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Late Chicago sportswriter Bill Jauss: A one-of-a-kind regular guy

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Updated: November 12, 2012 12:09PM



Bill Jauss was a friend.

Think of your own life. How many people can you say that about?

But then Jauss had a lot of friends. I mean, thousands. Maybe tens of thousands. Millions?

We’d walk down a Chicago street and strangers would say, “Hey, Jaussie!’’

They said it the way you’d say hello to a co-worker you liked and hadn’t expected to run into. Not like you would to some big shot who thought he was cool. And certainly not the way you would to some bloviating fool who happened to be on TV and wore makeup and had the latest hair weave and a silk tie from Brooks Brothers. (I can’t prove this, but I’d bet a lot of money that if you’d asked Jaussie what Brooks Brothers was, he’d have answered, “Scott Brooks and Brooks Robinson.’’)

Often Jauss would stop on the sidewalk and start chatting to these strangers, and a sports conversation would break out. Before you knew it, hell, it was time to be in that Chicago pub we were headed to so long ago.

Bill was a sportswriter I always respected. He was quite a bit older than I, but when I would see him when I was first a college athlete, then later a fledgling journalist, he was kind and jovial and well-spoken and he had an embedded yet subtle wild streak I found so … comforting.

Why comforting? I guess because it made him seem like a regular guy. In the locker room or the writing biz that made a lot of difference. People loved to talk to Bill. Including athletes. And that was because he made them feel at ease, because he had no airs. Because he loved to hear what they had to say. Because he cared.

Jauss wrote for several ­newspapers in Chicago, and when he and Bill Gleason and Ben Bentley were looking for a fourth local to start their spanking new — and ­ever-so-original — “The Sportswriters on TV’’ show, they came to me. For two reasons. OK, three. One, I was young enough to know what that weird thing called hip-hop meant. Two, I was around on Mondays due to my odd magazine-writing schedule. Three, they knew I liked them. Which I did.

(And fourth, I suppose, as producer John Roach was proud to acknowledge, I had “no prostate problem.’’)

It wasn’t like fathers and a son on that show. It was like four sports nuts of different ages ­dissecting stuff over beers.

And virtually every sportswriter in Chicago came on the show at various times. So did sports-loving celebrities such as Mayor Harold Washington and Mike Ditka and game-show dude — and Chicago native — Pat Sajak.

And you know what? They all loved Jaussie.

He could be irascible. (He once called me a “fascist’’ on the show, which I found amusing since I lean more left than right, but then Jaussie at times was one tick from being an anarchist.) And irascible and sportswriter are a redundancy, anyway.

“The Sportswriters on TV’’ defined Chicago and the passion of its sports fans. Yet it was never just a shouting match. Members declaimed for 30 seconds, even a minute or more without interruption — an eternity on TV — if they had something gripping or researched to say.

I remember Jauss succinctly ending a debate we had about ­raccoons and a genetically engineered anti-rabies virus that could be served to them in the wild on food-like things called “Racky Snacks.’’

“A squirrel from Chicago can beat up a raccoon from the ­suburbs,’’ Jauss said.

“I’m with you,’’ Bentley said, folding his arms, chewing on his cigar. Roll credits.

I was at Jaussie’s house on Wednesday just before noon, and he lay in a bed in the front room and his breathing was labored. The only other person there was the hospice caretaker.

Bill’s beloved family members had stepped out briefly from their vigil. James Jauss, Bill’s son, felt certain his dad would pass around 3 p.m. That was the time Kenny Jauss, Bill’s wife and accomplice for almost half a century, had died in 2010. Those two, man, they were tighter than a Rawlings baseball.

I said some things to Bill as he lay there, his eyes closed. And I think he heard. I hope he did. I touched his arm, I said a little more, and then I left. He died before anyone else could see him. And I think I know why.

Everyone was gone. It was all good. He was at peace. So was the world.

Game on.

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