Glory days of The Boston Globe (cont.)
The pieces all came together in 1975. As politicians tip-toed around Boston's tinderbox of busing-related racial issues, the Globe prepared for an unprecedented run. The sports department, at the time publishing both morning and evening editions, printed two sections; one for all-non-baseball matters, and one solely for Series coverage. Today, Fitzgerald's Game 6 article hangs framed on a wall in Fenway's press box alongside Gammons' game story, which began: And all of a sudden the ball was there, like the Mystic River Bridge suspended out in the black of the morning.
Shaughnessy, now the lead columnist, can still recite Gammons' intro and keeps the hot-type cube that was used to print Fitzgerald's headshot in his desk at home as a talisman. That lost lede has survived, too. Visser, who left the paper in 1982 for TV, preserves the sheet at her home in Boca Raton, Fla. "We all wanted to write like that," she says. "You never knew what Ray would pull out of his hat."
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The linebackers coach, then in his second season as a NFL assistant, needed a seat on the team's flight. The 20-year veteran football reporter, who traveled with the squad, had an opening next to him. It was the fall of 1980 and the ultimate insider would be able to add Bill Parcells' name to his ever-widening network. "Will McDonough was a straight-talking Irishman and that's the kind of guy I liked," says Parcells, who went on to co-author a book with McDonough years later. "I knew Willie in a unique coach-reporter way."
McDonough's access was unmatched. Colleagues would sit within listening distance of his steel desk and marvel at the names on his call list. Raiders owner Al Davis, a friend from McDonough's 10 years covering the AFL, phoned frequently. On another line NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle could be waiting. "Will had more sources than the CIA," says Boston University hockey coach Jack Parker. "You didn't dare cross him."
Though he was cozy with many, the former quarterback from South Boston's Old Colony Projects never muted his competitiveness. In 1979, New England Patriots cornerback Raymond Clayborn, fresh out of his post-game shower, grew upset with a group of reporters standing by wide receiver Harold Jackson's locker. Clayborn bristled as the crowd spilled over by him and McDonough bristled back. Clayborn poked McDonough in the chin, and McDonough pushed him into his locker and punched him until it was clear who the winner was. "I thought, 'Oh, my God, these players are filled with amphetamines and already hate us,'" says Montville, who stood nearby. If he was going to get involved, Montville knew who would do him the least harm. "Where," he asked himself, "is the field goal kicker?"
McDonough punched out stories even quicker than he whipped up on players. To piece together an article, the 1984 Pulitzer Prize finalist would take a rumor, run it through his Rolodex and reveal the inner workings of the day's dealings. His streetwise characteristics played well with his subjects. "The players were drawn to him," says Vince Doria, who became editor in 1978 when Smith left for The Washington Star.
That McDonough's published collections of information were referred to as "Notebooks" was ironic. The man was all but allergic to notepad paper, refusing to write things down. Exclusive information like his drove the section, though. In 1973, the Globe published a 22-page special section called "Sportstown USA", which celebrated the locals' success, but it also pointed to the city's obsessions -- namely, that -- there was no such thing as an offseason. In winter, readers wanted to know what was happening with the Sox. In summer they wanted Celtics news. Year-round, Gammons and Ryan grew their notebook-emptying articles into weekly must-read material. Pathbreaking at the time, theirs was a format that has become standard nationwide. The columns were written in quick-hitting fashion but extended the reach of the paper as fans from across the country wrote to the office seeking copies. "People never lost interest," Smith says.
McDonough wrote for all fan bases. When Harry Sinden, a former Stanley Cup-winning coach of the Boston Bruins who also coached Team Canada in its Summit Series with the USSR, wrote a book on the 1972 event, he collaborated with McDonough. During and after practices Sinden would tape record his thoughts, and McDonough would later sit down with him for interviews. They targeted the Christmas season as a release date, and delivered the finished product in plenty of time. When the sales totals came back they were told they had the all-time best-selling hardcover in Canadian history. Months later, though, they didn't seem to be getting all that much money. Sinden had a lawyer investigate and his report was stunning to both men. Doubleday had not shorted them. The co-authors actually owed $7,000. "I couldn't even talk to [Will] that day," Sinden says. "He was laughing so hard."
It was reporting with a straight face, though, that made McDonough a pioneer. Following in the footsteps of Collins -- the first sportswriter to appear regularly on national television when he went on CBS in 1968 -- McDonough appeared on NBC's football telecasts a decade later. Though Collins eventually left the staff for television, contributing tennis and travel columns, McDonough remained a newspaperman first. On Sundays he showed off his craggy visage and cabbie hat from the Foxboro sidelines or out-of-town stadiums. The added face time grew his name, as well as the Globe's.
When McDonough died of a heart attack at age 67 in 2003, his family worried about how they would accommodate all the readers who would want to pay homage in person. "We figured we could help," Sinden says. On the carpeted floor of the FleetCenter (now T.D. BankNorth Garden), which is owned by the Bruins, friends, family and readers flocked to pay their last respects to McDonough, lying in his coffin like a head of state. "I'm not sure you'll see that again," Parcells says.