Sportswriting, Then and Now
The recent move to get John Brodie into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which has little chance of succeeding, reminds me of how bad sportswriting was at that time. At The Chronicle, everything was based on seniority, so the 49ers beat writer was a man who knew very little about football. He thought George Mira and then Steve Spurrier were better than Brodie.
The problem was that he didn’t understand that football was a team game. If the team has a weak defense, which the 49ers did in Brodie’s early years, it was virtually impossible for a quarterback to overcome that on a regular basis.
When I was working on my 50-year history of the 49ers, published in 1995, I talked to both Brodie and Y.A. Tittle. They told me that they would meet the week of the upcoming game and decide how many points they had to get to win the game. Often, the decision was at least 35. So, they often had to take chances, and those chances could result in interceptions.
When he was traded to the Giants, Tittle said, Sam Huff told him, “Don’t worry. It doesn’t matter what you do, the defense will win the game for you.” And, when Tittle threw an interception, Huff told him, “We’ll get the ball back for you.”
And, Tittle’s success in New York eventually landed him in the Hall of Fame.
Brodie didn’t get that kind of help until Dick Nolan came to the 49ers in 1969 and immediately concentrated on strengthening the defense. With a good defense helping him, Brodie got the 49ers into the postseason but could never get past the Dallas Cowboys and Roger Staubach.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? I’d say the bar was set very low when Bob Griese made it. The year the Dolphins became the first (and still only) team to go undefeated in a season of at least 14 games, Griese was injured early in the season and Earl Morrall took the Dolphins the rest of the way. In the Super Bowl, Griese threw only six passes. Yet, he’s in the HOF. The voters should be ashamed of themselves.
Football has long been the top sport in the Bay Area, and in the ‘90s, Ira Miller and I had it covered. Ira had great national contacts; I had the local contacts. Between us, we had football coverage that was far superior to anything in other papers in the area.
Then, Hearst bought The Chronicle and the pitiful Examiner staff came over to run it. The editors were more interested in punishing Chronicle writers than putting out a good product. That certainly held true in sports where Glenn Schwarz forbade me from covering pro football games and limited Ira’s national coverage. Both Ira and I took buyouts and the Hearst people finally got smart and got rid of both Schwarz and Phil Bronstein, the master bloviator.
Now, I would say The Chronicle football coverage is good by current standards but nothing like what I was when Ira and I were there, partially because the paper is seriously understaffed and the good writers are overworked.
But, I suspect newspapers everywhere are nothing like they were. There’s a guy in Houston who was claiming for months that the Niners were shopping Colin Kaepernick, though everything pointed to the opposite: They had him working with Kurt Warner to develop as a pocket passer, they made no attempt to get a possible replacement for him, they did not draft a quarterback.
And, of course, he’s still here. The guy in Houston hasn’t apologized. He had his “sources.” Apparently, somebody in outer space.
Truthfully, it’s very hard these days to separate the truth from the garbage. The Internet is full of stories, many of them from guys who have no connection with either journalism or teams. They’re sitting at home, making guesses.
Unfortunately, when looking for good writing, that’s what readers have to do.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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