John McNamara’s special talent for sports journalism was his ability to expose the dedication, hard work, heartbreak, sacrifices, faults, delights, personalities, strategies, tactics, and intricacies in each player, contest and season. He performed the homework needed to provide historical context for these stories. He wrote without pretension or condescension, telling stories that were accessible and informative to new and established fans and readers alike.
To continue John’s devotion to Sports Journalism, to allow others to learn from John and his work, to develop and reward writers who demonstrate potential for producing accessible and informative sports journalism, to provide opportunity for talented students who may carry on John’s legacy, and to show our devotion to John, we have created the John McNamara ’83 Endowed Sports Journalism Scholarship at the University of Maryland.
John McNamara was devoted to his family, his friends, his alma maters – Maryland and St. John’s College High School – his craft of journalism, his Maryland Terrapins and the sports he loved to chronicle, watch and play.
His passing is heart-wrenching. His life was devoted to making all of us better – more informed, happier, enthusiastic and loved.
John grew up in Bethesda in a family full of the quintessential Irish Catholic diversity: avid readers, writers, artists, bookworms, musicians, singers, tellers of tales, church volunteers, and booklovers. He loved softball on the grassy knoll in front of his house, and basketball wherever he found it. He joined his adopted family of area journalists and sports writers at his high school paper, then as a Washington Post intern, and at the University of Maryland Diamondback. On graduation from the University of MD, he worked with fellow Terrapins and colleagues in his first full-time job as a sports writer at the Hagerstown Herald-Mail in the early 1980s. Herald colleague and fellow sports fan Doug Dull’s first notice of his hiring was a phone call during which he suggested to Dull that they become roommates. That would require Dull to purchase a television, move out of his parents’ house and find an apartment. There was to be no discussion.
That first year, when the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament arrived, their shared refrigerator bore witness to the event. There were no less than three brackets to be completed and monitored. One filled in before the tournament as in a normal office pool, a second to be filled in each day reflecting the ebbs and flows of the previous games, and a third with some wild permutation of mathematics that they understood then, but is lost in some basketball algebraic equation somewhere. The configuration generously provided three ways for Dull to be soundly trounced by his roommate’s superior basketball knowledge.
McNamara was just warming up for his responsibility as a voter on the Associated Press national basketball poll – giving him the chance to watch more hoops and enhance their shared enjoyment of the sport based on his homework, analysis and experience.
McNamara would hate this metaphor – being a traditionalist – but he was Twitter before the Internet was even invented. “Mac” was the guy in the media room, the restaurant or on the phone who would dazzle with bursts of knowledge, of commentary or humor that were always thoughtful… most often needing 10 words or less of sheer lightning to make his point.
He was just a good guy – in the most affectionate and powerful sense of that term. We had a great role model in being a good guy in Darrell Kepler, the now departed sports editor at the Hagerstown Morning-Herald. Guys stuck together, weren’t pretentious, were observant, loved sports, beer and each other.
His friends have a picture in their collective mind’s eye of the Johnny Mac and Darrell Kepler playing pickup basketball on a raggedy court in Heaven – Darrell making a thick drive inside to the basket and John bombing 3-pointers from the outside with that sweet left-handed stroke.
Just guys… Good guys.
McNamara wrote two books about Maryland athletics – joining his fellow Diamondback alumnus David Elfin on “Cole Classics,” a memory of the best early times in Terrapin basketball;, and on the Maryland Football Vault, literally a vault combining his knack for story-telling and for research that was a history lesson on Terrapin football.
To be John’s friend was an honor that knew complete honesty and loyalty, through good times and bad. He was the person you’d call to share joyous moments – he reached out to Dull recently when the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup, ending the 44 years of struggle and he knew how much it meant to his friend.
And he was the person who received the call when a dear friend had a life-threatening medical situation a year ago. He and his wife Andrea were there in a flash, as the rock they were when times were difficult. Ever the basketball writer, though, his friend readily believes but doesn’t remember the one day when John came in and was animated when he told his groggy friend all from memory the highlights of the previous night’s games, despite his friend’s inability to speak or move while in intensive care.
The devotion he lived most was for his wife. His friends say they never thought, called or wanted to be with John. It was always, where and when can we be with John and Andrea.
The solo photos of John were always good. But the smile on his face, and in his eyes, got much brighter when they were at the beach, the theatre, on a trip… when he was next to Andrea. The love they had together spilled over and made those they brought close so much richer and warmer.
There is great solace in knowing that he worked well, played well and loved well. As we think of John in the coming days, months and years, may we all live like that: With love, loyalty, laughter, kindness and thoughtfulness.
And with devotion.
The Memorial Service is scheduled for July 10 at 10 am at the University of Maryland Memorial Chapel, 7600 Baltimore Ave, College Park, MD 20740.
(Photo credit: Katherine Frye, The Washington Post)