The Fifth Down

Hairston was always out to get story

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Editor's Note: Jack Hairston, the FWAA's 1990 Bert McGrane winner and the association's president in 1982, passed away on May 15, 2010, in Gainesville, Fla., at the age of 81. The following is a profile of Hairston previously written by FWAA member Gene Duffey.


Jack Hairston worked for the Jacksonville Journal in January 1968 when he attempted to interview Joe Namath. The New York Jets quarterback was in town for the American Football League All-Star Game. Hairston met Namath at 10 a.m. in the hotel lobby.

"He was nice as could be," said Hairston. "I walked around with him for 15 minutes. He introduced me to other players. Then I asked him to sit down for an interview."

"I don't have time for no sports writers," replied Namath.

Hairston went to the East team's practice that day and received the same type of rejection from Namath after practice. Later, Hairston attempted to call Namath at the hotel, but the operator told him that all calls to Namath's room were blocked.

"I went back to the paper and blistered the son of a bitch," said Hairston, who joined the FWAA in 1954. "I must have gotten 250 letters. Most of them were pro Namath."

In this issue of The Fifth Down:
President's column: Fascination with media guides continues
Hairston was always out to get story
Eddie Robinson Award presentation moved to New York City
Outland Trophy Watch List
Bronko Nagurski Watch List
2010-11 FWAA awards calendar
Frequently Asked Questions about the FWAA

Of course, it didn't help Hairston's cause that Namath threw for 249 yards in the game, scored the winning touchdown on a sneak with 58 seconds to play in a 25- 24 East victory and shared Offensive MVP honors with receiver and Jets teammate Don Maynard.

Hairston started out as "a wannabe athlete" at Indianola High School in Mississippi. He began stringing for the Memphis Commercial Appeal at 16. By age 18 he was working full time for the Morning Star in Greenwood, Miss.

"I was sports editor, city editor, managing editor," he said. "That was a pretty good education. The paper was on the verge of going broke."

He also attended Sunflower Junior College in Moorhead, Miss., for a year. After four years at the newspaper, he joined the Army in 1951 and served in Korea.

Hairston returned in 1952 to become assistant sports editor of the Jackson (Miss.) Daily News, where he worked with Jimmie McDowell, the 2000 Bert McGrane winner. He switched to the new Jackson State Times in 1956.

Hairston then moved to the New Orleans Item covering LSU in 1956 and '57. Next stop Jacksonville. Hairston became sports editor and, in addition to his run in with Namath, covered the University of Florida and wrote columns.

He covered many big time events while working for the Jacksonville Journal, including the World Series and the Super Bowl.

"I remember Casey Stengel would sit in the press room and tell stories until 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning," Hairston said of the 1957 World Series. He covered the New York Mets upset of Baltimore in 1969 and 13 Super Bowls.

Jacksonville was the Triple-A baseball affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals in those days. Branch Rickey, the famous general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, served as an adviser to the Cardinals, giving Hairston the chance to meet him.

"I had been an admirer of his from a distance for years," said Hairston. "He was a brilliant man. A lot of people told me he was the smartest baseball man they knew."

The Gator Bowl was one of the biggest events in Jacksonville and in those days there was true competition in the newspaper business.

"There was always a battle to find out who the Gator Bowl teams would be," said Hairston. "I prided myself in getting them before they released it."

In 1968, Gator Bowl officials were determined not to let the story leak out ahead of time, particularly to Hairston. He was in the press room one day and picked up the phone. Somehow he ended up on a conference call among Gator Bowl and Missouri officials about the Tigers' matchup with Alabama in the Gator Bowl. Gator Bowl officials were completely befuddled when the story appeared in the paper the next day.

There was a brief stint with the Atlanta Constitution as executive sports editor before landing in Gainesville in 1971.

After leaving the Gainesville Sun in 1991, Hairston started "Gator Pipeline," his own weekly newsletter devoted to Florida football.

He looked back on his career with very few regrets.

"I had a good run, met a lot of interesting people," he said.

But the demise of the newspaper game saddened him. "It's not a good business to be in anymore. TV's gobbling up all the advertising money."

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