(PLEASE SEE UPDATE BELOW FROM FURMAN)
Here at the Countdown, floating in our own little disturbed sector of the blogosphere, we generally like to bounce around from sport-to-sport, athlete-to-athlete and goofball-to-Limbaugh. But we’re going to do things a little bit different this today. As you may have read in Steve Hummer’s story Sunday, Furman Bisher is retiring just short of the age of 91, because, well, I guess the wimp just couldn’t make it another three weeks. Actually, he’s not really retiring. As he told me on the phone from his escape pad in St. Simons, “I’m going to get up in the morning and think of something to write.” You’ll just have to find it on FurmanBisher.com. Great. More competition. I wasn’t going to blog about Furman. I thought Steve’s splendid piece spoke for all of us. But after several comments, emails and Tweets suggesting that I must have something against Furman since I didn’t write about him, I thought, “OK, let’s give the peeps what they want.” So I was thinking: I’ll call, we’ll chat, maybe he’ll give me a few stock tips and I’ll get a couple of items out of it. But Furman did what he always does. I said hello and he took control of the room. So the Count and I yield to the Bish today, as he count down . . .
Talking to Furman is like walking into a history book. Like Gumby. Yes, he really interviewed Ty Cobb and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. I think this was the 27th time I asked him. Furman: “People look at me like I’m in a museum or something. It’s like I’m one of those stone things, talking to you. A talking statue. They can’t quite understand it. They look at me and say, ‘You really knew him?’ It really didn’t strike me as that unusual at the time. I had known Cobb before. I’d seen him blow his stack at dinner. I had never seen Shoeless Joe before. When we spoke, he said, ‘This will be the first time I tell this story and the last.’ We got $250 apiece for that story from Sport Magazine. That was good money. It was 1949.” Never read the story? Here’s a link.
If Furman could pick one guy in Atlanta sports management to run everything, it would be Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff. On the next Atlanta team to win a championship, he said: “The most likely one, based on present time, has to be the Falcons. The other ones I think lack the maturity, the strength of leadership and the intelligence in the front office that Thomas Dimitroff has. I don’t know if I can give Arthur Blank much of the credit. I don’t know if he got lucky. I don’t know what led him to Thomas Dimitroff. But I know Dimitroff led him to this.”
Furman still has opinions. Strong opinions. It’s what made him a great columnist. He wrote with a voice. And the voice left a dent in John Schuerholz and Frank Wren. When I asked him about the Braves, he said, “They had about five good years in which they were in the middle of things. Then for some reason John Schuerholz lost his touch and when he reached for someone to take to take his place, rather than look for someone new to run the whole thing, he hired somebody exactly like him. I don’t think much of [Frank Wren], to be honest with you. You asked me for an honest answer and I gave you one.”
7. No shock: Atlanta Spirit gets dinged
If Furman stuck around another 10 years, I think I could’ve sold him on hockey. I’d like to think I just ran out of time. As it was, “I don’t see the Thrashers play and I don’t watch them on television. So I don’t have the knowledge to form an opinion. The Hawks are a little different. They impressed me, beginning with that series against the Boston Celtics. I don’t know exactly what brought that up. I don’t think the management or the coaching is that good. But they happened to come together. I know you can’t give ownership any credit. They’re still in a pissing fight with themselves.But somehow, through hook or crook or absolute luck, they’ve managed to keep their heads above water. But I don’t think there’s enough leadeership there for them to win a championship.”
You know who Furman likes? Paul Johnson. He watches Georgia Tech play and it looks like Johnson is doing everything himself, right down to pumping up the footballs. “Tech got away with one down in Florida [State]. But you’ve got to give them credit. They’re winning. Poor Bobby Bowden. I speak from experience — if you’re that old and you’re going to keep working, you better prove you’re worthy. Are you going to get it done? But here’s Bowden on one sideline and Paul Johnson on the other, and he’s doing everything. He’s walking up and down the sideline, calling all the plays, sending the plays in. He’s not Bowden, who’s relying on Mickey Andrews and Jimbo Fisher. He’s doing the whole thing himself. And that Johnson is a deceiving son of a gun. I’ve known him for a while but I don’t think I know him at all.”
5. Note to Richt: Nice guys finish last
The difference between Furman Bisher and irate anonymous Georiga fans on message boards? Furman is not anonymous. “I like Mark Richt — I just wish he was more authorative. I wish he’d stop being [so wholesome] and start being an [backside expletive] for once. Nice guys don’t win in college football.”
Furman was here when the Braves arrived in 1966. I was 7 and just starting to comprehend the names “Koufax” and “Drysdale” in Los Angeles. So I wasn’t quite aware of the Braves, or even Atlanta. Furman educated me. “The Crackers had been the greatest show in town. We didn’t know anything better. Sunday afternoon there were doubleheaders in Ponce de Leon Park. You had your plate full. People used to catch trains and ride buses to Atlanta to see Georgia Tech and the Atlanta Crackers.When the Braves came to town, we were such gullible followers. We thought paradise had arrived. That was the beginning of things.”
“The Falcons came at about the same time. Unfortunately, [owner] Rankin [Smith] was a nice man but he was [not lucid]. He had no leadership qualities about him. He just happened to have the money. He had no idea what he was doing. Dimitroff comes to town and nobody knew him. He had no fish to fry here. There was nobody he was trying to impress. He was just trying to put a football team together. But Rankin knew nothing. He had to call Pete Rozelle every time he wanted to pee.”
If I had the money, I would be a sports owner. Not a coach — too many long hours. Not a general manager — too many headaches. Bisher? He never even wanted to own a team. He laughed when I asked the question. “I just wanted to tell people how to do it. Do it my way and it would be great.”
I came to Atlanta 20 years ago. Athletes I knew said to me, “Oh, that’s Bisher’s paper.” He was 71. I got here and it seemed like everyone was talking about his impending retirement. Everybody but Furman. I told him I didn’t think I was going to make it another 41 years to tie his record. “Given the state of things, I don’t think you’ve got much of a shot,” he said. But I’ll have a few more stories to tell now. Good bye, old friend.
(UPDATE: There are readers’ comments below referencing a story Furman wrote about Wally Butts for the Saturday Evening Post. The only problem is Furman didn’t write it. Here’s a comment he just emailed me: “A few blokes wrote in snarling about “the Butts-Bryant story” that I allegedly wrote for the Saturday Evening Post. I want this cleared up, please: I did not write the story. Frank Graham Jr. wrote the story for the Post. I had nothing to do with it. Was aware of it, but Roger Kahn, then sports editor of the Post, new on the job, commissioned Graham Jr. to do the story –NOT ME. You’ll find a chapter in my last book, “Face to Face,” in which it is clearly explained in a letter from Frank. Otherwise, so many fun.)