Jack Craig; column blazed trail for sports TV critics
When Jack Craig became the first full-time newspaper critic of sports on television, he knew his beat was filled with broadcasters who might not welcome his insights and observations.
“I’m dealing with people who have enlarged egos simply because they’re on television,’’ he told Boston Magazine in 1976, nearly a decade into his 29-year run as a Globe columnist.
“These people are less able to handle criticism than others. They’re fearful that the audience is looking at them in a different light because the audience reads my column.
“I think it’s fair to say that there are a few people who loathe me.’’
With the kind of clout afforded someone who pioneers a genre, Mr. Craig drew praise and sometimes personal attacks from the mighty and the lowly. Aspiring TV sports reporters and anchors in the nascent days of their careers longed for a mention in his column, while some powerful sportscasters tried to swat away the critiques and the critic.
He never left, though, until it was time to retire in 1996. Mr. Craig, who was contemplating whether to increase his golf outings from twice to three times a week, died Friday in Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital of complications from an accidental fall at home July 6. He was 81 and had lived in the same Dedham house for more than 40 years.
“He was the trailblazer for sports TV critics,’’ said Don Skwar, a former Globe sports editor who now is senior news editor for ESPN.
“I don’t think it’s inaccurate to say he could influence public perception, and he certainly could influence someone’s career,’’ said Mike Lynch, principal sports anchor at WCVB-TV, Channel 5. “That’s pretty powerful.’’
Though his SporTView column ran in the Globe, Mr. Craig had a national reading audience in the decades before the Internet made that possible for anyone with the wherewithal to create a website. He also wrote a column for The Sporting News, a national weekly, and for a time simultaneously wrote another column for Sports Illustrated under the pen name John Carol — the first names of his two children.
At a time when sports columnists increasingly were specializing in a particular sport, Mr. Craig was a generalist by the nature of his beat.
“Arguably, you could say Jack had as much if not more influence than any of our columnists because he covered the entire spectrum of sports,’’ said Globe writer John Powers, a former colleague of Mr. Craig. “As more and more people got their news about sports from TV, Jack’s influence just increased dramatically.’’
Take Mr. Craig’s last seven days as a Globe columnist. His topics ranged from TV coverage of Doug Flutie and the Canadian Football League to Dan Henning’s resignation as Boston College’s football coach, professional tennis and golf, the Summer Olympics, and the Patriots and other NFL teams.
Newspapers can be as obsessed with statistics as athletes, so it should be noted that at 67, Mr. Craig had five bylines in his last week of work and filed nearly 4,200 words. “He went out swinging,’’ Skwar said.
Mr. Craig was born in New York City, on Staten Island, and was 2 when his family moved to Jamaica Plain, where he grew up.
Like many families, his struggled financially during the Great Depression. Mr. Craig graduated from Boston English High School and was working for a trucking dispatch company when he went into the Army, which sent him to the front lines in the Korean War. Discharged as a corporal, he returned home to find that his job was no longer available.
Taking advantage of the GI Bill, he went to Boston University’s journalism school, graduated in 1956 and, at 27, started his newspaper career at the then-Cape Cod Standard-Times.
The following year, he married Doris Cunningham, who accompanied him to theater productions on the Cape, where Mr. Craig got his first taste of being a critic, reviewing plays, rather than sports on TV.
Mr. Craig jumped to a newspaper in Malden and then to the Patriot Ledger in Quincy before the Globe hired him as a copy editor. His first day at the Globe was numerically eye-catching: 6/6/66.
Ernie Roberts, a legendary Globe sports editor, recruited Mr. Craig to write about TV sports coverage.
“The first TV sports event I ever reviewed for the Globe was an NFL playoff game on Dec. 31, 1967, for a story that appeared Jan. 2, 1968,’’ Mr. Craig wrote in his farewell column, published Dec. 1, 1996.
“How could I or anyone else watching that New Year’s Eve afternoon know that it would be the most memorable football game we would ever see on TV? It was the Ice Bowl: Packers 21, Cowboys 17. I limited myself to several paragraphs, in part because I did not know what to write beyond nitpicking broadcasters and wondering why certain things were ignored. Having more questions than answers betrayed my naiveté.’’
His uncertainty was understandable.
“Literally, he had to invent the form,’’ Powers said. “No one knew what was interesting, what was not, what was important.’’
Mr. Craig quickly found his footing, however, even though he was surprised in the early years that top network executives were so willing to get on the phone for interviews with the only critic in the country reviewing TV sports.
“He went into that role with a lot of energy,’’ said his son, John Jr. of South Berwick, Maine, a former Globe copy editor. “The role of critic suited him to a T because he was an opinionated fellow. He also could put together 600 or 700 words and make them sing. He didn’t waste sentences or words; he was very economical in the way he got his point across.’’
Globe sportswriter Kevin Paul
In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Craig leaves his daughter, Carol of West Roxbury; his sister, Alice Bunnell of Jamaica Plain; and two grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. tomorrow in St. Denis Church in Westwood. Burial will be in St. Joseph’s Cemetery in West Roxbury.
“When your name appeared in Jack’s column, you knew you had arrived,’’ Lynch said. “I remember when my name appeared for the first time I thought, ‘I am somebody because Jack recognized me.’ ’’
Mr. Craig, on the other hand, was content with keeping a much lower profile than those he covered.
“Jack was very, very low-key, a gentleman, and almost modest beyond what you would think a guy with that influence would be,’’ Powers said.
“He was covering a medium where there are very few bashful people, and yet he did not emulate them. Many columnists feel the world is waiting for their every word. Jack didn’t feel that way.’’
Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.