Dufresne Receives Bert McGrane Award

LOS ANGELES  (FWAA) _  Los Angeles Times award-winning sportswriter Chris Dufresne will be honored posthumously when he receives the Bert McGrane Award tonight during the annual FWAA Past Presidents Dinner in Santa Monica. His wife Sheila will accept for him in an event hosted by the National Football Foundation (NFF) and presented by the Rose Bowl Legacy Foundation.  

The McGrane Award is the FWAA' highest honor and goes to a member who has made great contributions to the FWAA and to college football. It is the association's Hall of Fame and the recipient is recognized at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. McGrane was the association's first executive director in the early 1940s until 1973.

Dufresne passed away in May, 2020, at the age of 62 from complications surrounding melanoma. He worked 35 years as a sportswriter at the Times after starting in the loading docks of the paper right out of high school in 1976 delivering the paper in which he later starred as a columnist.

Dufresne was one of the most respected columnists in the country, which extended to his writing in golf and the Olympics, and was well liked by other media. Even when his opinions ruffled feathers of those he covered, and they often did, those opinions were always well informed and balanced.

"In 50 years in the business, I have never met anyone who had as much talent as Chris and as small or less visible of an ego," said 1999 FWAA President  Mark Blaudschun, formerly of the Boston Globe, who helped form the The Media Guides (TMG) in 2015 when Chris retired from  the Times.

Chris initially covered the USFL and the NFL at the Times before he went on the college beat in the mid 1990s. The Times switched him when the Raiders and Rams left town. His weekly "Rankman" Column became a must-read for college football and basketball fans. Nobody covered college football better on the West Coast or anywhere really than Chris, who was pretty modest in discussing his talent.

He once said rather tongue-in-check in the Times: "My competitive advantage was that my alma mater, Cal State Fullerton, dropped football years ago, meaning I had no pigskin in the game. College football is fundamentally rooted in where you went to school, so it was great to be Judge Judy. I never cared who won_unless it meant a bowl trip to New Orleans instead of Detroit."

Tony Barnhart, longtime Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer, FWAA Past President  (1998) and another member of TMG: "At his core, Chris Dufresne was one of the rarest of breeds. He was an unapologetic newspaperman who literally grew up on the loading dock of the Los Angeles Times. He took his craft and his life with Sheila and the boys seriously but never took himself seriously. And regardless of where our merry group of vagabonds were located--on a golf course, a vineyard or watching the sun as it set on the San Gabriel Mountains--he always made us laugh. Man, he made us laugh. I miss his laughter the most."

Herb Gould, formerly of the Chicago Sun-Times, a third spoke of TMG, added:  "The thing I loved about Chris, the thing I miss about Chris, is that we were kindred spirits. We both were fascinated by sports in the same way. Serious but not too serious. He kind of approached  everything that way, and I did too. That made him a perfect sounding board. To this day, I find myself thinking, 'What would Chris think about this?' And, 'Oh, Chris would really enjoy that.' He had a special quality. He had a way of making everyone around him feel special."

Dufresne served as FWAA President in 2013 and was named FWAA Beat Writer of the Year in 2015. He claimed numerous FWAA Awards in the association's Annual Best Writing Contest. In 2011, he was named California Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.

"While I didn’t always love what he had to say about me or my program, I respected his opinion and his balanced approach,” said Rick Neuheisel, who was head football coach at Colorado, Washington and UCLA and is now in the media ranks. “It was clear that he loved the game and worked hard to understand its nuances. As a coach, that’s all you can ask for from a journalist.”

In the FWAA, he was one of the rock stars.

"It took awhile to get Chris to become FWAA President," recalled Executive Director Steve Richardson, "but he was super when he decided to do it. He was too busy with his family early on. I could appreciate that. Eventually his sons grew up though. And we got him to become President. He, of course, handled that job as he did everything else in his life with his usual aplomb."

Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of journalists, broadcasters, publicists, photographers and key executives in all areas of college football. The FWAA works to govern media access and gameday operations while presenting awards and honors, including an annual All-America team. For more information about the FWAA and its programs and initiatives, contact Executive Director Steve Richardson at 214-870-6516 or tiger@fwaa.com.