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 sketches 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 21st installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Jimmie McDowell was the 2000 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.
By Gene Duffey
Whenever college football history was made in the state of Mississippi, it seemed that Jimmie McDowell was there.
Working at the Jackson States-Item, McDowell covered the famous 1959 Mississippi at LSU game, when the Tigers’ Billy Cannon returned a punt 89 yards to beat Ole Miss 7-3.
“It was Halloween night,” recalled McDowell. “(Mississippi coach Johnny) Vaught kicked a field goal and sat on it, relying on his defense. Cannon wasn’t supposed to field any ball inside the 15. The ball bounced up right in his face. Some of the Ole Miss players didn’t think he would field the ball and eased up.”
McDowell served as director of public relations and athletic publicity, the precursor of sports information directors, at Southern Mississippi in 1953. The school, then known as Mississippi Southern, scored one of its biggest upsets, knocking off Alabama and quarterback Bart Starr, 25-19 to open the 1953 season in Montgomery. Later, he helped start the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and worked with the Jackson Touchdown Club in acquiring a building in 1992. Three years later he founded the All-American Football Foundation, which has honored media members, athletic directors and college presidents as well as players and coaches.