The Fifth Down

Reflecting on McGrane tributes

In this issue of The Fifth Down:
President's column
One writer's take on voting in the AP poll
Reflecting on McGrane tributes
Meece Scholarship nominations are open

In 2010, the FWAA will have a special online area where we will celebrate past winners of the Bert McGrane Award with biographies. In case FWAA members don't know what the Bert McGrane Award is, it is the FWAA's Hall of Fame, honoring those who have performed great service to our organization or profession.

We talk about it in this issue because life sometimes can be fleeting and uncertain for our FWAA members, what with the way the sports news profession is going these days. And yet sometimes we can be lulled into what we think are certainties. Both those feelings hit home in recent weeks.

Several months ago, we decided to start working on an online tribute to all the McGrane winners as a way to preserve the history of those who have been the backbone of this organization since it was organized in 1941. McGrane, from the Des Moines Register, was the longtime executive director of the FWAA.

The online section will be a collection of anecdotes from the early years about the swashbuckling sportswriters who sometimes were former athletes, entrepreneurs, war heroes and quite frankly characters worth writing about in their own right. Those were the days when sports writers often made the news and were celebrities.

That brings us to the news on Oct. 10 about one of those writer celebrities who has endured for six decades. It once was a certainty that the legendary Furman Bisher would appear in the paper at least one time a week, but no more.

Bisher, the longtime columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has written his farewell column. He penned his first column in 1950. There will be a nice piece on him in the FWAA's online tribute as a McGrane winner. Certainly, at 90, Bisher deserves some time off, but he leaves the paper with bittersweet feelings.

That brings us to the uncertainty of life, which also ties in with the Bert McGrane Award.

Houston sportswriter Gene Duffey, who wrote the FWAA's book on its Outland Trophy winners, "Sixty Years of the Outland Trophy," also was commissioned to write the McGrane tributes. He finished them during this past summer.

Then suddenly in early September, at a friend's birthday party in Houston, Gene was felled by cardiac arrest. He slumped to the floor, had no pulse, until he was revived, and was rushed by ambulance to the hospital. Gene finally awoke from an induced coma 10 days later. And now he is returning slowly to his normal self and is back home. All of his friends are very grateful for this development.

That was a shocking episode in which we nearly lost a very dear comrade who has meant a lot to this organization and has always held the profession tightly to his heart. In both cases, with Furman and Gene, life will move on. But it's always good to stop and reflect at these junctures.

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