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Writer turned GM spares no expense (report)

GARY SHELTON
Published January 26, 2004

Some teams are run by wizards. You can barely hear the fight song for all the computer beeps.

Some teams are run by geniuses, some by generals, some by gurus. Some are operated by masterminds and philosophers. Some are run by cool, efficient businessmen. Some are guided by the ego-driven and some by the power-mad.

The Carolina Panthers are run by a former sports writer.

Does God have a sense of humor or what?

Now, I know what you're thinking. If an NFL team is going to be run by a sports writer, then why, in heaven's name, isn't there a chicken wing on the helmet?

Despite the oversight, it is clear the Panthers are onto something. Coaches don't like to admit it, but secretly, they love sports writers. They appreciate the advice, they admire the analysis and they learn from the second-guessing because, heck, they know we care.

Just ask Jon Gruden. You know why he gets up at 3:17 a.m.? Because he just can't wait for the paperboy to bring him the day's suggestions. On behalf of the guys in the press trailer, Jon, you're welcome.

The Panthers, however, have cut out the middleman. They have their very own newspaperman, Marty Hurney, right there in the big office. On his business card it should say Marty Hurney, General Manager. And in small type, right underneath, it should say, "Really, I Am."

In another life, on the other side of the byline, Hurney was an honest-to-goodness, quote-seeking, receipt-snatching, Marriott-staying, deadline-fighting sports writer for the Washington Star and the Washington Times. It's not that different a job, really, except that he has a better seat and his salary cap is slightly larger than most writers' expense forms.

(Talk about reasons to hate the press. Hurney spent years being paid as a member.)

At any rate, Hurney was plugging along with a nice career. And who knows, if he had stuck with it, written well, broken a few stories, worked his way up, why, right now, he too could look like a loon on Around the Horn.

Instead, in 1988, he accepted an offer from Bobby Beathard to join the Redskins' media relations department. Two years later, when Beathard went to San Diego, Hurney joined him as an assistant general manager, later specializing in salary-cap work. Hurney went to Carolina in '98, then became general manager in 2001.

Now, he's going to the Super Bowl.

Gee, I wonder what his deadline is.

"No one could script it," Hurney said. "It's hard to imagine."

Okay, let's be serious. This isn't as strange as it sounds. Sports writers often go on to bigger and better things. Tex Schramm, who ran the Cowboys for years, was a former sports writer. Ernie Accorsi, the Giants' general manager, used to be a sports writer. So was John Schulian, who brought us Xena: Warrior Princess, a great accomplishment even when compared to the playoffs.

For that matter, Richard Nixon and Frank Sinatra both wanted to be sports writers. Bat Masterson, who was with Wyatt Earp in Dodge City, Kan., put down his guns and became a sports writer. You might say the profession attracts those who crave excitement.

For the record, Hurney says the ink is off his fingers. No, he doesn't miss sports writing. He no longer yearns to outline against blue-gray October skies.

Still, you have to figure the hack inside isn't completely gone. For instance, as a former Washington Star employee, don't you figure Hurney watches Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon bicker on Pardon the Interruption and wishes someone would just throw them swords? Don't you think he doesn't look at a tie score at midnight, think of the writers fighting cerebral hemorrhages and think, "Hee, hee, hee?"

So, you ask. While Marty was making good, what were the rest of us doing still hanging around the press box?

True story: In the early '90s, the Bucs seemed to follow the prevailing opinions around town. In one streak, I wrote about the wisdom of taking Dexter Manley off waivers and drafting Reggie Cobb, and the Bucs did both. I wrote about how Gary Anderson and Steve DeBerg seemed to be done, and both were released soon after. My wife suggested to me that the Bucs were so bad off that I was running them.

Later, I told this story to Rich McKay. McKay just grinned and said, "Well, if you were, you did a lousy job."

Son of true story: A few weeks ago, when Tim Ruskell was being considered for the general manager's job in Miami, he jokingly asked if I wanted to come along. Sure, I said. What jobs do you have? Depends on what you can do, Ruskell said.

"I can tell stories, hang around and toss wadded up sheets of paper into the trash can," I said.

A few days later, the Dolphins hired Dan Marino. I called Ruskell. "Dan Marino got my job," I said.

Now, don't get me wrong. The sports writers I don't hate, I like a lot.

Some of the finest people I know are sports writers. As a group, they are creative, funny and grand storytellers. On the other hand, if the building is on fire, they aren't going to run to get water; they're going to sit around and try to think of the right metaphor to describe the bright glow.

You wonder: In a league of imitators, are operators standing by? Will we see Bill Conlin in charge of the Eagles? Peter King in charge of the Giants? And if not, why not?

In the meantime, we'll always have Marty to represent the profession. Stand tall, Marty. And don't forget to ask for a receipt.

In the meantime, the rest of us are only a little jealous.

After all, when we have 10 inches to go, and it's 10 minutes till deadline, you'll already be done.

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