It was during a small high school graduation in May of 1989 that my life changed.
For on that night someone who was already a hero of mine guided me into a career path that I continue on to this day. Furman Bisher, already long established as a Hall of Fame sports writer by this point, was the guest speaker at my high school graduation on that evening more than 20 years ago. And while my fellow classmates were no doubt thinking of the post ceremony party and an upcoming trip to the beach, my attention was focused completely on the words coming from Bisher.
And so it came to past earlier this week that Bisher, after an astonishing 59-year career with the Atlanta media, has decided to retire. His newspaper career actually began before that, but when you consider he has been on the scene in Atlanta alone for six decades, well, it’s a mark that I don’t think will be matched. How could it be?
To show how much times have changed, I wasn’t even able to buy a copy of the print edition in which the legend said goodbye and a tribute was given to him. Poor decisions by those who run that paper has caused its circulation to dwindle so much in recent years that even though a live a proverbial stone’s throw from Atlanta, I can no longer purchase an actual handheld copy of the paper to read Bisher’s work. It’s a sad state of affairs on print journalism and as one who attempts to pound out a living in this field, I say that with a very heavy heart.
There’s literally no sporting event — big or small — Bisher hasn’t covered. From Super Bowls to World Series to Kentucky Derbies to The Masters, he’s brought to life these events like no one else in my opinion. Oh, there are others who I enjoy reading, but there can only be one best and that is Furman Bisher. There will never be another like him. The fact that he was still on the beat into his 90s speaks volumes about him.
Nothing I could ever write would be worthy of his time, but I am thankful several years ago I helped get the top honor in our state’s sports writer’s association named for him. It was a small way of honoring a journalist who has not been recognized enough.
So many fans today have no idea it was Bisher who played a large role in bringing the Braves to Atlanta. In fact, he helped pick the spot for the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Years later, I think he and I were the only two who didn’t want it torn down.
While names like Bobby Dodd and Wallace Butts are just that — names — to most football fans in this state, Bisher was covering the teams they guided on the football field. In fact, he covered them all. I’m 38 now and to think a full 21 years before I was even born, he was on the Atlanta sports scene. Remarkable. It doesn’t seem possible.
Ironically, two of my favorite Bisher columns were actually unrelated to sports. The one he wrote about his mother passing away as well as the one about losing the family pet dog are as touching as any you will read. It just goes to show that talented writers are just that. It doesn’t matter if their main interest happens to be sports.
Bisher is one of the final ties to the glory days of sports journalism. A tie to the days of manual typewriters and glue pots (how many journalists today even know what that is?) and smoke filled newsrooms. It’s an era I appreciate but don’t really know. With the retirement of Bisher, it slips even further away. Selah my friend.
Chris Bridges is an editor with MainStreet Newspapers. E-mail comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.