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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

In Memory of a Great Man

The Italian subtitle of this column is the suspected title of Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony Eroica, which in English means “Composed in order to celebrate the recollection of a great Man”. The great German composer was to have dedicated his third symphony to the “great liberator” of his day, Napoleon Bonaparte. Political fallout from Napoleon’s campaign convinced Beethoven to change his mind about the title.

I apply the Italian fragment to the memory of the recently deceased Boston Globe journalist William McDonough. McDonough was a giant in the industry of sports journalism and had clicked the keys of typewriter/computer for over forty years. Some day I plan to join the ranks of sports journalists. There are few sports writers and columnists that I wish to emulate in my future career. Will McDonough is one of them.

The accolades of this versatile and controversial reporter are many numerous to list. One of his more notable (and I might add enviable) accomplishments was that he had the privilege and good fortune of covering every single Super Bowl. That’s thirty six championship football games. Only a handful of reporters can say that at this moment in time.

McDonough died at home on Thursday January 9 while watching an evening broadcast of ESPN’s Sportscenter. It was known to many, friends and foes alike, that he was man that loved sports. Even when he “retired” from the Globe in 2001, the sports world knew that he would not be content to remain on the sideline. He came back to write a weekly column that appeared in the Saturday sports section.

Countless times in my childhood, I would wake up early on Sunday mornings to run to my local convenience store to buy the Globe so I could peruse the boxscores and read the column filled pages. McDonough’s football was either the first or second column I would read. (Depending on the time of year, I might go to Peter Gammon’s column on baseball.)

The reason why I revere this renowned reporter was that he frustrated me. I mean at times he would make me furious. Often he would focus on an issue or sports personality that brimmed with either praise or condemnation to the point where his agenda became crystal clear. I would say to myself “Is this what journalism is about?”

What I learned is that the man pulled no punches. McDonough had conviction in what he wrote and he always, always backed up his column with facts. He got the story. That is what journalism is about, period. He wasted no time on hyperboles, euphemisms and metaphors.

He had contacts and sources that would fill the rolodexes of ten reporters and no one else came up with more scoops. His friends include former Patriots coach Bill Parcells, star athletes, political figures, bright-eyed college co-ops and hundreds of colleagues.

I have some qualms about McDonough. His unswerving loyalty to some boyhood chums, most notably the incarcerated and former FBI John Connolly and James “Whitey” Bulger, do not get high marks in my book. The last Saturday column that he ever wrote may or may not have had less to do with sports than family issues. When I read it, I honestly dismissed it as trash. Nevertheless, he was the quintessential sports reporter and he is second to none in that area. His involvement in local charities and youth programs through the years is unusual for someone who achieved the journalistic status that he did. His pluses far outweigh his few negatives.

What made McDonough a special journalist and respected person is that he not only focused on professional sports, but that he always had an eye (two when he could spare them) on small college and high school athletics. UMass Boston Athletic Director Charlie Titus, a friend of McDonough for almost thirty years, succinctly summed up the impact that the South Boston native had in the area as a professional and a human being.

“His death is a tremendous loss to the Boston sports community and to the sports world in general. Will was real supportive of [UMass Boston]. I think about the times that he would call me. He knew high school sports as well as pro sports. He used to call me and tried to get us to recruit certain [high school] kids. ‘Charlie, have you seen so and so? I think he would be great for your program,’ he would say. We would talk for a half hour about various things. I’d meet him at high school games. He was a great friend and it’s a great loss.”

Titus pointed out some of the similarities that McDonough had with many UMass Boston students, past and present. “I thought it was very fitting that UMass Boston gave him an honorary degree in 2001 because he was a working class guy. He got his life together and had a lot of success. He did very well for himself. He was always concerned about the well being of the working class. He believed in this university and that’s why he was so supportive of what we are trying to do here.”

I had the honor to meet Will McDonough when UMass Boston bestowed that honorary degree in 2001. He was cordial and pleasant. I am sure that he would have been happy to talk shop with me, but at the time I figured that it was his day to be honored, along with the other thousands of UMB graduates, so I refrained from doing so. Lost opportunity and now I regret it. What I regret even more is the empty feeling that Saturday mornings will have now that he is gone.

I am sure that McDonough is not happy about the amount of ink that has been used to eulogize him. He’s probably saying “Why aren’t you out there getting the real story on the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics, etc.?” Well, Will McDonough, please indulge us, for without your pioneering efforts, the world of sports journalism would not be what it is today. Sports writers everywhere owe you a great debt of gratitude.

I unabashedly offer condolences on behalf of the entire UMass Boston community, especially the Athletics program, to the McDonough family. He was unequivocally a true legend, both locally and nationally. Boston is proud to call Will McDonough her own.