I don’t talk sports on this blog, by design. It’s not that I try to avoid an unpleasant topic (like politics and religion) but more that I try to focus upon music, comedy, television, books and film – pop culture and the arts. (I post about sports here.)
But I guess I can qualify this RIP today since when I first got basic cable back in the day, I stumbled across four cantankerous cigar-smoking guys sitting around the table talking sports – Sportswriters on TV.
An extension of a popular Chicago radio show, the TV version was the same show with a couple of cameras filming the action. Important topics of the day would be topic fodder, but these guys could run off on an entertaining tangent in a heartbeat, and that’s when the show got really interesting. One of them, Bill Gleason, passed away today after a full 87 years on this mortal coil.
(Ironically, it was another Chicago show featuring two film critics named Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel that inspired me to look outside my own peer group for film discussion. And like with any great critic, I didn’t always agree with them but I understood them enough to know when to take their opinion seriously or take it with a grain of salt. But I digress…)
So I would catch this sports show at the oddest of hours, but watch fascinated on that tiny living-on-a-prayer sized television and mesmerized that I was a fly on the wall with these old salts. In fact, I seem to remember how Rick Telander (now 60-ish) was like a young pup when he joined Gleason, Bill Jauss and Ben Bentley, all twenty years or so older. For Telander, it must have been like moving from the kid’s table to the adult table at Thanksgiving. And initially he did defer, although he had the credentials to be there.
I grew up in New York City. We didn’t get the New York Times in my house, we got The Daily News and later Newsday, so I didn’t realize what a non-tabloid newspaper was until I was in High School. Watching this show proved to me that Chicago was filled with the same intensity and mania for sports that we had, and in fact, so many other cities have. Boston. Philadelphia. Pittsburgh. Blue collar hearts.
Gleason was – as one commenter put it – “a shot and beer guy in a shot and beer town”. He was like you, except he had your dream job. But he invited you along for the ride. In the early days of cable wasteland, you have to understand what a find this was.
Sportswriters was the forerunner for every sports talk show since. Unfortunately, sports is now a business, and sports coverage is a predominantly a myopic cesspool. Most of the pinheads getting air time think it’s all about them, not the topics. Fools. These old veterans had fame, they were all accredited writers, but they understood that they were not the important part of the show. You were the fifth barstool.
But all things must pass. Gleason, as Telander says in his tribute, “has gone to the great typewriter in the sky”. I’m a lot younger but appreciate an old-school sportswriter like him and a classic voice like Jack Buck or Vin Scully. Soon they will all be gone, and frankly, sports will never be the same.
But if you settle for it, maybe I don’t.
I’m going to figuratively don a Panama hat or a cabbie cap and light up a stogie. Thanks, Bill.
Chicago Tribune obituary
Rick Telander remembers Bill Gleason
a 1990 Telander piece for Sports Illustrated about the show
(And if I was going to post about sports I’d post about this force of nature – Chris Johnson, the Manimal. But I’ll save my Titan love for another place and time.)