, including Boston College’s Doug Flutie in his very first Cotton Bowl game.

Charlie is a graduate of the University of Arkansas, where he served as the Men’s Media Assistant from 1976-1980, and then as the Women’s Athletic Director of Media Relations from 1980-1984. As an avid racehorse fan, Charlie still volunteers for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, where he has done so for more than 25 years.

In between trips to Great Britain to feed his Beatles’ craze, annual pilgrimages to Disneyland to pay homage to Walt and strumming the guitar, Charlie still runs the Cotton Bowl Media operations by commuting from Phoenix, where he resides.

“Whoever would have dreamed I would have even seen one Heisman Trophy winner much less work around six,” Fiss said.  “I got to know Darrell Royal and Frank Broyles, all these people you read about in the sports pages, you know when you are growing up. … It really has been an interesting life. I have been blessed and pretty lucky to be involved in this business.

“We like to say in the Cotton Bowl we are in the business of making memories,” Fiss added. “If it wasn’t for the student athlete none of us would have jobs. I try to think of that every day. And I think when they are coming to the Cotton Bowl, they are just not thinking about playing in the Cotton Bowl, they are going to make memories which they are going to have forever.”

Maisel gets place in NFF’s Bert McGrane display 2


Ivan Maisel, the 2016 Bert McGrane Winner, recently was presented the plate with his name on it to be placed in the Bert McGrane Award display which is housed at the National Football Foundation offices in Irving, Texas. Maisel, the 1995 FWAA President, was presented a larger commemorative plaque last January at the FWAA Annual Awards Breakfast. He will be featured in a story in the NFF Banquet Program in December. Each year the FWAA honors a member in recognition of contributions to the association and college football in the name of the former FWAA Executive Director. The honoree is also recognized in the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. (Photo Courtesy of NFF)

Ivan Maisel, the 2016 Bert McGrane Winner, recently was presented the plate with his name on it to be placed in the Bert McGrane Award display which is housed at the National Football Foundation offices in Irving, Texas. Maisel, the 1995 FWAA President, was presented a larger commemorative plaque last January at the FWAA Annual Awards Breakfast. He will be featured in a story in the NFF Banquet Program in December. Each year the FWAA honors a member in recognition of contributions to the association and college football in the name of the former FWAA Executive Director. The honoree is also recognized in the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. (Photo Courtesy of NFF)

Photo gallery: FWAA Awards Breakfast

These photos were taken at the FWAA’s annual Awards Breakfast on Jan. 11 in Scottsdale, Ariz.  Winners of the 2015 Best Writing Contest as well as the Bert McGrane Award winner were honored, among others.

Ivan Maisel named 2016 Bert McGrane Award winner 2

ffaw_redesignDALLAS — Veteran journalist Ivan Maisel, whose work has appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Newsday, Sports Illustrated and on, is the winner of the FWAA’s prestigious Bert McGrane Award. He will be honored next Monday at the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Celebrating  its 75th Anniversary — founded in 1941 — the FWAA will bestow the honor on Maisel, 55, an award-winning journalist who served as the FWAA’s President in 1995.

The Bert McGrane Award, symbolic of the association’s Hall of Fame, has been awarded to person who has performed great service to the organization and/or profession since 1974. McGrane is a former Des Moines, Iowa sportswriter-editor, who served as the association’s executive director from the early 1940s until 1973.

Ivan Maisel

Ivan Maisel

Maisel is the 43rd recipient of the Bert McGrane Award, which appears in the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. He succeeds National Football Foundation President and CEO Steve Hatchell as winner of the award.

“I can’t imagine an award more worthy than one selected by your peers,” Maisel said. “The Bert McGrane Award winners are featured in the College Football Hall of Fame, and there can’t be anything cooler than that.”

A sportswriter since 1981, he has covered national college football at The Dallas Morning News (1987-94), Newsday (1994-97), Sports Illustrated (1997-2002) and (2002-present). Maisel, who hails from Alabama but graduated from Stanford, lists a long list of friends and associates who have boosted his career.

“Dan Jenkins, then and now;  the late Ron Fimrite, who not only wrote with a  clean grace and a man-about-town style, but showed me how to treat my subjects; Steve Wulf, who taught me how to make the little anecdote tell a bigger story; Dave Smith, who hired me at The Dallas Morning News and put me on the national college football beat, if not on the front of the Sunday sports section; and my friend and colleague for the last 13 years, David Duffey, who shares my passion and sensibility about what makes a story.

“And my writing colleagues: I learned reporting from Mark Blaudschun; fresh ideas, humor and integrity from Gene Wojciechowski; passion from Tony Barnhart; hard work from Dennis Dodd, and from our beat writer of the year, Chris Dufresne, just great wit.”

Maisel adds what the FWAA has meant to him:  “As our collective voice to the schools and conferences, as the publisher of the directory, which for its 20-year existence has remained in my bag, and as the gathering place for my friends and colleagues, the FWAA has developed into an invaluable professional resource.”

His year as FWAA President was tumultuous. The organization was in transition.

“I had not been president more than a few weeks when I received news that our executive director, Volney Meece, had died suddenly,” Maisel said. “My two greatest accomplishments as FWAA President were one, I picked up the phone when Steve Richardson called to inquire about replacing Volney; and two, I suggested that we create a directory similar to the NFL Black Book. Tiger made it happen, as he has made everything happen for the FWAA for more than 20 years.”

Maisel has had a working bag at most of the big college games during the last three decades, but two or those stand out even to him, a grizzled writing veteran who has adapted well to the new communications age. Maisel has served as host of the ESPN Championship Drive podcast since 2007.

“I was in the press box when Kordell Stewart threw the Hail Mary at the Big House in 1994,” he said. “Vahe Gregorian and I didn’t leave early for the locker room, and that taught me not to leave if the winner is in doubt. I saw Reggie Bush go off on Fresno State in 2005. I was in the press box in 2013 at Jordan-Hare Stadium for the Kick Six.”

He wrote a first-place story in the FWAA Best Writing Contest on that Auburn thriller over Alabama, one of six awards he has captured over the years in the FWAA Contest alone. He has won three straight game story first-place awards. The football for that one is already in his den back in Fairfield, Connecticut, where he resides with wife Meg. They have two daughters, Sarah, who lives in San Francisco, and Elizabeth, a freshman at Stanford. Their son Max, 21, died in February.

“We miss Max every day,” Maisel said. “My life is not as full as it had been for 21 years, and I expect it never will be. You learn to carry the pain and loss, because they are just … there. We are going about the task of putting one foot in front of the other.”

Maisel’s FWAA Awards

  • 1993, Enterprise: The state of minority coaches in I-A football.
  • 2002, Column: Dennis Franchione’s sudden departure from Alabama
  • 2005, Feature: the Tulane football team in the days after Katrina
  • 2012, Game: No. 1 Kansas State is stunned at Baylor
  • 2013, Game: The Kick Six
  • 2014, Game: Oregon embarrasses Florida State.

Photo gallery: FWAA annual meeting, breakfast

There photos by Melissa Macatee were shot at the FWAA’s annual meeting and breakfast on Tuesday Jan. 13, 2015, in Dallas.