A Gift for Philly Sports Fans: Legendary Columnist Bill Lyon is Back

After Retiring From the Inquirer, Lyon is Writing for Sports Website

Bill Lyon. Photo courtesy Philadelphia Sports Daily

Short of the fightin' Phils winning another World Series, it's about the best news a Philadelphia sports fan could hope for - legendary columnist Bill Lyon is writing again.

Lyon, who retired in 2005 after 33 years at the Philadelphia Inquirer, joined Philadelphia Sports Daily, a sports website, as a regular columnist.

"I guess you could say I flunked retirement," Lyon, 73, said in an e-mail. "I devoted half a century to a profession that is now strangling on the vine and since I'm closer to the end than the beginning I decided to find out what this was coming down the road. I thought I'd dip my toe in the Internet pool, and try to tread water."

John Miller, who started the website in August 2010, said of Lyon, "Obviously, I've always had tremendous respect for him. I consider him to be the best columnist - not just sports columnist - in Philadelphia history."

Miller, who's worked in Philly TV and sports radio for more than two decades, said the idea of hiring Lyon "started as just a crazy idea in a brainstorm we had - what if we could get Bill Lyon to write for us? I don't think any of us thought it was possible, and I wasn't sure what his commitments were. But I figured what the hell? - I'll ask."

So Miller picked up the phone.

"I reached out and we talked for about 15 minutes," he said. "It was May 21st, the day of the supposed Rapture and the day of the Preakness. We spoke through 6 p.m. - when the world was supposed to end - and wrapped up at about 6:05. I remember concluding the call by saying either it didn't happen or we're both sinners. We let things simmer for a couple days, I called him back, and we sealed the deal."

For Lyon, the decision hinged on personal concerns. His wife is fighting both cancer and emphysema; he is her sole caregiver and the writing job could not interfere with that. "She's the bravest person I know," Lyon says. "I say I've been married to a middle linebacker for 48 years."

In the end, the painful and exhilarating process of writing itself lured Lyon back.

"There's nothing quite so intimidating as a blank sheet of paper or a blank screen knowing you have to fill it and several of its daunting, taunting relatives," Lyon said. "But there is also nothing quite so fulfilling as finishing something that strikes you as halfway decent. I'm often asked what's the best thing you ever wrote and I say I'm hoping I haven't written it yet."

Lyon's achievements and awards are almost too long to list. He's written six books; is a six-time Pulitzer Prize nominee; a recipient of the National Headliner Award; winner of eight Keystone Press Awards and nine Associated Press Writing Awards. He's earned two Emmys for his TV writing, is a seven-time winner of Pennsylvania Sportswriter of the Year and and was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.

As Miller put it, "It's not like I had to check his references."

Ask any Philly sports fan about Lyon's columns and they'll tell you about the magical mix of wit and warmth that he brings to his writing. That, and an encyclopedic knowledge of Philadelphia sports history, as exemplified by the lede of a recent column on the 76ers:

"The professional basketball franchise of Philadelphia, the franchise of Wilt and Doc, the franchise of Sir Charles and AI, the franchise of Moses and Billy C, the franchise of the White Shadow and the Boston Strangler, that franchise, has been lurching along in fits and starts for going on a decade now, wobbling like a parade float on three wheels."

Mike Sielski, a sports columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, got his start in the Philadelphia area. He recalled how he wrote Lyon a letter in 1995 "asking him for advice on how to break into the sportswriting business, and instead of writing back, he called me and invited me to shadow him to a Phillies game. Forget his writing for a moment - that anecdote gives you an idea of the kind of person he is."

Sielski says there is "a generation of young aspiring sportswriters in Philadelphia who grew up reading the Inquirer and wanting to write like Bill Lyon - to write with the same sort of lyricism and humor and humanity. To have him writing a column again, in any forum, is something to be cherished."