Friday, January 10, 2003 Updated: May 31, 2:16 PM ET
By Bill Simmons Page 2 columnist
Sometimes you read something so shocking, you feel the breath leave your body. That's how I felt this morning when I read that Will McDonough was dead. I grew up reading him in the Boston Globe, first as a Patriots beat reporter, then as a general columnist who always seemed to have inside info on everyone. Say what you want about the guy, but he mattered. Everyone was afraid of him. Everyone read him. Everyone knew him. He was a combination Max Mercy and Vito Corleone.
When I was growing up in Boston in the '70s, the Globe had Peter Gammons covering baseball, Bob Ryan covering the Celtics, McDonough on the Pats, Bud Collins on tennis, and Leigh Montville and the great Ray Fitzgerald as general columnists. As my friend Jeff said recently while complaining about the recent decline of the Globe's sports section, "Back then, reading that paper was like watching the '27 Yankees." People in Boston discuss those days like they would describe a great sports team in its prime. That's what it felt like to be there. And to be honest, reading those people every day was the main reason I wanted to write about sports for a living. So it's the end of an era today, at least for me.
Frequently imitated, never duplicated -- the incomparable Will McDonough.
I didn't always agree with Willie; sometimes I thought he went too far with his criticisms of athletes, to the point that it seemed like he had an agenda with people like Mo Vaughn and Roger Clemens. My Dad and I always had a joke that McDonough kept a calendar over his desk and said to himself, "You know what, I haven't ripped Mo in four weeks ... I think it's time again." One time, I even parodied Will's column on my old website, creating a grizzled old columnist named Will McDoogle who ripped everyone and everything. When I talked to Will's son Sean, the Red Sox broadcaster, about the column, Sean was surprisingly diplomatic: "My Dad always said, if you can dish it out, you should be willing to take it." Great advice for this business.
Will was an old-school guy, one of the "last-of-a-dying-breed" reporters. Even in his mid-60s, his postgame football columns were better than anyone else's stuff. Seriously. He always cut right to the chase. Here's what happened, here's why it happened, and here's what the most important people said about it. No extraneous BS. Any aspiring writer could have learned from him, even over the last few years.
A hard-nosed Irishman who looked like a henchman from a Jimmy Cagney movie, he made his legend in the late-'70s, when he punched out Pats cornerback Ray Clayborn for trying to intimidate him (one of my favorite media stories). During the last two decades, McDonough's Saturday notes column was the only must-read in Boston, a treasure chest of information, rumors and unsolicited potshots.
One last thing: Over the last 15 months, I got to know Will's son Sean pretty well, mainly from serving as an occasional co-host for Sean's local radio show in Boston. I mention this only because the affection Sean held for his father was touching; it reminded me of the way I feel about my own Dad. Once you become an adult, you rarely see fathers and sons who enjoy spending time together, so when you run across two people like that, you remember them.
It's a sad day.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, as well as one of the writers for Jimmy Kimmel Live, premiering Super Bowl Sunday on ABC.