Mr. Breazeale was the best, by George

I first met George Breazeale when I was 14 years old. He and my father used to travel together to University of Texas basketball and baseball games. My father was the play-by-play man for the radio, Mr. Breazeale was the Austin American-Statesman’s beat writer.

Sitting in the back seat of the car whistling down the highway to College Station one night, as a young rockand roll punk, I was bemoaning the whiney country-and-western music that was on the radio.

Having had enough and in no uncertain terms, Mr. Breazeale quickly extolled me on the virtues of the fine music that was emanating from the speakers. (My dad, of course, was grinning from ear-to-ear.)

He has been a part of my life ever since.

George Quinten Breazeale passed away at age 80 Saturday after complications from a brain tumor.

I last saw him in person when I visited him in the hospital in March during the state tournament after he had brain surgery.

Mr. Breazeale Mr. Breazeale He had just had surgery and I was curious how his memory would be affected. That was one of the characteristics about Mr. Breazeale—his memory.

He could recall things from decades ago, long forgotten by those who actually participated in the event.

During our hospital visit, after about 30 seconds, it became apparent that he was still sharp as ever.

We talked about current events, we talked about things from 30 years ago.

His dry wit was still caustic.

I will cherish that visit.

Even after I started working with him, people always asked me why I continued to call him Mr. Breazeale, when everyone else called him George.

It was hard to explain. Just a matter of respect, I guess. I just couldn’t make myself call him George. My tongue would have snapped off its roller.

These phone numbers, written on the back of a used taped together manilla envelope, was an important sportswriting tool for Mr. Breazeale, especially on Friday nights. These phone numbers, written on the back of a used taped together manilla envelope, was an important sportswriting tool for Mr. Breazeale, especially on Friday nights. One late Friday night after all the football madness had died down and we finally got to go home, we were about to get in our cars and he told me he had something to tell me—he was going to retire.

I was as shocked as I have ever been in my life. Despite the fact that he had worked for 45 years and was 65 years old, nobody thought he would ever retire.

The next day, there was an envelope on my desk. Inside was “The List.”

The List

For anyone who has ever worked at the American- Statesman on Friday nights taking phone calls for the last 30 years or so, “The List” should be more than a little familiar.

Coaches aren’t the most reliable people when it comes to calling in a score—especially if they lose—so, Mr. Breazeale made up a list of all the phone numbers of every coach and every field house of every school in central Texas.

Now what made Mr. Breazeale’s list unique is, first of all, it was written on the back of two cut up and taped together manilla envelopes.

Along with his steel trap memory, this was one of George Breazeale’s traits—he never saw a piece of paper he didn’t use.

If he did an interview, it was on a piece of paper that had already been used. If he left you a note, it was probably on the back of a long overdue press release.

He had a stack of paper and envelopes on his desk at the ready. He would go through the trash to retrieve a sheet of paper that he deemed worthy for recycling. Never once saw him go to the supply desk and get a fresh notebook or legal pad.

The other thing that made Mr. Breazeale’s list unique is that not only did it have the coaches numbers, it also has the numbers of Dairy Queens, harware stores, filling stations and greasy spoons from all across the state.

If the coach did not call in the score or did not answer his phone, he was going to get that score no matter what.

Should that happen, the conversation would go something like this:

“Here’s the number for the Dairy Queen in Llano. The manger is named Sal. See if you can get the score from him.”

Or, “The guy that works the night shift at the Texaco station in Holland will know what the score is. If not, here’s the mayor’s number, call him.”

If a coach got fired or left, he would just scratch their name off and replace it with the new coach.

“The List” is one of my prized possessions and I consider it the Magna Carta of high school sportswriting.

He not only wrote about sports, he participated as well.

He played basketball well into his late 50s until a broken nose caused him to hang up his Converses.

We used to play basketball before the state tournament every year at 6 a.m., despite Ken Herman’s comic play-by-play while we were playing.

“...shot taken Breazeale, who was James Naismith’s roommate in college...”

He enjoyed playing tennis, especially with his son Paul.

I only saw him mad once, when former sports editor Paul Schnitt changed his lead on a story about Westlake athletics. He told him to either change it back or take his name off the story.

He changed it back.

Never one to blow his own horn or seek the limelight, Mr. Breazeale is one of only nine sportwriters inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.

Sportwriters in general are not a very popular bunch, but I dare anyone anywhere, to find someone who can say a harsh word against George Breazeale.

For better or for worse, I am a sportswriter because of him and any success I have had comes from what he taught me and I work hard everyday to live up to his standards.

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2010-09-30 digital edition

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