Over the past 100 years, more than a hundred sportswriters, led by the late Shirley Povich, have covered thousands of sports events and written stories for The Washington Post. Today some of the journalists on the current roster share a most memorable event or moment. Pages, D6-9.
In the spring of 1998, the Washington Capitals were in a furious battle with the Buffalo Sabres to reach the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in their 24-year history. I asked Shirley Povich, in his 75th year of writing sports--but rarely hockey--which was his favorite Stanley Cup final.
"Well," he said, in his thoroughly New England/Shirley way, a mischievous gleam in his eyes, excited about the possibility of shortly seeing his first Stanley Cup final game. "I don't want to detract from any of them; they were all great."
I will never forget June 4, 1998, the night the Capitals won the NHL's Eastern Conference championship in Buffalo, because that was the night Shirley Povich had a heart attack and died at 92. His son, David, called this office, and reported the news that was a kick in the stomach to me and thousands of other Shirley Povich fans.
"Shirley Povich was the greatest man I ever knew," said Tom Callahan, the journalist, who, like so many of us, idolized the man who started working for The Washington Post shortly after he moved here from Bar Harbor, Maine, in 1924--the year the Washington Senators won the World Series. He eventually became this newspaper's baseball writer, sports columnist, sports editor and greatest star before retiring in 1974. He used to write six or seven columns a week, cover ballgames, edit, hire and have time to catch a few races at old Bowie.
In retirement, he wrote more than 600 sports columns--the last one appearing in the newspaper the morning after he'd died. You would ask him for a column--as I did after Thomas Boswell had put Mark McGwire in the same sentence as Povich's old pal, Babe Ruth. Shirley usually would answer a request with, "I'll have a look."
This time, after Boswell's pro-McGwire column appeared, Shirley jumped at the chance to rebut. He had been slowed by a heart attack that felled him in the lobby of Oriole Park at Camden Yards on an October afternoon in 1997, when the Orioles were playing Cleveland in Game 6 of the ALCS.
Skilled Oriole Park paramedics brought Shirley back to us that afternoon. That was only fitting, because he told me he wouldn't have wanted to leave the world in Baltimore, a city he believed was a roadblock to his beloved Washington returning to major league baseball. One hour after Povich was rushed to a hospital, he was holding court on how late-afternoon shadows in the fall make it difficult for hitters to see, especially against pitchers Charles Nagy and Mike Mussina. He was, of course, right and the Indians won the game, 1-0, in 11 innings.
If Povich did not cover Gordie Howe or Bill Russell, who played games he never felt he knew well enough to write, he covered all the rest: Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken, Walter Johnson, Muhammad Ali, Sammy Baugh, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Secretariat, Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Ted Williams, Hank Greenberg, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Sonny Jurgensen, Vince Lombardi, Red Grange, Sugar Ray Leonard, Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca, Don Larsen and so many others.
He also covered World War II, hired Morris Siegel, wrote for the big magazines of the day, ate at Duke Zeibert's and Toots Shor's, played golf at Woodmont and wrote in the 1930s how wrong it was for blacks to be excluded from major league baseball.
He was a teacher for generations of sports journalists. We all thought if Shirley Povich covered sports for all these years, then this was okay to do. He wrote, reported and schmoozed with grace, style, intelligence, warmth and humor.
His advice to me: Choose good people, and don't let them write too long or use too many quotes.
He was the consummate family man--aware The Washington Post also was his family. He never looked back, never said they did it better in his day. He always encouraged, even when he was on the money with his criticism of a rambling story, or misguided column or overplay of the news. He knew; you could never fool him.
We miss him, which is why we marked the century by running eight decades of Povich columns these past six months, including his last one, today.
George Solomon joined The Post in 1972 and has been the assistant managing editor for Sports since 1975.
CAPTION: Shirley Povich on the night Cal Ripken broke the record of Lou Gehrig, another athlete Povich covered in his more than 70 years with The Post.
CAPTION: In July 1997, Shirley Povich threw out the ceremonial first pitch before an Orioles game.