The Fifth Down

Executive Director column: A valuable resource

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Steve Richardson

On the evening of July 21, the FWAA is involved in a very important ceremony. Longtime FWAA member Dave Sittler will receive the Bert McGrane Award in South Bend, Indiana.

Sittler's name will follow 38 others who already have their names on a large plaque in the rotunda of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Current FWAA president Lenn Robbins of the New York Post will handle the presentation.

Since the South Bend Hall is scheduled to close this fall, this will be the last time the winner of our Bert McGrane Award will be saluted there. The National Football Foundation has plans to move the Hall to Atlanta and re-open it in the fall of 2014. The FWAA will continue to be part of the College Football Hall of Fame enshrinement program as it makes the transition to Atlanta and home there.

In this issue of The Fifth Down:
Robbins: A playoff for the elite
Richardson: A valuable resource
Lodge Notes
FWAA, Armed Forces Bowl create Merit Award
Bronko Nagurski Trophy Watch List
Outland Trophy Watch List

Along with countless boxes of other memorabilia, our plaque will make the trip to the Southeast in one of five large trucks. The McGrane Award, symbolic of the association's Hall of Fame, is presented to an FWAA member who has performed great service to the organization 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.

Sittler's acceptance of the Bert McGrane Award will coincide with his retirement year. Dave, 66, stepped down as a full-time columnist at the Tulsa World this past winter. He hopes to write occasional columns and also appear on a radio talk show in the area. But an end to an era in Oklahoma sports is occurring at the paper.

Dave also has been the face of our Volney Meece Award program (so named after our late, long-time executive director) since it started in the mid-1990s.

Since that time, the FWAA has given away thousands of dollars over the years to deserving students. Sittler, the 2001 FWAA president and a member since 1973, first proposed the idea of the Volney Meece Scholarship. He has been the only selection chairman the award has known.

The annual $1,000 grant, which has been awarded since 1997 and is renewable for up to four years, is given to a deserving son or daughter of an FWAA member.

His administration of that program in itself would be enough to warrant the McGrane for Sittler. But the fact that he has been an always steady and sometimes relentless journalist over the years is an added bonus.

Sittler grew up in Nebraska and was raised on Bob Devaney, but much of his Nebraska career covered Tom Osborne.

That could be worth one book, dealing with those contrasting personalities. Then later, he had another dose of contrasts in Barry Switzer and ultimately Bob Stoops at Oklahoma.

I think I can say this over the years: Dave was not always the most popular person in either Nebraska or Oklahoma. Nor should he have been. He had the gumption to challenge the legends when they needed to be challenged, praised them when they needed to be praised, and stayed neutral when he needed to be neutral. The latter quality is something many younger journalists should take note.

Dave never stirred up news or made the headlines about himself. He covered the news in a professional manner. Too many times, Dave stayed long into the night in press boxes helping or waiting for fellow workers to finish. He did his job and probably that of some others during his stints in Nebraska and Oklahoma. I think all of those people had respect for Dave and the job he did. I know I did.

And I think ultimately, all those sources that Dave covered over the years had that same respect. I know because I saw it with my own eyes.

Several years ago, the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) used to have a golf tournament and then a party at the Stadium Club involving the Dallas Cowboys at the old Texas Stadium in Irving. The head coach of the Cowboys sometimes attended (not Tom Landry, of course, but those after him). This particular year, in the mid 1990s, Dave was there. And so was I. The head coach, as the party was about to be put to bed, summoned Dave and gave friendly audience. And I got to come along for the ride.

Barry Switzer hadn't coached a game yet in Dallas. But the friendly wait staff of Texas Stadium certainly learned that the King wasn't short on words. A couple of hours later, at a small table with a spotlight on it in a darkened stadium, Switzer was still talking. Dave was listening. So was I.

Dave could develop sources, write about coaches and still have a relationship after it was all said and done. I think he needs to teach a journalism class somewhere because that is an art. It's something he needs to pass on to others.

In any event, Dave's reporting skills and presence as a writer will be missed by the Tulsa World. We expect him to continue as the Volney Meece Award gatekeeper and maybe serve on an FWAA occasional committee.

He's too valuable of a resource for us to let go.

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