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Loss of a legend

Page 2 of 6 -- Appearance, artifice meant nothing to Will McDonough, who died late Thursday night at the age of 67. Substance was what mattered. Those who had it, he embraced. Those who tried to snow him - and, by extension, the public - with superficiality, he scorned. For 45 years, that was his credo and his legacy.

The other stuff is impressive, to be sure. The national reputation, especially in pro football circles, as evidenced by his achievement of having covered all 36 Super Bowls. The general practitioner's shingle he hung out by chronicling every major local sports entity - the Patriots from Day One, the Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics, Boston College, you name it - before the age of specialization obliterated such all-around expertise. The high and mighty sources to whom he and he alone had access, moving as comfortably in those circles as he did in the less rarefied but equally valued world of cops and counter waitresses and longshoremen. The cash-laden trail he blazed as the first full-time print journalist to cross over into network television and radio.

Distinctions to be savored, every one. But not the essence of McDonough's career. Beneath all the grandeur was this given: Will McDonough accomplished all this while he remained - no, because he remained - unmistakably himself.

Remembering roots

In a sense, he never left St. Augustine's Parish. The tenets he absorbed while growing up on Dot Street and playing in the Old Colony projects stayed with him. So did the friends, no matter what their station in life.

Dick Carey became a multimillionaire businessman. Bill Tierney became chief justice of Boston Municipal Court. Joe Corcoran became a big-time real estate developer. Billy Sweeney, Willie's best friend, became a superintendent with Boston Gas. Billy Bulger, who grew up in the Old Harbor projects but started hanging out with the McDonough crew during adolescence, became president of the Massachusetts Senate and later the University of Massachusetts. But there were others who earned niches not quite as glorious, becoming guests of the state at various correctional institutions.

''But Willie would still go to visit them,'' says Sweeney. ''He never felt he was too good for them.''

Except on the diamond or gridiron or the sandlots or at Boston English High School, because there he was better than most of them. He was a star pitcher in baseball and quarterback in football until a college knee injury curtailed his career.

Teen exploits tend to become magnified through the haze and bravado of age. But Sean McDonough, the gifted announcer who calls Red Sox games, discovered just the opposite was true when he tried to separate the brag from the fact about his father's playing days. Sean was doing play-by-play of a college hockey game on New England Sports Network, and Bill Stewart, the legendary Boston English coach, was a goal judge.   Continued...

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