Once Upon a Time....Great NFL coverage
Has there been a golden age of sportswriting in the Bay Area? Certainly not when I first came to The Chronicle in April, 1963. Newspapermen to that point had been known as heavy drinkers, especially when it was free; Prescott Sullivan wrote that the worst phrase in the language was “No host bar,” meaning you had to pay for drinks. The Chronicle sports editor, Bill Leiser, kept a bottle of Scotch in his bottom drawer, all of which he drank during the day. That was the reason he’d been stripped of his decision-making authority, which had been turned over to Art Rosenbaum, who had hired me.
When I was in the Giants press box, I was appalled by the number of writers who were drunk. (Not Bob Stevens, who confined his drinking to postgame and off days.) On one road trip, we were flown from St. Louis to San Diego in a private Giants plane on which booze flowed freely. Bucky Walters didn’t realize how drunk he was when he descended from the plane in San Diego with his pants slipping down. They were at his feet when he hit the bottom step. Good thing photographers weren’t there at the airport. Bucky was so drunk, he didn’t even realize he’d had a clothing disaster.
There was one time, though, when everything came together at The Chronicle, more than 20 years after that flight. It was the ‘90s and the NFL was king in the Bay Area as the 49ers took three of their five Super Bowls. The Chronicle had the pro football scene covered, with Ira Miller covering the national stories, because of his great sources, while I was the authority on the 49ers, including a book I did for NFL Properties on the first 50 years of the franchise.
That all stopped when Hearst bought The Chronicle and the Examiner editors, all but one of whom were incompetent, came over to run The Chronicle. In sports, Glenn Schwarz was determined to boost his columnists, Ray Ratto and Gwen Knapp, so he forbade me to even cover 49ers games! He cut down on Ira’s national trips. Ira soon left on his own and I took a lucrative buyout to leave in 2006. The Chronicle’s pro football coverage has been mediocre since.
For instance before the season started, I wrote in this space that the Niners looked like a 5-6 win team which would finish last in the NFC West. Then, the 49ers opened at home after what looked like a pep rally for the team. Great players from the past were there, films were shown of their games. The Niners responded as could be expected, with a strong win over the Minnesota Vikings.
The Chronicle sportswriters jumped on the bandwagon big time. One columnist wrote that Jim Tomsula had proved he could be a head coach.
I wrote in this space that Ben Rothlisberger would light them up big time in the next game – and they’d still finish last in the NFC West. I think I’ll stick with that prediction.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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