Remembering Jesse Outlar, a giant of Atlanta sportswriting

Long before ESPN, there was a sportswriters' roundtable. (AJC file photo)

Long before there was ESPN, Atlanta had its own sportswriters' roundtable. (AJC file photo)

Loran Smith told the story: Jesse Outlar had been shot while being robbed outside Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium after a Falcons game in 1973, and the police wanted him to identify the gunman. He viewed the lineup and chose the wrong guy, prompting Smith to say, “Having read your picks on football games, I’m not surprised you couldn’t pick out the man who shot you.”

This made us laugh, even as we were standing by a grave in Peachtree City last week. And in that one tiny anecdote lay a road map to a life of 87 years: That Jesse Outlar was a writer whom folks made it a point to read; that he once took a bullet on assignment for this newspaper, where he worked for 41 years, and that he was a man who could take a bit of teasing. (Indeed, he incorporated Smith’s line and used it in his speeches.)

Jesse Outlar died at his Peachtree City home on April 10, the Sunday of the Masters. A couple of days earlier, I’d spoken to colleagues of my first Masters experience — it was in 1985 — and how we AJC staffers would know when Jesse had finished writing. He’d turn to the late Tom McCollister and say, “Tommy, is it the gray wire [of our infernal TRS-80 word processors] that goes into the phone, or is it the brown wire?”

And T-Mac would say: “It’s the gray wire, Jesse.”

I worked with Jesse for four years, and he treated me well. I always appreciated that. A big-timer — and he’d been a big man in Atlanta for a long, long time — might have dismissed me as some goober from Kentucky. I spent those years watching how the big-timers did it. I studied Jesse and Furman Bisher, the twin peaks of Atlanta sportswriting, and Dave Kindred, who’d just joined the AJC but whom I’d read every day growing up. (He’d worked at the Louisville Courier-Journal.)

There was no better place for a goober to learn. Kindred was my hero and Furman was the institution and Jesse … well, he was the courtly gentleman you wouldn’t think could have an unkind word for anyone — until you read his latest rip of Rankin Smith, then the Falcons’ owner. I’ve committed parts of them to memory.

If you were of a certain age and you followed sports in these parts, you grew up reading Jesse Outlar. He was the morning man, the Constitution columnist, the counterpoint to Furman in the afternoon Journal. When he was introduced as Georgia’s athletic director, Greg McGarity recalled his sworn mission as a student assistant in the Sanford Stadium press box: “To run stats for Jesse Outlar and Furman Bisher.”

Jesse covered everything. Long before the Braves arrived, he served as official scorer for the Crackers. He loved the Kentucky Derby, and his pre-race column — what the horses would tell us, if only they would consent to be interviewed — became a staple. His line regarding the length of the pro basketball season is an all-timer: “If the NBA was in charge of World War II, Japan and Germany would still be in the running.”

Jesse Outlar: May 6, 1923-April 9, 2011

Jesse Outlar: May 6, 1923-April 10, 2011

But it would be fair to say that Jesse had a special feeling for college football, and for his alma mater. He graduated from Georgia, and his son Barry lettered at end for Vince Dooley in the ’70s. (”Barry could really run,” Dooley told me last weekend.) Jesse didn’t mind when the Bulldogs won, and he wasn’t crazy about them losing. And on every autumn Saturday morning, he’d pick that week’s games in the Constitution. It was that column to which Loran Smith, long part of Georgia’s radio broadcasts and one of Jesse’s closest friends, referred in his eulogy.

Jesse retired from the AJC in 1988, and from writing as well. I saw him only twice, both times in passing, after his retirement party. He lived quietly in Peachtree City with his wife Johanna, who’d become known to Constitution readers as “The Icelandic Football Princess.” In recent years his daughter gave him a computer and suggested he could create his own blog, and his response was, “Nobody cares what a old man has to say.”

In that, the famous writer was surely wrong. A lot of folks would have loved to read Jesse Outlar on anything anytime. Smith’s jibe notwithstanding, Jesse got it right most of the time.

I sat next to him at the first Georgia game I covered for this paper: Southern Miss in Athens, Sept. 8, 1984. The visitors led at halftime, prompting this goober to start babbling about a what massive upset it would be.

“Oh,” Jesse said, “I expect Georgia will win.”

Final score: Georgia 26, Southern Miss 19. And afterward Jesse Outlar wrote about it, plugged the gray wire into the phone and headed out for the next ballgame. I can’t say I knew him well, but I’m proud to say I knew him.

By Mark Bradley

70 comments Add your comment

Bradleyisalwayswrong

April 19th, 2011
2:37 pm

Since I always note how pedantic you are as a writer, I must admit I am baffled by two things: one is this is a good column and, two, none of your faithful followers has commented. What happened?

Berzerk8dawg

April 19th, 2011
2:40 pm

Great Article Mark. and 2nd!

PTC DAWG

April 19th, 2011
2:41 pm

Thanks for the memories…one of the good ones is gone.

Wink

April 19th, 2011
2:45 pm

reebok

April 19th, 2011
2:45 pm

Jesse Outlar and Furman Bisher were my gateway drugs to reading the newspaper. Outlar was brilliant, and I wish we had more like him.

Dooner

April 19th, 2011
2:53 pm

Just by reading his columns over the years, you could tell Jesse was really a nice guy. We are loosing all the good people.

GeorgiaDuck

April 19th, 2011
2:54 pm

Thank you so much for a truly great article on Jesse. I grew up reading the Constitution. My grandmother worked part-time for them in the ’30s and ’40s. Jesse was such a gentleman and an outstanding writer. I knew he retired but had lost track of him. He was a real giant of Atlanta sports journalism.

Gordon

April 19th, 2011
3:14 pm

Nice article. Someday, many years from now, someone will write something nice about you as well, Mark.

bugs

April 19th, 2011
3:14 pm

How about a little info on Edwin Pope.

81Dog

April 19th, 2011
3:19 pm

you and I are the same age, Mark. I grew up reading the Constitution and Mr. Outlar’s column, and enjoyed his writing very much. Never cared much for Furman Bisher (of Saturday Evening Post fame), who seemed like he was much too chummy with Bobby Dodd to be objective. Jesse Outlar was always a gentleman in print, and he frequently noted his connections to UGA, lest anyone think he was covering them up. I always admired that about him. He was a big city daily columnist in an era when that was a huge deal; no ESPN, no internet, just the daily paper. I wonder what he thought about the internet era.

DOUBLE G

April 19th, 2011
3:22 pm

Every morning. Every evening. After school, I’d read the leftover sports pages that Daddy left in the bathroom (after the wallpaper uncurled). At night, I’d grab the sports after Daddy read it after dinner. Outlar on the front page. Bisher on the front page.

Every morning. Every evening. Those two would deliver. Day after day. Thanks to your prompting, I remember enjoying Outlar’s interview with the horses. Got me interested in the Derby. Man, the commentary that a young boy could read, and start to understand, would make him feel as if he was beginning to grow up, and at least put him on a level with a brilliant father (through the son’s eyes), and be able to converse on the same level. On sports.

Ah, we grow older now. My dad enjoyed both papers, as did I. And now you’re the columnist that kids are reading. Comparing notes with their fathers, putting the father-son connection on the same level.

Keep up the good work.

Mark Bradley

April 19th, 2011
3:23 pm

Edwin Pope became the big-time columnist at the Miami Herald, where he still works.

GTT

April 19th, 2011
3:30 pm

Outlar, Bisher and Kindred. Man, what talent. Thanks for the column, Mark. Jesse would’ve liked it.

Larry

April 19th, 2011
3:33 pm

Mark,

Great story…and I’m am caught completely surprised by this!

This should have been on the front page of the AJC…did I somehow miss this?

I grew up reading Jesse, Furman and of course, Lewis Grizzard. Sad day for me. And you’re absolutely right, I would have loved to read a Jesse Outlar blog to get his take and perspective of today’s sports. Darn!

Thanks for paying your respects!

Larry

juvenal

April 19th, 2011
3:37 pm

Jesse & Furman GIANTS..give the current staff a lot to live up to……never thought either was biased…..

sogadog

April 19th, 2011
3:49 pm

Mr. Bradley, you may not realize it but you and Mr. Schultz are becoming today’s Bisher and Outlar. (One difference is we readers can write back instantly.)

Old Dawg

April 19th, 2011
4:08 pm

The only one who could have written a better eulogy column was Lewis Grizzard. That’s quite an accomplishment for a Kentucky goober.

Delbert D.

April 19th, 2011
4:11 pm

Many fond memories reading Mr. Outlar’s columns in the Sunday paper during football season.

defacto

April 19th, 2011
4:14 pm

Mark,

Just as many others here, I grew up reading Outlar and Bisher. Both provided hours of enjoyment to a young kid who couldn’t get enough sports news and read the 2 papers from cover to cover. Their inside perspective, most often subtle ‘homerism’, passion and loyalty for the city they loved helped to shape the fledgling major-league city of Atlanta.

In your own way, you’ve become similarly regarded and will one day be remembered as one of the best to work for the AJC. Thanks for the tribute. Keep up the great work.

Larry Purdom

April 19th, 2011
4:19 pm

Jesse was a south Georgia boy, and we took pride in that. Years ago, and I do mean years ago, he worked for a spell as Sports Editor of the Waycross Journal-Herald. One day Jim Pinson came to Waycross from the Atlanta Constitution. Yes, in those days the road still ran both ways. Pinson would forever tell the tale of how Bobby Dodd found a story for him one day when he was assigned to “Go out to The Flats and find a story.” He tells that Coach Dodd found him a player down on his luck and Pinson turned it into a story.
Jesse Outlar was like that. It was forever a source of pride for us in the WJH newsroom that Mr. Outlar had at one time worked in the same building. Jesse Outlar, Lewis Grizzard…precious memories, how they linger.

Due West Brave

April 19th, 2011
4:21 pm

Thanks Mark and like most of the others on this blog I grew up reading Jesse Outlar columns and enjoying them all. What has not been commented on though was the Sunday Show where all the AJC sports writers that covered College Football had their Round Robin discussion of the games they had covered. There were not a lot of film highlights and even though I had devoured the AJC College Football pages earlier in the day, I watched this show just to make sure I had not missed anything. My favorite memory was the Sunday after UGA had beaten Bama on the famous “flea flicker”, Harry Mehre was commenting on the game and that play. Today, most people forget that the Touchdown got the score to 17-16 and Coach Dooley went for “2″ which UGA made to win the game 18-17. And as Harry said, “Coach Dooley is a young coach rather than the tie. Coach Mehre would have gone for the tie.” Jesse and Furman just laughed as they enjoyed his insights. Thanks for the memories, Jesse Outlar. RIP

Due West Brave

April 19th, 2011
4:26 pm

Sorry for the omission in the comment about Coach Dooley. Harry Mehre said, “Coach Dooley is a young coach and went for the win rather than the tie. Coach Mehre would have gone for the tie.”

Beeeeg Boy

April 19th, 2011
4:31 pm

I wondered when you were going to pay tribute. He was one of the last giant oak trees!

Dirty Dawg

April 19th, 2011
4:32 pm

Will never forget that Jesse was the one Atlanta sports writer that, finally, predicted that our high school Bball team, Campbell, would upset the vaunted Sylvan team in the ‘61 state AAA (that was as far as it went back then) final. Sylvan, the defending champ and had every starter returning, was the prohibitive favorite…of course Campbell lost, but then even Loran would have guessed that.

Jesse was a class act…I’m sure there are others around these days but, sadly, few folks take the time to find out. Thanks Mark for this piece.

Mr. Dawg

April 19th, 2011
4:41 pm

I’m one of “those of a certain age”. A youngster who grew up in the seventies and a UGA student in the early 80’s. This article brings back memories. I knew the Constiution and Journal used to be two separate publications but I had nearly forgotten they were delivered alternately in the moring and afternoon. Outlar and Bisher were in the paper everyday. They were simply our local sports reporters and as a kid I took that for granted. But looking back now it was definitely a different time. News was the news and the subjective tabloid style of reporting that drives what’s left of periodical sales was left to the National Enquirer and the like. Jesse is missed.

Lifetime Atlantan

April 19th, 2011
4:55 pm

As a young boy, The Sunday paper couldn’t come early enough for me see what Outlar, Bisher, Mehre, and Minter had to say about the Saturday games, and then into college it was the Monday paper and the Falcons.

Those were the wonderful days, before the proliferation of television, when what was written on the page bought forth wonderful imaginings about the things that had occurred on the field and Jesse was one of the best at stirring those imaginings. I can only guess at the wonderful time he, and Harry and Jim are having.

"Chef" Tim Dix

April 19th, 2011
5:12 pm

Well done Mark. As the son a of a three-decade plus newspaperman, I respect your admiration for an icon.

He was a daily requirement with breakfast just like a cup of coffee.

Sonny Clusters

April 19th, 2011
5:25 pm

Mark, we was thinking how good you did on this post. Outlar and Bisher were stars at the AJC. Not everybody remembers Dave Kindred, the ink-stained one, but we do and it was always a treat to read his work. We have a little ink in our blood, too. Remember, we wasn’t always second shift.

Mark Bradley

April 19th, 2011
5:28 pm

Thanks for the kind words, folks. Thanks even more for remembering Mr. Outlar.

Worm

April 19th, 2011
5:38 pm

That sportswriter’s roundtable was my favorite Sunday show when I was a kid…Jesse, furman,Jim Minter, Harry Mehre..On channel 2 at 12:30-Never missed one..RIP Jesse..Last time I saw him was in A Peachtree City watering hole.

Bill

April 19th, 2011
5:45 pm

I’m surprised that most of us are just hearing about this nine days after the fact. Shame on AJC for not giving it the news coverage it deserved. Thanks, Mark, for a great tribute. I agree with an earlier comment, that in a different day and in a different way, Bradley and Shultz now carry the banner (and banter) quite well. One more thing: Bradleyisalwayswrong, crawl back in your hole if you haven’t already.

Mark Bradley

April 19th, 2011
5:49 pm

We ran an obituary last week. Here’s the link.

Transplanted to Georgia in the 1960s

April 19th, 2011
5:56 pm

Ah, the memories of having the morning Constitution and the afternoon Journal! Jesse Outlar and Furman Bisher were to sports what Ralph McGill was to editorials. Thanks for this eloquent memory, Mark. And I concur that you and Schultz are well on your way to becoming the modern equivalents of those two giants of sportswriting.

Barry

April 19th, 2011
5:57 pm

In the days before there was such a thing as the Internet and espn, one of my favorite memories as a kid was reading mr. Outlar’s predictions in the Saturday morning paper throughout college football season. As an aside, I still have several “I beat bisher” bumper stickers from a contest he ran every week of football season. Jesse and Furman are true icons.

Ed Pilcher

April 19th, 2011
6:07 pm

Outlar was the best, back in the day. Bisher was a hack up until the time he was forced to retire. Bisher had a bad habit of reporting things before he had the facts. Example…..The alleged Wally Butts / Bear Bryant game-fixing scandal. Anybody else would have been fired. Oh, and Bear Bryant wouldn’t even speak to him or allow him to come to any Alabama functions after that. However, my all-time favorite…..when Bisher seemed to be about 100 years old, and was obviously a senile old man at the time he wrote the article…..was when he proclaimed Paul Johnson to be the greatest college football coach of all time. I spit beer all over my computer monitor laughing at THAT literary gem. Of course, anything GT ever did was the all time greatest to Bisher….which proves that he was, indeed, a senile old man by the time he was forced to retire.

dawg4u

April 19th, 2011
6:11 pm

Enter your comments here

doc

April 19th, 2011
6:13 pm

thanks mark. i loved growing up here in atlanta as a sports freak with the many writers that passed through here. he and furman were institutions though. i was surprised so little was said about him in remembrance. thanks for setting the record straight. a simple obituary is not enough for someone who meant so much to the written word in atlanta especially the morning edition of the paper that covered dixie like the dew. i was surprised so little had been said to now. again thanks for the acknowledgement and it was said so well. i imagine furman might have uttered selah at his passing.

dawg4u

April 19th, 2011
6:20 pm

Fine column Mark. I grew up reading Jesse Outlar in the AC and really enjoyed reading your remembrance of him. I used to get up early on Sunday mornings just so I could beat my father and brothers to the sports section and read Outlar, Bisher, Minter and Mehre. Jesse was one of my favorite writers. I remember he used to use the phrase “wearing the goat’s cloak”, to whoever was responsible for losing a game. Those Kentucky Derby columns were priceless. RIP Jesse!

Jack G.

April 19th, 2011
6:29 pm

Atlanta has a history of great sports writers. Ralph McGill, Ed Danforth, Jesse Outlar, Furman Bisher, Jim Minter, Edwin Pope and now Bradley and Schultz.

May the legacy go on forever.

UGASlobberknocker

April 19th, 2011
6:33 pm

IMO Outler didnt have the prose Bisher did, but he would push the envelope a little more. When I was a kid, we used to get the morning paper , the Constitution, while the neighbors would get the afternoon paper, the Journal. The Journal was the best because it was the one that would have all of the prior night’s scores. Back then, the score for any event ending after 9 pm had no shot of making the Constitution deadline. Want Braves or any scores from the West coast ? forget it,not in the morning paper..you heard the score on the radio or waited for the Journal. only.)

I used to read only Outler in the morning, then wait for the Journal for all the rest of the sports.

Jaxjacket

April 19th, 2011
6:39 pm

Mark, I grew up reading the Atlanta papers, and Jesse and Furman were about as good as it gets. They used to be on a Sunday afternoon TV show with a gent named Harry Mehre (or something close to that) to discuss the Saturday college football games, and that was a real treat also. The Atlanta papers have had some wonderful sports writers over the years, and to agree with Jack G above, I think you are a likely candidate to continue that legacy. Nice tribute to Mr Outlar, thanks.

Mark Bradley

April 19th, 2011
6:54 pm

I’ve been very lucky to work with a lot of fine people here.

Paul

April 19th, 2011
7:13 pm

His wife was the librarian at Briar Vista Elementary School in the late sixties and early seventies. I remember both as very nice and caring people. That I even remember their kindness at age 53, tells you what an impression both made on me. I read Mr. Outlar’s AJC writings every day and they were my introduction to the love of all sports. Thanks for the articles about him Mark!

Jerry Mac Manus.

April 19th, 2011
7:16 pm

God! I wish I had not read this! The best years of my life were in Atlanta after the Army in 1964. The newspaper was my anchor, and it’s writers. I have shed a tear as I read this, good tears, good memories. I have been doing Govt work in SE Asia for years now, but need my oil level to be topped up at the Varsity. My email is macmag2@yahoo.com. This is just in case an old friend happens upon my email. Jerry.

BULLDAWG BILL

April 19th, 2011
7:21 pm

Did he really change his name from “Outlaw” to “Outlar”? My dad said he did.

lanier

April 19th, 2011
7:37 pm

I arrived in Atl in 71 and Outlar and Bish were the sports section. Dont know why guys like that arent available to enjoy anymore. The current writers seem to want to be cute or funny now instead of telling the story in a quick read which is the purpose of a sports column. Some of these guys want to pen a funny novel.
I now live in Macon and here the sports guys are right to the point. Guys I sure miss Bish and Jessee

Chuck Simon's Barber Shop

April 19th, 2011
7:50 pm

This article brings back fond memories of my wonderful friend Durwood “Mac” McAllister, who, along with Mr. Outlar, and Mr. Bisher represented an era of reporting and commentary in a first class way, even when not in agreement able to be cordial. I believe Mac was most proud of writing in an informed manner, considering a fair shake to all parties.
Thanks Mark

George

April 19th, 2011
7:55 pm

Those were the days. Even those in the broadcast booth could speak decent English. Thanks for the nice article about a great sportswriter.

mcdaviddawg

April 19th, 2011
7:56 pm

Furman and Outler, they just don’t make them like that anymore. A different era and they were the best.

DP

April 19th, 2011
8:49 pm

Mark,

I’ve been reading you ever since you started at AJC…and have enjoyed it as much as my father enjoyed Outlar and company.