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COLUMN: Furman gave us one final test

Albany Herald Sports Editor Danny Aller

Albany Herald Sports Editor Danny Aller

Even though I was just a few hours away from Furman Bisher in Atlanta on any given day, I never had a chance to meet the man we Georgia sports writers often refer to as the “Dean” of our profession in the Peach State.

But through his writing and occasional emails, I feel like I knew him well.

Still, I couldn’t help feeling loads of regret late Sunday night when I learned of his passing at the age of 93 that I never took The Herald’s former publisher, Mike Gebhart, up on his suggestion to look Furman up and go have lunch with him on the off chance I ever found myself in his hometown of Atlanta with a few hours to spare.

“He’d love to meet you. He’s always up for bending the ear of a young journalist,” Gebhart would tell me. “And if nothing else, you can say you had a chance to sit down, talk and share a meal with a legend.”

I have no doubt it would’ve been one of the highlights of my young career, especially considering how much I respected his writing from afar and the fact we were both Scorpios — our birthdays in November separated by a mere three days. I’m not big into astrology, but some of my best friends over the years have shared my sign, so I have no doubt Furman and I would’ve shared the same opinions about those we revered and loathed in the world of sports.

When I found out nearly three years ago that Gebhart had talked the retired AJC sports editor into writing for our newspaper group on a “guest columnist” basis, I was thrilled. And when I told staff writer Mike Phillips — a veteran journalist of almost 30 years who was a fan of Bisher’s work before I could even read — of Furman coming on board, his reaction told me all I needed to know.

“What a get for us!” Phillips exclaimed. “That guy is the godfather of our business.”

But he was more than that.

At 90 years old in 2009 when I read the first column he sent us, he was a shining example that age is nothing more than a number and that one’s mind will remain sharp as long as you stay passionate about something. Furman — even years after retiring from the hustle and bustle of the everyday scene — remained passionate about anything-and-everything sports, but more so analysis of the teams and athletes who make them tick.

Sure, Furman was hard on Tiger Woods at times, but he still respected what Tiger had done for the game, despite his troubles off the course.

Furman was a historian of all sports, never missing a chance to remind us of who did what first and who truly deserved the credit in this age of the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, 24-hour news cycle.

And most of all, Furman loved his Atlanta Braves — in good times and in bad.

On Saturday, Furman will be laid to rest in Atlanta, where my guess is he’ll be looking down from above with a smile on his face. Not because of all the nice words people have written about him since his death — or all the wonderful memories of him they’ll share at his funeral — but because of the ironic timing of his passing.

He died late on a Sunday night when sports editors, such as myself, around the country sat in front of their computer screens moments from putting that day’s paper to bed and heading home for the night — never thinking there’d be any breaking news we’d have to rearrange an entire front page to get in with only a few minutes to go before deadline.

But Furman leaving us when he did was his way of giving his fellow “journos” one last test, just to make sure we were sharp and still on our games.

Just like he was at 93 years young.