Monday, August 17, 2009

Ghosts of the Orange Bowl: Edwin Pope

No stadium has hosted more big football games than the Orange Bowl. And if there was a big game at the OB, chances are Edwin Pope was there. He has covered virtually every big sporting event that has happened in South Florida for the last half century. He is one of only a handful of sportswriters in history to have covered every Super Bowl. And if there's a hall of fame for sportswriting, you'll likely find his name on the honor roll.

Edwin Pope began working for the Miami Herald in 1956. His first beat was to cover the University of Florida football team and college football. Those were simple times. There were no profesional sports teams in South Florida. The University of Miami, high school sports and the New Year's Orange Bowl game were the big sporting events in town. There was no internet, sports-talk radio or cable television. Writers like Edwin Pope, Jimmy Burns and Luther Evans gave Miami sports fans all the information they needed.

Pope's history with the Orange Bowl began long before he started working for the the Miami Herald. He discovered the craft of sportswriting in his native Athens, Georgia. When he was just 11-years-old, Pope heard Ted Husing's radio broadcast of Georgia Tech's 21-7 victory over Missouri in the 1940 Orange Bowl. He took notes and kept a running account of the game. He ended up writing a story about the game which appeared the next day in the Athens Banner Herald.

"I asked if they wanted to use the running story of the Georgia Tech-Missouri game," Pope remembers. "They said no. But they asked me, 'Did you type this? Do you want a job?' They put me to work covering small sports. When I was 12 and 13, I covered high school sports. When I was 15, they made the sports editor of the paper and I was covering the University of Georgia. I was the youngest sports editor in the nation." He immediately appeared in breakfast cereal commercials in newspapers from coast to coast.

Pope graduated from the University of Georgia in 1948 while serving as the school's sports information director. He worked for United Press and the Atlanta Constitution before becoming the sports editor of the of the Atlanta Journal in 1954. That same year, Pope wrote the book "Football's Greatest Coaches". He made enough money from the book to leave Atlanta for South Florida and never looked back.

When Pope arrived in Miami, Jimmy Burns was the sports editor of the Miami Herald. Burns was the most respected local sportswriter at the time and his columns were usually the first thing every South Florida sports fan read when they picked up the morning paper. Many credit Burns for promoting the Orange Bowl game locally and helping it become a huge event. When Burns died in 1967, the torch was passed to Edwin Pope. Indeed Pope picked up where Burns left off. If you couldn't attend a football game at the Orange Bowl, Edwin Pope was your best friend. He painted pictures with his words describing the action and the personalities of the game. He relayed stories to his readers that few could experience. Many learned the game of football just by reading his articles.

Like many local writers, he could be a homer. He openly rooted for the Dolphins and the Hurricanes. But he could also be critical. Perhaps no local sports personality has been scrutinized by Pope more than former Dolphins coach Don Shula. Over the years, Pope had written hundreds of articles on Shula. The two had a love and hate relationship. But in the end there was also tremendous mutual respect. Pope's articles were not only read by sports fans--but also by many local athletes.

Over the years, Pope has been the eyewitness of the Orange Bowl's most memorable events. He was at the Miami Touchdown Club when Joe Namath guaranteed victory before Super Bowl III. He was there for all 17 of the Miami Dolphins victories in the 1972 perfect season. He was at the Orange Bowl when Doug Flutie fired football's most famous Hail Mary. He was there when University of Miami upset mighty Nebraska in the 1984 Orange Bowl. Virtually every great local athlete from George Mira to Bob Griese to Rick Barry to Dan Marino to Michael Irvin have been interviewed and written about by Pope.

Pope is now 80 years old and is semi-retired. He occasionally writes articles for the Miami Herald during football season. He's in several halls of fame including: The Florida Sports Hall of Fame, the Orange Bowl Hall of Fame and football writers wing of the Pro and College Football Halls of Fame. In today's age of the internet, newspapers are becoming less relevant. But some things never go out of style. If there's a big football game, you couldn't wait to read what Edwin Pope had to say.

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