“Who’s he going to shoot?”
That’s the title of the first chapter in “The Edwin Pope Collection,” a book published in 1988 featuring the finest work by one of the finest journalists to ever touch a keyboard.
I smiled when I saw that title Friday morning, immediately recalling the context of one of hundred — check that, thousands — of great Edwin Pope stories spanning his 88 years.
Since Edwin, the legendary Miami Herald sports editor, would be screaming at me to get to the point, the context was the time Don Shula was introduced to Don Johnson, in the height of “Miami Vice” fame. Johnson casually told Shula he should stop by sometime and “watch us shoot.” The tunnel-visioned, unaware Johnson was only a pretend cop, soon turned to a staffer and said, “Who’s he going to shoot? A bunch of crooks?”
Edwin Pope told that story countless times, chuckling in that Georgia drawl. A minute later, no doubt, he’d be on to another tale, then another, then another. Pope received a great gift of cramming several lifetimes into one; the gift he gave in return was sharing it with all who knew him.
When he told you a story, it was always, always as if he were telling it for the first time, and to only you.
No introduction is needed for Palm Beach residents who moved up the coast from Dade or Broward, lamenting the difficulty in getting The Herald back then to see what Edwin had to say about the Dolphins or the Hurricanes or the Kentucky Derby.
How big a voice did Edwin have in South Florida? If not for him, you might well not think anything of seeing the phrase “Jets coach Don Shula” or “Chiefs coach Don Shula.” Yes. Edwin was the man who suggested that Dolphins owner Joe Robbie consider hiring that young coach whom the Baltimore Colts had grown tired of.
“Simply put, Edwin Pope was a giant in the South Florida landscape,” the Dolphins wrote Friday morning to begin a news release mourning his passing. The Dolphins went on to call Edwin “an unabashed civic booster” who “played a huge role in Dolphins history.” A few years ago, the organization honored him by putting his name on the pressbox at what is now Hard Rock Stadium.
Cassius Clay becoming world heavyweight champion on Miami Beach? Pope was there.
The Dolphins winning two Super Bowls? Pope was there, as he was for each of the first 47 Super Bowls (one of only a handful who could make that claim).
The Miracle on Ice? A Pope favorite.
For my 19 years at The Herald, I was privileged to call Edwin a colleague. Often, it was my duty to edit his columns. My definition of nerve-racking is when you’re a green copy editor and they passed out the “duty ro” (Herald-speak for duty roster) and you saw “Popeco” (Pope column) under your name.
The issue wasn’t that Edwin’s columns required editing. He was such a wordsmith, most required zero editing. But that rare piece of writing that was only 99 percent perfect? Make it 100 percent or watch out. I still remember the lecture all the editors given by Paul Anger, then executive sports editor, because an extraneous word “the” had slipped under everyone’s noses.
Occasionally, a Saturday morning would roll around when I’d be at a dead-quiet 1 Herald Plaza. I’d see the light on far in the back of the Sports department and wander into Edwin’s office, which was adorned wall-to-wall with hundreds of books, kept company by an electronic air freshener Edwin had humming 24/7. I’d say hello and for the next 20 or 30 minutes, I’d listen to Edwin. Back before everyone sold himself as an “insider,” Edwin was the kind of trusted journalist who’d routinely stop by Shula’s hotel room on Saturday nights before Sunday road games, getting the real inside scoop.
I was so naive I’d start to feel guilty that I wasn’t getting “real work” done even though I now appreciate the greater good we were accomplishing.
“The South Florida community lost one of its greatest citizens,” the Dolphins wrote in their release.
And I’ve lost a friend.
You have, too.