Ron Reid, the thunder-throated Inquirer sportswriter whose booming, well-timed, often ribald quips enlivened press boxes across the globe, died Saturday. He was 72 and suffered from colon cancer.
"Ron was a sweet man, and a lot of fun," said Frank Litsky, a New York Times sportswriter and fellow track and field enthusiast. "But the thing you remember best about him was his magnificent sense of humor."
Reuben Frank of the Burlington County Times recalled when he and Mr. Reid, nicknamed "Rondo," were on a bus filled with reporters returning from a long day at the 1996 U.S. Olympic track and field trials in Atlanta. Someone in the weary, hungry group asked the driver if there was anywhere to eat that late at night. The man suggested a Woolworth's lunch counter.
"How is their wine list?" Mr. Reid bellowed an instant later, turning the groans to laughter.
"That may not seem all that remarkable," Inquirer columnist Phil Sheridan said, "but I think most classic Rondo quips were like that. It was about timing, about saying exactly the funniest possible thing a moment before anyone else could think of anything to say."
Mr. Reid, a Michigan native who graduated from the University of Michigan, also wrote for Sports Illustrated from 1972 to 1980 and for newspapers in San Antonio, Texas; Pittsburgh; and San Mateo, Calif. He came to The Inquirer in 1982 and remained there until his retirement 23 years later.
In between, he wrote primarily about his two favorite sports, pro football and track and field.
For decades, he humorously previewed the week's NFL games in the Sunday Inquirer. He covered the NFL playoffs, Big Five doubleheaders, Flyers games, and numerous Super Bowls. He attended virtually every Eagles game and Penn Relays during his tenure here, writing about those events with passion and wit - never passing up an opportunity to entertain his colleagues.
"He was the very definition of the 'press box wag,' " Sheridan said. "We covered the 1998 Eagles - the 3-13, end-of-Ray-Rhodes-era Eagles - together. I remember perhaps the worst performance of that season . . . in Denver. The Eagles fell behind 28-0 almost before anyone could get comfortable in their seats. Finally, the Eagles blocked a punt and it rolled out of the end zone for a safety - 28-2. There was utter silence in the press box when suddenly that bass voice intoned, 'Oh . . . goody. Just 13 more of those and we're right back in it.' "
As a journalist, Mr. Reid also had a serious side. If he perceived a wrong, he pursued it until he could chronicle its roots for his readers.
In California, where he got his first journalism job after a stint in the Army, his tenacious reporting uncovered a transcript scandal in the Pac-10's athletic departments, as well as the questionable business relationships between a sports agent and several college players.
"He didn't suffer fools very gladly," said retired Inquirer columnist Bill Lyon, with whom Mr. Reid enjoyed swapping stories of their grandchildren.
Along the way, Mr. Reid developed close relationships with some of the most notable players and coaches of his era.
As a young sportswriter with the San Mateo Times, he covered Al Davis' colorful Oakland Raiders and befriended a young assistant named John Madden. Later, while with Sports Illustrated, he persuaded Eagles coach Dick Vermeil to let him take home the team's offensive playbook while he researched a story on the sport's technical side.
He also scored one of the few interviews granted by Duane Thomas, the famously taciturn Dallas Cowboys running back of the 1970s.
Mr. Reid had a biting wit, an ornate writing style, and, in the words of Litsky, "an ability to cut through the B.S."
"Ron was a very good interviewer," Litsky said. "Every question was cogent and designed to produce a good answer."
At Eagles games, Mr. Reid typically wrote a story on the opposing team as well as "Eagles Review," an offbeat compendium of notes, observations and wisecracks that he relished putting together.
In his later years, suffering from knee problems and a few extra pounds, Mr. Reid would walk red-faced and out of breath into press boxes. But before he complained about the long walk, he would be sure to shout a stinging comment that announced his presence.
Many of his best jokes weren't fit for print, though that didn't stop Mr. Reid from trying to slip a few into his copy and past the copy desk. He delighted whenever he succeeded.
"I sat next to Ron at Eagles games for more than 20 years," Lyon said. "He was quick-witted and had a voice that was a built-in megaphone. He loved one-liners, and often he'd look over at me and say, 'You know, we're just a couple of high school sophomores.' "
As much as he loved football, though, his real sporting passion was track and field. Mr. Reid covered the sport at several Olympics and at venues across the world, including several of the Russian-American meets that heated up the Cold War.
He served as the president of the Track and Field Writers of America in 1992 and 1993. In 1989, he received the Penn Relays Jesse Abramson Award.
After retiring, Mr. Reid wrote children's books, mainly for the amusement of his three grandchildren.
"He wasn't a gardener or anything like that," said his daughter Michelle Galietti. "He liked to write and he read a lot."
Mr. Reid, a longtime resident of East Windsor, N.J., is survived by his wife of 47 years, Susan; another daughter, Allison Cawley; two sons, Anthony and Shannon; and three grandchildren.
Services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Huber-Moore Funeral Home in Bordentown, N.J. Interment will be private.