The Union League Club of Chicago was packed last night to pay homage to some legends in sports journalism. Jeannie Morris, Rick Telander, and the late Lloyd Pettit received Ring Lardner Awards for Excellence in Sports Journalism at a festive dinner and awards presentation benefiting the Union League Boys and Girls Clubs. The awards, named after the famed sportswriter, humorist and satirist whose work has lived on long past his death in 1933, honors broadcasters and writers in the sports field who exemplify wit, warmth, and excellence.
Jeannie Morris was awarded for excellence in broadcast sports journalism. At times, the Union League Club appeared to be “Morristown” as her biggest fan, ex-husband, long-time on-air partner, and former Chicago Bear Johnny Morris presented the award to Jeannie before an audience that included many of Jeannie’s family members and grandchildren. During her 30 year broadcasting career, Jeannie broke the big stories, exposed the human side of sports and athletes, and delivered stories with humor and depth. This household name in Chicago began by writing a column in the now defunct Chicago American under the byline “Mrs. Johnny Morris” before moving over to the now defunct Chicago Daily News when offered her own byline. Jeannie, however, is best known for her work on television – first at WMAQ-TV (NBC 5 in Chicago) and then at WBBM-TV (CBS 2 in Chicago). Over the years, many of Jeannie’s stories aired nationally.
Jeannie’s most famous book was Brian Piccolo: A Short Season. Along the way, she captured 11 Emmy Awards and scored numerous AP and UPI awards. Jeannie had an accomplished career as a writer, producer, and reporter during a time when women were not taken seriously in the world of sports and often barred from locker rooms and even press boxes. She was the first woman to cover a Super Bowl and once had to cover a football game on the top of the press box during a blizzard because women were not allowed in the press box. Jeannie never made herself the story, but worked harder and used her wit and charm to deflect obstacles and to get the story. And she told the story like no one else could.
Many claim to be pioneers or ground-breakers, but Jeannie Morris was the woman who actually opened the door for women in sports broadcasting. NBC 5’s Peggy Kusinski and CBS 2’s Megan Mawicke – two excellent journalists who walked through the door opened by Jeannie – nominated Jeannie and were on hand to celebrate her career. It is only appropriate that Jeannie is the first female to receive a Ring Lardner award!
Rick Telander received the Ring Lardner Award for excellence in print. This Chicago Sun-Times senior sports columnist has penned over 3,000 columns for the paper! He was a senior writer at Sports Illustrated for 14 years, writing over 250 articles and three dozen cover stories. Rick has authored 9 books, was a regular on The Sportswriters on TV and has appeared on radio and ESPN. Rick has covered so many major sports stories, but more important he has used sports as a platform to write about current issues, history, politics, human nature, and life. He was presented with the award by last year’s winner Frank Deford.
Honored with the Posthumous Award was Lloyd Pettit. There are many great hockey voices over the years, but Lloyd absolutely was the best play by play announcer in the history of hockey. The golden tones of Lloyd Pettit thrilled sports fans during the 1960s and 1970s. His phrase “here come the Hawks” became the title of the enduring Chicago Blackhawks team song. He called fights better than Howard Cosell, “there’s a right hand by Magnuson, another right, an uppercut by Schulze, and the two men are wrestling with each other and the linesman steps in to break it up . . . sticks and glove are covering the ice at Chicago Stadium.” But as Rick Kogan pointed out, Lloyd was best known for his phrase . . . “There’s a shot . . . AND A GOAL!” No one could match Lloyd’s ability to capture the action and excitement of a hockey game.
Over the years, Lloyd called the Blackhawks games on WGN TV, WFLD TV, WGN Radio, and WMAQ Radio. He also announced Cubs and White Sox games on WGN and called an occasional Chicago Bears game. This Emmy Award winning broadcaster was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1986 and received the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award. Lloyd and his wife Jane were known for their philanthropic activities. After Lloyd retired from broadcasting, the Pettit’s built the Bradley Center in Milwaukee and owned the AHL Milwaukee Admirals. Lloyd died in 2003, but his legend lives on. The Union League crowd was thrilled while watching a video featuring some of Lloyd’s calls over the years. Harvey Wittenberg, the long-time Chicago Blackhawks public address announcer, author, and media legend in his own right was on hand to accept the award on behalf of the Pettit family. It was great to see Harvey – who had the privilege of working with Lloyd over the years – and the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Championship ring that he was sporting.
Congratulations to this year’s recipients and to Chris Bohus and the Ring Lardner Selection Committee on a wonderful evening.