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.

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Pillars of the FWAA: Tom Siler (1909-88), Knoxville News-Sentinel

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 10th installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Tom Siler was the 1979 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.

By Gene Duffey

Tom Siler probably liked Jack Webb on the old “Dragnet” television show. Webb’s trademark line “Just the facts, Mam. Nothing but the facts.” personified the low-key way Siler approached his newspaper reporting.

Tom Siler, 1979 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

Tom Siler, 1979 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

“He wrote in plain English,” said Marvin West, who worked for Siler for 20 years and succeeded him as sports editor at the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “By today’s standards, he was rather a vanilla writer. He was an excellent reporter and good interviewer. He got the story told very nicely.”

“He was organized,” said Roland Julian, another veteran of the News-Sentinel sports department. “He made sure he had his facts right. Tom was always objective. Some people didn’t like it when he criticized the University of Tennessee, but sometimes it was needed.”

“He wasn’t a cheerleader,” said West. “He was a patient teacher.”

In those days sports editors would run the department as well as write columns. Siler knew how to get along with people.

“He delegated and let you do (your job),” said West. “He would have been a great editor of the newspaper. He had a great feel for news and how to deal with people. He could talk to bank presidents or the guy who swept the field. He could go with kings or commoners.”

Siler had a knack for being there when momentous events occurred in the sports world.

He covered Don Larsen’s perfect game for the New York Yankees in the World Series. He was there for Hank Aaron’s record 715th home run. He interviewed New York Yankees star Lou Gehrig changing trains in Chicago after returning from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

More…

Pillars of the FWAA: Paul Zimmerman (1903-96), Los Angeles Times 1

ffaw_redesign

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 ninth installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Paul Zimmerman was the 1976 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.

By Gene Duffey

There are no official records of the press corps from the 1932 Olympic Games, but Paul Zimmerman is believed to be the only man to cover both the ’32 Olympics and the 1984 Games, both held in Los Angeles.

Zimmerman covered the 1932 Games for the Associated Press before joining the Los Angeles Times. He became sports editor of the Times in 1939 and held that position until he retired in 1968.

Even though he was retired and in his 80s, Zimmerman wrote several stories for the Times special section previewing the 1984 Olympics and covered the Games for a Japanese newspaper.

Zimmerman covered six other Summer Olympics from 1948 to ’68 and also the 1960 Winter Games, held in Squaw Valley, Calif.

He was best known for his coverage of college football, particularly in the days before all the pro teams began arriving in Los Angeles.

Paul Zimmerman, 1986 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

Paul Zimmerman, 1986 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

Zimmerman played a part in that, too, particularly with the Dodgers moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958. He received a commendation from the city for helping bringing Walter O’Malley’s baseball team west.

USC opened the 1966 football season at Texas. The Longhorns were led by a heralded sophomore quarterback (when freshmen were not eligible for the varsity) named Bill Bradley. Zimmerman made it to Austin the Thursday before the game to write previews.

Bradley turned out to be a better punter than a quarterback. USC won 10-6 and Bradley ended up playing defensive back before his college career ended. Zimmerman was so well connected that he attended a buffet at Texas coach Darrell Royal’s house after the game.

Zimmerman covered most of the big events in the Los Angeles area for several decades. He wrote about Seabiscut’s win in the Big Cap Race at Santa Anita in 1940. He covered the first Super Bowl between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs, played at The Coliseum in 1967, before it was even known as the Super Bowl.

He died Jan. 28, 1996, the day they played Super Bowl XXX.

Zimmerman, who won the Bert McGrane Award in 1976, showed his true talents as a sports editor with everything that went on behind the scenes at the Times.

“Paul was noted for his editing,” said Furman Bisher, a contemporary of Zimmerman’s and the 1982 Bert McGrane winner. “Writing wasn’t one of his leading qualities, but organizing and producing a sports section was. He’d make these present day sports sections look like wrapping paper, which most are.”

“The writing was the part I liked,” Zimmerman once said.

He was a 1927 graduate of the University of Nebraska before heading for Los Angeles.

“Zimmerman typified the old-time sports writer and editor who emphasized the nuts and bolts of a sports section and was straightforward in his writing style,” said Murray Olderman, the 1991 McGrane winner. “There was still a lot of Nebraska in him in his approach to sports.”

He gained the respect of others in the business. Pete Rozelle was once publicity director of the Los Angeles Rams, beginning in 1952, and   became commissioner of the NFL in 1960.

“I wanted to take his job away someday,” said a young Rozelle, who worked weekends at the Long Beach Press-Telegram while in high school in Compton, Calif.

Zimmerman also served as Director of Charities for the Times and as a director for the Helms Foundation Hall of Fame, which began in Los Angeles in 1936.

He was no relation to the Paul Zimmerman who wrote for the New York Post and Sports Illustrated.

Paul Bechler Zimmerman watched Los Angeles grow into a major metropolis. The city is home to two NBA teams and at one time hosted two NFL franchises when the Oakland Raiders moved there in 1982 to join the Rams.

But the Rams left for St. Louis in 1995 and the Raiders returned to Oakland the same year. USC and UCLA took over the town, at least in terms of football. Zimmerman probably would have liked it that way.

“He was particularly fond of college football,” said Olderman.

Zimmerman was named to the National Football Foundation Honors Court in 1951. He was named winner of the Jake Wade Award (CoSIDA), given to a media person who has made an outstanding contribution to intercollegiate athletics, in 1968. The first winner of the Jake Wade Award, in 1958, was Bert McGrane.

President’s column: Bowls agree to media operations standards

ffaw_redesignOMAHA — What better time than early July to start thinking about bowl games?

Among board members of the Football Writers Association of America, bowl-game operations are in mind year round. We strive to create and sustain access, improve logistics and bring some polish to what sometimes can be a rough-edged experience for our members.

In that spirit, the FWAA and the Football Bowl Association present what we hope is good news.

Last winter, our board — with USA Today’s George Schroeder as the lead blocker — asked FBA Executive Director Wright Waters to present his membership with a list of standardized media operations for bowl games.

FWAA 2015 President Lee Barfknecht.

FWAA 2015 President Lee Barfknecht.

The good news is the 41 bowls said yes to our standards for operation without exception. We heartily thank Wright for his patience, cooperation and guidance in these matters — and George for his persistence and attention to detail.

This doesn’t mean our work is done.

The Football Bowl Association doesn’t have enforcement authority on these regulations. I repeat: It DOESN’T have enforcement authority. But as Wright told his members: “It has been made clear that this is a request coming from the media, and is an attempt to help the bowls generate more media attention.”

Yes, the College Football Playoff bowls have a good thing going with standardized methods of operations and penalties for violations. It’s a pleasure to cover bowls that offer agreed-upon access, top-flight press box services and handy transportation.

However, we all know that isn’t the standard everywhere.

I have covered 34 bowl games put on by 14 entities, from Honolulu to Miami.

Some bowls have the process nailed, working with their sponsors and the sports information directors of the participating schools to fulfill the basic needs of the media — and often beyond.

In other cases, covering a bowl is like working a high school game.

More…

Pillars of the FWAA: Tim Cohane (1912-1989), Look Magazine

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, 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.

Tim Cohane, 1987 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

Tim Cohane, 1987 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

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.

Tom Kensler calls it a day after 38-plus years in newspapers

For those who haven’t heard, long-time Denver Post sports reporter Tom Kensler has decided to take a buyout and retire.

The following is an email blast Tom sent to dozens of his friends and colleagues on Tuesday:

A quick shout out to some of my pals (and sorry to those I mistakenly left out):For those who have not heard, I have eagerly accepted the Denver Post’s voluntary buyout package.

Tom Kensler

Tom Kensler

It appears my termination day, as HR calls it, will be Monday (June 29th). But because I am in midst of a stretch of accrued time off, I have filed my final piece for the Post.

I soon will turn 64, so the buyout comes at a good time for me. And I figure 38-plus years in the business, including almost 26 years with the Post, is enough.

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I had planned to work another to years, to my 66th birthday. But with my seniority at the Post, I will receive a year’s salary in the buyout settlement. Post also paying its portion of health insurance for a year, so continuing coverage through COBRA won’t take a big hit.

The year of benefits will take me to within weeks of age 65 and Medicare eligibility, so it all made sense.

Please keep in touch. Pam is still working, and we plan to remain in Arvada America, as we like to call it.

My cell phone is 303-725-8556. Email: tomkens@aol.com. I’ll always be up for chatting about old times and hope our paths cross often.

For those who live out of state, it must be time for a vacation to Colorado. Be sure to call me if you come this way. I love playing tour guide. I know where the good craft breweries are and also mountain destinations.

I have cherished our friendship.

Tom

 

Pillars of the FWAA: Blackie Sherrod (1919-), The Dallas Morning News

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 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.”

Blackie Sherrod, president of the FWAA in 1963 and winner of the Bert McGrane Award in 1985.

Blackie Sherrod, president of the FWAA in 1963 and winner of the Bert McGrane Award in 1985.

“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.

Barfknecht says FWAA’s 75th Anniversary All-American Team will be highlight of the off-season

ffaw_redesignFWAA President Lee Barfknecht writes that the FWAA’s 75th Anniversary All-America Team, to be released this summer,  will provide fresh argument-starters during college football’s downtime. Whether you are at the lake or a bar, at home or away or settling in after a Sunday school picnic, these teams should get you talking.

Click here to read Lee’s column at Omaha.com.

 

Pillars of the FWAA: Furman Bisher (1918-2012), Atlanta Journal-Constitution 1

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 history 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 sixth installment of the Pillars of the FWAA  series. Furman Bisher was the 1982 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.

By Gene Duffey

Those were the days of newspapering, long before ESPN and the Internet, when sports writers enjoyed almost unlimited access to the coaches they covered.

Furman Bisher worked for The Charlotte News, covering Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State, in the late 1940s. The News was a p.m. paper with no Sunday edition, so Bisher needed a fresh angle for his Monday story during college football season. It was easy enough to get. He would drive to Durham and meet legendary Duke coach Wallace Wade after the Sunday coaches’ meetings.

“He’d sit in my car and we’d talk for an hour,” said Bisher. “We had a different relationship in those days. That’s something that would never happen in this day.”

Furman Bisher, president of the FWAA in 1959 and winner of the Bert McGrane Award in 1982.

Furman Bisher, president of the FWAA in 1959 and winner of the Bert McGrane Award in 1982.

Bisher worked for three years as a general reporter and later as state editor at The News before World War II. He spent three years in the Navy Air Corps, splitting time between the Pacific and Pensacola Naval Air Station. He returned to Charlotte in January 1946 and joined the sports department.

In the summer he covered the Class B Charlotte Hornets in the Tri-State League, including spring training in Orlando.

“I wanted to go to the Major Leagues, travel with the team, ride the trains, see all the big cities,” he said. “I still haven’t done that. I rode the bus (with Charlotte), stayed in hotels. I was in the big time.”

James Furman Bisher was born in Denton, N.C., the third of four children. “They never pay attention to the third child,” he said. “I was sort of a nuisance.”

He played basketball and tennis in high school, but no one considered him a college prospect. He enrolled at Furman and worked as manager of the football team. But when Furman dropped its journalism program after Bisher’s first two years there he transferred to North Carolina.

Fortune fell upon Bisher in the form of a college roommate in Chapel Hill.

“He stayed up late, playing cards and drinking whisky,” said Bisher. “He married a girl with a little money, and they bought half interest in the Lumberton Voice.”

The Voice, with a circulation a little over 3,000, hired Furman as its editor.

“I thought I was pretty good,” he laughed. “I was about the whole damn staff. But I was a long way from being a sports writer. It was published in an old house. Every time they started the presses, the whole building would rumble.”

He stayed there nine months. His next stop was the High Point (North Carolina) Enterprise in 1939 as a general reporter. But the sports editor used Bisher  whenever he could. He moved to Charlotte next, where he became sports editor in 1948, and a year later he landed the first interview of Shoeless Joe Jackson since 1919, the year Jackson was banned from baseball because of the Black Sox scandal. Bisher then became sports editor/columnist of the Atlanta Journal in 1950.

“It was still a big, bush league town at the time,” Bisher said of the days before the Braves, Falcons and Hawks arrived. “Georgia Tech was hot at the time. They beat Georgia eight years in a row. (Georgia Tech coach) Bobby Dodd was a sports writer’s dream. He would give you the story and write the headline for you. (Georgia coach) Wally Butts, as cantankerous and hot headed as he was, was enjoyable to be around.”

Bisher served as President of the FWAA in 1959.

He fit well into the Atlanta landscape. The job and circumstances at home kept him there.

“I had chances to go to Sports Illustrated, Sport Magazine, the New York World-Telegram, Chicago Daily News, San Francisco Examiner,” he said. “I had a bad marriage and three young boys. I got custody of the three boys and raised them by myself. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t bad.”

That didn’t prevent Bisher from covering major events nearly everywhere they were played.

“I’ve traveled all over the world,” he said. “I’ve been on every continent but Antarctica.”

Tony Barnhart, the 2009 recipient of the Bert McGrane Award and the 1998 FWAA President, worked for the Atlanta newspaper for 25 years.

“He was a pussy cat when I met him,” said Barnhart, who started at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1984. “I understand in the old days he was all fire and brimstone. What a resource. He had the greatest filing system I’ve ever seen.”

Bisher worked at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 59 years before retiring in 2009. Still using the typewriter he started with at the paper in 1950, Bisher continued to write occasional columns and cover some big golf events such as The Masters into his 90s.

Pillars of the FWAA: Dick Cullum (1894-1982), Minneapolis Tribune

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 history 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 fifth installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series.

Dick Cullum was the 1977 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.

 By Gene Duffey

Dick Cullum perfectly walked one of the finest lines in journalism. As a columnist, he knew how to criticize a coach, a player or a team without turning it into a hatchet job.

Being able to delicately maintain that balance, he gained great respect from his subjects in “Cullum’s Column.”

“He wrote with knowledge, with thought and with study,” said Murray Warmath, the successful University of Minnesota football coach. “He always wrote constructively. He was a man of ethics and character.”

Dick Cullum, 1977 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

Dick Cullum, 1977 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

“He was the best sports writer who ever hit a typewriter,” said Calvin Griffith, long-time owner of the Minnesota Twins. “He had wisdom, he was honest and he was a fair writer. But he was also very cunning. He could criticize you and yet not kill you.”

“When he ripped guys, he did it in a roundabout way,” added Sid Hartman, the legendary writer in the Twin Cities who Cullum first hired in 1944 at the old Minneapolis Times. “Dick Cullum was a beautiful man.”

Cullum and Hartman formed a unique team.

“He couldn’t report and I couldn’t write,” said Hartman. “(I told him) my spelling is bad and my grammar is worse.”

That didn’t bother Cullum. “Don’t worry about writing, give us the news,” he said to Hartman. “Writers are a dime a dozen. Reporters are impossible to find.”

Hartman turned into such an outstanding reporter that Cullum couldn’t get all his newsy items in the paper. He began running them as a column called “Hartman’s Roundup.”

Harold Keith, the sports information director at Oklahoma, wrote a book on Sooner football titled, “Forty-Seven Straight: The Wilkinson Era at Oklahoma.” Keith called Cullum “perhaps the most knowledgeable football writer in the Big Ten area.”

Cullum was born in southeast in Minnesota, on the banks of the Mississippi. His family moved and he went to Duluth Central High School before enrolling at the University of Minnesota, where he captained the school’s first golf team in 1915. He started law school, but World War I interrupted that pursuit. He signed up for the Marines and eventually obtained the rank of captain.

He joined the Minneapolis Journal in 1921. Cullum spent five years working for the St. Paul Dispatch and Pioneer Press. He returned to the Journal and also worked for the Minneapolis Times-Tribune and became sports editor of the Minneapolis Times in 1944. When the Times folded in 1948, he and Hartman moved over to the Minneapolis Tribune.

Charley Johnson, sports editor of the Minneapolis Star, and Cullum were natural rivals.   

Dick Cullum (right) presents a scroll to Minnesota Coach Bernie Bierman at a meeting of the Touchdown Club.

Dick Cullum (right) presents a scroll to Minnesota Coach Bernie Bierman at a meeting of the Touchdown Club.

Bernie Bierman coached the University of Minnesota football teams to a 63-12-6 record from 1932-41, including undefeated seasons in 1934, ’35, ’40 and ’41. Bierman missed three seasons because of World War II and when he took over the Gophers again in 1945 he never regained his previous success, going 30-23. He retired after a 1-7-1 record in 1950.

“The different views on Bierman were part of the Cullum-Johnson rivalry that went back to the 1930s, when Cullum ran the more powerful Minneapolis Journal and Johnson ran the smaller Minneapolis Star,” said Hartman. “Cullum was a cheerleader. If you read the Times sports section, there was no question we wanted the Gophers to win.”

Even Johnson, the winner of the inaugural Bert McGrane Award in 1974, appreciated Cullum’s work.

“He was a very quiet, modest fellow, always in the background,” said Johnson. “He had a good sense of humor and in my opinion, from a writing standpoint, he was as good as anyone in the country.”

Cullum retired as a columnist in 1976, but he continued to cover boxing and write a weekly column until shortly before his death in 1982.

Joel Rippel of the Star Tribune  recalled working a boxing match with Cullum. Cullum wrote his story on an old typewriter and then Rippel typed it into a computer for him.

The last boxing match Dick Cullum covered on a deadline was a Larry Holmes heavyweight fight. He was 85.