He was our Jim Murray. Or, if you grew up above the Mason-Dixon line and are past the age of 40, your comparable sports writing titan might have been Red Smith or Shirley Povich ... At any rate, Furman Bisher is gone at the age of 93 and one would be hard-pressed to name someone who wrote about sports as eloquently for such a long period of time.
As a native Atlantan who grew up reading his columns in The Atlanta Journal, I came to admire his versatility as he moved easily from the Super Bowl to The Masters, from NASCAR to the World Series. But the great ones often simply make it look easy and -- with his straight ahead style of reporting -- I could well imagine him typing away with sleeves rolled up and a lit cigarette in an ashtray close by.
"He's the Arnold Palmer of sportswriters," I have thought, for just as Palmer was the everyman golfer when he hitched his pants, unleashed a none-too-perfect swing, and led his army down the fairway, Bisher seemed workmanlike in his approach while working hard at his craft.
Just a year or so out of college, I was fortunate enough to share a lunch of barbeque, beans and slaw with him while covering the Coca Cola 500 at Atlanta Speedway and listened hard as he spoke of writing. The following morning I shook my head in admiration -- along with countless others across the South -- as he wrote of Bill Elliot, "He looks like Alfred E. Neuman, talks like Gomer Pyle, and drives like Dukes Of Hazzard."
Weeks later he would take you from the roar of engines and the smell of burned rubber as he seemingly whispered from the page while reporting from Amen Corner at Augusta, surrounded by the fresh blooming azaleas at The Masters.
He was at home in both worlds and made us feel as if we belonged right beside him, nudged on the elbow following a great shot, looking to see his wide smile with a knowing wink. And the twinkle in an eye that had seen just about everything.
-- Jeff Hall