I promise after Monday to get off my sports kick, but this takes the cake. New Orleans’ Peter Finney will receive one of the highest awards a sportswriter can ever get, this weekend at the Hall of Fame. Never heard of Finney? That’s because he is so loyal to his hometown. He coulda been like George Plimpton or at least Rick Reilly or Curry Kirkpatrick, a household name among sports fans, probably for decades. Word is that Sports lllustrated three times tried to hire him, but he TURNED THEM DOWN. He loved New Orleans. He didn’t want national fame. He just wanted to cover sports for his hometown readers. This guy has been a professional sportswriter for 65 years (!!!), Shirley Povich-like, and he is still going strong. He is a master craftsman, with a spare and incisive prose, always incredibly fair-minded and even-tempered, never a suck-up but also never a cheap shot artist, not afraid to criticize but always constructive, clearly a rooter for the hometown but never a naked partisan for his team. He is known for writing amazing opinion copy on incredibly tight deadlines, all perfectly “clean,” all capturing the absolute essence of whatever event he was covering. And he is a nice, nice man. Shy, but warm. I am one of the many many former Times-Picayune or States-Item sportswriters who revere him, not for any one particular kindness but just for day after day of quiet encouragement while we worked there. The first time I met him, was in college, having guest-hosted a big New Orleans radio sports talk show (it was a promotion to have a guest host once a week for a month), and the radio folks took me to dinner afterwards. I had no idea that Finney would meet us there. He already was a legend — this was in 1983 — whom I had red and watched on local TV sports shows since I was old enough to know what sports was. And suddenly there he was, joining us for dinner. And what I remember was that he just joined our table, introduced himself — and then for the rest of the night treated me like I just naturally belonged there, part of the professional sports-journalist crowd, rather than in any way as an interloper or a punk kid who had to be humored.
I could go on. But you get the picture. Supremely talented sportswriter, nice man, loyal New Orleanian. And one more thing: It was almost certainly due to years of lobbying by Finney, who is one of the Hall of Fame voters, that my favorite linebacker Rickey Jackson finally got elected to the Hall (induction this weekend). Rickey had the numbers — frankly, in many ways better numbers even than Lawrence Taylor. He just didn’t have the national spotlight. But he had Pete Finney on his side, and it was enough.
Finney still writes his columns regularly for the TP. So here’s a tribute to a good man, for Pete’s sake.
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