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Loss of a legend

Page 4 of 6 -- ''Not after you're hammering my pictures off the wall,'' the man snapped. ''Tell him I'm voting for Bulger.''

Ex cathedra, indeed.

Lofty reputation

McDonough was unabashedly controversial, but the journalistic establishment didn't exactly disown him. In 1993, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of journalism degree from Northeastern. By then, Dr. McDonough had been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and, among an array of exclusives, he had revealed that Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker would renounce his senior year of eligibility at Georgia and turn pro with the US Football League; that 1984 Los Angeles Olympic chief Peter Ueberroth would become baseball commissioner; and that former Ohio State quarterback Art Schlichter's gambling activities were under FBI investigation.

It didn't hurt that McDonough aggressively advertised himself as nobody's patsy. His signature moment in that regard was the infamous 1979 altercation in which churlish Patriots cornerback Raymond Clayborn poked McDonough in the eye and scratched his face for allegedly intruding upon his locker space - then got decked by the two-fisted reporter.

''After that, he became a folk hero.'' says Vince Doria, the former Globe sports editor who is now vice president/ director of news at ESPN.

''You know how when you're a kid, you go around saying, `My dad can beat up your dad'?'' says Sean McDonough. ''Well, after that, I went to school saying, `Never mind beating up your dad. My dad can beat up an NFL player.'''

Eventually, McDonough acquired a lofty nickname under singular circumstances, recalls O'Donnell.

Making an ill-fated attempt to buy the Patriots, O'Donnell was in Palm Springs, Calif., where McDonough was covering the 1989 NFL owners' meetings.

''Six thousand writers running from one room to another, from one press conference to another,'' O'Donnell recounts.

Except one. Immune to the frenzy was McDonough, who was ''more worried about his tennis and golf games,'' says O'Donnell. ''I said, `What the [expletive]? Everyone else is working.'''

Ah, but O'Donnell should have learned years before, appearances can be deceiving with McDonough.

On the third day of the meetings, when commissioner Pete Rozelle was scheduled to issue his annual State of the NFL address, McDonough suggested that he and O'Donnell take in an exhibition baseball game. But what about Rozelle's report? wondered O'Donnell.

''Don't worry,'' McDonough told him. ''I can do this in my sleep.''

So off they went to the ballpark, where they were enjoying sunshine and hot dogs in the fourth inning when a fan sitting beside them put down his transistor radio in shock and said, ''Holy [expletive]. Rozelle just announced his retirement.''

Choking on his hot dog, O'Donnell figured McDonough was cooked.

''The biggest story of the century,'' he told McDonough, ''and you've missed it.''   Continued...

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