boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

His colleagues at the Globe remember Will

I'm gonna tell you the real story, OK?

For 13 years, Will would say that to me on stories ranging from the sale of the Red Sox, to the departure of Bill Parcells, to the death of Reggie Lewis, to the closing of the FleetCenter deal. And on every occasion, he was right.

To be the editor of Will McDonough was kind of like being the Maytag repairman. There wasn't much I could suggest to Will. What do you say when a guy talks to John Harrington, talks to Parcells himself, talks to the medical experts no one else could get near in the Lewis case, talks to the wheelers and dealers directly involved in the building of the new FleetCenter?

What you say is thanks, and you try to get to know what makes this guy so special that everyone would talk to him.

This is the best example I've got:

Every August for the past six or so years, I would invite Will to come down to the Cape for the day, play golf at The Highlands in Truro (one of my favorite courses) with a few other Globe colleagues, and go back to our house in Yarmouth for a nice dinner.

The golf games were one thing - if you were paired with Will, he would always line up every putt for you, and if it didn't go in, it wasn't because he read the green incorrectly; it was because you stroked it wrong - the dinners quite another.

Two summers back, my wife Judy had prepared steaks and burgers and swordfish on our new fancy grill, and we were out on the back patio, getting ready to chow down. Will said he'd love some swordfish, so Judy lifted the huge slab onto the plate - and it flipped, as if still alive, onto the concrete floor.

Judy was disconsolate. This perfect fish was ruined. But Will would have none of that.

"I'll eat it," he said. "Don't worry about it. Just give it here."

"But it's got sand all over it," Judy said.

"Hey, a little sand never hurt anybody," Will said.

And so this larger-than-life guy, who could dine at the swankiest restaurants with the highest-browed people, proceeded to eat his swordfish a la sand.

The sand might have bothered him, but he didn't want to make his hostess feel badly about dropping it. Mr. Big? Absolutely. Mr. Big Time? Absolutely not.

I'll miss those golf games and those dinners with Will, but I'll miss his gracious company even more.

So will all the major movers and shakers on the Boston and national sports scene, who knew Will was as down to earth as they come and who opened up to him because of it.

And so will the Globe, the beneficiary of his largesse.
DON SKWAR, sports editor

In my career as a sportswriter, I have been privileged to know two real titans of the business: Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times, whom I used to sit opposite at the old press room at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and, of course, Will McDonough, whom I was fortunate to count as an esteemed colleague and friend. What fascinated me about being in their presence was listening to the stories they told, which, in essence, made them who they were. Supreme storytellers. Murray engaged me one afternoon at the Brickyard with stories of the days when he covered Hollywood for a national magazine and dined with Marilyn Monroe and had cocktails with Humphrey Bogart. As for Will? Well, during one memorable ride back to Hingham from Truro, where we spent a glorious summer day on the links golfing with the boss, he regaled me with story upon story about his career covering Boston's pro sports teams. Who needed sports talk blaring from my radio when I had the one man with an encyclopedic recall of the last four decades of Boston sports riding shotgun in my car? In fact, I can't recall if I ever did turn on the car radio on the drive back home, but I do know it was one ride I won't soon forget.
MICHAEL VEGA, sportswriter

Four years ago, as 1999 was about to turn into 2000, the Globe ran a series of profiles on New England's top 100 athletes of the 20th century. As one of several staffers assigned to write about the athletes' accomplishments, I was urged to include an update on their current activities.

It was no problem to ascertain most of their whereabouts, whether through an Internet search engine or just plain memory, but one had me stumped.

Whatever happened to Mike Haynes? And who better to ask about a former Patriot than Will McDonough? I approached Will, who immediately picked up his phone and called the Oakland Raiders, Haynes's last team. Needless to say, the answer came quickly. So typical of Will: for the smallest request from a colleague, it was never a big deal for him to lend a hand.
JUDY VAN HANDLE, sports copy editor

Will McDonough may have been one of the toughest journalists ever to strike a key in Boston, but in the newsroom, he was also one of the nicest. Will was never too important to stop by the Boston.com news "pod" (cubicle) and say hello to us newcomers - mostly people who weren't even born when he started at the Globe. He made us feel welcome in the newsroom from Day One.
EDDIE MEDINA, Boston.com news producer

As huge a presence as Will was, he never overlooked the "little guys." Even if he didn't know your name, he always had a "Hiya, kid" or a "Hey, big guy" for the co-op students ("nighthawks") in the department. That was true when I was a copy boy in the late '70s right up until last week.

(I had the privilege, incidentally, of fetching Will a coffee on that infamous day in 1979 after he decked the recalcitrant Ray Clayborn; the sight of Willie banging out a column with a bloodied eyeball is one I'll never forget.)

The point is, he treated the smallest person in the department the same as the largest, and this had humorous consequences one day. With Willie gone for the day, a first-year nighthawk took a phone message from some VIP, and we on the desk told him to call Will at home. The kid reached Will's wife, relayed the message, and when she asked who was calling, he answered, "Uh, just tell him it's 'The Big Guy,' he'll know who it is."

The biggest guy of all had a gift for making you feel that way.
JOHN CARNEY, sports copy editor

When I came to the Globe sports desk in 1988, I felt I had to prove myself, both as a newcomer and a woman. I was given the lowliest job to start, compiling the Sports Log. At the time, Willie was doing a national radio show before "Monday Night Football" broadcasts, and he would call in to get the latest wire reports just before going on air. It was my job to give him the updates. Like a lot of us, I was in awe of him and incredibly nervous, but he treated me like I actually knew what I was talking about, and soon we were chatting about this injury or that contract (which of course, he already knew about). It was the most special no-special treatment I ever got.

A few years later, when a friend of mine who was a big fan had major surgery, I asked Willie to call him in the hospital. He made my friend feel like a million dollars. He did stuff like that all the time - every story you read or hear about his generosity of spirit is true, only more so.
MARCIA DICK, former sports copy editor

As a former Globe sports co-op and current sportswriter, Will taught me the "Right Factor." He said that you should have no fear of reporting a story if you know you're right, and you know you're right because you do your homework. There was nobody who was better to young college students at the Globe, so his legacy will live on for a long time.
MIKE TROCCHI, former sports co-op

A few years back, when a dear friend/colleague of ours, assistant sports editor Robin Romano, died of cancer, we all wanted to do something to honor her memory. We came up with the idea of starting the Robin Romano Memorial Fund to help young people with cancer. And since Robin was as talented a golfer as an editor, the perfect way to raise money was with a golf tournament and sports auction.

Great idea, but how to pull it off? There was only one person to turn to - Will McDonough, who loved Robin as much as any of us and who probably knew as much about raising money for charity as he did about football. With Will's guidance, his connections, and of course his attention-grabbing voice and quick wit as auctioneer, the Romano Golf Tournament has been a tremendous success.

But that was what Will was all about. Sure, he skewered more than a few people in his columns over the years. But here's the real story. For every person who felt his wrath, there were a thousand who felt his generosity and whose lives were better because of him.
KEN FRATUS, assistant sports editor

As a member of the Sports copy desk, I've considered myself lucky to be able to edit the great Will McDonough over the years. We're happy being behind the scenes, yet Willie recognized our contribution ("Smooth that story out for me, will ya, Petey?") and always treated us well. But I'd be willing to bet no desk person burst into his consciousness with quite the bang I did. A few years back, Willie invited some of us to South Shore Country Club to play golf, and on my approach to the 18th hole, I thought I was 150 yards away when it was actually 100 or so (I've since had my eyes checked). I connected with a 5-iron, flying the green and smashing a top-floor window in the clubhouse. Other guys would have accepted my offer to pay for the damage; Will just laughed it off (everyone was doubled over, actually) and took care of it. He probably figured it was the cost of doing business, of getting another funny story to tell on the links. I figured it was a damn nice thing to do. The best part is, every time I badly overshoot a green from now on, I'll think of Will, which should be, on average, about a thousand times a year.
PETE GOODWIN, sports copy editor

I thought something from "Joe Public" might show another side of Will McDonough. In January of 1999, I had a business trip to Miami during Super Bowl week and thought about going to the game. I exhausted all my contacts and came up empty.

A Globe colleague suggested I call Will. I didn't know him personally, but for 30 years he always gave me a "Hi, kid," when I saw him in the hall.

I was nervous when I called him and got his voice mail. I left a message and figured that was the end of it. To my surprise, he got back to me in less than two hours and we had a nice conversation about my upcoming trip, and he told me he would do everything he could to get me to the big game but it depended on who was playing because his contacts had to be participating. That was fine with me; just to have a chance was all I could ask. I sent him my check for two tickets (a buddy was planning to go with me), and he took my cell phone number and said I would hear back soon.

Sitting in my hotel room on Saturday, I got the call to meet him at his downtown hotel and that he was sorry they were not the best seats but at least it got me in the building. I laughed and told him the only other option I had was to watch it in the hotel bar. I thanked him and wanted to buy him and his wife dinner but he would hear none of that.

I asked him where to meet and how he would recognize me in the crowded lobby, and he said he knew who I was, that I grew up in Southie and that I was the brother of John who worked in advertising 20 years ago.

I was shocked; all these years and this man was aware who I was. That made me feel good. From that time on until I left the Globe, whenever I saw him, he would call me Ed. I guess in a strange sort of way we became extended friends. We will all miss him dearly, but every football season, he will be in our thoughts.
ED WALSH, advertising (retired)

Will was playing golf at the International in Bolton a couple summers back and asked me if I wanted to provide my high handicap to balance out the scores in our would-be foursome. We went in Will's car, and as we got off the exit for Bolton on the Mass. Pike, Will was in the middle of one of his many fascinating stories as he handed the toll-taker his ticket.

The toll-taker looked closely at Will, then gave the ticket back.

"This one's on me, Mr. McDonough," he said. "Thanks for all the great stuff you've written over the years."

It was the first time I'd ever seen Will stumped. He stared at the toll-taker, mouth agape, then shrugged.

"Thank you very much," Will said, then drove off.

I was stunned. I'd seen Will part waters before, but a free ride on the Mass. Pike?

"I can't believe that one, Will," I said. "Tell me that's a first, please."

"It definitely is," Will said. And then he picked up where he left off on his story . . .
MARK BLAUDSCHUN, sportswriter

It was my first time covering a Celtics practice, and I was herded up to the balcony of the Brandeis gym with the rest of the press corps, a thick screen blocking our view of the team and court just below. I waited for nearly an hour, surprised by the Celtics' secrecy over a simple practice, but relieved that my colleagues from the Globe and competitors from the Herald and TV stations were equally isolated from the action.

All, that is, but Will.

As the practice wound down, a Celtics official drew back the enormous screen shielding players from press, revealing three men in suits sitting on the bench at courtside. There was Red Auerbach, the team president. Chris Ford, the coach. And Will McDonough, the sportswriter who never really was part of the sportswriting pack.

It was the perfect McDonough moment. He was working while we prattled. He was being enlightened by the brass while we were kept in the dark. He was treated like royalty, we like rabble. And, what mattered most, he got the real story while we got the scraps the Celtics deigned to feed us.
LARRY TYE, former sportswriter

The softball team has always been the Sports Department's best-kept secret. But Will knew about us, and every Friday during the season, Will would walk by the copy desk and ask, "How's the softball team doing?" It was never just a cursory question. Will really wanted to know. This season didn't start very promising, and Will would wince when we'd relay the details of another loss. The team got it together, however, and updating Will on our progress became more enjoyable. After we won the championship, Will stopped by the desk and listened to every detail - several times - of our playoff run. Will suggested the Globe buy us trophies or throw us a party "at the 600 Club - it'd be nice to have a winner in the park for a change." That didn't happen, of course, but in a gesture typical of his generosity, Will reached into his pocket and gave the team $500, which we used to get personalized shirts and bags to commemorate our win. Also typical of Will, he wanted it all kept on the QT. That was his style. Every time I pull on that shirt or pack that bag, I'll think of Will and his friendship. I miss Will now, but when the softball season comes around, I know the loss will hit home even more.
JIM McBRIDE, sports copy editor

From the moment we met, more than 40 years ago as copy boys, covering a schoolboy track meet at some since-vanished armory, he for the Globe, I for the old Herald, I was impressed by Will's knowledge of the town, and obvious desire to be a hard-nosed, deep-digging reporter - which he became. As time went on I would realize that nobody in sports was better informed, or had a greater understanding of the financial side. He was always a guy ahead, straightforward, never pulling his punches - even literally, with a Patriot who got out of line. Most of us, who've wanted to do that at one time or another, envied Will's guts in flattening his antagonist. What an irreplaceable loss to our province.
BUD COLLINS, sports correspondent

I was one of the dozens of co-ops that Will McDonough took the time to help out. That relationship extended beyond my time on Morrissey Boulevard. Upon leaving the Globe, I eventually wound up in Bristol, Conn. at ESPN.com. At the time, ESPN owned the rights to NFL.com, and I was an assistant editor. One of our reporters was doing a story on the AFL-NFL merger, and enlisted my help. I knew just the person to talk to. I saw Willie at a Patriots preseason game. With all of the people he knew, I was convinced he wouldn’t remember a co-op from five years earlier, and I was more than a little nervous as I approached him. It wasn’t one of my finer moments.

"Uh, Will, I don’t know if you remember me but,"

"I remember you, kid," Will said, cutting short was going to be the most painful introduction ever. Will then proceeded to give me "the scoop" on the merger. It was unbelievable. He taught me so much in such a short time.

A few months later, Will was hosting an event in Faneuil Hall for ESPN Classic. I was just there as a fan with a few of my friends. As Will was introduced, he gave a quick wave to the cheering crowd. Somehow, he picked me out of the crowd, pointed, and gave me a thumbs up. My friends were stunned, I tried to play it cool, but I don’t think it worked. I couldn’t stop smiling, and it felt great. Will had a way of making people feel good.
ANDREW MAHONEY, former sports co-op

In 1979, my first year at the Globe, I was working the copy desk late on an autumn Sunday afternoon when the Patriots demolished the New York Jets at what was then Schaefer Stadium.

My colleagues and I discovered with riveting interest a small item on the Associated Press news wire that indicated Patriots cornerback Raymond Clayborn had taken umbrage at the media congestion around his locker and had become involved in an altercation with Globe sportswriter Will McDonough. The details were sketchy, so we all assumed that this was another case of a superbly conditioned athlete wreaking physical havoc on a poor, defenseless reporter.

Later that afternoon, Willie came strolling into the office with his fellow Globe pro football writer, the late Walter Haynes. He came up to the copy desk, and it looked as if he had one eye. His right eye was a canvas of red, where Clayborn obviously had poked him. Very casually he asked, "Did you guys get my story all right?"

"Yeah, Willie," I said. "But are you all right?" Willie looked at me as if he couldn't believe anyone would ask such an absurd question.

"I'm fine," he said emphatically. "I'm from Southie." "Yeah," cackled Haynes, "and you should see Clayborn." The incident, in which Willie decked Clayborn after the defensive back had pushed him and scratched his eye, had made the veteran Globe writer a national cause celebre, but he mentioned nothing about the incident, refusing to gloat.

Popular legend has it that in the dominos that followed Willie's punch, Patriots owner Billy Sullivan had been knocked head over heels into a laundry bin. Willie was often at odds with the Sullivan family, and there is nothing that would have given him greater satisfaction than to have claimed Billy's hide as a trophy. But last year, when Willie was helping me with a retrospective I was writing on the final year of what was now called Foxboro Stadium, I asked him about the incident.

He recalled it in a monotone and concluded, "You know, a lot of people said that Billy Sullivan got knocked into a laundry bin that day, but I didn't see it, so I can't say that it happened."

Vintage Willie. No embellishment. No self-glorification. Just the facts. Which were plenty good enough.
BOB DUFFY, sportswriter


SEARCH GLOBE ARCHIVES
   
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months