J.R. Wiggins, a former editor of The Washington Post, always insisted on qualifying. Don't write that a thing is the best, the worst, the only of its kind, he counseled. Interject "one of the" before the superlative and you'll be right many more times than wrong.
I subscribe completely to the Wiggins rule. Yet, it does not seem incorrect to say the late John L. (Jack) Hagerty is the finest man I ever met in sports.
I did not report Georgetown and Hagerty's glory days in football in the late '30s, but was on hand in the late '40s, at the end. It never became the bitter end because, among other things, Hagerty was a kind man.
Without embarrassment to him or me, I also could say he was a highly moral man. He had integrity, sincerity, loyalty and other virtues that won him numerous admirers.
As a source of copy, he was anything but flamboyant. He almost was dull, but it didn't take too long to learn that if you had a question, you were assured a direct and truthful answer.
Shortly after I arrived in town in November 1947, I remember being puzzled at a night game between Georgetown and Villanova in Philadelphia. In those days, the starting lineup was on the field for the opening kickoff. Four or five of the Hoya players bore unfamiliar numbers. A quick glance at the program provided the answer. They were seniors from the Philly area. Just an old Hagerty custom.
The players might not have been in long enough to hurt the team or themselves, but Hagerty was aware that their parents and friends were in the stands. He didn't talk about things like that. He just did them.
I don't remember Jack ever talking about what a good football coach he was. He had a fine national reputation, and his innovative sideline-to-sideline offense spread caused considerable comment among his peers. There was no questioning his sportsmanship.
When Georgetown accepted the first El Paso Sun Bowl invitation, it still had to play cross-town rival George Washington. That's all crafty GW Coach Bo Rowland needed, and the Colonials pulled an upset.
My boss, sports editor Bus Ham, thought it would be a good idea for Georgetown to turn over the Sun Bowl spot to the victorious Colonials. Ham had me make a lot of calls. One of the first was to Georgetown Athletic Director Hagerty, who said, "You know, I just was thinking the same thing."
A feisty faculty director, Jesuit Cornelius Herlihy, had a more pungent answer. That's another story. Suffice to say Georgetown played in the 1950 Sun Bowl.
Hagerty, a quiet Irishman, had a fine sense of humor. Maybe that's why he never took himself too seriously.
Once Hagerty was asked whether he could think of a job that involved more pressure than that of a college football coach. You know: up for grabs eight or nine times a year and standing helplessly on the sidelines hoping 30 or 40 pupils remember some of the things they had been taught.
Hagerty had a quick answer: "That's easy. Politics. Your whole career is on the line on just one election night."
The wonder is that Hagerty ever ran out of all-America football players. It is questionable that any father could have found a better coach for his son.
As Bill Rach, onetime Georgetown sports publicist, said: "Jack Hagerty? Why, he practices ethics he's forgotten."
I am particularly glad that Georgetown's basketball team advanced to the NCAA final four the Saturday before he died. It gave me an excuse for an infrequent call. I just wanted to congratulate a tried and true Hoya. Then again, it always was nice to talk with Jack Hagerty.