Globe columnist Will McDonough dies
By Tom Mulvoy and Bill Griffith, Globe, 01/10/03
Will McDonough, a sports reporter and columnist for The Boston Globe
for 41 years whose byline made readers sit up and take notice, died of a
heart attack at his home in Hingham on Thursday night. He was 67.
For those legions who follow sports in Boston, across New England,
and around the nation, the name Will McDonough above a story signaled
that reliable, and often exclusive, news was coming along. In-depth
information, gleaned from countless sources on the street, on the field,
in the clubhouse, and in executive offices, and laced with perspective --
about players, teams, officials, games, corporations, and fans -- was the
grit from which Will McDonough fashioned his stories. He prided himself
on delivering news that counted -- "scoops," as traditional
journalistic parlance has it -- in the simplest of words. To an editor
who once asked if he could "beef up" the prose on a particular story,
he asked: "Do you want adjectives, or information?"
Will McDonough was of Boston,
make no mistake. His world view screened out shades of gray; he saw
things as right or wrong, a sense derived from his growing-up days in
the Old Colony Project (and St. Augustine's Parish) in South Boston, a
tribal whirl of street-corner life and sports. Born in July 1935, he
kept an oar in the waters of his native neighborhood all his life
despite his move to Hingham early in his Globe career. Few knew better
than he the whos, whats, wheres, whys, and hows of life in South Boston
from the 1940s to the present. He was an acquaintance of numerous
celebrated -- and infamous -- sons of "Southie" and to his last day
supported in words and deed those whom he called friends. And these
friends returned the favor when Reporter McDonough called on them to
help with a story.
When Mr. McDonough retired as a member of the Globe's staff in 2001
(he kept his hand in by writing a freelance column for the paper after
that) he told well-wishers that he figured he had written more words for
the Globe than anyone else in its history. It was an assertion that no
one challenged, given the asserter.
The McDonough byline first appeared in the Globe in the late 1950s
when he was a student at Northeastern working as a co-op in the sports
department, mostly covering school sports. He had been a three-sport
player at English High School, but injuries pushed him to the sidelines,
and, eventually, to the press box. It did not take him long to get his
reporter's feet on the ground when he was hired onto the Globe staff
shortly after his graduation from college; he covered whatever was
thrown at him and always delivered on time. It was in 1960, when he was
a regular on the Red Sox and Celtics beats as well as on college
campuses, that Mr. McDonough took on the assignment that over the next
40 years distinguished his name in sports journalism: coverage of the
fledgling Boston Patriots, and a complicated companion story, the new
American Football League's challenge to the National Football League.
As the new league grew, and then merged with the old one, Mr.
McDonough became known as Mr. Pro Football in Boston and beyond. It was
a reputation he guarded closely and maintained, via extensive reporting
for his writing assignments, radio shows, and regular appearances on
local and national television, until the week of his death.
Professional football was Mr. McDonough's main interest for most of
his Globe career (he left the paper for a brief period in 1973 to go to
work for the late Bob Woolf's player-management firm), and he was proud
of his status as one of the very few writers still working who had
covered every Super Bowl. But he kept his keen eye on everything else
that was going on around town, especially at Boston Garden, the
FleetCenter, and Fenway Park. When the opportunity came in the 1980s for
him to write a weekly notes column for the Saturday edition, he was well
prepared. From the first such column to the last, just a week ago, Mr.
McDonough produced must-reading copy not only for Globe readers but also
for the movers and shakers in sports locally and nationally.
Although he didn't like the word "pioneer," Mr. McDonough was one.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he was a charter member of a small
company of print journalists who, while maintaining their newspaper
positions, worked as reporters and commentators on television. In the
days before the Internet, his Sunday edition professional football notes
columns were staples in the studios of every network covering the NFL,
and CBS took the unprecedented step of offering him an on-air job. "I
proved once and for all you don't have to be pretty to be on
television," he liked to say of his work at CBS and, later, at NBC.
In recent years, Mr. McDonough continued to appear regularly on
television and radio. He did a weekly national radio show (he taped his
last one Thursday morning) with former Patriots (and now Dallas Cowboys)
coach Bill Parcells for Sporting News Radio (heard locally on WWZN,
1510-AM). He also appeared regularly on his son Sean's "The McDonough
Group" on that station, and he was a co-host with his former longtime
Globe colleague Mike Barnicle each Friday on WTKK (96.9-FM). He also was
a staple of Ch. 4's "Patriots Pregame," "5th Quarter," and "Sports
Final" shows with host Bob Lobel.
As to his health, Mr. McDonough dealt with his middle-age heart
problems, which began a decade ago, the way he dealt with his stories:
You do your work, you play it straight, and you tough it out, knowing
you've given it your all. On a visit to the Globe last Friday, he
mentioned that the medication he was taking after a recent cardiac
procedure made him feel "dopey," but he was looking forward to
resuming his exercises.
Those who worked near Mr. McDonough's desk at the Globe (he never had
an office) marveled at the names of people -- figures from sports and
politics and just plain folk -- who returned his calls, or just called
him up to talk, knowing their names would be protected if that was what
they wanted. He could be rough on those he considered "phonies" --
former Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens, for instance, was "the Texas Con
Man" and former Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn was "Mo Money" -- but
he made every effort to give those he skewered a chance to state their
piece. Last Saturday, in his last column, he showed little enthusiasm
for the baseball know-how of Red Sox president Larry Lucchino and he
laid out the reasons why. When Will McDonough took on a sports poohbah
in critical fashion, the story rarely ended with that column. He and
Lucchino were on the radio on Monday morning trading barbs (in separate
segments), and the exchange offered great promise for the weeks until
Yesterday, on being informed of Mr. McDonough's death, Lucchino said,
"Recently, Will and I publicly clashed. We certainly did not agree on a
range of Red Sox issues, but that is immaterial at this time. Will's
enduring contribution to the sports world in Boston will not be
forgotten, and he will be missed."
Mr. McDonough's lifelong association with the Bulger family of South
Boston was a source of expressed concern to many in the Boston
community, but not to him. He was quick to rise to the defense of his
old friend and neighbor, UMass president William M. Bulger (Mr.
McDonough was the campaign manager when Bulger ran for state
representative in 1960), on many occasions over the years, most
particularly and recently when Bulger was being pilloried late last year
for the position he took with respect to the worldwide search for his
brother, James "Whitey" Bulger. Mr. McDonough knew all the stories,
and then some, about "Whitey" Bulger, who stands accused of multiple
murders, but he refused to, as he said, "take a walk on the president"
when he needed a friend.
Yesterday, William Bulger spoke of his friend: "Like so many people
in Boston and beyond, I will miss Will McDonough. He provided me with
the friendship of a lifetime, for which I am so very grateful. Will
McDonough's friends were never lonely -- he was there during the bright
moments and always on hand during times of adversity. To be Will's
friend was to possess a great gift."
Inside the Globe, Mr. McDonough was hailed for the depth of his
commitment to his newspaper. Said editor Martin Baron: "All of us at
the Globe are deeply saddened by the death of Will McDonough. He was a
defining force in sports journalism as well as a dear friend and
cherished colleague to so many here at the paper. At this moment of loss
and mourning, our thoughts and sympathies are first with Will's family.
Boston has lost a great journalist and a devoted friend."
"Will loved the Globe. We were his extended family," said Don
Skwar, assistant managing editor/sports at the Globe. "So many sports
staffers have come up to me and said they feel like they've lost a
brother. Will was like a big brother or father to us all."
Added former Globe editor Matthew V. Storin: "Will McDonough was
possibly the last of a breed. Through his columns he rewarded his
friends and slammed his enemies in such a way that he himself was a
major player in Boston sports. But he was a phenomenal reporter,
particularly on pro football. No one had better contacts or broke more
stories, and he played a major role in building the outstanding
reputation of the Globe sports section."
As news of his death spread during the day yesterday, the condolences
poured into the Globe's sports department, Mr. McDonough's working home
since becoming a part-timer while at Northeastern in 1957: "He was one
of my best friends," said Bill Parcells. "Those are the people you can
count on the fingers of one hand." Al Davis, owner of the Oakland
Raiders, whose professional football association with Mr. McDonough
spanned four decades, remembered him as "a giant in his profession. We
kind of grew up together. But time never really stops for the great
ones. You give them a cloak of immortality and remember everything about
their greatness. I'll miss him terribly. He was a great friend."
Said Patriots owner Bob Kraft: "Professionally, Will was one of a
kind. As a Patriots fan in the early 1960s, I became a big fan of Will's
coverage of the team. He was an institution, not only in Boston, but in
the world of sports journalism. He was a larger-than-life reporter who,
by the power of his pen, changed the way sports are covered. It is a
great loss." Added Patriots head coach Bill Belichick: "This is a
terrible shock. Just three days ago, Will and I talked about the
playoffs, and he was his typical self -- excited about the upcoming
games, going through the matchups, and, as usual, working angles that
nobody else had thought of. That was Will -- passionate about the game
and extremely knowledgeable but always looking for something new to add
to his wealth of information and deliver it to the public."
Mr. McDonough steered clear of hockey in terms of regular coverage
during his career, but during the late 1960s he made a steadfast friend
in Bruins president Harry Sinden.
"I am going to miss Will McDonough very much as a good friend and a
good man, both professionally and personally," Sinden said. "He was a
loyal friend and a trusted friend. I will remember him with admiration
for his integrity, his hard work, his knowledge, and his
Joe O'Donnell, the chairman and CEO of the Boston Concessions Group
and one of Mr. McDonough's closest friends, offered this: "The
characteristic about Willie I admire the most, over his tenure as a
sport writer, then as sport celebrity, first regionally and then
nationally, is he's a guy who could walk with kings, and he never forgot
where he came from. I think of the guy who walks into the NFL meetings
and the commissioner greets him personally, and Willie's worried about
the doorman getting the right tip."
Among his many friends, Mr. McDonough's charitable works were
legendary. He was a key player in the founding of the Red Auerbach
Foundation, his son Sean's foundation, the Joey Fund, named for Mr.
O'Donnell's son, numerous benefit golf tournaments, and the charities
closest to his heart: the Marr Boys Club and Notre Dame Academy of
Hingham where his sisters, Mary Martina, a member of the Sisters of
Notre Dame de Namur, and Margaret are teachers.
He leaves his wife, Denise, two daughters, Erin of Norwell and Cara
of Hingham; three sons, Sean of North Quincy, Terence of Raleigh, N.C.,
and Ryan of Hingham; three sisters, Sister Mary Martina McDonough, SND,
of Hingham, Ellen Eccleston of Roseville, Calif., and Margaret McDonough
of Weymouth; a brother, Martin of Hyde Park; and four grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will be said at 11 o'clock Wednesday morning at St.
Augustine's Church in South Boston.
Ron Borges, Nick Cafardo, and Joe Sullivan of the Globe staff
contributed to this report.