No one liked game day more than Bryan Burwell. He loved the camaraderie of the press box, the ebb and flow of that day’s athletic event, and the labor of love in bringing that event to life for Post-Dispatch readers.
Burwell, a longtime sports columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, died early Thursday (Dec. 4, 2014) after a short battle with cancer. He was 59.
It was Burwell’s desire to keep his illness private. He had hoped to keep working as long as he could and didn’t want people feeling sorry for him. He fought cancer like he lived life and wrote columns, with vigor, an upbeat attitude, and even a smile on his face.
Burwell joined the Post-Dispatch in 2002 after working as a sports correspondent for HBO’s “Inside the NFL.” During his long sports career, Burwell also wrote columns for USA Today, The Detroit News, and worked at the New York Daily News and New York Newsday.
Burwell also worked in radio and television, co-hosting an afternoon radio show in St. Louis on CBS Sports Radio 920. He was a regular on ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters” television show. Besides HBO and ESPN, he also once did work for Turner Sports.
In 2011, he wrote a book on longtime Raiders coach and football analyst John Madden, entitled: “Madden: A Biography.”
He pioneered video production at the Post-Dispatch with a studio built for his video blog, Upon Further Review, at the Post’s main office in downtown St. Louis.
With such a diverse and well-traveled background, Burwell knew a lot of people in the business, and the reaction to his passing Thursday was swift and heartfelt.
Among them, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King perhaps best summed up Burwell’s love of his job in describing a trip he made to Rams training camp this summer.
"Here’s a guy that’s 59, closing in on retirement and the end of his career, and you couldn’t believe how excited he was because that day he’s gonna interview Ethan Westbrooks," King recalled. "Not Michael Sam. Not Sam Bradford. He’s interviewing the 41st guy on the roster, and he’s carrying around this little video thing (camera) and all excited.
"It says that he loved stories. He loved telling a good story. And he could adapt and adjust to our business, the changes in our business. … There’s such a great lesson in his verve and his excitement of doing his job."
Burwell had a great sense of humor, and a booming laugh. Former Seahawks beat writer Danny O’Neil, now a radio talk show host in Seattle, described his favorite memory of Burwell this morning on Twitter (@dannyoneil):
"After 7-9 #Seahawks beat 7-9 #Rams to make the playoffs (Bryan said): "Should we just apologize to the country for this?"
Burwell loved the pureness of sport and athletic competition. The plight of the underdog and the swagger of the superstar. But he didn’t shy away from issues, be it steroid use in baseball or racism in sports. He wrote strong opinion and when called for, could be strongly critical. And he could break stories. The last column he wrote for the Post-Dispatch, on Oct. 14, broke the news of plans underway for a new football stadium on the north edge of downtown.
"Bryan was on top of his job at all times," said Roger Hensley, assistant managing editor/sports at the Post-Dispatch. “And even moreso than that, if you ever needed help on anything — from a small feature on a local high school kid to a column on the Rams dome situation — nothing was too big or too small for Bryan. He delivered good stories, human stories, to our readers.
"It sounds corny, but I would describe him as sweet and kind and generous. He was the opposite of the curmudgeonly old journalist. He was a kid, and doing sports journalism was a candy store for him.
"And you could talk to any of our guys who cover our beats — the Cardinals, Rams, Blues, Mizzou, SLU — and they would all tell you Bryan Burwell was the best teammate you could ever have."
A former hurdler at Virginia State, he loved track and field, college sports, basketball. And, oh, did he love covering football.
Burwell’s columns and feature stories were honored by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has also won awards from the Associated Press, United Press International, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Professional Basketball Writers Association, and the Pro Football Writers Association.
When Burwell joined the Post-Dispatch in 2002, Sports Editor Larry Starks wrote: “Burwell has an excellent record of writing strong, opinionated, insightful columns. We know sports in St. Louis are so important to so many of you that we’re thrilled that we can provide a strong voice in Burwell and Bernie Miklasz.”
Burwell is survived by his wife, Dawn, and a daughter, Victoria.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Reactions from around the country to Bryan Burwell’s death
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Here is our original report on the death of Bryan Burwell:
Bryan Burwell, a longtime sports columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, died early Thursday (Dec. 4, 2014) after a short battle with cancer. He was 59.
Burwell joined the Post-Dispatch in 2002 after working as a sports correspondent for HBO’s “Inside the NFL.”
During his long sports career, Burwell also wrote columns for USA today, The Detroit News and worked at the New York Daily News and New York Newsday.
His columns and feature stories were honored by the Associated Press Sports Editors, and won awards from the Associated Press, United Press International, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Professional Football Writers Association.
The APSE named Burwell one of the top 10 sports columnists in the country in 2007. In 2013, his ground-breaking “Upon Further Review” video columns were recognized by Editor and Publisher in its Eppy Awards.
When Burwell joined the Post-Dispatch in 2002, Sports Editor Larry Starks wrote, “Burwell has an excellent track record of writing strong, opinionated, insightful columns. We know sports in St. Louis are so important to so many of you that we’re thrilled that we can provide two strong voices in Burwell and Bernie Miklasz.”
In his first column at the Post-Dispatch, Burwell wrote about his return to sportswriting after six years away.
"I left the sports writing business and became a full-time, pampered, TV talking head. But even as the voice got deeper, the suits got fancier, the expense account just a little heftier, and the hotels and plane tickets went five-star and first-class, deep down inside, I was still just another ink-stained wretch looking for a free meal and another game to cover," he wrote.
He detailed big events he covered, including Michael Jordan’s comeback and sprinter Ben Johnson’s expulsion from the Seoul Olympics after a positive drug test.
He wrote in that inaugural column he wanted his first one to be “just” a column. “But the folks who sign my checks suggested I introduce myself to you, because, I was told repeatedly, St. Louis sports fans were different.”
Burwell said he hoped to make readers laugh, cry or think.
Sports Editor Roger Hensley said, “Bryan Burwell was one of the most well-respected sports columnists, not only in St. Louis, but in the nation. His work in sports video was truly innovative.
"But as great as Bryan was as a journalist, he was even better as teammate, as a co-worker and as a friend."
Tributes to Burwell lit up Twitter as the news spread. St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long said “He was a really good dude. He was always a true professional, always upbeat. “
Rams executive vice president Kevin Demoff tweeted, “Profoundly saddened by the passing of Bryan Burwell. His ability to find humor and optimism in life was surpassed only by his love of sports.”
Audio: Frank Cusamano on the death of Bryan Burwell