CHICAGO (MCT) — Bill Jauss was a renaissance reporter, a pioneering sports journalist whose enthusiastic manner encompassed newspapers, radio and TV long before that media trifecta became more common in recent decades.
Jauss, who spent 50 years as a sportswriter, died Wednesday. He was 81.
Born Feb. 8, 1931, Jauss retired from the Chicago Tribune in 2005 after 37 years with Tribune Company.
A popular yet decidedly unpretentious professional, Jauss would gain even greater notoriety as a member of the “Sportswriters On TV” panel that he shared with fellow irascible cigar-smoking characters Bill Gleason, Rick Telander and host Ben Bentley.
“Jauss dazzled me one warm spring day when we were walking back to the office along Michigan Avenue from some press lunch or something,” former award-winning Tribune columnist Bob Verdi recalled.
“I had no illusions about my being recognized, even though my picture was on the front page four or five times a week. But Jauss, who did not have his picture in the Tribune, was treated like royalty, people stopping him on the sidewalk, car horns honking, drivers yelling hello to him. I thought I was taking a stroll with the mayor. Meanwhile, the only person who said anything to me was Jauss.”
Jauss was presented a Ring Lardner award for his contributions to the print industry last May. Mike Ditka was the broadcast recipient for his work as an NFL analyst on ESPN and Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Brickhouse was recognized for the posthumous award.
“That’s pretty high company,” Jauss said during an interview with the Tribune from his home in Wilmette, Ill., in May. “Jack and I can play cribbage and Ditka can be the referee. No cheatin’ in that game.”
Jauss had been hospitalized with pneumonia and was unable to attend the event. Telander, the veteran Sun-Times sports columnist, spoke on behalf of Jauss and former Chicago sports television producer Jeff Davis accepted the award on his behalf.
“Jauss loved the little guy,” Telander said at the event. “He spoke—he likes to say—for Joe and Jane Six-Pack. But he sells himself short. He spoke for Joe and Jane Martini, too. He spoke for everyone with a heart. And those of us who were so blessed have never stopped learning from Bill Jauss.
“The thing about Bill, the father of three wonderful children — Ginny, David and James — and the husband of his dream lover, the late Kenmar Jauss, is that his good nature, intelligence, logic and compassion set the template for anyone who wanted to call himself or herself a sportswriter in this town.”
Jauss told the Tribune he had been looking forward to attending the Ring Lardner Awards ceremony at the Union League Club in Chicago, but then joked, “I guess that means I will have to wear a tie. I don’t know if I can find one.”
Jauss grew serious when asked about his late wife, Kenny, who often accompanied him to many of his assignments.
“I think of her every day,” he said. ”We lived in this same house for 47 years, just over the Evanston-Wilmette line by Northwestern’s stadium. We bought it for $35,000 and $5,000 down. I borrowed the money from my folks.
“It makes me feel real good to be recognized. I was 50 years in the news-chasing business,” said Jauss, who broke in with the old Chicago Daily News.
“I was blessed that I went to work at the Daily News and it was kind of a pacesetter at the time because other papers would go out and just give you the (essentials). And the Daily News was already trying to work on that ‘why?’ thing. To see the other papers trying to play catchup was interesting. I was really fortunate to break in at that paper, even though I broke in on the night shift.”
Retired Tribune sportswriter Mike Conklin remembers how much Jauss was revered locally, even though his television notoriety garnered him national attention.
“Bill was a Chicago original. In fact, the farther his assignment took him from Chicago, the less he liked it,” Conklin recalled.
“I first bumped into him at events when he was with Chicago Today (the old afternoon newspaper). I thought it was a great thing to have him as a colleague when the Tribune absorbed the paper (in 1974) and combined sports staffs. He and Rick Talley were the star catches for the Trib in the merger and added much-needed flair.
“I liked this best about Bill: He was the most unpretentious sportswriter I knew,” Conklin said. “He would cover anything. A high school football game or a DePaul women’s basketball game were as important to him, and got his full attention, just as much as the Bears or the Cubs.”
Retired Tribune Hall of Fame Bears writer Don Pierson also admired Jauss’ versatility.
“Bill was the most complete sportswriter I knew because of his interest in and knowledge of so many sports, and his natural curiosity as a journalist,” Pierson said. “He always asked great questions without being confrontational. (He was) one of the few sportswriters even Bobby Knight respected. My fondest recollection is how Bill wrote exactly how Houston would upset UCLA in that famous basketball game (in 1968) — the day before the game.”
“The Sportswriters on TV” show, which evolved from the Sportswriters Show on WGN Radio with a rotating panel, was the predecessor to so many sports-talk shows today on radio and television.
“I think that Gleason was the guy ... we were in Billy Goat’s (tavern) one night,” Jauss recalled in May. “We had covered the same event—a hockey game or a basketball game. We had written our stories at our offices and met at Billy Goat’s. We were having a drink and there were some printers in there that we knew. They were seated at a table and we were at the bar. First thing you know, closing time came and we got up and started to walk down to Andy’s, which had a 4 a.m. closing.
“These printers were following along behind us. So Gleason turned around and said: ‘Where are you guys going?’ And they said: ‘Your argument is interesting. We want to hear how it ends.’
“So Gleason is walking along and thinking to himself, ‘Maybe this thing is sell-able.’ And that’s where he got the idea of putting on this argument, first on radio on WGN, and then on TV. I think that is what started all of these (sports) discussion shows that are so prevalent now. It was a pioneering thing at the time, although we didn’t realize it.”
Jauss and the rest of the cast became more popular and recognizable nationally because of that show.
“It showed me the power of the other senses being used—the ears and the eyes,” he said. “When you see something, it sticks with you a little longer.”