In your life, sometimes you get to meet some really impressive people. You can tell in the way they carry themselves. One of those people that I was fortunate enough to meet was Jack Grinold. Jack died yesterday. He was 81.
Naming The Patriots
I was thinking of Grinold a few weeks ago when I was reading Jerry Thornton’s book about the early history of the Patriots. Before the New England Patriots were anything, they were the Boston American Football League franchise. They had no name, and owner Billy Sullivan had no employees. After hiring Mike Holavak and Ed McKeever, Jack Grinold was the third employee of the Patriots – in 1959.
Jack who decided that the team name should be picked by a fan contest, to drum up publicity for the nascent club. The finalist were “Minutemen”, “Patriots” and “Bulls.”1
So the next time you tell someone that you’re a Patriots fan, when someone tells you that “the Patriots are Super Bowl Champions”, maybe you can take a minute to remember the man who named them.
But Jack’s biggest contributions in life weren’t naming a football team. He left the Patriots in 1961 to become the Sports Information Director at Northeastern University for the better part of 50 years.
What a Sports Information Director Does
The next time you watch a game on TV, and think the play-by-play guy knows a lot about all the players, you can thank a Sports Information Director. More and more now, they’re called media relations directors. They’re the ones writing the media guides, keeping score at the games, and making sure the reporters and TV crews have all the information. They’re writing press releases, arranging interviews, and managing media access.
There he served more than half a century. He was named to the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame in 1994 as a pioneer in the field. He gave so many college kids their start in that field. Some of them chose it as a career, others left to do other things. But none of them ever forgot Jack.
He loved the coaches. They all got nicknames. Women’s hockey coach became Heather Linstead, “feather.” He called the messages he got from head football coach Barry Gallup, “Gallup-o-grams.” Jack knew something about everyone, had contacts everywhere. He was good to everyone. It was something everybody should work towards, and few did it better.
Working for Jack Grinold
I first met Jack when I was a Northeastern University Sports Information Co-Op student in January of 1999. It may have been the most intense learning experience of my life. I became the primary contact for the baseball, swimming, and women’s hockey teams. I also got to help out with the men’s games, women’s basketball, and football. I’d answer his phone, type in his stories and speeches. I was Jack’s assistant, and shared an office with him at Matthews Arena – the oldest ice hockey arena in the world. Built in 1910, it’s very Victorian, and Jack Grinold worked there for more than half it’s existence.
It was small, and cramped, and maybe a little bit haunted. The filing cabinets in the closet behind my desk moved a little bit, and every once in a while would creep a little bit, and you’d have to push them back into place. You’d hear dust and debris falling from the roof onto the drop ceilings above our heads from time to time. And oh yeah, there were flying ants from time to time.
But man, it was the best place on Earth to watch a hockey game.
Jack made me a better writer. Taught me how to cover an event, among many things. He let me try new things, and innovate. I got the autonomy to pick my own projects. I’ll remember that, and I’ll remember how kind he was to me when my grandmother passed away.
But I think the thing I got the most from Jack wasn’t writing, or game-management, or anything like that – but the genuine way in which he treated people.
Quite The Character
He loved crew, and I think he got more excited about the Head of the Charles Regatta than anyone else on the planet. Jack talked about crew the way the most fanatical Patriots fan would talk about their team. You want to talk sculls, or fours, or eights, Jack was your man. I learned more than about rowing than I ever thought I would typing up his handwritten stories into the computer. I also learned a lot about deciphering handwriting.
He used a cell phone like it was a walkie-talkie, and would chase people out of the front two rows in front of the Parsons Field press box like an old man getting the kids off his lawn.
He was “Five-O’Clock Grinold” at the Beanpot, because the Huskies futility meant they were usually playing in the consolation game. When he had to tell someone how to spell his name, he’d tell them it’s “Old Grin” reversed.
He was the character’s character. He never learned to drive – taking T from Brookline to Northeastern every day. When it rained, he come in his overcoat, and his shoe covers – which he called his “rubbers”, much to the delight of all the college kids who staffed the office. Everybody did a Jack Grinold-impression – the way you do loving impressions of the people who care enough to take an interest in you.
It was Jack Grinold who was responsible for bringing Jim Calhoun to Northeastern in 1974. On the day after Calhoun won his first National Championship with the UConn Huskies in 1999, Calhoun called Grinold – not the other way around. That’s how important Grinold was. Jack inspired that kind of loyalty in people.
I hadn’t seen Jack Grinold in several years. It had been too long. After graduation I’d stop by the office in Matthews Arena and catch up with Jack from time to time. In 2006, I moved to Maine, so I saw him less. I last stopped by when coming through Boston in about 2007 or 2008. I hadn’t gotten to Boston during the week in a while. It was always on my list of things to do, that now I’m really sad that I’ll never get to do.
Thanks Old Grin, thanks for everything. Me and the hundreds of other kids who you gave guidance to at NU will never forget you. And yes, we’ll keep doing our bad impressions of you.
You can read the obituary for Jack in the Boston Globe here.
You find the tribute to him on the Northeastern University Athletics Page here.