2021 Best Writing Contest winners announced

The results for the 29th Annual FWAA Best Writing Contest presented by collegepressbox include one writer who claimed two first places and a total of five double placers.

Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com won first place in both Column and Enterprise; Glenn Guilbeau of USA Today took the Game Story category, and Dave Wilson of ESPN.com was tops in Feature.

Other double placers were Travis Hines of the Des Moines Register (second place and an honorable mention); Ryan McGee of ESPN.com (second place and an honorable mention); Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports (third place and an honorable mention); Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com (two honorable mentions), and Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune (two honorable mentions). 

First-place winners will receive game balls from Big Game and collegepressbox.  Finishers 1-3 receive cash prizes and certificates. Honorable mentions receive certificates. The first-place entries will be displayed in The Fifth Down.

Click on each first-place winner’s name below to read their stories. To go to a page with all the first-place stories, CLICK HERE.


First PlaceGlenn Guilbeau, USA TODAY

Second Place — Travis Hines, Des Moines Register

Third Place — Matt Baker, Tampa Bay Times

Honorable Mention — Ryan McGee, ESPN.com; Eric Hansen, South Bend Tribune; Dick Friedman, Harvard Magazine; Michael Lev, Arizona Daily Star/Tucson.com


First Place Dave Wilson, ESPN.com

Second Place — Andrea Adelson, ESPN.com

Third Place — David Jones, PennLive.com

Honorable Mention — Nate Mink, Syracuse Post-Standard; Ross Dellenger, Sports Illustrated; David Ubben,The Athletic


First PlaceAlex Scarborough, ESPN.com

Second Place — Ryan McGee, ESPN.com

Third Place — Reese Becker, Fifth Quarter

Honorable Mention — Eric Hansen, South Bend Tribune; Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com; Pete Thamel, Yahoo Sports


First PlaceAlex Scarborough, ESPN.com

Second Place — Audrey Snyder, The Athletic

Third Place — Pete Thamel, Yahoo Sports

Honorable Mention — Travis Hines, Des Moines Register; Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com; Matt Fortuna, The Athletic

2021 Best Game Story: Glenn Guilbeau, USA Today Louisiana

By Glenn Guilbeau

USA TODAY Louisiana

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – On Saturday morning, LSU freshman reserve tight end Kole Taylor had one reception for three yards. 

By late Saturday night, Taylor had the most famous shoe in college football – a size 14 Nike Vapor Edge Pro 360, to be exact, that sells for $120 to $140.

It left a deep footprint all over LSU’s 37-34 upset of No. 6 and 22-point favorite Florida in the fog and mist of The Swamp.

Taylor, the No. 9 tight end in the nation from Central High in Grand Junction, Colorado, finally got some decent playing time. This was because starting tight end Arik Gilbert “opted out” for the rest of the season last week after a 55-17 loss to Alabama that dropped LSU to 3-5.

Taylor had two catches for seven yards going into a third-and-10 play in a 34-34 game with under two minutes to play. Freshman quarterback Max Johnson, who started for the first time, completed a short pass to Taylor, who was stopped by safety Tre’vez Johnson and cornerback Marco Wilson six yards short of the first down.

Florida would have nearly a minute and 30 seconds to attempt a drive for a game-winning field goal if LSU elected to punt. But something happened.

“I saw three flags on the ground,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “And I was happy.”

In the process of that tackle, one of Taylor’s Nike Vapor Edge Pro 360s slipped off. Wilson picked it up and threw it more than 20 yards in celebration. Referee James Carter threw a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct. This gave LSU a first down at its 44-yard line with 1:24 to play and another chance.

If Taylor’s laces were tighter, LSU likely would have punted, and Florida could have driven to the winning score. But LSU equipment manager Greg Stringfellow inadvertently took care of that.


2021 Best Column: Alex Scarborough, ESPN.com

By Alex Scarborough


For going on 14 years, Alabama has beaten Tennessee every October, and every year coaches and players have enjoyed a traditional postgame cigar. You’ve probably seen the photos that pop up on social media around this time each year. The one of Derrick Henry puffing a stogie with his arm around Nick Saban is particularly memorable, the running back towering over his head coach.

Fans have gotten in on the action, too. Television cameras have often panned into the crowds in the fourth quarter to show plumes of smoke rising from the bleachers. And somewhere, whether in Bryant-Denny Stadium or at his home in town, Jimmy Tom Goostree has been watching it all with a smile on his face.

Jimmy Tom’s father, Jim Goostree, is the reason cigar shops in Tuscaloosa and Knoxville have a run of business the week of the rivalry that’s better known as the Third Saturday in October.

Jim was a longtime trainer at Alabama, but before that he was an assistant trainer at Tennessee. And like his boss, Paul “Bear” Bryant, he hated the Volunteers. So, the story goes, in the fall of 1961, Jim made a bet with the players on the team. Beat Tennessee for the first time in six years, he said, and he’ll dance around the locker room naked.

Whether by talent or precision or the promise of seeing Jim cut a rug, the Crimson Tide beat the Vols 34-3. And true to his word, Jim danced, albeit with a victory cigar pressed between his lips.

Thankfully, the stogie is the only part of the celebration that carried over.

“It’s a sense of pride for all of our family members,” Jimmy Tom said. “It means a lot that Dad is recognized this particular week.”

Bill Oliver was a senior on that 1961 team that started it all, and he remembers the elder Goostree as “a little short fella” and an excellent trainer. He had “a keen mind,” Oliver said, and he understood the rivalry with Tennessee better than almost anyone given his time with the program prior to coming to Alabama. Oliver said Goostree’s history paid off in that “the more knowledge you had, the more you could find out, the more we could smoke cigars.”

“Beating them was the ultimate,” Oliver recalled. “It really was.”

Jim Goostree died in 1999, and Jimmy Tom isn’t sure where all the time went. When he walks into his den, though, he’s reminded of his father. In a glass case, on the top shelf, is a football that’s nearly 50 years old. There are no markings on it to signify its importance, but Jimmy Tom knows.


2021 Best Enterprise: Alex Scarborough, ESPN.com

By Alex Scarborough


Nick Saban was a nobody then. His players’ first impression was that the ex-Houston Oilers assistant was kind of short. Truth be told, they got a Tony Danza vibe because of his deep tan, well-coiffed hair and wide-open shirt collar. But when Saban spoke in that first meeting — when he screamed about financial aid checks and threatened to kick players off the team — he had their attention. Soon, his training program would have them doubled over and dropping like flies.

“It reminded me of the Junction Boys,” said former tight end Vince Marrow. “I watched at least six or seven guys quit. They just couldn’t take it.”

Looking back 30 years on, Saban said he learned two important lessons during his one season at Toledo in 1990: motivation and game management. The latter was the hardest pill to swallow, though, as a mistake cost his team a win and the outright conference title. It’s something he carries with him today — one of those myriad details he pores over during every pregame meeting, before or after receiving scouting reports on the referees.

He learned, quite literally, which way the wind blows.

“We got the ball and went ‘two-minute’ down the field at the end,” Saban recalled of that game against Central Michigan, a 13-12 result on Oct. 20, 1990 — and his first career loss. “It was a one-point game and we lined up to kick a field goal of like 25 yards or something. We had a pretty good kicker, and the ball just got about 5 yards from the crossbar and just stopped in midair.”

He took a deep breath, reliving a loss that still haunts him, and continued.

“A lot of people remember the Bluegrass Miracle when I was at LSU. Well, we had the wind in the fourth quarter, and it was a significant 30 mph wind probably. And when we threw the Hail Mary, they couldn’t judge the ball because it just kept going and going and going, and that’s how we won.


2021 Best Feature: Dave Wilson, ESPN.com

By Dave Wilson


In the late 1990s, at a benefit 30 miles away from his East Texas hometown of Tyler, Earl Campbell sat at a table while the party’s host, a colorful businessman and one of Campbell’s best friends, summoned sheepish onlookers to come say hello to the legend.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Get on over here,” he said. “Earl don’t get up.”

Campbell wasn’t aloof, wasn’t too cool to get up, despite the darkened Wayfarers that made him look cool. “Earl don’t get up” because he couldn’t.

Campbell was once seen as the baddest man on the planet. He left tacklers and pieces of his tearaway jersey on the field behind him. Off the field, he wore Wranglers and giant belt buckles and did Skoal commercials. He was declared an official State Hero in 1981 by the Texas legislature, an honor previously bestowed upon only Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston and Davy Crockett.

As time went on and he was out of public view, Campbell broke down. At the Heisman Trophy ceremony, he remained in his seat while his fraternity brothers lined up on stage behind the winner. At Texas football games, he was always in a golf cart or riding on a scooter. Fans would pity him, muttering “Poor Earl,” as they tried to reconcile their love of football with Campbell being seen as a cautionary tale of its ravages.

But years later, he would discover through a decades-long medical odyssey, that was only part of the story.

“What happened over time is everybody just thinks I had football injuries,” says Campbell, who turned 65 in March. “They look at me and they think, ‘Oh, poor Earl.’ People really don’t know the truth about it.”

The truth came late to Campbell himself, which is why he hasn’t told this story in much detail before. Yet this year, he is deliberative as he relishes the biggest honor of a football life filled with so many of them. In July, the University of Texas announced it would immediately change the name of the football field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium to Campbell-Williams Field to honor Campbell, who won the 1977 Heisman Trophy, and the Longhorns’ other Heisman winner, Ricky Williams (1998).

It is remarkable for several reasons. First, for how it happened: The field was previously named for Joe Jamail, a billionaire attorney and Texas mega-booster who was a close friend of Campbell’s. But amid a conversation about social justice led by Texas players on campus following George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis, Jamail’s three sons asked the university to remove their late father’s name and replace it with the names of the two Longhorns legends, replacing a wealthy booster’s name with two of the most prominent Black athletes in school history.