Jay Greenberg, 71, of Monmouth County, N.J., the former Flyers beat writer for the Daily News, a celebrated author, and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s “media honorees” wing, died Thursday, Aug. 12, at home of complications from West Nile virus.
During his five decades of sports journalism, Mr. Greenberg worked for the Daily News from 1978 to 1989 and covered some of the Flyers’ and hockey’s greatest moments. He wrote about the team’s losses in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1980, 1985, and 1987, and scored an exclusive interview with Wayne Gretzky when the superstar was traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles in 1988.
Paul Holmgren, the former Flyers player, coach, general manager, and president, called Mr. Greenberg a “database of the Flyers. He knew the stories inside the game.”
Mr. Greenberg also chronicled football, baseball, and other sports during his career, earning a reputation as a writer who could tell an engaging tale about anything. Beginning in 1994, he wrote a general sports column for the New York Post for 17 years.
In 2013, Mr. Greenberg was named a lifetime member of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association and given its Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award, which recognizes those “whose words have brought honor to journalism and to hockey.”
“It took me a few years to realize how rare it was for a U.S.-based writer to become such an ultimate [hockey] insider,” said Les Bowen, who succeeded Mr. Greenberg on the Flyers beat at the Daily News.
Mr. Greenberg’s writing was insightful, entertaining, and crafted in such a way that it was easily recognizable by his readers. “He may have been the finest hockey writer ever,” said Pat McLoone, the former assistant managing editor for sports at the Daily News.
Writing in December 1980 from Calgary in Canada about the Flyers’ forthcoming game, Mr. Greenberg said in the Daily News: “Something called a ‘chinook’ blew in here just before the Flyers did yesterday, raising the temperature to 52 degrees. A chinook is a north wind with hot air — something like Gene Hart — that comes out of the Canadian Rockies, and disguises the fact that the National Hockey League has expanded almost to the North Pole.”
Mr. Greenberg also wrote for, among other publications, the Kansas City Star, Philadelphia Bulletin, Sports Illustrated, Toronto Sun, Hockey News, hockeybuzz.com, and princetontigersfootball.com.
He was the author or coauthor of four books, including Full Spectrum: The Complete History of the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club and The Philadelphia Flyers at 50: The Story of the Iconic Hockey Club and Its Top 50 Heroes, Wins & Events. A fifth book is scheduled to be published next year.
Mr. Greenberg grew up in Johnstown, Pa., and was attracted to hockey as a youngster by the Johnstown Jets, the local minor-league team at the time. “That was where I learned the game,” he told the Tribune-Democrat of Johnstown in 2013. “That’s where I fell in love with the game.”
After graduating from the University of Missouri, Mr. Greenberg started working at the Kansas City Star. When the city got a National Hockey League team in 1974, Mr. Greenberg volunteered to cover it when no other reporters were interested.
He went to the Bulletin in 1975 to cover the Flyers and then to the Daily News in 1978.
As much as he was respected for his writing, Mr. Greenberg was equally admired for his personal demeanor and professional graciousness. Scott Lauber, now a Phillies beat writer for The Inquirer and Daily News, worked for Mr. Greenberg in 1995 as a researcher for his first book on the Flyers.
“It was like being asked to catch a Cy Young Award winner’s bullpen sessions,” Lauber said of their time together. “It was a master class on writing and reporting, better than any internship I ever had.”
Former Flyer Joe Watson, who played when Mr. Greenberg was on the Flyers beat, tweeted: “Great hockey writer. Even better person.”
New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro called Mr. Greenberg “a beacon of kindness and grace, forever willing to offer praise and encouragement.”
In a statement, the Flyers said: “Jay dedicated his life to writing and had a truly special ability to tell a story in a way that not many could.”
Mr. Greenberg liked dogs, popcorn, spicy foods, and martinis. He was a regular blood donor and a lifelong follower of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“The National Institutes of Health and Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, to which Jay has donated his brain for study, are not going to find any deterioration of his mind, only his motor abilities,” his family wrote in a statement. “Jay was sharp and kept his sense of humor until the end. (In fact, he dictated and wanted this paragraph included in his obit.)”
Mr. Greenberg is survived by his wife of 44 years, Mona; daughters Elizabeth and Stephanie; a sister; and other relatives.
Services are private.