By Robert Gagliardi
Wyoming Wildlife Magazine
Dec. 14, 2019
We’ve all heard the saying, “Everything is bigger in Texas.”
When it comes to sports writing and sports journalism, no one was bigger in the Lone Star State than Blackie Sherrod.
Born Nov. 9, 1919 as William Forrest Sherrod in Belton, Texas, he played college football at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, until a hip injury ended his career. Sherrod played trumpet in the school band to keep his scholarship.
His football playing career was brief, but it left a lasting impression. A coach noticed his black hair and dark complexion (Sherrod was part Cherokee Indian according to his wife) and pinned the nickname “Blackie” on him. Politically incorrect as it was, one of Sherrod’s editors told him keep it because it would make him memorable with readers.
Perhaps the nickname helped, but Sherrod’s recognition and success came from his writing and work ethic.
Sherrod’s newspaper career was interrupted by World War II. He served as a torpedo plane tail gunner on the U.S.S. Saratoga. When his plane went down in the South Pacific, the buckle on his seat restraint jammed and he had to cut himself out of the harness. The plan sank 45 seconds after he got out.
That experience helped form his outlook on sports writing.
Sherrod wrote for the “Temple (Texas) Telegram,” “Fort Worth Press,” “Dallas Times Herald” and “The Dallas Morning News” over a career that spanned more than 60 years. He was voted Texas sportswriter of the year a record 16 times, and in 1985 was the winner of the Red Smith Award, given annually by the Associated Press Sports Editors for a person who made major contributions to sports journalism.
“My generation of writers — and the people we idolized and studied — came along right after World War II,” Sherrod told “D Magazine” in 1986. “There had been so much seriousness, the country was so grim, everyone just wanted to have fun when the war was over. We were the products of an era that was seeking laughs and entertainment. That’s the way we tried to write it.”
In a story by “The New York Times” written in April 2016 after Sherrod died at the age of 96, Sherrod was described by the Times’ Bruce Weber as a man with “an informed swagger and the perspective of a well-read man with wide-ranging interests. He was a shrewd analyst of the games who delicately toed the line as an appreciative non-worshiper of the people who played them.”
Weber’s article also said how Sherrod described a come-from-behind victory by the Dallas Cowboys where quarterback Roger Staubach led a game-winning drive at the end, although he had not played well prior to that drive. Sherrod described the feat as “like putting a cherry on a glass of buttermilk.”
Sherrod was the color analyst with Bill Mercer on Dallas Cowboys radio broadcasts from 1967-69. He quit doing that after a piece of ice hit his hat while he was standing next to the press box elevator at Pitt Stadium in Pittsburgh in December of 1969.
Sherrod was often compared to some of other sports writing legends such as Red Smith and Jim Murray, but Sherrod worked his way to be among that group. He also could recognize talent.
While at the “Fort Worth Press” Sherrod quickly moved up to sports editor. One of his hires was Dan Jenkins, the 2013 Red Smith Award winner who authored numerous books and wrote for “Sports Illustrated.”
“I was scared to death of him at first,” Jenkins told sportswriter Larry L. King, who wrote a magazine profile on Sherrod. “My first story, I spent all night writing it at home on the kitchen table — cutting, polishing, making it bright. Blackie read the first paragraph and said, ‘Don’t ever write a morning lead for an afternoon paper, dumbass.’ ”
Bud Shrake, who also wrote for “Sports Illustrated” and was a novelist, was another of Sherrod’s hires at the “Fort Worth Press.”
“Blackie kept us all scared to death,” Shrake told “The Dallas Morning News.” “We liked him, and we hung out with him, but it wasn’t even to be considered that you’d be a minute late. And God forbid if you got something wrong.”
“D Magazine” ranked Sherrod the No 62 greatest Dallasites in 2016, and described him as the best sportswriter the city ever knew.
Skip Bayless, who got his sports media career started in newspapers and now does television, wrote the article on Sherrod for “D Magazine” in 2016 after Sherrod died. Bayless, at 27, took a sports columnist job at “The Dallas Morning News” and went up against Sherrod, 59, who was the columnist at the “Dallas Times Herald.”
“Several of my sportswriting elders warned me that taking the sports columnist job at “The Dallas Morning News” would be career suicide,” Bayless wrote. “Other young guns had tried to out-Blackie Blackie’s made-for-Texas style — to write the way Blackie wrote, only better. All had failed. Good Lord, the notes column he wrote in Sunday’s paper read better than “Lonesome Dove.” The two best sportswriters I’d ever read in magazines and books, Dan Jenkins and Bud Shrake, said Blackie was they’d ever read. For me, reading Blackie was like reading a foreign language I didn’t know but immediately understood.”
Bayless competed against Sherrod for three years, and they covered some of the country’s biggest sporting events like the Super Bowl, World Series and the Masters. Bayless then joined Sherrod at “Dallas Times Herald.” The two shot a television commercial where they sat next to each other by typewriters, and facing the camera Sherrod asked Bayless to get him some coffee. Bayless did, and Sherrod said: “I think I’m gonna like this kid.”
“I doubt he meant it. But Blackie Sherrod said it. About me,” Bayless said in the magazine article.
Colleagues were not the only ones who had high esteem for Sherrod. Legendary University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal said he enjoyed being interviewed by Sherrod. He told The Dallas Morning News: “He’s different and cleaver. I was never board, talking to him or reading him.”
One of Sherrod’s two books he ever finished was about Royal.
Staubach told The Dallas Morning News that Sherrod was different from other sportswriters, and added: “You’d sit down and know you’re gonna read Blackie’s column. He definitely had a following.”
Professional golfer Don January, called Sherrod “the best writer I ever read.”
Felix McKnight, who hired Sherrod at the “Dallas Times Herald” in 1958, had Sherrod do more than sports. Sherrod covered the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles in 1960, the John F. Kennedy assassination in 1963 where Sherrod provided photographs and the Apollo 11 moon landing from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 1969.
McKnight described Sherrod as the “best newspaper man I ever knew.”
Everything may be bigger in Texas, but when it came to sports journalism — and journalism in general — no one was or has been bigger in the Lone Star State than Blackie Sherrod.