Long ago, but not far away, there was a band of a dozen or so sportswriters who joined together. They came from different places and different backgrounds and with different dreams. But they soon melded into a team.
Not long ago, they came together again, all but a few, in a tiny place called Inman, Ga., to swap stories and nurture friendships that have survived the years, and maybe even embellish a few tales.
This was the Atlanta Journal sports department of the early 1960s, in the days when there were no specialists in sports. In the days when everyone did everything, covering practices and games, writing stories, and then sitting on the rim to edit copy and compose headlines. In the days when college and high school football were the only sports that counted in the South and our paper staffed as many as 13 college games on a Saturday. We staffed as many as five games with photographers, including shooting every play of the Georgia and Georgia Tech games with our triclops camera, Big Bertha.
The good old days? Perhaps only in our memories. And there are an abundance of those.
As I looked around that room in what used to be the Inman railroad station and is now the office of Jim Minter, the retired editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it was clear why we were able to do so much with so few.
There was Furman Bisher, the boss who recruited us and taught us and led us and often infuriated us with his demands – but who always made us better. And who could write so elegantly, and in his mid-eighties, still does two or three times each week.
Minter, who wrote so cleanly and so gracefully and who went on to be managing editor and then editor. John Logue, who left newspapers for magazines and became executive editor of Southern Living and then creative director and, finally, editor of Oxford Press. Now he writes mysteries.
Terry Kay, who then had never before written professionally, and who has become one of America’s finest authors. Lee Walburn who went on to be editor of Atlanta Magazine. Gerry Chatham, who left the business for public relations, as did Tom Willow, both extremely successful.
Gene Asher, the finest prep editor ever, who went into insurance and was in the millionaires’ club before you could write a good lead, and who also started a newspaper serving the Georgia Jewish community. Bill Robinson, who can write as if there were an angel on his shoulder and does so for a small paper in Alabama.
Two talented guys who came shortly after I left the Journal, Norman Arey, who also worked for World Championship Tennis and for Georgia Tech and is now on the news side of the paper, and David Cleghorn, who became a success in business.
And me, who has probably had more jobs since than all the rest put together.
Among the missing, two who have died: Ed Miles, the man many called America’s finest golf writer, and Bob Christian, a baseball writer who became a vice president of Eastern Airlines before retiring. Another who wasn’t there was Norm Carlson, who was associate athletic director at the University of Florida.
The memories were unleashed.
The man who was quoted so beautifully in a story who had been dead 30 years. The staffer who avoided being chewed out by Furman by bringing his two-year-old child to work and holding her in his arms as he walked into Bisher’s office.
One of Bisher’s competitors, with tears in his eyes, telling Terry Kay what it was like to get up in the morning and “read that SOB and know you can’t match him.” Terry recalling a lead on a baseball story. “At first this guy wrote something like, ‘The Atlanta Crackers are so inept they couldn’t get sex with Christine Keeler.’ (For you youngsters, Keeler was involved in a British sex scandal.) It was rejected. So he changed it to, ‘The Crackers couldn’t get sex with Mandy Rice Davies.’” (Another sex scandal participant.)
Miles holding some man out of the fifth floor threatening to drop him. Or Miles, showing his strength, pinching my arm so hard that it bled. Minter getting reamed by Bisher for not getting the results of a golf tournament in the early edition that went to Thomasville, where the tournament was being held. And then plying the folks in composing, the press room, and in transportation with baseball tickets so that wouldn’t happen again.
Logue remembering covering a critical LSU-Ole Miss game and Asher screaming that he needed the story right now. “Gene,” John said, “LSU has the ball on the three yard line. If they score they win. If not, they lose. Tell me how you would like it and I will write it.” Kay telling how Asher initiated him by rejecting every 18-point headline he wrote on dozens of high school games without even reading them. Gene, of course, denied he didn’t read them.
Georgia Tech coach Bobby Dodd, a master with the press, on a dare coming down from his tower and out-kicking his star kicker. And always having one story for the morning Constitution and one for the afternoon Journal.
Logue and Minter, limited to one parking spot at Tech’s basketball arena, getting someone in composing to print 500 duplicates of the parking pass and handing them all out across the Tech campus. The coach had to park blocks away.
Kentucky basketball legend Adolph Rupp calling me after I wrote a story in which Rupp was accurately quoted saying that the Southeastern Conference would integrate athletics when he signed the first black player. Confronted during the next cycle, he denied it and called me and said, “Kid, I know I said that, but why don’t you just say you made it up?”
The publisher storming into the sports department in full anger because the wrong twin had been identified that morning as scoring in a high school game and the father had been treated rudely when he called the paper. Christian looking up from his editing duties and saying, “The Constitution had the wrong twin. We had the right twin scoring, so go upstairs and run the company and we will run the sports section.” And surviving.
And I am ashamed to admit, stories of me walking out of Furman’s office and punching a hole in the wall, which stayed for years, or kicking a wastebasket, or jumping up on the copy desk and spraying copy all over the place. Forgive me, Father, I was young once.
There was more. Much more. Good memories and strong friendships and deep respect.
And there was laughter and joy and a lot of hugs.