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The Road to Canton

Hall of Fame Honors Alumnus
for Work on Steelers Beat

Shown above: Ed Bouchette, recipient of the Dick McCann Award, outside Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. (Photo: Sarah Schneider/Post-Gazette)

By Bob Fulton
November 26, 2014
Appeared in the Fall-Winter 2014 issue of
IUP Magazine.

Ed Bouchette knows this about accountants: Few ever experience the kind of thrill he did at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, basking in the applause of a crowd that included the greats of the game.

Completing an audit rarely elicits such a response.

Bouchette, now in his 30th season as the Steelers beat reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, accepted the Dick McCann Award, presented annually to a writer in recognition of long and distinguished coverage of pro football, in August during enshrinement weekend in Canton, Ohio. He shared a stage—and the spotlight—at Fawcett Stadium with more than 100 gold-jacketed Hall of Famers, an unforgettable moment he could trace to a life-changing decision made at IUP.

“I went to school to become an accountant, but my sophomore year I decided it just wasn’t for me,” Bouchette said. “I don’t know what I would have done in accounting, but I have no doubt that I chose the right path because I just love what I do. It’s a lot of fun. You think there are accountants sitting around saying what they do is fun? Now it may be rewarding, and I can tell you it pays better, and you’ve got weekends off maybe. But I can’t imagine them sitting around saying, ‘Oh, man, I really knocked it out of the park with that audit I did today. I’ll remember that the rest of my life.’ And I’m not putting accountants down—two of my kids are accountants. It just wasn’t for me.”

Bouchette remained in the business college and graduated in 1973 with a degree in business management. But instead of workdays passed in a quiet office, he opted for a livelier livelihood. Bouchette spends fall Sundays at Heinz Field, surrounded by legions of fanatics twirling Terrible Towels, thunderously proclaiming their allegiance to the Black and Gold.

His change of course long ago at IUP led Bouchette not only to Pittsburgh, but to Canton: A wall plaque listing the 46 McCann Award winners hangs near the Hall of Fame gallery, where the busts of enshrinees are displayed. In a sense, Bouchette now shares a ZIP code with the likes of Jim Thorpe, Walter Payton, Terry Bradshaw, and Jerry Rice.

Heady stuff, to be sure, not that he’d ever let on. Bouchette reacted to news he’d won the McCann, voted on by his Pro Football Writers of America peers, with characteristic humility. Fact is, Bouchette would rather gargle with thumbtacks than boast or preen. Fortunately, others are more than willing to sing his praises.

“There’s no one more important to us or to our readers than Ed,” said David Shribman, the Post-Gazette’s executive editor and vice president, who attended the ceremony in Canton. “He’s our signature guy on one of our signature beats. He’s respected by the very people he criticizes, and he’s revered by the people—the very few people, I can assure you—who know more than he does about his subject.”

Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, whose father, Art, founded the team in 1933 after a celebrated athletic career at Indiana Normal School, also lauded Bouchette.

“Ed is one of the most knowledgeable writers covering pro football in America,” Rooney said. “He’s a true professional in his reporting. He doesn’t always agree with what we’re saying, but he’s always fair. He’s well-respected at our complex. I think he’s very worthy of receiving this award.”

Jerry Micco, the Post-Gazette’s sports editor, heartily concurred.

“Ed’s the consummate beat reporter,” Micco said. “His body of work over the years is terrific, from his daily beat reporting to his profiles to his game stories. He’s great at what he does, and he’s deserving of such an honor.”

Past enshrinees looked on in their gold jackets as Ed Bouchette accepted the McCann Award from Dave Baker, president and executive director of the Hall of Fame, at Fawcett Stadium in August.

Past enshrinees looked on in their gold jackets as Ed Bouchette accepted the McCann Award from Dave Baker, president and executive director of the Hall of Fame, at Fawcett Stadium in August.

The journalism career that landed Bouchette in Canton was launched, in modest fashion, mere weeks after he arrived on campus from the tiny Lebanon County community of Cornwall. He spotted an ad in the Penn seeking writers and responded.

“They needed someone to cover freshman basketball,” said Bouchette, whose writing experience to that point consisted of a single high school journalism course. “I said, ‘Oh, I could do that.’ I think I was the only one to volunteer, so they gave the job to me.”

Bouchette’s work ultimately caught the eye of Randy Jesick, the university’s assistant public relations director and de facto sports information director. He recruited Bouchette as vigorously as a coach courting a blue-chip prospect.

“My responsibilities were split between straight PR and sports,” said Jesick, now a professor in the Journalism Department. “I was by myself as far as sports, so I needed some help. I was just looking for somebody who could write. So I got in touch with Ed and asked him if he was interested in being a student assistant. And that was the start of it.”

Bouchette wrote press releases, kept statistics at IUP football and basketball games, wrote features for football game programs, and contributed to Jesick’s award-winning media guides. He also signed up for the few journalism classes then offered (an actual journalism program did not yet exist), taught by David Truby. Between them, Jesick and Truby provided a solid foundation upon which Bouchette built a career.

After graduation, he worked at newspapers in Doylestown, York, Indiana, Greensburg, and McKeesport before joining the Post-Gazette staff in 1983. Bouchette’s first beat was covering the Pittsburgh Maulers, a USFL franchise that went belly up in 1984 after only one season. A year later, sports editor Bruce Keidan asked him if he wanted to cover the Steelers, a plum assignment coveted by just about anyone armed with a notebook and a press pass. Predictably, Bouchette answered in a flash. Not so predictably, he declined. Keidan’s jaw about hit the floor.

“When the Maulers folded, Bruce put me on the Pitt beat,” Bouchette said. “I covered Pitt basketball in ’84-85, and I was going to training camp in Edinboro to cover the Pitt football team that August. But before I went, he said, ‘Our Steeler guy left—would you like to cover the Steelers?’ I said, ‘I’ll tell you what, Bruce. I really enjoy covering Pitt.’ It was stupid on my part, but I said no.”

The “consummate beat reporter” at the Steelers’ South Side practice facility, where he does much of his work.

The “consummate beat reporter” at the Steelers’ South Side practice facility, where he does much of his work.

Those who believe in destiny can appreciate what happened next. While Bouchette was churning out copy about the Panthers, the writer hired to cover the Steelers was flunking his audition. When Bouchette returned to Pittsburgh, Keidan handed him a new assignment: the Steelers beat. He’s been there ever since, a graybeard—quite literally—in an age when writers seem as transient as hobos.

“The same team, 30 years—there are only a few guys like that left,” said Pro Football Writers of America President Orlando Ledbetter, who covers the Falcons for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Yeah, we’re not seeing that very much in this era. There aren’t that many in the 30-year club. It used to be more common. Now it’s really rare.”

Bouchette has collected an array of state and national awards in his three decades covering the Black and Gold. All of them are eclipsed by the McCann, if only because the winners form such an exclusive fraternity. Previous honorees represent a veritable who’s who in the world of sports journalism, heavyweights such as Arthur Daley and Dave Anderson of the New York Times, both Pulitzer Prize winners; Paul Zimmerman and Peter King of Sports Illustrated; John Clayton of ESPN.com; and Will McDonough of the Boston Globe.

“I know guys who had won the award, so I knew what it was, but I had never given it much thought,” Bouchette said. “After I won it, I looked at some of those names, and I went ‘whoa.’ That’s when it really hit me. To be honest, it’s a little humbling to be in that group.”

“He’s respected by the very people he criticizes.”

The McCann Award ceremony took place at Fawcett Stadium the day before members of the 2014 Hall of Fame class were inducted at the same site. Past enshrinees—including former Steelers Joe Greene, Lynn Swann, Dermontti Dawson, Franco Harris, and Mel Blount—looked on in their gold jackets as a two-minute video recapping Bouchette’s career, produced by an NFL Network crew, played on giant video screens at either side of the stage. He spoke about his life in journalism, coach Chuck Noll’s farewell press conference, the 30 Super Bowls he has covered, and his favorite of them all—Super Bowl XLIII, when the Steelers stunned the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 on Santonio Holmes’s acrobatic touchdown catch with 35 seconds left. The video closed with Bouchette walking through the  team’s offices, past the six gleaming Lombardi Trophies on display. He then stepped out on stage to accept his McCann Award plaque from Dave Baker, president and executive director of the Hall of Fame.

Bouchette returned to campus in October to speak to Randy Jesick’s Sports Journalism class.

Bouchette returned to campus in October to speak to Randy Jesick’s Sports Journalism class.

Bouchette might never have wound up in Canton had he not first wound up at IUP, a budding accountant whose interest would shift irrevocably from the numbers in a ledger to the numbers on a scoreboard. Sports were big at IUP, and the Big Indians, as they were called, regularly vanquished the opposition and made national headlines. Writing about their success appealed more to Bouchette than adding columns of figures.

“When I went there in 1969, the football team had just been to the Boardwalk Bowl, they had a great  basketball team, a great baseball team, even a great golf team, for crying out loud,” Bouchette said. “I didn’t go to IUP because of sports, but I liked the atmosphere, that you’re going somewhere that was successful on many levels. When I made my visit, I just fell in love with the place. It was a perfect fit for me.”

Even if the field of study he chose wasn’t.

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