Rick Reilly spoke for the entire audience during his speech at Santa Anita Racetrack.
“Being the next Jim Murray?” Reilly, of ESPN, asked. “That’s like saying, ‘Tiger –– meet my sister. Shaq –– you shoot the technical. Donald Sterling is hosting the Kwanzaa party.’
“You can’t just replace Jim Murray.”
Reilly accepted the Great Ones Award from the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation (JMMF), and brought the room to laughter with his opening line at the JMMF dinner in October.
While Reilly’s remarks were slightly off color –– he’s never been one to shy away from those –– they are completely true. No one can call himself or herself the next Jim Murray.
Murray’s style of writing, with humor, sarcasm and wit, will be tough for any columnist to replicate.
He was the voice of his readers, the speaker for the community.
Fortunately though, every year a handful of journalism students from across the country can call themselves the next class of Murray Scholars.
This year, that included myself. It took days to actually set in that I had won one of the five scholarships. I thought the chances of my essay being selected over students from bigger journalism schools were too slim to even consider.
I wrote my column on Bill Swan, chairman of the board of trustees during the 2003 basketball scandal. I was certain the judges would choose a different entry.
I was wrong.
When Murray died, his widow, Linda, wanted to keep Jim’s legacy going. She began a scholarship fund in Jim’s name. She chose to use an essay contest to decide the winners each year.
“The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation became ‘official’ on May 17, 1999,” Linda –– now Murray Hofmans –– said. “The inaugural Jim Murray Memorial Golf Classic was held at Riviera Country Club, Pacific Palisades, California, on the first anniversary of Jim's passing: August 16. The money we raised afforded seven $5,000 scholarships to our first class of Murray Scholars in the year 2000.”
Hofmans invited the top 10 journalism schools in the nation to participate in the competition. Local universities (USC, UCLA, California-State Northridge) were also invited, along with the alma maters of JMMF board members.
A few St. Bonaventure University alumni and longtime Hofmans friends suggested she extend an invitation to St. Bonaventure.
About 15 universities participated in the contest in 2000. Now, in 2014, 31 schools participate. In the 15 years since the competition’s beginning, St. Bonaventure has produced 11 Murray Scholars, setting the record higher than any other participating school.
Hofmans handpicks the judges for the competition, whom are all are prominent sports journalists. St. Bonaventure graduate and Yahoo! Sports basketball insider Adrian Wojnarowski was among this year’s judges.
Hofmans invites the winning students and their families for a weekend in Pasadena, Calif.
This year, Thursday night consisted of an informal welcome dinner. On Friday, we toured the Rose Bowl (led by the general manager, Darryl Dunn, a St. Bonaventure graduate) and the Santa Anita Racetrack. Then on Saturday, we watched and bet on horse races.
Afterward, JMMF board members, judges, donors, and past and present Murray Scholars enjoyed a Monte Carlo Night in the racetrack’s banquet hall. We played roulette, blackjack and poker. Reilly won $3,000 in fake money against my father in roulette.
Unfortunately, though, I am too young to understand just how great Murray was.
I was only six years old when he died. At least I had Reilly.
Every week for as long as I can remember, I read Sports Illustrated cover-to-cover, and hurried to get to the last page –– Reilly’s column.
His piece on Joey Chestnut’s absurd ability to stuff 25 hot dogs in his stomach in one sitting comes back to mind quite easily.
His last sports column brought me to tears. Once I finished, I realized I truly wanted to become a journalist.
Reading his columns set me on the path that brought me to St. Bonaventure. Reading his last one proved it.
And now I’ve met him and listened to his hilarious speech. He, along with other prominent national journalists, even donated money for the scholarship I received.
During the ceremonies, I felt like I could finally call myself a journalist.
But it was all possible because of people like Reilly and Hofmans.
While Reilly was as close as one came come, no one can ever replace Jim Murray. Reilly even admitted it.
Instead, his memory lives on through each and every Murray Scholar.
As for the next Jim Murray?
I just hope I can write half as well as he did.