Longtime Miami Herald sports columnist Edwin Pope dies at 88

MIAMI (AP) — Edwin Pope, an award-winning sports columnist who covered the first 47 Super Bowls and spent more than 50 years with the Miami Herald, has died at 88.

Pope, who had battled cancer, died Thursday in Okeechobee, Florida, where he lived in retirement, according to the Miami Herald’s managing editor Rick Hirsch.

Pope went into the newspaper business at age 11, was a sports editor at 15 and joined the Herald in 1956. He covered the Miami Dolphins from their first season and recommended Don Shula for their head coaching job in 1970, a suggestion that transformed the franchise.

In 1989, Pope became the youngest winner of the Red Smith Award, given for lifetime achievement in sports journalism. He was a member of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame and the Florida Sports Hall of Fame.

Pope covered major tournaments in golf and tennis, the Olympics, Triple Crown races, baseball, basketball, boxing and fishing. But his favorite sport was football, and he wrote most often about the Dolphins or Miami Hurricanes.

After Shula joined the Dolphins, he credited Pope with being instrumental in the hire. When team owner Joe Robbie told Pope and another writer he was looking for a new coach, they suggested Shula, then coach of the Baltimore Colts. Shula subsequently led Miami to consecutive Super Bowl titles and holds the NFL record for coaching victories.

Pope was inducted into the writer’s wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002, and the Dolphins named their press box for Pope in 2010, when he was semiretired but still wrote an occasional column. He had a homespun style and rooted for the home team but could be critical as well.

Pope once wrote that being a sports columnist was more fun than any other job he could imagine.

“Who has it better?” he wrote. “We see and describe exploits we all first wanted to perform ourselves, before we turned out too short or too myopic or too slow, or all of them.”

Pope’s journalism career began when he was in grade school in Athens, Georgia. He listened to a radio broadcast of the 1940 Orange Bowl, typed a story about the game and took it to the Athens Banner-Herald. An impressed editor gave Pope a job covering high school sports and Pope said his first salary was two 11-cent movie tickets a week.

At 15, Pope became the paper’s sports editor and covered the University of Georgia. He was called the youngest sports editor in the nation and appeared in breakfast cereal commercials in newspapers from coast to coast.

Pope graduated in 1948 from the University of Georgia, where he also worked as sports information director. He worked for United Press and the Atlanta Constitution before becoming executive sports editor of the Atlanta Journal in 1954.

That year he wrote a best-selling book, “Football’s Greatest Coaches.” Shortly thereafter he moved to the Miami Herald, where he became sports editor in 1967.

Pope considered his most popular columns a series called “Love Letters” — correspondence complaining about his judgment or factual errors. “Readers therefore never run short of ammunition,” he wrote.

In 1988, when he had reached the 8,000-column mark, Pope published a collection of his columns and dedicated it in part to his son David, “who as a small boy asked why I had to leave home a week early for a Kentucky Derby that lasts two minutes.” The book’s introduction was written by author James A. Michener, who said Pope was “in the great tradition of Grantland Rice, John Kieran, Red Smith, Jimmy Cannon and Shirley Povich.”

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