George Solomon is the director of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland. He was The Post‚??s assistant managing editor for sports from 1975 to 2003.
The newspaper clipping would come in a brown office envelope, my name clearly written by the assistant to the executive editor of the Washington Post.
Ben Bradlee was not an Internet guy. He never figured out computers or had much appreciation for them, although he did occasionally read an e-mail. He was a newspaper guy; no bookmarks for him.
Instead, scattered on his desk every day in his glass-enclosed fifth-floor office were copies of the Post and the competition: The Washington Star (later, Washington Times), New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Wall Street Journal, USA Today (McPaper, he called it) and sometimes his hometown Boston Globe.
The clip that would come your way was a good story, or news break, from one of those competing newspapers that Bradlee,¬†who died Oct. 21, believed should have appeared first in the Post. On the torn-out clipping, Bradlee would scrawl in red: ‚??What‚??s this?‚?Ě
You did not want to receive such a clip, with the ‚??what‚??s this?‚?Ě question, often.
I was Bradlee‚??s sports editor from 1975 until he left the newsroom in 1991 (although he did not truly leave the newsroom; he just moved his office up to the ninth floor or down to the cafeteria, depending on his mood of the day).
He read everything, and he knew and cared a lot about sports (he could recite the starting lineup of the Boston Bruins hockey team from the 1930s). Most important, he understood the value of the sports section.
Bradlee believed the late¬†Shirley Povich, who wrote wonderful sports columns for the Post for 75 years, kept the newspaper alive in the 1930s and 1940s. He also appreciated the sportswriters who came under my watch, as well as the current crop.
To Bradlee, a good sports scoop, or well-written sports column, feature or investigative report, was as important as one of Bob Woodward‚??s bombshells. At least he made you feel that way. If you were keeping score, Bradlee spent more time in the sports department than anywhere else. (Who kept score? We did.)
He was partial to the Redskins, mainly because his closest friend, the late attorney¬†Edward Bennett Williams, was the team‚??s managing partner through most of the 1960s and 1970s. But the partiality stopped at the front door of the building on 15th Street, especially when the team‚??s successful head coach, the¬†late George Allen, asked Bradlee to breakfast one day.
‚??He‚??s [Allen] probably going to complain about you,‚?Ě Bradlee predicted. He was wrong. Allen asked Bradlee if, on Mondays after Redskins games, the Post would consider printing its front page in the team‚??s colors: burgundy and gold. Bradlee‚??s response: ‚??You‚??ve got to be kidding.‚?Ě
The next season (1977), Allen and Williams were not getting along when Williams, in confidence, told Bradlee at their regular lunch that he‚??d ‚??had it with his head coach.‚?Ě As everyone in town knew, the easiest way to get a story in the Post was to tell Bradlee not to put that story in the Post.
‚??Go see Williams,‚?Ě Bradlee instructed me upon returning to his office. To which Williams, in an interview, told me, ‚??My negotiations with George Allen for a new contract have concluded. There will be no further negotiations.‚?Ě
The headline in the edition of the Post that hit the streets at midnight read: ‚??Allen Fired As Redskins‚?? Coach.‚?Ě Which sent Williams and Bradlee, over libations at Bradlee‚??s house at 12:30 in the morning, into a heated debate of the semantics of the meaning of our headline.
On my end of the phone, I could hear Williams telling Bradlee: ‚??I never said he was fired; I just concluded negotiations.‚?Ě From Bradlee to Williams: ‚??If Solomon wrote that he‚??s fired, he‚??s fired.‚?Ě
The next day, the Washington Star quoted Allen calling Williams a cheapskate, truly putting an end to all further contract negotiations. Bradlee never sent me that clip.