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Remembering Furman Bisher

[The late Furman Bisher always wrote a column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thanksgiving Day, citing things he was thankful for. Today we honor him with a repost from September 2015.]

When The Atlanta Journal-Constitution picked 50 people who have made the largest contributions to the city’s pro sports teams, a big name was overlooked.

That would be Furman Bisher, a fixture in the AJC and its predecessors for almost six decades.

A native of North Carolina, Furman joined The Constitution in 1950. Never one to let underlings eat up travel budget, he became Atlanta’s ambassador to big events and freelanced for national publications.

When politicians decided their city should be minor league no longer, Bisher played matchmaker. A deal to relocate the Kansas City A’s fell through. The Braves agreed to leave Milwaukee and play in Atlanta in 1965, but the move was delayed a year by the courts.

The Falcons also arrived in 1966. Furman backed Lindsey Hopkins to be the owner, but got behind Rankin Smith when the NFL awarded him the expansion team.

Both teams played at the new Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Furman was on the Stadium Authority board and unsuccessfully pushed for a MARTA stop.

At The Journal (he switched to the larger afternoon paper in 1955), Furman churned out columns, won national awards and ran the sports department in a non-endearing manner. He once called a reporter into his office and bellowed, “I’ve got an assignment for you. Find another job.”

Furman was eased out of management as the writing awards and Hall of Fame accolades piled up. He worked at the AJC well into old age, still popular with readers. (Think of him as a talent who could not be imitated, like radio’s Paul Harvey.)

Furman retired in 2009, unappreciated by bosses who cared more about agendas than readers. He passed away in 2012 at the age of 93.

For insiders: Selah.

For everybody else: R.I.P.

R.I.P. Darrell Simmons

[Darrell Simmons, a longtime friend of and contributor to this blog, passed away Oct. 26 at the age of 82. To remember him, we rerun this account from June 7 of Darrell’s time long ago covering Muhammad Ali, who also died this year.]

The news was anticipated but saddening nonetheless. It’s always that way when an American icon passes away. This time it was Muhammad Ali, one of the most controversial figures of the 1960s. (That alone speaks volumes about his stature.)

Former Atlanta Journal sportswriter Darrell Simmons, a longtime friend and contributor to this blog, covered a pivotal moment in Ali’s career, his “comeback” fight against Jerry Quarry at City Auditorium in Atlanta in October 1970. Darrell’s got a million stories, and some of his best are about Ali, whose wit could be as quick as his punches.

Darrell: Did your father (Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr.) ever do any boxing?

Ali: I think he might have boxed some oranges down in Florida.

Darrell outworked his competitors, providing great coverage leading up to the fight, Ali’s first in three and a half years following a conviction for evading the draft. He remained free on appeal and pressed his anti-war case on college campuses and in TV interviews, notably with ABC’s Howard Cosell. No U.S. sanctioning body would grant a boxing license; his passport was taken by the feds.

(Another Darrell story: Ali once shooed Cosell so he could continue an interview with “my man from Atlanta.” Cosell was miffed and stomped away. Of course, Howard isn’t around to comment now. I expect at least an e-mail from Hell.)

The Ring, bible of boxing, describes the political climate of the times: “When public sentiment began to turn against the war, so did the invisible walls that imprisoned Ali’s boxing career. A growing segment of the population recognized Ali’s vigilance and in many quarters he was transformed from a pariah to a towering political hero. The idea of a ring return became exponentially more attractive, though several attempts to secure a license resulted in dead ends.”

Up stepped Atlanta’s black community. In August 1970, it was announced that Ali, nearing his 28th birthday, would fight Quarry, a title contender known for heavy punching.

The bout itself was an anticlimax. From the middle of the first round, it was obvious that the slower Quarry was no match for the once and future champ who could “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” Using his 10-inch advantage in reach, Ali landed enough left jabs to open a nasty cut above Quarry’s left eye. Three rounds in, the referee declared a TKO. Ali was humble in the post-fight interview in the ring, although he made it clear he had unfinished business with Joe Frazier.

The pay-per-view telecast of the Quarry fight is on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtpzNgaGT-c. He never identifies himself, but the Los Angeles sportscaster calling the bout and conducting the interviews is Tom Harmon, a college football hero who married an actress. The last of their three children carried on in showbiz. His name is Mark. You’ve probably seen him on TV running an NCIS team.

Nervous in Bulldog-land

[This originally ran Jan. 22. Keep in mind that these scanarios play out over the course of years. But as of today Miami is undefeated and Georgia is 3-2, out of the Top 25.]

When you watch an exciting college football game like the Alabama-Clemson battle for the national championship, it’s hard for even the most cynical to not listen to better angels.

Those angels whisper that the players on the field are getting taken care of with scholarships, some have NFL potential and all will benefit somehow in their eventual endeavors. Those angels gloss over the BS and talk little about coaches … for a reason.

The Southeastern Conference is the best football conference, and coaching there pays a CEO-type salary. Thus, CEO-type dynamics are in play.

The people running the University of Georgia athletics department have run into a principle often seen in the world of public companies: They had damned well better be right.

UGA coach Mark Richt was shoved aside after the regular season because school officials were certain of procuring Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator at Alabama since 2008. That tenure includes four national championships, the latest secured Jan. 11 with a victory over Clemson.

Cutting a head coach loose is tough even under ideal circumstances. That would be when he gets no offers, slinks off to a TV desk for two years and eventually makes a comeback in the West.

Mr. Richt secured a new job in a couple of days, at the University of Miami, a school capable of producing a national champion. He and Mr. Smart, who has never held a head coaching job, will recruit on the same turf.

The pressure is not on Mr. Smart, who would still be a hot commodity as a defensive coordinator if the Bulldogs don’t do well. The pressure is on his bosses, and they know it. Something out of their control – how Miami fares in the next three years – will affect their careers. That’s how the business works.

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