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 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 15th installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Si Burick was the 1984 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.
By Gene Duffey
Si Burick liked to say that he became sports editor of the Dayton Daily News at 19 and never received a promotion. He never retired, either.
Burick was still working when he died of a stroke at age 77.
Si Burick, 1984 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.
Born in Dayton, Burick began writing for the Daily News at age 16, serving as correspondent for Stivers High School. The pay: $2 a week. He received his first byline Aug. 26, 1925.
Burick, the son of a rabbi, enrolled at the University of Dayton with grander plans. He wanted to become a doctor. Monetary problems forced him to withdraw from school.
In 1928 he was summoned to the office of James M. Cox, the publisher of the Daily News, three-time governor of Ohio and a presidential candidate in 1920. Cox offered him the job as sports editor. His first “Si-ings” column appeared Nov. 16, 1928.
Dayton may never have been home to major league teams, but Burick soon became a major league columnist. He covered his first Kentucky Derby in 1929. Over the next 50 years he missed only two Derbys.
Burick, who served as president of the FWAA in 1972, began covering the World Series in 1930. He became a regular at the Cincinnati Reds’ training camp beginning in 1937. He worked the first 20 Super Bowls.
But Burick’s columns weren’t limited by the borders of the United States. He wrote about Wimbledon and even traveled to Japan with the Reds in 1978.
“He was from another, glamorous generation when he would travel the country, and the world sometimes, covering all the major events,” said Ralph Morrow, who served as Burick’s executive sports editor for years.
Burick was well connected. He developed such a close relationship with heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano that he would meet Marciano for breakfast after many of Marciano’s fights.
Morrow handled the administrative part of the sports department, but Burick was still the boss, the final word on everything.
“When I made a major change or assignment, I always consulted Si,” said Morrow.
Hal McCoy, the Hall of Fame baseball writer for the Dayton Daily News, worked with Burick for years.
“Outside of the office he was one of the nicest, funniest, most humorous persons you’ll ever met,” said McCoy. “Inside the office he was a demon, a real taskmaster. If there was an error in the paper, he went nuts.”
Burick’s influence around Dayton went well beyond the newspaper. He became the first regular radio sportscaster in the state at WHIO in 1935. He began a side career on television in 1949 and worked in radio until 1961.
Dayton may have been 40 miles north of Cincinnati, but Burick made sure his newspaper competed with the Cincinnati papers when covering the Reds and Bengals.
Baseball was probably his favorite sport. He lived at 714 Otterbein Ave., the house number matching Babe Ruth’s career total in home runs. When Hank Aaron passed Ruth’s record, people asked Burick if he planned to move. He was elected to the writers’ section of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.
Although he never graduated from Dayton, he did receive an honorary doctor of humane letters in 1977.
It was an appropriate acknowledgment for a man who took the written word very seriously. Morrow often edited Burick’s columns, but usually found himself as busy as the Maytag repairman.
“He was an immaculate writer, often not even needing a comma,” Morrow said of Burick.
He wanted everything done right.
“Everybody (else) tried to avoid handling his column, because if there was a mistake, you were going to catch hell,” said McCoy, who began covering the Cincinnati Reds in 1972 and was inducted into the writers’ wing at Cooperstown in 2002. “You didn’t make a change in his copy without going to him, showing it to him and convincing him.”
McCoy said when he was young he used to ride to Reds games with Burick just to learn the profession.
“I learned more in one month from him than I did in four years of journalism school,” said McCoy.