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Vol. 52, No. 2 • January 2015 • .pdf version
Remembering Bryan Burwell with his stories
By DANA O'NEIL / ESPN.com
As it usually goes in our business, where one press box and media room blends in with the next, I can't say I remember the exact moment I met Bryan Burwell.
I recall encountering him once, back when the Eagles played at the Vet. To make the on-air atmosphere more authentic, the radio folks insisted on taking out the windows, so we are all freezing and kvetching about it.
Except, of course, Bryan.
He greeted me then as he always did – with a hug, a smile, and a "Well hello, young lady." That was Bryan Burwell.
When Bryan died, too suddenly and too early, I asked people to send memories about him. They are, as you'll read, funny and heartfelt, but they also followed a common thread – how much Bryan loved his job.
We could all talk about what a gifted writer he was, and the grace he exuded on television - even after that medium became more about shouting than intellect.
But Bryan's real gift to journalism, his real gift to all of us, is the enthusiasm and joy he brought with him to work each day.
From Yahoo's Graham Watson, who worked with Bryan at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
(From the 2006 Final Four in Indianapolis) It was really late, and Burwell and I are starving. We ascended the escalator that attaches the arena to the Westin and happened upon Shula's Steakhouse. We walked up and the maitre d told us they were closed, no longer serving food. Then Burwell takes a quick glance inside the restaurant and sees someone he knows. He grabs my arm (now remember, at the point I'm a pretty timid 26 year old) and he rushes me past the maitre' d and into the restaurant. Of course the guy follows us, protesting, while Burwell is basically waving him away. We stop at a group of four people who are sitting at a table and one of the guys immediately stands up and gives Burwell a hug.
It's Charles Barkley. Barkley tells the maitre d that we're with him and to bring us menus and whatever we want. Burwell gives the maitre d this "I told you so" look, and the guy scurries away.
From Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe: I go back 30-plus years when he was in NYC covering the Knicks. We were part of a group that played a lot of basketball during the NBA playoffs. Did many a Sports Reporters show with him. He was always measured, a common sense voice of reason.
The last time I saw him was in Bristol not all that long ago. He was discoursing on an important topic: namely that too many people falsely label a benign "Cookout" a "Barbecue," which he thought was sacrilegious. Throwing hamburgers or a hot dog on a grill, he said, was a long way from having an honest-to-God Barbecue, which is truly culinary art.
From Pat Forde, of Yahoo Sports: The thing I liked and respected about Bryan was his enthusiasm for the assignment, whatever it was. He worked in a pro sports town, but every time I saw him at the Missouri Valley tournament, he was totally into it. He wasn't half-stepping it; he knew the storylines and the teams and the personalities. That was about the 50th most important thing for him to cover in a year, but he covered it like it was the most important. Because it was that day. It's a fun job and I never saw him fail to have fun doing it.
From ex-USBWA president Lenox Rawlings: During Bryan's time as president, I was most impressed by his passion for helping young folks understand what they faced if they wanted to take up our line of work. He was encouraging yet candid about the possibilities, and he was downright blunt about the practicalities of entering the field during such economic and journalistic convulsions. But you could see his face light up when he described the potential rewards to these students, and you could feel his resolve in reminding the rest of us that the USBWA needed fresh energy to survive.
From former USBWA president Kirk Wessler, of the Peoria Journal-Star: We're at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, when some mid-level shift manager walks into the media workroom about 7:45, less than an hour after the Illinois-Mizzou game ended, and announces we all have to be gone in 45 minutes. I get the guy to call his supervisor, who comes down and we're going at it in the hallway. The super tries to tell me this is the way things always go there, that even the MVC tournament is out of the building by such-and-such time. I say, "Really? I cover that every year and we've never been run out of here before we're done." He says, "Well the Blues …" Burwell overhears this and he comes out. The super looks at him like, "I know you!" And Bryan quietly says, "That's bull. When the Blues are playing, we're here till we're done." And the guy backed off.
From Kansas City Star columnist Vahe Gregorian, who worked along Bryan for more than a decade: A few weeks ago, I had the incredible fortune to get to see Bryan one last time. His wife, Dawn, ushered me down the stairs where he was sitting. Neither of us knew quite what to say as I walked toward him, trying not to seem despondent. Then he just started crying, or maybe I was first, and I leaned in to hug him up a minute. And that was enough of the sappy stuff.
A Mizzou football game was on in the background, and we had a lot of catching up and laughing to do. He was eager to get the "preseason" of testing behind so he could begin the "regular-season" grind of treatment.
Bryan could drink only water by then, and at one point Dawn came down the stairs and offered Perrier for a change of pace. Bryan took a few sips as she was walking back up the stairs.
And then he called her back, almost giddily thankful and excited about how good the Perrier tasted.
To the end, that was him: always cheerful, always the same person, always the optimist.
A person you were always happy to see coming and so hated to see leave.
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