By Fred Mitchell, Tribune reporter
7:05 PM PDT, October 10, 2012
Bill Jauss was a pioneering sports journalist whose enthusiastic manner encompassed newspapers, radio and television long before that media trifecta became more common in recent decades.
Jauss died from natural causes Wednesday. He was 81.
Born Feb. 8, 1931, William Charles Jauss spent 50 years as a sportswriter and retired from the Tribune in 2005 after 37 years with Tribune Co.
A popular yet decidedly unpretentious professional, Jauss gained even greater renown 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 "In the Wake of the News" 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. 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 in 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 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. Former Chicago sports television producer Jeff Davis accepted the award for Jauss.
"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.
"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.
"I told him that of the three sports icons being honored, he is the truest 'Chicago Guy' of them all in that he was born in Chicago, went to school in Chicago -- well, Northwestern, where he played football -- and, except for a stint in the Army and a brief starting reporter's job for the Neenah-Menasha ''whatever'' in Wisconsin, has lived and worked his entire life in the Chicago area.
"Jauss coughed a bit when I made my point -- there was still a tube in his lung -- and he said, 'My definition of a true Chicagoan is somebody whose photo hangs behind the bar at Marge's (in Chicago).' ''
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 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 line in Wilmette 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 (breaking in with the Chicago Daily News).
"John P. Carmichael was my boss (at the Daily News). Carmichael used to give fatherly advice at Andy's (tavern). We worked on Sundays in the Sports Department, and one Sunday I will never forget. We were at the bar there, taking our break. And John said: 'I'm going to give you some advice. There's three takes of copy, then take your first drink.'
"I said, 'Well, John, that's obvious isn't it?' John said, 'Not so. Too many guys in this business get those numbers mixed up.'
"I was blessed that I went to work at the Daily News and it was kind of a pace-setter at the time because other papers would just give you the (who, what and where). And the Daily News was already trying to work on that 'why?' thing. To see the other papers trying to play catch-up was interesting."
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," Conklin said. "In fact, the farther his assignment took him from Chicago, the less he liked it.
"I liked this best about Bill: He was the most unpretentious sportswriter I knew. 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 NFL reporter 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," 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 (Sun-Times sports columnist) 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."
Just as Bill Jauss will for those who had the pleasure of seeing and hearing him.
A memorial service is set for 4 p.m. Monday at First Presbyterian Church of Wilmette, 600 Ninth St.
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