Interviewee: Jack Hariston
Interviewer: Charles Cote
Date: October 26, 1999; November 2, 1999
C: October 26, 1999. I am profiling Jack Hairston, longtime sports columnist in the
area. Mr. Hairston, in this initial part of the interview, I want to get into a little bit
your beginnings growing up in Mississippi and some of your early experiences
and then bring that forth to present day. So, when and where were you born?
H: I was born in 1928 in Jackson, Mississippi. My family moved to Indianola [in] the
Mississippi Delta when I was six years old, and I went to school there. I finished
high school up there.
C: Why the move?
H: My daddy had been Adjutant General, the head of the state National Guard, of
the state of Mississippi. It is a political appointment, and when they change the
governor, they change the adjutant general. He went to work for [the] Internal
Revenue [Service], which is one of the more cursed professions in the world.
He was assigned the northwest corner of the state. Indianola, where he had
lived once before, was in that area. It is kind of a central place in that area. So,
that is where I grew up.
C: Did your mom work at the time?
H: No, she was a housewife. Women, for the most part, did not want to work in
C: Did you have any brothers and sisters?
H: I had a sister.
C: Younger or older?
C: Obviously, your dad, as someone with the IRS, had a sort of formal job. What
were some of your early experiences when you first decided that sports was [for
you]? Was there a game?
H: Actually, I think I latched onto sports when I was eleven years old. I was playing
with my dog, dragging a stick along the sidewalk, and I hit a rough spot. The
stick [was] wrapped around my arm and broke my arm, and they had to put a
cast on it. It swelled. I could not do anything for several days. This was a little
town of about 3,000 in Mississippi, and I started reading everything I could get
my hands on. I was reading the newspaper front to back. I did not know what
rape meant, but I would read the stories about the rapes, and the ball games,
and the holdups and everything. It seemed to me-this was the summer of
1940-that the most interesting [thing] that was going on was the baseball
pennant races. The race in each league was going back and forth. This was in
June, and much of the summer went back and forth between the Brooklyn
Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds in the National League. In the American
League, it was really a wild race with the Detroit Tigers, the Cleveland Indians,
and the New York Yankees. Every afternoon, the paper was delivered, and I
could not wait to get it and read about the ball games, the pennant races back
and forth. Then I would get the magazines. I got an old magazine which had
Hank Greenberg's picture, from the Detroit Tigers, in there, and it was telling
about how a couple of years before that he had hit fifty-eight home runs and had
come so close to Babe Ruth's record. So, I kind of adopted Hank Greenberg as
my favorite player. The Tigers won the pennant that year, and so I really got
hooked on sports.
When my high school football team would start practicing, I would go out there
and watch them every day and follow all of their games. I was just excited about
sports. When my arm healed, I played sports, I guess from the time I was
eleven years old to the time I left for the Army. Anytime I had a day off, I looked
for a ball game to be in. I was not a really good athlete, by any means, but I
played on the sand lots, football, basketball, baseball. I was not very big. Well,
I should not say not very big; I mean, I was tiny, until I got out of high school. I
weigh right at 200 pounds now, and I weighed 170 about the time I was
twenty-two. But, when I was in the tenth grade, I weighed about ninety pounds.
In eleventh grade, I weighed about 105 pounds and, my senior year, I weighed
about 130. Finally, in my senior year, I played some on the basketball team and
on the baseball team. About two or three years later, at about 165 or 170
pounds, I was mad as hell because I had not been big enough to play sports
when I really wanted to play so badly.
Later on, I became what you call a pretty good neighborhood tennis player. I
played in some tournaments and, if there were not too many good players in
there, I might win. I played a lot of softball. I played some basketball. You
cannot play basketball much into your twenties, the right way. You cannot keep
your wind up if you are smoking and drinking, which I was in my twenties. I had
to give up basketball. I played a lot of tennis. I played tennis into my sixties. I
played softball into my mid-fifties in the city league in Gainesville. I was a better
athlete at forty years old, probably, than I was when I was sixteen. Mostly, your
sportswriters are frustrated athletes. Real good athletes go into coaching, or
else they get their fill... the guys who love sports and are really not very good at it
are the ones who go into sports [writing]. I knew as I was coming along that I
wanted to do something connected with sports, but I did not know quite what it
was. I thought it might be radio. I thought it might be writing.
When I was in the eleventh grade-I was the manager of the football team my last
three years in high school-and, in the eleventh grade the coach called the
Memphis and Jackson papers to ask them if they would run the stories on our
games. They said, yes. I think they said to send 100 words, night press rate
collect by Western Union. If he could get somebody to do that, they would run
the stories in the paper, and he told me, you are drafted to do this. So, I would
go down on Saturday mornings to the schoolhouse, and I took typing. I was
able to get into the school, and I would go up to the schoolhouse to the typing lab
and type these stories in five minutes, and then take them down to Western
Union and send them in. I was not a great student in school. You could
definitely say that. But, I always had good English teachers. They were tough
old-maid English teachers who demanded that I do right, so I was better at
English that I was at anything else. These stories would run in the Memphis
paper and the Jackson paper on Sunday mornings, and they did not change a
word. They ran them just like that. So, I felt like I was doing fairly well. Then,
the senior class, the next year, always took over the school paper, which had a
page in the weekly newspaper and I was, by acclamation, named sports editor.
I did that, and then I began to think, this might be the way I want to go.
Then, the next year, I went over to the junior college nearby. I was hired, getting
paid for the first time, $0.15 an inch, by the Greenwood paper, a big regional
paper in Greenwood, Mississippi, the Morning Star. I was making as much as
$60 a month at $0.15 cents an inch. You can do the math on it. I was
spending more time working for the newspaper than I was on my college classes.
They ran these long stories, ran them like I wrote them; they did not change
anything. Then, after one year, I was getting ready to go back for my
sophomore year in college, and I went over to the Class C baseball game, a
professional baseball team in Greenwood. The owner of the paper was up in
the press box, and I went by, just to say hello. He said, I want you to come to
work for us full time, starting next week. I was eighteen years old and, pretty
much, a mama's boy and I thought, my mother would never allow that. I said,
well, I will talk to you. He said, well, come on over to Greenwood tomorrow to
the office and talk to me. So, I went home and told my mother what he had said.
To my surprise, she said, you might ought to take that. I said, yes? She said,
look, I can pay for one more year of college. And junior college cost almost no
money then. It cost almost nothing. She said, now, with one year of college,
you got a job; with two years of college, you might not have a job. I guess that
was pretty good. She said, I do not know whether I can send you any further
than the junior college. So, I was bored with school, anyhow. I want to say
right here that I would recommend journalism school for every potential journalist.
I might be the last one of the ones with one year of college who went as far as I
did. And that was a lot of luck. But, I went over there and went to work as a
City editor was, handle the wire, and lay out the pages. The guy who was
departing stayed around about a week and showed me how to do it and to write
the heads and, virtually, to put the paper together. You would cover the stuff like
civic club speeches, fires, and go to the fire department, the police department,
the sheriff's department, and write the minor stuff. If something big came
through, [like] a U.S. Senate candidate speaking, the ace reporter had the title of
managing editor. That was just [the way] they did it. They had about four or five
people. He would-he was an older fellow-he would write the big stuff. If there
was a big murder of somebody, some store owner whom everybody knew, he
would do the story. If it was the little stuff, I would do the story. But, it was
good experience for a year, doing that. I suppose it is all right just to keep
C: Keep going with it.
H: The owner of the paper was twenty-eight years old and had a heart attack and
died. Everybody quit except me. By then, I was nineteen. So, I did everything
[for the paper]. One of the guys who left tried to get me to go with him. He got
fired and he tried to get me [to go] mainly, I think, to hurt the paper, because I
was the last one there. I did not do it. I would not go. That is when it really got
tough. I was a one-man newspaper at nineteen years old. I even had to put
the type in the page and justify the page, put the leads in and everything and
tighten it up, in the old hot type days. I got my thumb cut off trimming the heads.
We had a head machine that set one-column heads and three-column heads.
There were not any two-column heads. So, to set a two-column head, you had
to set it on the three column slug and just leave space there. Then, you would
have to take the slug and trim it, from three columns to two columns. You would
hold it up to the saw like that, and I got too close. It was about two or three
o'clock in the morning, and I was sleepy. It took the end of my thumb off, which
is not really a handicap. But, we had a seventeen-year-old alcoholic as the only
linotype operator, and he would pass out about eleven o'clock. So, that was my
responsibility, to find somebody to set the type. I would have to sometimes
phone Grenada, Mississippi, which is about fifty miles away and get a printer
from there. I would drive up and get him and drive him back. When he would
get through setting the type at about two o'clock, I would drive him back to
Grenada, and then I would drive back to Greenwood. The typical day, I would
come in at three o'clock in the afternoon. I would go over to the fire station and
get a list of all the fires, go to the police station and get a list of all the arrests, go
to city court and get a list of the action they had at the daily city court, and then
go to the courthouse and get the sheriff's log and copy all the arrests out of that.
Then, I would go back and write about twelve to fifteen stories. Then, the phone
calls would come in, and I would go cover a fire or a robbery or a wreck. They
had fatal wrecks there almost every night. They had murders, and I would go
cover the murders.
C: Did you feel overwhelmed? I mean, were there feelings where some days you
would just think, I cannot believe I am doing all this?
H: I was thinking, this cannot go on too much longer but, like I said, I was a very
immature seventeen-year-old and, all of a sudden, by the time I was twenty, I
was very mature. I had the maturity of about a thirty-year-old. For instance
now, one time we got a call--people would call the paper before they called the
police station and say, there has been a shooting out here! Someone gave us
an address on the edge of town. I jumped in the car and went out there. I got
out there, and this house was burning up. There was a guy standing there.
This was at night; it was dark, with the light of the fire. I walked up to him. He
was covered with blood, and he was just standing there. I said, bad fire, huh?
And he said, yes. I said, what caused this? Me and my brother got to fighting.
I said, where is your brother? He said, he is in there. The thing was falling in
and everything. Anybody inside was dead. I said, what happened to him? He
said, I stuck a knife in him and left him in there. Then, I was thinking, boy, I wish
the cops would hurry up and get here. Like I said, I was nineteen years old.
You could hear the sirens in the distance coming. They got there in about three
more minutes-I was never so glad to see the police in my life-and they carried
him away. I think he was convicted of murder and sentenced [to] life
[imprisonment]. But, he and I were sitting there watching that fire. That would
make you grow up a little bit.
Playing basketball never had produced any kind of drama like that. But, I did all
that for six or eight months, and that was my journalism school. You learn the
importance of deadlines. You have probably gone through enough journalism.
If you do not get the story written and to the Linotype operator, he cannot get it
set and to the man who makes the page up and puts it in there, and then they
cannot get the page to the guy that makes the matt and produces the curved
lead page to go on the press. Then, the press cannot start on time to get it out
and give the people to deliver it all over everywhere. So, you learn that the
deadline is sacred. There was not any such thing as missing the deadline, ever.
If the president of the United States died and it has to go to the press in two
minutes, I am going to have something in two minutes. It is going to the press.
Then, we are going to come back, maybe in a half hour, and get a bigger story.
But, it was just sacred, and you worked as fast as you had to and cut as many
corners as you had to, to get the page out. I worked on a lot of papers where
one person is putting together six pages. When you got to get it out at six
o'clock or eight o'clock at night or whatever, there is no excuse for missing it.
Just put something in and get it out. So, that was my education.
Then, the new owner came in and he said that, in effect, I was the managing
editor, city editor, and sports editor all in one and he said, I am going to be the
editor-in-chief and you can take whatever of those other three jobs you want, and
I will hire two people to fill the other two jobs. Well, I knew that my interest was
in sports. I did not want to be the managing editor. So, I took sports editor and
did the job there for a couple of years. Then, I went in the Army during the
Korean War. When I got out, I felt like it was time to move up from this little
paper which was about 2000 to 3000 in circulation.
I had met the sports editor in Jackson, Mississippi, a guy named Carl Walters,
who had produced more good journalism than anybody in the state. If you made
it in journalism in Mississippi, you had to go through Carl Walters. You had to
work for him, and then he would recommend you to New Orleans or Memphis or
Atlanta or something like that. I went to him and was with him for about three
years, which is a long time when you are in the twenty-two, twenty-four range. I
learned a lot from him.
W: What was the effect of the Korean War? I know there have been some sports
figure writers, such as Jimmy Ken, who have said that although he was not in the
war, he covered the war, and that changed his writing style. The drama was
right there already. Do you think that influenced you at all?
H: No. I never did get overseas. I stayed in the United States. I saw a lot of
combat, but most of it was around Columbia, South Carolina. No, it did not,
other than aging a year or two. But, at the Jackson paper, I had covered some
college games. Even when I was at Greenwood, I started covering the
Southeastern Conference games in the press box, in 1948. I was nineteen
years old. I would go down and cover the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. I
covered a few basketball games at Ole Miss and Mississippi State. But I was
mainly covering the high school sports. Then, in Jackson, Mississippi, I covered
a little more in the college. They opened a new paper down there, and Walters
went over there as the sports editor. He was about fifty-two, and I was
twenty-four. He was something of a father to me. My father died when I was
ten years old. [Carl and I] got to be very close. Actually, we were closer after I
quit working for him than we were when I was working for him. After I went on to
Florida, whenever he came down to cover a game in Gainesville, he would stay
with me, whether I was living in Jacksonville or Gainesville. When I would go
back to Jackson, Mississippi, to cover games over there, when the Gators would
play, I would stay at his house. So, we got to be very good friends. We were
close. It was almost like a father-son relationship.
We went over to the State Times, which [was] a third paper in Jackson. There
were three papers in Jackson, the Daily News and the Clarion Ledger were
owned by the same people. We had been on the Daily News. Then, the State
Times, the businessmen in town thought they needed a third paper, to make the
advertising rates competitive. They did not stay with it long. It was a bad idea.
But, they spent a lot of money at first. We hired people from New Orleans and
Louisville and Atlanta. There was no telling what the payroll was on that paper.
But then, after about six or eight months, it was kind of stalled. It did not have
the circulation that the other two papers did. They could offer dual deals.
Subscribe to one paper, and you get the other one free. And then, if you bought
an ad in one paper, maybe you would get the other for 20 percent or something.
We could not match that, so our ads were not as effective as the other ads.
Believe me, when somebody buys an ad at a particular radio station or a
particular newspaper, he has learned that, that is the best ad for him to have, the
best place for him to put it. If you are on the bottom of the barrel, you do not get
the ads. So, one day, after we had been in business for six to eight months, the
paper was coming out every morning at about eleven o'clock. It would be a
cause of great interest, and we would all sit down and start reading the paper.
Carl called me over. Come here, Jack. He said, look at these ads; our owners
have put their ads in the Jackson Daily News, the opposite paper. And he said,
we are not going to last much longer. He said, all these big businessmen and all
the department stores and real estate businesses and everything, their ads are
not even going into the paper where they own the stock. So, he went back to
the combination paper, which was a smart move, and stayed there until he died.
I was, at the moment, the sports editor at the State Times, but it had a death
sentence on it, and I knew it then. I made up my mind that I was going to work
as hard as I could and make the best showing I could and get out of there.
We put out a seventy-two page tabloid on football in the state, colleges and high
schools. We had every high school schedule in the state in there and a write-up
on every conference. I put my life into that thing for about three or four weeks,
and I proofread it. I still have one of those. Seventy-two pages, and there is
not an error in there. I sent it to every sports editor in the South and on Labor
Day weekend, I got offers from Birmingham, Nashville, and two papers in New
Orleans. It was a long weekend. I had applied to all of these places. First I
got a call from Birmingham and they said, we do not have anything on sports
right now, but we have a job on the news side working on the copy desk. I said,
no. Then, I got a call from Nashville and they said, we are going to have a job in
about a month. I said, okay, you have my address; keep it. Then, later that
day, I got a call from the New Orleans States, offering me a job covering LSU
[Louisiana State University] football and covering all the basketball in the SEC
[Southeastern Athletic Conference]. That looked pretty good but I was making
$110 a week at that time, and they offered me $110 a week also. Gosh, my wife
was seven or eight months pregnant with our first baby. I said, gosh, I have to
quit a job and move to New Orleans and leave a house that I just bought, pay my
moving expenses, and I am not going to make $1 more? He said, well, I will see
if I can get you any more money. I was really shaking my head and not knowing
if whether I was going to move or not. I knew this paper was going to die, and it
did die a couple of years later.
Then, I was sitting home. It was a holiday. I was sitting home and the phone
rang and I said, well, that ought to be Hap Glaudi from the New Orleans Item.
My wife looked at me and laughed. I picked up and said, hello? Hi, Hap. It
was. He offered me virtually the same job at the New Orleans Item that the
States had offered me, at the same $110 a week. You think salaries are bad
now. And I still had about [six or seven] years of experience. So he offered me
the same job at the Item that they had offered me at the States, covering LSU
football and covering all the college basketball, working on the desk again. They
got their money's worth out of it. So, I told them the same thing I told Harry
Martinez at the States, that I sure would like to have more than $110 a week.
He said, let me see what I can do. So, the next day, now I am back at the office,
and he calls. He said, I cannot go any higher. I told him the truth. I always
believe in telling people the truth. I did not try to be coy about it, that I was not
talking to anybody but them. I said, I am talking to these other people, and I am
going to go wherever looks like the best deal. I said, if Mr. Martinez does not
give me anymore than you offer me, I am coming with you. I said, he is
supposed to be back in touch with me by this afternoon at five o'clock. He said,
all right, if I do not hear from you by five o'clock, I am going to offer the job to
somebody else. I said, okay. Well, it got to be five o'clock and no phone call
from the other paper. So I am sitting there and I said, if I do not do something, I
am going to let both of these slip through my fingers. So, I called Glaudi and
accepted the job, at $110. Half an hour later, Martinez called and said, sorry I
am late, but I was out at the fairgrounds, racetrack, betting on the horses, and I
got tied up talking to some people and the traffic was bad, and so I am calling
you at five-thirty instead of five, and I can give you ten more dollars. I said, I am
sorry; I have already taken the job at the Item. Oh, my goodness, he said, you
are going to the Item. I stuck to my word. I believe in that. I know a lot of
people would have said, hell, I would have taken that $10 and told Glaudi to lump
it. But I really believe you have to have a code, even if you are a small person,
an insignificant person, and there is not much money involved. You need to live
by your own code. So I took the job at the Item. The only bad part out of that
was Martinez was getting ready to retire, about four or five months later. The
sports editor of the Times Picayune--the other paper, was owned by the same
people--he said, you ought to apply for that job. I said, no, they do not like
people from out here; they probably do not like me because I turned them down
to go to the Item. He said, well, you ought to call. So, I called this fellow who
was the managing editor and he said, come on over. So I went over, and it was
one of the dirtiest deals I have ever had played on me. He got me over there
just to have the enjoyment of telling me that he would not hire me if I was the
only one left. He said, you did not treat Harry Martinez right. He said, we
offered you more money than the Item. I said, I had already given my word to
the Item, and he said, I am just glad to be able to tell you, you are not getting the
job. Well, I said, I would have appreciated if you had told me and saved me the
trouble of coming over here. He was about fifty-five years old, and I was
twenty-seven. You do not get many experiences like that, but I thought it was
just kind of lowdown. Then, when I got down to the Item, I liked it. I learned a
lot from Glaudi. He was ahead of his time. Carl Walters was a good journeyman
newspaperman, but he did not teach anything about interesting leads. It was all,
Ole Miss ran the record to 5 and 0 by thumping Tulane, 42-12. But, Glaudi
would say, he would show you how to interview the players after the game. A
lot of times in Mississippi, we did not interview players at that time. I interviewed
the players, I would need to come back about the guy winning the game for his
sweetheart or his dying mother. It would be different. There would be a little
spark to it. Then, he would put the package together-like everybody does now,
but not many people in the country at that time were doing that-with a picture,
story, and head, and he would, maybe, have another picture tied in with it. In
Mississippi, we might run this story here and, then, if this story is on the same
subject, it might be on another page, and we would not bother to dress in a
picture. Glaudi, he was ahead of his time, way ahead of his time. He would
have this drawn up like is common now. But, in 1956, that was not common.
Everybody would buy an Item and try to copy him. So, I got the experience of
working under him for six months, which was good. It was kind of like a
master's degree in journalism. I learned a lot. New Orleans is a very
W: Is it really a sports town? I usually do not think of New Orleans as being that.
H: It is. It has not got any baseball, which is amazing to me when they have that
Superdome over there and everything. When they first got that Superdome, I
thought it was going to become the best sports town in the country. But, it never
got a baseball team. It has been in the NFL [National Football League] better
than thirty years now.
W: Not a lot of success.
H: No. And they had some Super Bowls. The NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic
Association] Finals has been in there a couple of times. It is a great boxing
town, but they have never had any great fights there. The fights just all go to
Atlantic City and Las Vegas and around there. Miami used to get some good
fights. Ali prizefightingg champion Muhammad Ali, formerly known as Cassius
Clay] fought down there. He dethroned Liston [professional prizefighting
champion Sonny Liston] that time down in Miami Beach. Floyd Patterson and
Ingemar Johansson [heavyweight boxers] did their third fight down there. But,
now, the hotels make so much gambling money by bringing the big crowds in
that they just bankroll the fights. In other words, they give the promoters
tremendous amounts of money, more than actual attendance bears, to put the
fight in Las Vegas and Atlantic City because they make so much money in
gambling. New York, Madison Square Gardens, seldom has any big fights
there. They are all in the gambling casinos. But I thought New Orleans was
going to be the number one town in American sports.
But, when I got there, I was the youngest guy on the staff, and I was the highest
paid man on the staff other than the sports editor. Ike Morales was a very highly
regarded boxing writer in his fifties, and he was making less (than I was at) $110
a week. And Joe Englert, who was the assistant to [Glaudi], laying out the
pages and everything, he was making less than $110 a week. So, I knew right
then that, that was not going to be my final resting place. Glaudi was around forty
and was probably going to be there for a long time. As it turned out, the paper
died in another two years and sold out to the opposition. That was the beginning
of the shrinking, from having three papers in every town to having one. New
Orleans has one now. So, I just kept putting out a few feelers for jobs. New
Orleans was connected to Kansas City in the United Press hub. AP [Associated
Press] in Atlanta was the hub for the South. But, for New Orleans, it went to
Kansas City, so the Kansas City United Press people--it was not United Press
International then, it was just United Press--they would come into New Orleans to
see how everything was, to touch base with the papers. The personnel man
came through and he said, I got a tip that you are looking for a job. I said, yes, I
am looking for a job. I said, I am making $110 a week here, and there is not
much chance of raises in the future. So, he offered me a job as sports editor for
the region out of Kansas City, which is a good job. I said, yes, that is great. He
said, come in to fill out some papers. Then, all of sudden, he said, you have
seven years of experience. I said, I thought you knew I had about that much.
He said, what makes this so bad is that we are going to have to pay you $135 a
week, and we have never started anybody at $135. I know you are probably
thinking I am making these numbers up.
W: No, not at all.
H: And he said, we have a guild and you having seven years of experience, we
would have to pay you $135, and United Press has a policy of starting someone
off; they like to hire people with two years of experience, at $90 or $100, and,
then, five years from now, we would be glad to be paying you $135. I said, well,
look, just put me down there for four years or whatever, and I will come for $110
or $115. No, we cannot do that. He said, do you have any friends who work for
United Press? When I was in Jackson, several of the fellows who came through
there were about my age; we were pals and partied together. They had fanned
out in different directions. One of them was bureau manager in Memphis.
Another one was in Knoxville. One of them was in Jackson, and one of them
was number two, number three man in Atlanta. He said, get them to write
headquarters in New York and ask them to make an exception and hire you even
though you have seven years of experience. So, I did that. Now, the reason I
am telling you this is [to explain] why I did not go to Atlanta. While I am waiting
for this to go through, Furman Bisher calls. He was sports editor at [the] Atlanta
[Journal]. He called and offered me a job and I said, Furman, to tell you the
truth, Kansas City has offered me sports editor for the United Press and it is
more money than you are talking about. He said, oh, that is a good job. I said,
but, they might not let me have it because I have to write in and ask them to
make a waiver for my experience, and I explained that. He said, well, I will hold
the job for you; if you do not get the job in Kansas City, come to Atlanta. Also,
while I am still waiting on Kansas City, Joe Livingston, who was the executive
editor of the Jacksonville Journal, he called and offered me sports editor of the
Jacksonville Journal. He had called Bisher to check on a guy named Ben Bird, a
very good friend of mine from Knoxville who applied for the Jacksonville Journal's
position. [Livingston] called Bisher and said, are you familiar with Ben Bird? He
said, yes. He said, would Ben Bird be a good man for me to hire? And he said,
yes, he would be. And Livingston said, if you were in my shoes, who would you
hire? Bisher said, I would hire a young guy that would grow with the paper and
who had some experience. And he said, do you have anybody, in particular, in
mind? And he said, well, I am trying to hire the guy now. But, he said, I do not
think I am going to get him, and he explained the Kansas City thing. And he
said, Jack Hairston at the New Orleans Item. He said, he was sports editor in
Jackson, which is a medium type paper. Then, he has been in a big city, in New
Orleans, like as the number three man, and he would be just right for
Jacksonville. At that time, Jacksonville was not as big as New Orleans in the
newspaper business. So, Joe called me and said, would you come to the
Jacksonville Journal as sports editor? And he offered me about $135.
So, now, the bird in the hand was just as good as the one in the bush at Kansas
City, and I knew that I could do this job. I thought I could do the wire service job,
but I never had worked for a wire service. I knew there might be a pitfall in there
somewhere. I did not think there was, but I knew I could do the job at
Jacksonville Journal. They had a professional baseball team. It was sixty-five
miles from the University of Florida and I knew, they explained to me, that was
big news in Jacksonville. So, I took the job in Jacksonville and was there for
fourteen years. I got along well with everybody. The Times Union bought the
paper after about two years, and I got along well with them. They had AAA
baseball there on a team that won a couple of pennants. I won some awards
from the Sporting News, the best coverage in America in the minor leagues, and
then the city lost AAA baseball.
It did not look they were ever going to get to the NFL. I asked Pete Rozelle
[former commissioner of the National Football League]. Jacksonville [had] the
AFL All- Star game then. They just merged the NFL and the AFL in 1967.
Rozelle was the commissioner. What does Jacksonville have to do to get an
NFL franchise? [Rozelle] said, you need to get one man to own 51 percent. He
said, we do not like to deal with committees. He said, we want one man to own
at least 51 percent of the team and, that way, when we have a vote coming up
we will know who to call on something, we do not want to have the Jacksonville
team run by a committee of ten guys. So, I went all over town. In fact, I went to
see four or five business people. They said there was not anybody in town who
had that kind of money. As it turned out about five years later, Hugh
Culverhouse [Jacksonville-based tax attorney and investor, longtime owner of the
Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team] who lives right there in town, put the
money up to get the Tampa Bay team. I asked Ash Verlander, American
Heritage Life Insurance owner, who was a good friend of mine, I said, why did
you not tell me about Hugh Culverhouse? He said, Jack, I have been eating
dinner every Saturday night with Hugh Culverhouse and his wife at the country
club for ten years, and I had no idea he had that kind of money. But Hugh
Culverhouse had the Tampa Bay Bucs for years. He was a great money man, a
tax man. He could save you the taxes. He had been making millions and
invested it all over the world. The people of Jacksonville did not realize that he
was worth $1,000,000. By the time he died, he was probably worth
$400,000,000. Jacksonville did not look to me like it was going to get an NFL
team. They were lucky this Weaver guy came down from New England and put
up all the money and took all the risks and did it.
At about that time, then, Jim Minter, who had been the executive sports editor of
the Atlanta Journal and who was named managing editor at the Atlanta
Constitution, called me and said, do you want to come to the Atlanta Constitution
as executive sports editor? You probably know the difference between the
sports editor columnist, who usually does the columns and goes to the World
Series and the Super Bowl, and the executive sports editor, who kind of runs the
department and he can write a little bit, but writing is not his main job. But writing
is the fun job. But I was willing to go to Atlanta as executive sports editor and be
in charge of the [sports section]. I could do some writing. I could write a
column a week. At that time, I had just turned forty-two. I had been there for
[fourteen] years in Jacksonville, and I felt like that was long enough. I wanted
some excitement and the charge of the sports department in a major league
sports town, and so I went up there and said, before I take this job, I want to sit
down with you and Jesse Outlar, the sports editor and the columnist, who had
been doing all of it. He was a good friend of mine, too. So, I flew to Atlanta and
the three of us sat down and I said, the one thing I want all three of us to agree
on is that I am going to run the sports department. I said, I am not coming up
here and giving up the Super Bowl and the World Series and all of that to be an
assistant to you, talking about Jim Minter, who had been in that same kind of job
on the Journal. I said, I want all three of us to agree that this is what we want,
that we understand what we want. I am going to run the department, and Jesse
is going to write the column and cover the events. We all three shook hands on
Jesse kept [his word, did] the writing, took care of his columns, but Minter wanted
a hand over everything. He wanted to give me suggestions. He gave me so
many suggestions that it drove me crazy. We had the same conversation about
fifty times where I said, Jim, you are not keeping your promise to me. He was
my boss, but I still talked to him like that. You are not keeping your promise to
me. He said, I know it; you are doing a good job, and I am not going to do it
anymore. Okay, fine. The next day, I would come in, and there would be a four
pink notes, one of them written at nine a.m., another one at nine-forty-five, and
another one at ten-fifteen, suggestions about what to do. It just drove me crazy.
He broke his promises to me on that, and he broke a lot of promises on moving
expenses. He said, we have a company policy against spending that kind of
money. Do not worry, he said, every month, you just turn in $200 more for
expenses than you really built up until you get the moving expenses paid. Well,
I never cheated on my expense account, and I was not going to start cheating at
the Atlanta Constitution. I just figured that was bad dealing, so I just wrote that
off. But, he kept interfering with me and, finally, I told him, Jim, I am leaving. I
will give you two or three weeks until you get somebody else. From that point
on, he was wonderful. He said the same thing he had been saying before, and
he kept [the promise] after that. He said, I am not ever going to interfere with
you again; we have not treated you right and you stay as long as you want, until
you find the right job; you do not have to leave in two weeks or three weeks; you
can stay two years if you want to or you can stay forever, and take your time.
And he never bothered me again, but I had another job in three weeks. He
would [gone] back [to the suggestions]. He could not stand it. I think he just
went and clinched his fists during those last few weeks I was there. Then, they
had about four more people in that same job the next year there. He was hard
to work for. He had been a good friend of mine. He was a good
newspaperman. I am not saying that what he was telling me was wrong, but
there are two ways to skin a cat. We had a deal that my way was going to be
the way it was going to go. But the Gainesville Sun had just been bought by the
New York Times. It was only 15,000 [circulation] then. It is about 55,000 or
60,000 now. It was considered a pretty small paper at the time. Jacksonville
offered me [job, but not sports editor]--I knew that they could not [give me my old
job]. It had only been about four or five months since I had left, and they had
moved a bunch of people around. The editor of the editorial page moved to
sports editor. The guy in the state news bureau in Tallahassee, in the
legislature, was brought back and made the editor of the editorial page, and [the]
assistant city editor took the Tallahassee job. These were important people in
the organization. I could not expect them to move everybody back to put me
back in as sports editor. So I said, why do you not make me the news side
columnist, like Jimmy Breslin does in New York? I never did that, but I thought I
would like to give it a shot, you know, write about the funerals, the cop on the
beat, murdered man here, or crippled children, or whatever. Just carte blanche,
what I want to write about. They said, yes, that is great, and they said they had
some meetings. Then they called back and said, the Times Union budget will
take care of your salary as a news side columnist but the Journal does not have
enough budget to pay for it. I said fine, [I'll go] to the Times-Union. I felt like,
eventually, they would move me back [to] sports editor. I did not ask for a
promise. But, then, my friend, the managing editor of the Journal, Elvin Henson,
said, if you put him on the Times Union, it is going to ruin the morale of the
Journal. So, [publisher Robert] Feagin called me back and said, We are just
going to have to get rid of Elvin if we put you on the Times Union instead of the
Journal, and we do not want to do that. He said, I am going to offer you a
different job; I am going to offer you a job on the Journal as assistant city editor,
and you would write two news side columns a week, and maybe this will develop
into something. I said, I will think about it.
Then, Ed Johnson [executive editor] called me from Gainesville and offered me
the sports editor's job at the Gainesville Sun. It was less money, but I did not
like the sound of assistant city editor and two news side columns a week. So I
took the job in Gainesville. When I came down here, it was the reverse of
Atlanta. They kept promises they had not even made to me. Johnson
immediately called the New York Times chain and said, I have a guy covering the
Gators now every day; you are going to want him; and, we will send you the stuff,
by ditto machine and fax... (there have been so many different things in the past
twenty-five years). He would persuade them all to give me, like, $15 a week [for
my stuff]. It was actually different at each place. I might get $20 a week from
Lakeland [Ledger, part of the New York Times Florida newspapers] and $10 a
week from Ocala [Star-Banner] and $5 a week from Lake City [Reporter], but it
added up. At first, when I came here to Gainesville, I was making less than I
had been making but then, within two months, I was making more than I had ever
made in Jacksonville.
W: Was there difficulty with family involved when you were making these moves?
Kind of like something, maybe, when you think, I would like my next move to be a
little more stable.
H: Yes, you want to, but you have to take what you can. My wife went back to
college in Jacksonville and was finishing up just about the time I was leaving
Jacksonville. So she got a teaching job in Gainesville and put in
twenty-something years and then retired. That kept me from taking one [job]
that was a beauty. Do you know who Fred Russell is in Nashville?
W: No, I do not.
H: He is ninety-three years old now, but he is a famous old-school friend. He was
still working up until a year ago. He owned some stock in the paper up there,
and he has won every award, except the Pulitzer, that is associated with sports
writing, [won] the Red Smith Award and the Headliners Award. He has been
given every honor there is. He has been kind of a mentor to me over the years.
Edgar Allen left the Nashville Banner as sports editor to go to Churchill Downs
[home of the Kentucky Derby] as a vice president in charge of information or
whatever they call it up there, so Russell called me. I was flattered that he
called to tell me about Edgar leaving, but I could not understand why he would do
that, why it was so imminent, or necessary. He said, Edgar's leaving to go to
Churchill Downs; it is great deal for him, you know what that will mean. That is
good, Edgar is a fine man, too. That is good. He said, we want you to take his
place. I said, well, that is very flattering. I said, I may be making more in
Gainesville than you think because I am getting paid by a bunch of different
papers, and I told him exactly how the money broke down. He said, you are
going to cost us more than Edgar, but I am willing to go to bat for you; I cannot
guarantee it, but I will go to bat for you. I said, there is one more thing, and this
kind of ties into what you have done. My wife was teaching, and by that time,
maybe was in her forties, and teachers when they get seniority, they get paid
more. If you hire a teacher with a lot of experience, it costs the school system
more than it does to hire a young teacher. So, I asked for two things. I was
really into tennis at that time, and I knew Nashville was cold as hell eight months
out of the year. I had a vague idea of what the indoor court fee was. I said, I
need about $120 a month or so more than I am making to take care of that. He
said, that is understandable. And, I said, my wife is teaching, too, and she is
making $25,000 [or a little more]. I said, I cannot afford to let her quit her job
and come to Nashville if she cannot get a job. I said, I need a guarantee that
she can get a teaching job. He said, we can handle that easily. I said, okay, let
me know when it is handled.
So they tried like hell. Nashville has a lot of colleges and everything. They
have a lot of people back there working on their doctor's degree and all that kind
of stuff and their wives are forty and fifty years old and wanting to teach to help
out while they are there in school with their husbands. So the waiting list of the
teachers in Nashville is like that. So, they worked like hell. They looked into
private [and public] schools, and they could not get her a job, even though she
had a great reputation and credentials. So he finally called me. We worried
about this thing for about three or four months. Finally, he called me and said,
Jack, we just cannot get her a job. He said, we are going to have to go ahead
and hire somebody to be the sports editor; we think we can get her a job next
year, but we cannot be sure. So I had to pass it up.
W: Was that a real difficult decision?
H: Not when she could not get a job. I could not give up that $25,000. I am a
great believer in things working out for the best. I know people who sometimes
talk about prayer and faith are suspected of being phonies, but I asked God to
direct me where it would be best for me and my family. I did not want to go to a
town and be making top dollar and have one of my daughters killed in the park by
a mugger or something. So, then, I had not worried about it. Chips fall one
way or the other. I go to what looks like the best decision at the time, and I do
not worry about it. So, I was at the Gainesville Sun for twenty years. I enjoyed
it, threw myself into it. I never worried about how I could have been something a
lot bigger, at a lot bigger paper.
W: I am from around the area of Michigan, and I was amazed at game days down
here, the passion and the ferocity. Has it always been like that?
H: It has gotten greater, recently. I hate to pat myself on the back to any degree,
but I guess I ought to sometimes. I really put myself out. I mean, I went to every
practice of the Gators for about sixteen years until the Sun staff got a little larger,
and I wrote [about the Gators] every day. If anything happened out there at the
practice, if a second-string player got injured with a sprained ankle, I would come
back and write it and it would be in the paper the next issue. I put in a lot of
hours. I am not saying that I was responsible for it, but the Sun grew from
15,000 to 55,000 in the next few years. Despite all the papers in Florida, and
Florida has a lot of good papers, with good sports sections, despite all of them,
we were the ones who were getting calls from Dallas and Washington wanting to
know if the Gators would make it to the Southeastern Conference [Championship
game]. We probably had about as much stuff in the paper about the Gators
then as there is now, and I wrote it all. I worked a lot of hours. There is a lot of
bombast down here about football, and it has just gradually gotten greater and
greater and greater. Crowds got up to 80,000 something in the early 1980s.
For the last sixteen years, I think, they have sold every ticket that they have had
out there, for sixteen years or so, you know, even if they play Northeast
Louisiana and West Texas[-type] schools.
W: Yes, I told my dad-we lived in Green Bay, Wisconsin-I compare it to the way
people are with the Green Bay Packers.
H: Yes, it must be very similar.
W: Yes, and kind of the main focus is the Gator football team. Then, it kind of goes
on from there. Is that always the way it has been? Obviously, so much about it
started with Gator football, and then it progressed and covered other sports.
H: Yes, but the football has always been the most successful, probably, and the one
that is prominent with the fans. I am trying to visualize the difference in Green
Bay and in Gainesville. I think the Packers have always been on TV, the Packer
games, so I imagine every person in Green Bay has had access to seeing every
Packer game on TV if not in person, while only in the last fifteen years or so have
there been all these tremendous number of games on TV. Up until, maybe,
1982 or something like that, there was only one [televised] college game on
Saturday in the country. I do not know if you remember that.
W: No, I do not know.
H: In other words, they might have an Oklahoma-Texas game on, and that would be
it. The next week, there might be the Michigan-Michigan State game on, and
that was it. The next week, there might be Notre Dame-SMU [Southern
Methodist University], and that would be it. But, here, the Gators have been on
TV every time they have played for the last twelve years or so. They miss a
couple of early games, breathers, and they put some on Pay-Per-View. But,
Green Bay, I imagine every little old lady [of] eighty-five years old watches that
game. In Gainesville, it was not that way fifteen years ago, because the games
were not on TV. So, in Gainesville, you have, maybe, 30,000 or 40,000 people
in Gainesville attending the game, and then the rest of them could not see it.
But Green Bay was probably more fanatical than Gainesville was.
W: Yes. Has it become, though, recently more fanatical?
H: I would think so because, now, everybody can see the game.
W: Right. Does a lot of that have to do with the Gators winning, too?
H: To some degree, yes. Having said all of that, I remember looking at the polls
studying readership habits, and only about 35 to 40 percent of people care
anything at all about the sports section. It is hard to tell that when you [are at]
the stadium. But, if you are ever at the mall and the Gators are playing
somebody out here at the Florida Field, you would be surprised; there is a hell of
a lot of people at the mall. There are. So, I have looked at these readership
survey things, and the number one thing read in almost every paper is the comic
section, and right close behind that would be [the] "Dear Abby" [advice column].
Then, it would be front page headlines and the sports. But, no matter how big
the sports are in the town, every survey I have looked at measures the sports
readership as 35 to 40 percent, or something like that.
W: Yes. Now, you talked earlier about how you started initially being a baseball fan,
but did it develop over the years into football?
H: I like football. I think football is a lot more exciting game. Baseball has timeouts
between every pitch. The pace of the game is not the same. I think, maybe,
when we were kids, we thought we were going to be baseball players. But then,
as you grow up, which one is a more exciting game? I think football is. On
Saturday, even now, and I am seventy years old, from twelve o'clock until
midnight, there is always a football game on that I am interested in continuously.
I will watch Georgia and Kentucky and then go right to Tennessee and Alabama
and right to the FSU [Florida State University] -Clemson. It is an inconvenience
to have to get up and eat.
W: Who was a better quarterback, [Steve] Spurrier or [Danny] Wuerffel?
H: I would give Wuerffel a little edge, although the system ran a little bit different in
1966 and 1996. It was more sophisticated, and Wuerffel had more weapons
there and he also had Spurrier as an asset, designing the plays and everything.
The length of the games was not even as long in 1964 and1966. They only
started in about 1968 stopping the clocks on first downs, and that adds another
twenty seconds or so after every first down. There are [about] forty first downs
in a game, so you can see the amount of time [added]. And the plays. If you
look at the total plays, now, you often see a team with seventy-five or eighty-five
plays. I would say the average, now, is probably seventy to seventy-five plays a
game, and the average in the 1960s was, probably, fifty to fifty-five plays a game.
W: Using these two Florida quarterbacks, how different was the coverage of Steve
Spurrier from Danny Wuerffel? Steve Spurrier, now, has a reputation as being,
to put it mildly, extremely confident. I do not know if he was like that back then.
I know, around these parts, Danny Wuerffel was kind of seen as a very clean-cut
H: Oh, I thought you meant the coverage by the newspapers.
W: Well, that too, yes.
H: Quite often, at the football games of the late 1950s and early 1960s, Tom
McEwen was on the Tampa Times then, an afternoon [paper] that came out on
Monday afternoon; it did not come out on Sunday morning. He was sports
editor there, and I was the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, which came
out on Monday afternoon. We would be the only two in the dressing room, quite
often. Now, if you have been down there, there are 350 to 400 people down
there, probably, from newspapers, radio stations, TV stations, and everything
else. We would have gone down there after the game and if we were playing
[the University of] Miami, there might have been three Miami guys. But, if we
were playing Auburn or Vanderbilt [Universities] or somebody, there might have
been two from Nashville and McEwen and I. We would be the only ones. We
would go down and talk to the coach and sat around with some of the assistant
coaches to see what happened and talked to several of the players. Now, every
writer in the press box, almost, goes down. In those days, the writers for
Sunday morning papers just stayed up there and started typing as soon as the
game was over. They would start typing some of those leads like I was talking
about before, like The Gators Beat the Bulldogs Saturday, 14 to 10. So, it is a
W: And then TV, I mean, ESPN [cable television sports network]...
H: Well, the newspapers have emphasized coverage more. With TV, so many
people know what happened in the game that the newspapers have to dig
harder. The better writers [in 1960], and you can read some of their old stories,
might not have a player quoted in there. They did not talk to anybody. They
just sat down there and wrote their impression of the game, described what
happened in the game. Now, if you have not asked Doug Johnson [Gators
quarterback, 1999 season] why this happened and asked Spurrier why this
happened and why did he not do so and so, you have not done a good job. The
newspapers are sending four and five people each to the game now where they
used to send one, and the TV people, they go in there, too, with their cameras
and cameramen and announcers, and some radio people, too. But there is a
crush in there, after the game, of 300 or 400. I covered every game Spurrier
played, and Spurrier was somewhat shy. [That] might be hard to realize now.
He was very confident. Sometimes, he would stay in the shower and try to
outlast us, to wait until we would leave before he would come out. As the years
went by, he got a little better. I remember before his senior year-I was at
Jacksonville at the time-I called down here and wanted to talk to him over in the
sports information office before practice because I knew that when he was
around his teammates, he would always pass the credit onto his teammates. If
you would say, hey, you [had] a great day today, three touchdown passes and
230 yards, he would say, oh, my blockers did that; I could not have done any of
that without the blockers; do not write about me; write about that guy. That is
the way he would always be whenever his teammates were listening, were in
hearing distance. And I came down here, and he had overslept and got there
just in time to say, I have to go and get ready for practice; I will talk to you over
there. Then, over there, it was just what I thought he was going to do: oh, it all
depends on how my blockers do; if my blockers do well, we will do well. Then,
after his last game here, against Miami, he had been announced on Tuesday as
the Heisman Trophy winner. Then, on Saturday, they played Miami and got
beat 21 to 16. And after the game was over, there was a Miami writer there, and
there were a few more writers. There were probably seven or eight, ten writers
in there listening to him. [Spurrier said,] Hey, I want all you writers to get around
here just a minute, and he said, I have played three years at Florida, and have
thrown almost 800 passes, and they have never called roughing the passer on
an opposing team for hitting me. He said, I have been hit many times, and you
can see these bruises all over my body. He said, do you not think out of 800
passes, one of them was late? He said this is not going to help me because I
have played my last game, but I hope this will help another quarterback. Now,
you see roughing the passer and penalties almost every game, maybe two or
three in some games. I remember writing a column about that and I said I
thought, probably, Spurrier probably made a mistake [doing the criticism]. But, I
said, he has got a good point, that he was roughed many times and it was never
called. But, he really was a very [unselfish player]. He would hide in the
showers his sophomore year and, then, the last two years, he would always say,
my blockers and receivers are underrated people.
[End of first part of interview.]
W: It is November 2, 1999, approximately one-thirty. We are going to do the
second half of the interview right now, and we will get started here. I just wanted
to touch upon what we were last speaking about, about mentoring with Carl
Walters. I just wanted to ask you, how important is a mentor to a young writer or
a writer who, generally, is beginning, to have that kind of belief system behind
H: Well, you have to have somebody to look [up] to. You know, you can get it, I
guess, from reading out of town newspapers, or other newspapers. It helps to
have access to somebody who has really been through the grind. It helped me
to go through Carl Walters and Hap Glaudi, in New Orleans. Both of them are
long since dead. Then I always tried to read the out-of-town newspapers and
pick up things. I remember the first time I went to New York, I went down and
bought four newspapers off of the news stand and went back to my hotel room to
sit down and read them. I was amazed at the make-up and the layout that was
so poor. It was just thrown together. They did not put much emphasis on
[make-up] in New York. You would think that is where the best sports sections
would be. Now, I think the best writing was there, but the pages were just
thrown together. It was awful looking stuff. They were liable to have the
Kentucky Derby on page eight, you know, instead of on page one. But I learned
an awful lot from various newspapers, from reading them. But, at that time, the
sports editor was in charge of the make-up as well as the columns and primary
coverage. I knew I had to scrap to get ahead because I did not have any
education. I just had one year of [college]. There were times on the staff in
Jacksonville where I would have six guys working for me, and all of them had
college degrees and I had one year of college. Then, in Atlanta, I had fourteen
guys working under me, and twelve or thirteen of them had college degrees.
So, I knew I had to work hard, so I studied. If I could get a hold of something
like the Miami Herald, which was a good paper, and then I subscribed to some
papers. I subscribed to the Charlotte News, which was a real good paper. I
think, maybe, it is defunct now. The Charlotte Observer, I think, is the main one
up there. But, if you have access to a mentor, he can tell you things that, once
he tells you, you know it, instead of having to read it and then say, oh yes, he did
this here and then did this here and did this here. Like I said, Glaudi was a
pioneer. So, it is important. You can get it without having somebody to teach
you about it, but it is certainly easier the other way. Nowadays, it is such a
specialization. You are either a writer or you are a deskman. When I was
coming up, the first forty years I was in this profession, you were both. A typical
staff member in Atlanta would come in and work on a desk for three or four hours
a day and then would cover events, and maybe covering an event that would
take him three or four hours a day. He would write and edit and mark the capital
letters and write the heads. It is really specialized now. There is almost no
such thing, on most papers, people doing both. They do one or the other.
W: Is that good or bad, do you think?
H: I guess, in the overall product, it might be for the best but, for the writer, I do not
think it is. You used to judge people by where a guy stood on a staff, and you
could tell if he was a good prospect or not. If everybody on his staff thought he
was one of the best and he would write and edit copy and do good jobs in both,
well, he would be one who would be moved on his way up the ladder. If there
was any laziness to him or if he was a prima donna and did not want to do
anything but write, he would not have a very good standing on his staff. Then,
we were always looking for ones who were good all-around people. It was more
fun. I did not particularly like the desk, but I made up my mind that I was going
to work as hard as I could and do as well at it as I could so I would move up to a
position where I did not have to work on it anymore. I dug in hard and laid out
pages as best I could and studied it and tried to do, absolutely, the best job I
could. Then, when I got to be a sports editor, I could give somebody that
assignment. I did not have to do it, hardly at all, the last twenty-five years I was
in the business. I did not dislike it, but I wanted to concentrate on other things,
like doing columns and doing the main stories and stuff like that.
W: What sports writers, during your career, did you always try to read and, maybe,
try to emulate? Even today, what writers do you look at?
H: Probably, the two best today are Furman Bisher in Atlanta and Blackie Sherrod in
Dallas and, until he died a little bit over a year ago, Jim Murray in Los Angeles
[for the Times] was the best. And then Red Smith [sportswriter, New York
Times] was great. Red Smith and Blackie Sherrod and Jim Murray were so
great that you really could not emulate them. Everybody tried occasionally.
You might try to emulate one of them on a paragraph or a sentence or a thought.
Jim Murray was hired once to be the writer on a variety show on TV. He was
going to write the jokes and everything for the TV, for a comedy series. He was
not as good that way because he really was not inclined that way. It was the
Andy Williams show. Andy Williams was a big fan of his, and Andy Williams
said, I want to talk like you write; you write me the jokes. He got a lot of money
for it, but it was not his cup of tea. It was well-publicized. I could see where
Andy Williams, or even Bob Hope, would want Jim Murray to write the humor
part. Yes, I think it really helps you to read those guys. I would read every
paper in the state and read Tom McEwen and Edwin Pope and all of those guys.
I think a lot of reading of those people helps you some. Then, I also wanted to
not be more than one edition behind if they had something we did not have. I
would go through every paper in the state and if they had a story about
somebody of interest in the Gainesville/Jacksonville area, we would not be but
one day behind. We would not be two or three or four days behind. We would
be one day behind. Then, I usually got a chance to read the Atlanta paper the
majority of the time over the years. Bisher is outstanding. So it is a big help to
be able to read them. I would recommend to any young sports writer to read
any paper that he got his hands on, just about. I guess now, probably, here at
the journalism school, you probably have access to virtually every paper in the
country, do you not?
H: Well, you have not got time to read all of them, but I would certainly [read some].
Depending on whether you want to be a columnist or a beat man or are
concentrating on being football coverage or baseball coverage or whatever, read
the ones that you really admire. If you are a baseball man, you know, you might
read Dallas and St. Louis and Milwaukee. If you want to be a basketball writer,
read some of the different ones. But, yes, I think that is a good idea to do that.
W: How have the writing styles changed at all? For somebody like Mitch Albom
[author of Tuesdays With Morrie] or John Feinstein or something, is it derivative,
is it just evolving?
H: I guess anything evolves. I have been in and out of hospitals so much over the
last seven years, and the changes and improvements in surgery [are] just
amazing. I remember differences with my daughters. Each one of my
daughters has two sons. I remember my wife telling my younger daughter what
childbirth was going to be like. Of course, it had been a long time. My other
daughter was four or five years removed from childbirth. When my wife got
through talking, my other daughter said, there is no pain anymore; they give you
so many pain killers, there is no pain like it was in her time. My wife has to go in
this week for a heart valve replacement. For a long time, the artificial valve was
what they put in as a replacement. They still do that, but then the pig valve got
to be the most popular, now the cow valve. The consensus of advisors for my
wife was that the cow valve was the best, so she is going to have a cow valve put
in her heart. I am just showing you that as, in surgery in a period of three or four
years, the changes and improvements. And in writing or in anything, there are
changes and improvements. Grantland Rice, God bless his soul, must have
been a great person. I never met him. He died about two or three years before
I got on the scene, where I was going to things like the World Series. So, I
never met him, but he is supposed to be a wonderful person. But, I see some of
the things he wrote, and it was considered tremendous in that day and time. I
am sure you have read the Four Horsemen thing and the things like that. I read
something the other day. I think it ran in the pages of several papers because it
was picked up by AP in regard to the Yankees. He was writing about [Babe]
Ruth and [Lou] Gehrig hitting home runs in 1928 to finish off the St. Louis
Cardinals in four games. He would write things like Dr. Bombast bolted one
through the skies, and it disappeared into the atmosphere. Gosh, if a young
writer turned that in now, they would flip it back at him and say, write English!
Like I said, he was considered the best. But, I have read books by Grantland
Rice, and I read books by Red Smith and Jim Murray. If they did not know who
it was and you took the works of Grantland Rice and the works of Red Smith and
Jim Murray and put them in front of a journalism student and he read it, he would
say, this one is not in the same class, and that would be Grantland Rice's. He
was great in his time, but it changes tremendously. I knew Shelby Struther very
well. He was good. He and Mitch Album shared the lead column in Detroit.
He died at the age of about forty-two. He had liver cancer. He was dead about
eight days after he discovered it. But he was a great young writer. I realized
how great he was when he was writing in St. Petersburg, at that time. It was
about Herschel Walker's [All-American running back, and later professional
football player] third year in Georgia, and he wrote a whole page, [a] take-out
piece, on Herschel Walker. I had six or seven papers I wanted to read. It was
the middle of football season, and I had a lot of work to do. I turned to this page,
and there it was and I said, I know everything there is to know about Herschel
Walker; I am not going to read all of this. Then, I kept reading all of these
papers, and I came back to it. I picked it up and started reading it, and it was so
good that I read every word of that thing. It was eight columns, and I read every
word of it. To me, he had to be a great writer for me to devote thirty-five or forty
minutes to read this thing, when I knew so much about Herschel Walker. It was
interesting, just the way he wrote it.
W: What was the thing that caught your attention?
H: It was just the description of everything he wrote about him, the questions he
asked Herschel. I do not remember any one particular paragraph, but the whole
package was just interesting. It was about Walker's outlook on coming from a
little tiny town and suddenly being in headlines all over America. I think he had
gotten married, and there was stuff about that and Herschel's view on what life
held for him in adulthood. It was just tremendous writing because I did not think
there was anybody in the country who could make me devote thirty-five more
minutes to Herschel Walker.
W: How has television changed sports writing?
H: It changed everything. It changed everything. I was invited to go to an APME, AP
Managing Editors Association, and publishers and all that, down in Miami Beach.
They invited three of us to come down there and be on the panel. This was
1963, and they invited each one of us to talk for about ten minutes and then sit
around a table, and other people would be asking questions. All the editors and
publishers from America were out in the audience. It was a real honor for me to
be invited to do that. I was thirty-five years old. Then, they had a stenographer
to take down all of it and print it into a book. Ed Johnson, who was editor of the
Gainesville Sun, had one of the books because he was there to edit it. I took it
and read it, and I predicted in there that the A.M. papers were going to what was
then called a P.M. lead, because everybody got up the next morning and knew
who won the ball game and had even seen a picture of [Phil] Rizutto [shortstop,
New York Yankees] or [Yogi] Berra [catcher, New York Yankees] or whoever
sliding across the plate with the winning run. So, you did not need to tell them
that the Yankees won, and that Berra knocked in [batted in] Rizutto to win the
game. Everybody knew that. I predicted that the A.M. papers would eventually
be writing what was then becoming known as a P.M. lead. They would write all
of that, and then the P.M. papers were going to have to go well beyond that in
their approach to things. They would be more like a magazine because what
was known as the P.M. lead would no longer be sufficient for them. This is
probably taught in the first year of journalism school now but, at that time, the
A.M. papers would quite often start off saying, the Yankees won the seventh and
decisive game of the World Series yesterday when Yogi Berra doubled into the
right field corner and Phil Rizutto scored all the way from first. Now, you would
not have that. You would have something about what this meant or how Berra
happened to hit the ball as well as he did and what Rizutto thought as he came
across the plate or something. That would have been the P.M. story in 1963
but, now, the P.M. story would have to be, kind of, a magazine type thing,
in-depth, is the manager going to be back or are the old players going to retire.
The stuff about what Berra and Rizutto were thinking would be out of place by
the afternoon paper. That would have already been used in the morning. I
predicted that this was coming and, in three or four years, it did come.
Eventually, the P.M. papers just could not survive anything, and they died all over
the country. The advertisers prefer the A.M. market, and the readers prefer the
A.M. market all over, just like me. A lot of them still wind up finishing their
reading at night. Do you finish all of your reading in the morning?
H: No. I do not either. I tell my wife almost every day, do not throw the paper out
yet [because] I am not through. I tell her that everyday because I do not get
through in the morning. But, yes, TV has just changed it, totally. There is
nothing similar. In the 1950s and 1960s, the A.M. sports writer going to the
stadium took his typewriter, and he kept a score card and notes. He knew that
when that game was over, the office was going to expect him in about forty-five
minutes or an hour to have a story, back then, describing exactly what happened.
The P.M. guy knew that he had to go down, that same game and talk to people
after the game and come back and write, more or less, why it happened. Now,
the A.M. guy goes out there and he knows that TV is going to show all of his
readers what happened. He cannot describe what happened. He has to go to
what the other guy did, the P.M. guy, and describe why it happened and what
this means in the long run, whether, three years from now, the Yankees are
going to have a whole new team or not. It is just a totally different game. There
is no comparison.
W: Was it difficult for you, personally? Did it come to point where you thought, I
have to kind of change my style?
H: Well, the Gator games...when I was Jacksonville, we did not have a Sunday
paper. So, I would go to a game in Los Angeles, or wherever it was, wherever
they played, but what I wrote was going to come out Monday afternoon. It was
going to be delivered at the homes at four or five o'clock on Monday afternoon
when it happened on Saturday. So, the morning paper had a shot at it Sunday
morning and then they had another shot at it Monday morning, and then I was
going to come back Monday afternoon. Many of the times, I thought, this is
ridiculous; I am not going to be able to come up with something new all ten
games this year. It is just inevitable, so do not let it crush you, I would tell
myself. But, there was always something. Sometimes, I would leave the
stadium not knowing what in the hell it was going to be, and I would see a
possibility of some angle and call one of the coaches, maybe Sunday afternoon,
but there was never a game-and I am sure McEwen was in the same boat with
the smaller Tampa paper that did not have a Sunday paper at that time, the
Tampa Times-there was never a Monday that came around where we did not
have something different that the other paper had not gotten. It might be that in
this game, the young sophomore quarterback, Steve Spurrier, indicates that he is
going to be a great player next year and the year after. It would go from that
angle and get Graves' [former University of Florida head football coach Ray
Graves] quotes on that and compare what he did in that game to previous
players. Or, it might be something that a wide guard jumped offside, and it cost
them the game, or something. One time, just as an example, you see, they did
not have TV, so they did not have instant replay. Florida was playing up at
Georgia Tech, and it was a nothing-to-nothing game. There were several of
those in those days, with no score at all. In the fourth quarter, Florida threw a
long pass and hit it for a touchdown, but they ruled that the center had gone
down beyond the line of scrimmage [before the pass was caught], and you could
not go more than five yards past the line of scrimmage on a pass [at that time].
Of course, Florida was screaming, he did not go five yards, but they called it back
and the game ended nothing-to-nothing. The next day in the paper, the Atlanta
Journal ran a full page [picture], and it showed as this ball was coming into Jim
Rountree's hands that [Joel] Wahlberg, the center, was six or seven yards down
the field. That was in the days when they had the metal plates. The picture
was a metal plate. You do not know what that is, do you?
H: You take this metal plate through an engraving and then bring it from engraving,
and it had a place drawn out for it on the page and for all the pictures you were
putting on that page. Some of them would be two columns. You would set it up
there and have a little space for it. But, in this case, it was a huge thing, and it
covered up the whole page. So I called Bisher and asked him if I could have
that plate, that they were going to be through with it. He said, yes, come on
down to the paper. So before I got on the plane to come back to Jacksonville, I
went by the paper and he gave me the plate. I took it on the plane, and it was
the size of a newspaper page, twenty-two inches long and fifteen and a half
inches wide, or whatever, and it was metal. I took it, and I ran it in the Monday
afternoon paper. We put a head up there, something like, yes, Wahlberg was
beyond the line, and showed it. People were still bitching all over the town and
all over the state until we showed that thing. That is just an example of how,
Monday, you can come back with something. I always had something. It was
enough to put in a great big head, too, because there were not any professional]
sports in the panhandle of Florida then, no major league sports. The sports
editor of every paper in the state covered the Gators, except the Miami papers,
even the sports editors in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. They went to
every Gator game, no matter where they played, and Pensacola, Tampa, St.
Petersburg, Jacksonville. There was always something.
W: How much communication was there between you and your contemporaries, like
Tom McEwen? Would you say, hey, I am going with this; do not go with this.
You know, so it did not overlap?
H: We would help each other occasionally, but newspaper people are kind of selfish
about their information. I wanted the Jacksonville Journal to have it and nobody
else, and he wanted the Tampa Times to have it. So, we were big buddies, and
all of the writers hung around together. I guess they probably still do. There
were always six or eight of us who would go to dinner on Friday night, and four or
five of us would share a cab to go to the stadium. We would exchange ideas
and information but not too much on that Monday stuff, because I was trying to
be the only one who had that and he was trying to do whatever he had to do.
But, it is totally different now. I remember one time I came back from Auburn,
and they usually have the TVs in the press box where you can see them. You
know, there was one sitting over there, and you might be watching that, and
there would be one right up there and one right up there. But, they did not have
any TVs in the Auburn press box. It was 1983, and Neal Anderson [University of
Florida running back] fumbled at the two-yard-line. The ball went into the end
zone but, from the press box, you could not tell whether he was across the goal
or what. About 70 percent of the people in the press box thought he scored, and
the officials ruled he fumbled on the one- or two-yard-line and the ball went into
the end zone. So, Auburn recovered it and got out on the twenty, and Auburn
[went on] to win at 28 to 21. They were the two top teams in the South. We did
not have any replay [in the press box] then. I remember my wife met me at the
airport on Sunday afternoon and I said, I think Neal Anderson got gypped out of a
touchdown. She said, oh no, he fumbled on the one and a half yard-line; it was
on TV last night six times. She knew. That just shows you that in the modern
age, the people at home know exactly what happened. Everybody in the world
knew Neal Anderson did fumbled before he went across the goal line, and I was
still hanging on to that as, maybe, something to explore when I got back home.
She knew before I did, sixteen hours before I did.
W: What was your process for writing a column? Maybe it was different with the
game, but with the story idea and ideas in your head, how would that evolve?
H: Well, at a game, at an event, you would pick out what you thought was very
interesting and would be very interesting to the reader and would be different to
the reader from what he would get from watching the game on TV and reading
about it from the news column. You would write it in the press box, and you
might go down and talk to people and come back and sort through what you had
and go with your best and write it over the next hour and a half or two hours.
Back at the office during the week, I would constantly read the wire over. I
would come in at, like, nine o'clock in the morning, and I would read the AP
sports wire, read everything on it. Then, I would get the newspapers from that
morning, Miami and St. Pete[rsburg], Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, and I would
read every one of them, and take the time to do it right, and being interrupted
from time to time. Then, about every hour, I would go back and read the AP
wire just to see if anything real startling had happened because, about half the
time, it would have. Then, maybe, I would come back after lunch, and I would
have made two or three phone calls and two or three people would have called
me, I would take all of these notes and scribble them around. Maybe, I would
have five or six papers that would look like that. Then, about one-thirty or two
o'clock, sometimes I would make a list, what have I got? And I would, maybe,
just look through it like that, and I would pick out what I thought was the most
interesting point and then start writing it. I would make a phone call or two and,
usually, you would be able to tell real easily by looking at it what you thought your
readers would be most interested in. So, I tried to write what most people the
next morning would say, hey, look at this. You know, that is what you are
looking for. Sometimes, if there was no one thing, I would write three things.
Instead of writing one that would run that long, you would write one that would be
that long, and another second one would down to here and a third one down to
here. Then, sometimes, if you had no major point of any kind, you might just
write twelve little shorts, anything from one sentence to three sentences. People
enjoy those. Some people say, that is not a column. To me, it is a column. To
me, whatever the reader enjoys [is a column]. Do not tell me that fifteen notes is
not a column. If it is better than anything you have, if that is the best you have
that day and people are going to enjoy it, yes, it is a column. You better believe
it. Some people say, well, you cannot write but one a week. The hell you
cannot, if that is the best you have three days a week. In Gainesville
sometimes, you know, in off season, there might not be any huge issue here.
You cannot fabricate a huge issue everyday. You have to take the issues where
you find them. I never did fabricate some kind of issue. Some people think you
have to have something to fuss about. You do not have to have anything to fuss
about. If I do not have a crusade or a war or something but once every two or
three years, I think it means a lot more. But, if I had one every two weeks, they
would say, oh, Jack is baying at the moon again; Jack is howling. But, I might
go two or three years and, all of a sudden, I might say the football coach or
athletic director ought to get fired or the president of the university does not know
what the hell he is doing on this sports issue and kick them in the shins as hard
as I can kick them. I do not believe in having six feuds a year. I never did
believe in that.
W: Was there a point where you finally thought, I have made it, I have been
H: I guess there was, probably. The Football Writers Association of America is a
real powerful group, and it has all the good writers in the country in it. Most of
the presidents in that have been Furman Bisher or Blackie Sherrod or a sports
editor in Chicago and New York and Los Angeles. In 1982, they elected me
president, and I was really surprised. That was an indication. The people on
the board of directors were connected with these guys I was talking about, the
big wheels, and I thought, am I in the same class as those guys? [I didn't think
so,] but, it was a wonderful acknowledgment on their part, and I appreciated it.
Then, they have an award in that association. It is the Bert McGrane award. It
is given once a year to a sportswriter, and it is for career service to the
profession. It is the highest award that group has, and they elected me in 1990.
They had a committee that elected me. I was having problems with my paper
at that time. My first thought was, they are doing this to try to put me on a
pedestal and help me with my paper, so my paper will say, gosh, this guy is one
of the best. So, I waited until I saw the three guys who were on that committee.
Of [the first] one of them, I asked, did you know I have been having trouble with
my paper? No. I said, you did not? No. I thought maybe that was why you
gave me that award. That is not why we gave you that award; we thought you
deserved that award. Then, I asked the other two also and they said, no, we
had no idea. So, that is a very high award, and that made me feel that my peers
think I rank somewhere in the upper level and, yes, that is a good feeling. I
would rather have them think that than anybody else because I think they are the
best judges of that, and they are certainly my heroes, all those guys. One time
in Jacksonville, the executive editor called me [in] and said, you know there is a
limit to how far you are going to go just in sports and how much money you are
going to make? He said, you ought to think about going over into the
administration, being a managing editor; we could, maybe, move you over there
first as assistant city editor and then city editor and then managing editor and,
eventually, executive editor to be the head of the whole thing. I answered him
right there. I did not take any time to answer him. I said, John--Jim Murray and
Fred Russell and Red Smith--this profession is good enough for them. If it is
good enough for them, it is good enough for me; this is all I want to do, what I am
doing now. That is the way I felt about it.
W: Actually, you have received a lot of awards, those two being the ones you are
most proud of?
H: Yes. An association called the All-American Sports Foundation inducted me
and, then, the Gator Bowl Hall of Fame, the Citrus Bowl Hall of Fame, and the
Mississippi Sports Writers Hall of Fame. So I have been fortunate. I have
gotten more awards than I deserve.
W: Let us get into a little bit about your departure from the Gainesville Sun. I will let
you say what you want to say and what you can say.
H: I guess the best thing to do is just to tell you what I can say. I got fired, and it
has been in all the papers and the radio and everything that I sued them for age
discrimination. The thing went on after I was fired for four years and, finally, we
settled out of court. The lawyers hassled as much about what I could say as
they did about the other parts. My lawyer told me the agreement he reached
with them, if it was all right on both sides, was that I could say, the lawsuit has
been resolved, so that is all I can say.
W: When it was resolved, did you think about retiring, or did you think about stopping
with your writing?
H: Well, when I got fired, I was sixty-two years old. My wife was teaching and was
making a nice salary. One of my daughters lived in Gainesville and still does.
She is married and teaching school and has two sons. My other daughter was
married to a science teacher from Chiefland, and they lived forty minutes away.
We lived in the same house we have been living in, now, for twenty-four years,
and it was almost paid for. I did not have too many more years and, if I had
been a lot younger, I would have packed up and gone. I had good friends of
mine who were running the sports departments in Birmingham and Chattanooga
and New Orleans. I could have gotten a job somewhere doing something. I did
not want to leave Gainesville. But, then, I would have commuted to Jacksonville
or somewhere like that but, then, the papers all around Gainesville, closer than
Jacksonville, were all owned by the New York Times, the same company that I
was in this disagreement with. Ocala, Lake City, Leesburg; they were all owned
by the New York Times. I have done some freelance [work] and have written
some magazine articles, and I have been putting out a newsletter on the Gators
called Hairston's Gator Pipeline ever since I left the paper. I do not make a lot of
money off of it, but I make some and I enjoy doing it. It is just a newsletter of my
take on the Gators and stuff that I have gotten interviewing Spurrier and the
players and everything. I have been doing that regularly. It gives me a chance
to keep my hand in. Then I have been working on two books. One of them is
humorous things that I have either observed or have been told, and I have it
about 90 percent complete. Then the other one is on the University of Florida
football [program] from the years I have been covering it, which is from 1957 to
1999, and I have 1957 to 1998 done. I have to do 1999, and I have a few
patchwork things to do. I have not found a publisher yet. I have not started
looking for one yet. But I hope to finish up the Gator book early next year, get it
printed and out, and then shortly thereafter, finish the other one up and do the
same thing. I do not expect to get rich off of it, but I would like to make some
W: Do you enjoy going at your own pace?
H: Yes. I enjoy writing, and this is the kind of thing you can write twice a week,
three times a week, and skip a few days. During the football season, I just go
ahead and concentrate on the Pipeline and do not try to work on the books. But,
I enjoy it. I have a computer at home, and I have all this mass of stuff in the
computer. Those things are amazing. If they were on paper, now, the paper
would fill this room up, but there it is sitting in a computer, all those pages. Yes,
I enjoy it. I have made a lot of talks and speaking appearances around the
North Florida area.
W: When your daughter went to Atlanta, how proud were you feeling? What was
that feeling like? Did you ever think she would follow in your footsteps?
H: I did not encourage her to. I really did not, because I thought it was a tough
profession to be in, and the rewards are not as great as they ought to be. It is
getting tougher, maybe, and it is even tougher for a woman. But she told me
she wanted to go to the University of Florida. She went to the journalism school
here. I never encouraged her, except when she said she was going to do this, I
said, well, when you come out, I will try to help you find a job. I said, I will
probably be able to help you find your first job and after that, you are on your
own; nobody is going to hire you on my say-so; they will hire you for what you do
on your first job. So, I wrote some letters out and put out some feelers. I had
also told her that my number one recommendation was to go to a small paper
where she would get to do a lot and get experience, and she went to Lake
Wales. I get Lake Wales and Winter Haven mixed up. Which one of them is
the one that has a newspaper? I think Lake Wales. She was a reporter and did
a lot of writing down there. Then she went to Sarasota and to Bradenton.
Then, she got an offer to go to West Palm Beach. She was working on the desk
over there, mainly, and she went over there. Then, I still had some friends in
Atlanta in the sports department, guys who used to work for me, and they were
putting on a push about how the government was getting on them for not having
enough women. So, they were saying, who are we going to get? They got
some nominations from staff members. Darrell Simmons, who worked for me
years and years ago, said, as long as we are going to get one, why don't we get
a good one? He said, Jack Hairston's daughter has about five years of
experience, and I bet you she is good. So, they called her and flew her up
there, and she became the first woman hired on the sports copy desk up there.
Actually, [after] she had been there about a year, she [was] making more than I
made when I was executive sports editor in Atlanta. Of course, that was almost
[thirty] years ago. But I was proud of her. She took the job there, and she
worked hard, and when she became engaged and they tried to get her to stay
there, she said, well, she was working nights, getting off at two o'clock in the
morning, and she wanted to raise a family. She said, I just cannot keep doing
that. So they said, we will find you a job with better hours. They had a month
or two there, and they just could not do it. They were not able to do it. So, she
became a housewife. She says that she is going to go back to some extent
when her children are both in school. Right now, they are four and two, so it will
be a while. I was proud of her, but I really cannot take credit for her. In this
business there are some things that are holy to me: you do not break a
confidence; you do not break a release date; you keep your word; you try to be
fair. I guess my one peeve about modern sports writers is, they pick on and
ridicule the visiting coach and the visiting team, over and over, every week.
Whoever is coming in here, the coach is a boob, and the team is a bunch of
louts. I do not understand that. It diminishes the victories if you do not beat
anybody but boobs and louts. I think the opposing team should be treated with
respect and dignity. Give them credit if they are good. Be fair. Being an
ethical newspaper person is no different from being an ethical citizen. If it does
not seem right to you, if it does not seem really fair, do not do it; do not write it.
When you write something controversial, go back and look at it and say, have I
been fair, have I been accurate, and is this what this person deserves? Try to
be fair. That is the one thing I do not like about too many, not all of them by any
means, but too many of them make fun of the other teams and the other
coaches. If you have a run-in with a Ray Perkins [former University of Alabama
head football coach; former NFL coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers], what are you
going to hit him with, if you have already hit [all the coaches in the League]? I
did not like Ray Perkins, and I tried to make life as miserable as possible for him,
but he was the only one who, I think, I did that to. I was over at the SEC
Basketball Tournament and the Auburn people said, Perkins has told Alabama's
sports information department to get as much of Bear Bryant [former head coach]
out of the [Alabama] brochure as they could. Perkins had just succeeded
Bryant. [Then] Bryant had died. I did not know whether that was just a tale
Auburn was telling on their hated opponent or not, but when the brochure came
out, I got the brochure from the year before, the media guide you might call it,
and there were, like, forty-two pictures of Bryant in there. The new one came
out, and his name was not even mentioned but three times in there, and that was
down where they listed the 1935 team and then listed the coaches or something
like that, and I wrote that Perkins had told them to do this. He came out with a
statement, it got on the wire and said, this man is a liar. I was not. He did a lot
wrong, and I criticized him at every opportunity. He is the only coach, I think, I
did that to. Then, when he left to go to Tampa Bay, he said that the reason he
was leaving was he was bugged by Bear Bryant's image and knew that he would
never replace Bryant; it drove him up a wall, and he could not stand it. Then, he
went to Tampa and did not get along down there. There was a guard down
there from Penn State, and [Perkins] hit him. It turned out what he hit him about
was, they were getting ready to go back out for the second half. Perkins had
gotten through making his talk, and they are getting ready to go out--Heller, I
believe, was the guy's name-and he turned around at the rest of the players and
said, all right now, let us go back out there; let us not quit; let us go win. Perkins
drew back and hit him; [he claimed when Heller] said the word quit, it set him off.
He [was strange].
W: I think I read somewhere that was when Steve Young [professional quarterback
at Tampa Bay, later backup and starter for the San Francisco 49ers] was playing
for him, and he has, obviously, been in the sticky situation with Joe Montana
[professional quarterback, San Francisco 49ers] but he has really handled
himself. It was the only time I have ever heard him be critical and he said, that
was absolutely the worst situation I've ever been in.
H: Yes. That guy was bad news.
W: Because there is so much coverage today, obviously, with TV, radio, and the
Internet, is that part of the reason why there is now, maybe, much more of a
H: I do not know. I just think it is immaturity. I do not know why. There is no
good reason for it.
W: Is there too much coverage of sports nowadays, do you think? I mean, it is
everywhere. We have twenty-four hour a day sports stations.
H: If that is what the public wants though, what are you going to do? One of the
things that I do not like is the tremendous amount of space devoted in the
interest of the high school recruits, but the public wants it, so you have to give to
them. But a player who says he is leaning four ways, considering four schools,
what kind of news value is that? It is of very dubious news value when he says,
three months from now, I intend to sign with the University of Florida. Well,
about 20 percent of them change their minds between then and February. What
good is that? I hated to run news where you later had to say that it was no
longer true. With this, you know some of them are not going to be true, but the
public wants it. Now, you see that the Times Union might have two complete
pages just on the Florida-FSU game, have six writers writing long stories. There
is a little duplication in that, which is understandable, occasionally. I do not
know whether you say it is too much. I think they are giving the public what they
want. I think the Times Union gives the public more than they want on the
Jaguars. They come back out on about Wednesday, I think, with a full-page of
color action pictures from Sunday's game. If the [pictures] were so good, they
should have been in there before Wednesday. Maybe this is old-fashioned, but I
am a great believer in trying to put out a good sports section everyday. Do not
just have a good one on just Sunday or just Monday and hold stuff back. If you
have something good, put it in there on Thursday. Do not hold it until Monday.
Sunday has to be a little different because you have so much more space.
Everybody has more ads, and some are full pages. So you have to have more
stuff on Sunday. But I have seen papers that hold back and have three extra
pages on Monday and three extra pages on Wednesday and run stuff that should
have been run several days before that. That is not my idea of good
newspapering. If you had your druthers, and they never let you have all of your
druthers, I would ask for space to put out as good a sports section as possible on
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and, then,
Sunday, we will take the huge amount and try to do the best we can with that.
But I do not like to see Monday's section this small and then Tuesday's section
this big, and back and forth.
W: Be consistent.
H: Other than Sunday, the other six days, I would like to have the six days divided
by six, and give me that every day. Give me one-sixth of my space every day,
and then we will do the best we can with it.
W: We talk about the Jaguars, but Florida now has hockey, baseball, basketball.
H: Two baseball teams.
W: Yes. How obvious were changes in newspaper coverage for sports, or some of
the trends or differences beyond that, that you have seen with Florida? Now, all
of sudden, I think arguably you can say, it is becoming one of the biggest sports
states in the country.
H: Oh yes, it sure is. I do not have anything real learned to say about that.
Obviously, we have all these teams, and they have these fans who want to go to
see them. They are interested in it, so you have to give them a lot of stuff. It is
just going to get more so, I guess.
W: Let us talk a little bit about some of your health problems. Four operations, am I
W: Two for lung cancer, is that right?
H: No, one for prostate cancer and one for lung cancer. The only reason I talk
about these is, if this is supposed to be biographical, this is sort of the unusual
part of my biography. I have had four of these things in the last seven years. In
October of 1992, I had prostate cancer, and I had the surgery where they cut my
prostate out. Then, just to be on the safe side, the following spring, they gave
me thirty-four radiation treatments. I am supposedly totally cured from the
cancer. Then, in January of 1997, I had lung cancer. I had a lobe removed
from my left lung. I smoked heavily for many, many years, and I quit about eight
or ten years before that, but it still got me. I deserve what I got because I was a
heavy smoker for many years. Then, in March of 1998, I had an aneurysm in
the aorta, and they had to go in there and open me up down the middle again
and repair that. Then, [four] months later, in July of 1998, the various scar
tissues kind of balled up and caused a bowel obstruction that almost killed me. I
had to be opened up again in surgery on that. But, happily, I am doing all right
now, and I feel good and healthy. I gave up tennis. These operations take a lot
of energy out of you. After the second one, I said, I think, maybe, I have played
enough tennis. So, I gave that up, but I walk two miles everyday and try to
watch my diet the best I can. So, I am doing all right. I feel very good.
W: I laughed a little bit at the comment in your bio that you postponed one of your
operations to cover the FSU-Florida game.
H: Yes. The [lung] cancer was behind a rib or something, and the X-rays would not
quite show whether I had cancer or not. They said, maybe yes, maybe no, and
they said, the only thing we can do is open you up and go in there and take a
look and, if it is cancerous, perform the surgery and, if it is not, sew you back up.
This was in early December of 1996 and I said, well, my wife and I have made
plans to go to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl. Florida and FSU were playing
for what proved to be the national championship. I said, how much would it hurt
me if I waited until January to do that? Well, it would not any difference. It
really was not as dramatic as it sounds. I really did not think I had it, and the
doctor really did not think I had it either. So, we went over there and had a good
time, watched the game, and came back. Then, a couple of weeks later, they
took me in and opened me up. About four or five o'clock that afternoon when I
came to, I said, what about it? And they said, yes, you had it, so we removed a
lobe and patched you up. So that was it. Then, I went back in there [later] to
see one of the doctors. She and I were talking, and she turned to one of the
other doctors and said, this is the man that postponed his operation for lung
cancer while he went to see the national championship football game!
W: Is there a point where, with four operations and stuff, you just want to throw your
hands up in the air and think, what else?
H: I got pretty tired of being in there, I will tell you that. That aneurysm in the aorta,
they were trying to get me to go in for that for a year and I said, look, I just got
through with lung cancer surgery, and I do not want to go in there again. But,
then, those things keep growing. They might grow a good bit in one year, and
they might grow just a little bit [the next]. This one, they watched it for about four
or five years before it became necessary to operate on it, but then it became,
well, the percentage was, I was better off having the surgery than waiting. If the
thing pops, you do not come back from that.
W: Did you keep writing the whole time?
H: Oh yes, I did not feel bad at all, kept playing tennis [until after the second
operation]. You are fortunate to find out that you have one of those things. A
lot of people have died who did not know that they had one. I had some kind of
other ailment and had some internal bleeding, and they put me through some
very extensive examinations. It turned out the bleeding was not much, but they
found prostate cancer and an aneurysm in the aorta. They might have saved
my life finding those two things when they did, so I am very, very fortunate to
have that discovered.
W: We talked a little bit last week before we even started recording about the
direction of newspapers. Will you discuss where you think they are heading?
H: I have not studied it as much as some of you, I am sure, or as much as the
University of Florida journalism professors have but, to me, it is obvious that with
the web sites, computers and all that stuff, I do not think we are more than a
couple or three years away from getting up in the morning and, instead of
walking out and getting the newspaper, you punch on your computer and then
punch up what you want to see on the screen. They will put it all on the screen
for you right there in your living room or den or wherever. Of course, advertising
is what makes the newspapers turn around, turn over, and I am sure they will find
a way to get the ads for you. Coupons are a big thing now. The coupons are
worth a lot more than the price of the newspaper. If necessary, they will have
somebody to come by and deliver your coupons to you. I think the day of the
paper being printed up on paper and being thrown into your front yard is almost
gone. When that era goes, I think it will be gone forever.
W: You brought a sheet in. What are some of the topics that you would like to
H: I just made some notes. One thing, what I recommend to an aspiring young
journalist. Number one, go to journalism school. Number two, start work on
one of the smaller publications where you get real experience. I have worked in
places like Atlanta and New Orleans, and a total beginner going into a place like
that is not going to get assigned anything worthwhile. They might send you to
go get the coffee, take some phone calls, and that would be about it. So, on a
smaller paper, you get to do a little bit of everything. Number three, be fair in
what you write. Number four, be accurate. There is no substitute for being
accurate. This is one of the things I have stressed to everybody who ever came
to work for me: if you make one mistake, one mistake of fact, they doubt your
accuracy, and then they doubt the rest of the story, all of the rest of the story. If
you say Florida lost to Georgia last year-the reader knows that Florida did not
lose to Georgia last year-and then, in the same story, you start writing about
what happened in 1960 or, maybe, a touchdown in 1992, he thinks you might not
know what the hell you are talking about. So, you have to be accurate. If
necessary, read back over what you have done before you turn it in, five or six
times, if necessary, particularly if it is a lot of controversial facts. Be sure. Be
accurate. Honor confidences. Keep your word. Then, if you cooperate with
out of town writers and they ask you for help, if they say, what is the real story on
the quarterback's ankle, or something, if you try to be very cooperative with them
and honest and helpful, it will come back to you. Perhaps, more so in sports
writing than in any other branch of journalism is the word of mouth and the
network. You see each other. Sports writers see each other at events more so
than the police beat writers. Tampa and Gainesville police beat writers might
not ever be in the same room together. But, the sports writer in Tampa and the
sports writer in Gainesville, they will be together, and the sports editor will be
together, and they pass the word around, that so and so is a good man. That is
what pushes you along. When I was coming up, I would get calls from people I
had never heard of, never knew, never had met, but people had passed my
name along, had said, there is a good sports writer over in Jackson, Mississippi,
or over in New Orleans. Most of the jobs I got, somebody would call me instead
of me calling them, and I was not bashful about calling them, but that was usually
the way it worked out. The only other thing, if you have a few minutes left, I
understand the basic premise of this whole thing--are some stories worthwhile to
be put in there?
W: Yes, certainly.
H: Okay. I am trying to think of ones that might be interesting. Joe Namath
[quarterback, New York Jets], after he won the Super Bowl in January of 1969
came to Jacksonville the next day for the AFL All-Star game. Jacksonville
hosted that for two years. I went over to the hotel to talk to him. I had seen the
game in Miami when they beat the [Baltimore] Colts [in Super Bowl III], but I had
not gotten close enough to talk to him. There was a mob of people. So, I went
over there to talk to him. He was out of pocket that first day, a day late coming
in. So, I went over there about Tuesday. I had met him once or twice before,
and it had been a very pleasant relationship. I saw him walking around in the
breakfast room in this motel in Jacksonville. He had a glass of Scotch in his
hand, and he was about smashed, about ten or ten-thirty in the morning. I
walked up to him and reintroduced myself and he said, yes, I remember you; you
are a good guy, and he put his arm around me. He said, first, walk with me
around the hotel, or around the dining room. He went by and shook hands with
all the All Stars and all. Bob Griese [quarterback, Miami Dolphins] was there.
Then, [Namath] was swigging his booze and was getting pretty looped. I said, if
you have a few minutes, I would just like to talk to you for a few minutes. All of a
sudden, his whole mood changed and he said, I am not talking to no
newspaperman today, and he let out a bunch of profanities and wheeled and
walked away. I was forty then. I do not believe in adults settling arguments
that way, but I had an awful temptation to hit him right in the back of the head,
doubling my fists up and drawing back and just hitting him right in the back of the
head, but I did not. I kind of seethed for a few minutes and I thought, people do
not care whether I got insulted or not; they want to read about what Namath had
to say. So, I went back over there where he was talking to somebody, waited
until he got through and said, Joe, later on in the day if you have time, maybe we
can get together finally. He let out with another blast of profanity. Then, the
bus came up and all the players got on the bus and went to practice. My
inclination was to go back and write a column about what a rude bastard he was.
Norm Miller from the New York Daily News was there and he said, can I catch a
ride with you to practice? I said, yes, I will drive you there. So, on the way out
there, I decided that I would try again. When I got to the practice, they did not
have but about an hour of practice when they got through, I told Norm Miller what
had happened and he said, I have the same kind of trouble with him. So he
said, we will go over there together. So, we went over to the dressing room and
walked up to Namath's locker. Miller said something to him, and he turned
around with the same thing to Miller, all kinds of profanity and everything, get the
hell out and all that stuff. So, I took Miller back to his hotel, and I went to eat. I
was thinking the whole time I was eating that I was going to go back to my office
and write a column about what a bum [Namath] was. Then I thought, the public
wants a column on Namath; they do not care about how much trouble I have to
go through; I am going to try one more time. So, I went back to the Sheraton or
wherever it was they were staying in Jacksonville. I went to the house phone,
asked for Mr. Namath's room and they said, Mr. Namath has left word that he is
napping this afternoon and does not want to be disturbed until six p.m. So I put
the phone down and went back to the office. When you go after somebody, do
not be subtle. I hit him as hard as I could hit him. I told about Namath walking
around with a glass [of scotch] in his hand, spouting profanities, telling
sportswriters where to go. I said, this guy is supposed to be a ladies' man; if he
was not a celebrity, he could not pick up a girl in Lannigan's Waterfront Bar. If I
did this kind of thing twice a year, you would say I was a nutcase. I only did it
once or twice in my life, but I hit him hard. Then there were three or four parties
over in the Sheraton the next day, press parties and press conferences and this
and that and the other thing. My wife said, you are going to get in a fight with
Namath over there and I said, I am not worried about getting in a fight with
Namath; if he hits me and breaks my jaw, we will sue and we will be millionaires.
Well, I sold her on it. She is a very intelligent person. I got an awful lot of
phone calls, most of them fans. They enjoyed it. A few of them cussed me out.
People called her, and I could hear her on the phone as I was getting ready to
go out to the Sheraton and she was saying, we hope he hits Jack in the jaw; we
are going to make $1,000,000 out of it. I thought, [Wow], I have oversold this.
So, I went over to the Sheraton. I knew Billy Shaw, the guy who just got put into
the Hall of Fame. He is from Vicksburg, Mississippi, and I had known him back
in Mississippi. I got on the elevator to go up to whatever floor I was going to and
he said, Jack, I did not think I would see you in this hotel tonight, after what you
wrote about Namath today. I said, where is Namath? He said, oh, he is around
the hotel, in and out of these elevators just like you. Well, maybe we will run into
each other. I just went about my business. [We did not run into each other]. Mail
came in from (not an exaggeration) all fifty states, about 50 percent calling me a
bum and 50 percent calling him a bum. Dave Moffitt of United Press
International came into town to write the pre-game story and stay over for the
game. He came in and, by then, I had run all of these letters from all over the
country pouring in and he said, I do not need to interview anybody; I have my
column right here. He took that thing and made the [national] lead on the UPI
wire the feud between Namath and me. It went on for a couple of weeks. Bill
Braucher from the Miami Herald told me six or eight months later that he was
interviewing Namath a couple of months after that and mentioned my name and
Namath said, do not put this in your story. [Namath] said, I admire that guy's
guts. He said, I was the most popular sports figure in America at that moment,
and he really worked me over. He said, as I remember what happened, I kind of
deserved it. Now, [Braucher] did not write that, but he told me about it. Nolan
Ryan, who just got voted the top pitcher of the century, he pitched for
Jacksonville while I was there, but not [actually] in Jacksonville. When he joined
the ball club, they were [leaving] on a road trip. He pitched a couple of innings in
Syracuse. I made that road trip. I only made one or two road trips a year with
the AAA Baseball team in Jacksonville. They went into Rochester to play, and
they brought him in, in relief, about the second inning. He pitched something
like six and two-thirds innings and struck out sixteen people, which is
phenomenal. I think he struck out sixteen out of eighteen outs or something like
that, and I saw it. The guy just had a blur, could really throw. I wrote about it
and said, this guy is phenomenal. I went out to the ball park when he was
supposed to pitch next, and it [was] the biggest crowd in the history of
Jacksonville's minor league baseball. He is warming up. Every seat is filled,
and they are standing up. I am looking down from the press box, and he is in
the bullpen [the pitching warmup area for relief pitchers]. He is throwing, and
you could hear over all of this tremendous crowd the pow, pow. He is putting it
in the mitt, pow. About that time, the phone rang. I picked up the phone and
the [coach] said, tell the PA announcer to scratch Ryan and put Larry Bearnarth
in as the starting pitcher. I said, what happened? He said, Ryan has a blister
on his finger. And [when the announcement was made], boy, the boos. [Ryan]
never pitched in Jacksonville. The blister on his finger lasted about six or eight
weeks. When he got well, they sent him straight to New York, and he never
pitched in the minor leagues again. He wound up being voted the best pitcher of
the century. But, what was strange was, any time when Ryan was young and
he had a blister on his finger or a little bit of a twinge in an elbow, he would not
pitch. Warren Spahn [pitcher, Milwaukee Braves] told me he always got pains
and he said, I never pitched a game where my arm did not hurt. So I thought,
and this shows you how wrong you can be when you are close to greatness and
not know it, I thought Ryan was a wimp. I did not think Ryan would be pitching
in the big leagues when he was twenty-six years old. He was still pitching there
when he was forty-six! He broke [a lot of] the records. A little bit of humor,
maybe, here. Always, one of the big stories in Jacksonville--we did not have
many big stories--was trying to find out who were going to be the teams in the
Gator Bowl. When the Gator Bowl committee went to meet, I would phone over
to them and ask them who it was going to be and, maybe, talk to different
members of the committee because most of them were friends of mine. I called
over there and George Olsen said, well, the Times Union had not been getting
one of the teams the last two or three years; you have gotten them both. He
said, we are going to try to make sure the Times Union gets a team. He said, if
we get one of the teams nailed down today, we are going to give it to the Times
Union, and we will give you the other team in a day or two. I said, I am going to
be trying to find out, George, and he said, well, good luck. They had made a
pact that they were not going to leave the room that year until the paper came
out because they accused each other of slipping out and phoning me. I knew
[the meeting] was at the Roosevelt Hotel. So it got to be about twenty minutes
before the paper was going to press for the last edition. So, I dialed that room
again, and a man was on the switchboard at Roosevelt. I got an idea that the
professional telephone operator, the woman, had gone to the bathroom, and a
desk clerk of some kind was running the switchboard for a few minutes, so I said,
Room so and so. The next voice I heard was George Olsen, who was executive
director of the Gator Bowl. I knew him very well. His voice was saying, this is a
credit card call to Wayne Duke in Kansas City, Missouri. Wayne Duke was the
commissioner of the Big Eight Conference. I was standing at [our sports] desk,
and there were five or six sports writers there. Some people might say I was
eavesdropping, but I felt like I had not asked to be put in that position and, all of a
sudden, it was dumped in my lap, so I just listened. The next voice I heard was,
hey George, this is Wayne. He said, Wayne, we have got Missouri for the Gator
Bowl. Wayne said, that is wonderful; you have a good team, and it will be a
great representative. I am thinking, ask him who the opponent is going to be;
ask him, ask him. Finally, he said (I thought he would), who is the opponent
going to be, George? George said, well, we are going to wait a couple of days
on that. We are going to make this announcement, and then we are going to
wait a couple of days and then announce the other team. Then, I am thinking,
ask him to go ahead and tell you, off the record; ask him. Finally, you cannot tell
me who the other team is going to be? [Olsen] said, well, I will tell you; it is going
to be Alabama. I hung up the phone. I put a headline all the way across the
front page: Alabama and Missouri in Gator Bowl. These guys up in the
Roosevelt, in their room, said, okay, it is time to go home; Jack's paper should be
on the street now. So, they get on the elevator and go down, and the door
opens and there is a [newspaper] rack there, and it says, Alabama and Missouri
in the Gator Bowl. Ah, you slipped out! And they got to accusing each other
and went back. They went through the drapes and the light fixtures [looking for]
a bug. I would not tell George how I got it because I thought he might get the
[telephone] operator fired over there. So, when they closed the hotel down, I
told him how I got it. He said, oh, I never thought of that. He and I were good
friends. He would catch hell from the Times Union though because I would get
most [of his] stories. They would not believe that George did everything he
could to try to split them up. So, in the next year, he said, you are not going to
find out this time because you are not going to know where we are. Sure
enough, it turned out they went to the beaches to a hotel, and I could not find out
where they were. I had the idea that Florida and Tennessee were going to the
Gator Bowl, but you do not want to put [a huge] head[line], Florida and
Tennessee in the Gator Bowl, on a hunch. You want to know for sure. When
you get in that big type, you do not want to be wrong. I have never been wrong
in that big type, and you do not want to be wrong. I would have a hard time
living that down. But, I went to [my] network. I called Pete Finney over in New
Orleans. He was sports editor of the Times Picayune. He and I were big
buddies, and we always talked about who was going to the Bowls and shared
information. So I called him and he said, Jack, you all have a great game in the
Gator Bowl. I said, well, I think we are going to have a great game in the Gator
Bowl, but who is it going to be? He said, you do not know? I said, no, I do not.
He said, it is going to be Tennessee and Florida. I said, that is great, now tell
me how you found out. LSU had a 9 and 1 record, and they had three great
teams to go to the Gator Bowl but could not take but two. So, they called
Charlie McClendon, the LSU coach, and told him, we are not going to be able to
take you; we have Florida and Tennessee; we hope you understand. He said, I
do not blame you. So then, Finney called McClendon and said, do you know
anything? And he said, yes, I know Florida and Tennessee are going to the
Gator Bowl [and Finney passed the news to me]. So I wrote it, Gators and
Tennessee in the Gator Bowl. [The Gator Bowl committee members] were out at
the beach. George told me later, he said, they congratulated themselves, that
the phone had not rung all day from anybody. Nobody knew where they were.
Nobody knew. Okay, let us go. They went down on the elevator and the door
opened, and there was the Jacksonville Journal, Gators and Tennessee in the
Gator Bowl. They say George just went home and went to bed, took his phone
of the hook. But it was just luck. It was not any great skill. One of [those two
stories], an amateurish phone operator had hooked two lines into the one line.
Some people do not think you can do that. Well, I do not know [how, but] they
did [it]. Then, the other one, I called Pete Finney. Those kind of things, in a
competitive newspaper town, it is always fun beating the other paper. That is
one of the things that the modern newspapers are missing. There used to be at
least two big newspapers in each town. Now, there is only one. In Atlanta, the
Journal-Constitution is really just one. The employees are all with the same
paper, and they use the same stories and the same writers. There is no
competition. But, if you are competitive, it is a great pleasure to get the story
before the other paper. People do not even remember which one got it and you
do not get paid on it, but it is a lot of self-satisfaction.
[End of interview.]