The Fifth Down

FWAA President Joe Doyle will be long remembered

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This story by FWAA member Eric Hansen was reprinted from the May 10, 2013 editions of the South Bend Tribune. Doyle was the FWAA's President in 1979.

By Eric Hansen, South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND Their last attempt at a conversation ended without any actual words being exchanged.

Joe Doyle

Ara Parseghian just trusted that long-time friend Joe Doyle would be better the next day, even though the 92- year-old South Bend Tribune sports editor emeritus was confined to the intensive care unit at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center.

Joe always bounced back. That's who he was, a man who led with his heart when it came to adversity and rarely, if ever, measured his words when it came to his bold points of view.

His weakened condition, driven by a bout with pneumonia, kept the two friends from reminiscing in May about their morning talks over coffee decades ago at Milt's Grill, about politics or golf, about what kind of Notre Dame football team Brian Kelly was concocting for the fall of 2013.

Nor did they get to tell each other good bye.

Joe Arthur Doyle died peacefully in his hospital bed, surrounded by family. He already had penned his obituary years earlier, but never approached a day in his life as if he'd ever have to actually put it to use.

"We always kidded each other about our ages," said Parseghian, who hits 90 himself later in May.

Kidding was a staple of Doyle's personality, and he wasn't afraid to poke fun at himself or an unsuspecting ND football coach. In one of his first encounters with Kelly, Doyle cornered the coach after a press conference, put his arm on Kelly's shoulder in a fatherly sort of way and then uttered to Kelly, "Knute Rockne was funnier than you."

Rockne was actually one of the few Irish head coaches Doyle didn't have a chance to cover during his long and impacting career. He was growing up in rural Wisconsin, attending school in a one-room school house, during the latter part of Rockne's historic run.

In this issue of The Fifth Down:
Dufrense: Here we go ...
FWAA, Orbitz partner on new member benefit
Doyle will be long remembered
Weiss will receive McGrane Award in Atlanta
2013-14 awards calndar
Watch Lists: Outland Trophy | Bronko Nagurski Trophy

Doyle joined the Tribune in 1949 after graduating magna cum laude from Notre Dame in 1949 at the age of 28. He was named sports editor in 1951 and held that title until he retired from the Tribune in 1981.

A long military career, with a beginning that preceded his Tribune days, ended up overlapping them, with Doyle serving as a colonel in the Air Force reserve.

"There really were weekends when Joe would hustle off his stories after a Notre Dame football game and then be the navigator on a plane taking troops and/or supplies into or out of Vietnam the following day," wrote Bill Moor, the man who followed and added to the Doyle legacy as Doyle's successor as sports editor.

"While Notre Dame fans were living and dying with the Irish again by reading his accounts in the Sunday paper, at that same moment Joe himself may have been dodging anti-aircraft fire halfway around the world.

But chances are he would be back in time to have coffee with Ara Parseghian at Milt's Grill early Monday morning."

"We made a deal early," Doyle said back in 1981.

"Ara wouldn't tell me how to write and I wouldn't tell him how to coach."

Parseghian's favorite memory of their early-morning get-togethers was when a man who had obviously been out drinking all night sat in Doyle's spot at the table before Doyle had arrived.

When Doyle pulled up at the table, Parseghian and his friend started talking as if the man wasn't there.

"He tried to jump into the conversation," Parseghian recalled of the stranger. "He eventually got frustrated that I wouldn't talk to him and just decided to leave."

Doyle would later form a bond with another legendary Irish coach, Lou Holtz.

"There are certain people in the world who are icons in their profession," Holtz said Friday night. "Joe Doyle falls into that category of writers.

"Guys like Jim Murray (Los Angeles), Furman Bisher (Atlanta), Sid Hartman (Minneapolis) and Joe Doyle.

They all did a tremendous job. They were guys you trusted to inform people. Whether the story was good or bad, they treated it the same.

"Joe was always fair. He wanted the home team to do well, but he was always fair with his story. He and Ara were so close. Every time I dealt with him he was always upbeat and a great guy to be around. I'm so sorry to hear of his passing."

And Doyle had a way of keeping everyone around him upbeat, even by unconventional means sometimes. "Joe was always bigger than life," South Bend Tribune columnist Al Lesar said. "He was the stereotype of what journalists used to be. He's part of South Bend Tribune lore.

"One story that was told to me sticks in my mind. It allegedly happened during Joe's hey-day, long before office etiquette discouraged such things.

"One night, The Tribune sports department was flooded with calls from people reporting high school results.

Every person was frantic. Finally, Joe called out to everybody to finish the call they had and take their phone off the hook. When the last call ended, Joe reached into his desk and brought out several glasses, followed by a bottle of some fine beverage; poured everyone a shot, then made a toast.

"After the gulp, 'OK, hang up your phones.' Talk about an old-time journalist."

Doyle carried old-time habits into his later years of writing. Joe Montana wasn't Montana on second reference, per journalism conventions. He was Joe on second, third and fourth reference.

There was a lot more to Joe Doyle than sports, though.

One of his passions was serving for six years as president of the Council for Retarded of St. Joseph County (now Logan). During Doyle's term, the council built the $1.6 million Logan Center near Notre Dame and, at the same time, worked actively to require special education training in the public schools.

"I'm going to miss him," Parseghian said Friday night.

So are the rest of us. In fact, we already do.

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