Sportswriter Will McDonough, who toiled for the Boston Globe for more than 40 years, died of a heart attack last week.
In the last few days, sports fans saw and heard words of appreciation about him, much in the way ESPN’s Dick Schaap was commemorated last June.
But my words are not those of someone who knew him, but of someone who nearly couldn’t live without him. You may have known him as the NFL information man extraordinaire on CBS and NBC in the 1980s and 1990s, but the daily grind of sports reporting is what made him.
I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s in Rhode Island, where the Boston sports teams enjoyed as rabid a fan following as Beantown itself. However, in my part of the Ocean State The Globe was not widely available — only a scattering of convenience stores would carry two or three copies each. The Providence Journal was OK, but it wasn’t the Globe.
Why? Simply, the Globe was a sports-information powerhouse, led by McDonough. The Globe’s sportswriters not only scooped the rival Boston Herald and other New England newspapers on local teams, but often scooped newspapers in cities in the rest of the country on their own teams. It was like having The Sporting News as your local paper — daily.
Which is why getting out to find the Globe was near the top of my priority list Sunday mornings — regardless of the depth of snow or number of locations I had to search. I’d throw out the liberal claptrap in the rest of the paper and feast on the sports.
The proof of its worth was in that other newspapers — even New York’s — did not match the Globe in getting their sportswriters national exposure. The list includes columnists Leigh Montville and Jackie MacMullan, who became Sports Illustrated writers; Bob Ryan, who is on ESPN’s Sports Reporters regularly; Dan Shaughnessy, who is quoted often by ESPN personalities; Leslie Visser, who has been a television sports reporter for CBS and ABC; Nancy Marrapese-Burrell and Peter May, who both write for ESPN.com; and of course Peter Gammons, whose baseball-insider reports for ESPN are unrivaled. Like the best media organizations, I couldn’t ignore the talent.
And then there was McDonough. You didn’t read him for eloquent prose, turning a phrase, or the romanticized odes about the “lyric little bandbox” (John Updike) that is Fenway Park.
No, you read McDonough for one thing: The straight scoop — direct, honest, and reliable. He seemed to have all the connections. That’s why he ended up on the networks; they couldn’t ignore his ability to get the story.
Sports-information junkies like me were addicted, and McDonough and Gammons were inspirational for my pursuit of a career in writing.
The sports world will never know as much as it once did, with McDonough’s passing.
— Paul Chesser is associate editor of Carolina Journal, a publication of the John Locke Foundation.