Legendary New Orleans sportswriter Peter Finney dies at 88

Peter Finney dies at 88

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - New Orleans has lost a poet and a walking history book of local sports. Long time States-Item and Times-Picayune sports writer Peter Finney Sr. passed away Saturday at the age of 88, according to his former employer.

Finney began his legendary career just out of high school when the Jesuit grad and Loyola University freshman started covering sports for the New Orleans States newspaper in 1945 earning 20 dollars a week.

"His (Pete's) father was meeting a friend and said 'hey I hear there's an opening for someone to cover prep sports' and his name got thrown into the hopper and the rest is history," recalled son Peter Finney Jr.

That career spanned nearly 7 decades, thousands of articles and various books. Finney's words about sports in New Orleans and beyond mattered.

"I think Peter stacked up against any writer in this country, any of the great sports writers," said longtime colleague and columnist Angus Lind.
Lind and Finney worked together for decades at both the New Orleans States-Item and the Times-Picayune.

"He had a knack of asking questions the guy on the street wanted to know," said Lind. "With the God given talent to spin words he put it into pure prose from a sportswriters standpoint."

"He had a knack of asking questions the guy on the street wanted to know," said Lind. "With the God given talent to spin words he put it into pure prose from a sportswriters standpoint."

In the '40's Finney grew up in the French Quarter and spent a lot of time at St. Louis Cathedral as an altar boy.

"He stayed here, this was his home," said Lind.

Finney transitioned from covering sports day to day to becoming a columnist.

"Back in the '50's horse racing and boxing was real big and they started falling off," said Finney Jr. "He started writing his weekly column in the sixties, so he had to come up with a column a day and had to cover the waterfront."

Finney profiled many of the sports greats in history like Jesse Owens, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Namath and Jack Nicklaus. Finney's son said his father really appreciated covering Nicklaus' last Masters victory. "The 1986 Masters when Jack Nicklaus won at 46 (years old) that was an amazing thing."

LSU athletics was also one of Finney's sports passions and penned books on the Tigers like "The Fighting Tigers, 1893–1993: One Hundred Years of LSU Football" and "Pistol Pete: The Story of College Basketball's Greatest Star."

His words chronicled some of the most memorable sports moments from the town's favorite sports sons, the Saints. He was there for the first game at Tulane Stadium in 1967 when John Gilliam returned the opening kick for a touchdown against the Rams.

And again for the Saints Super Bowl victory four decades later, Finney had just about seen it all.

"It started out in total disbelief this actually happened," said Lind.

Over the decades Finney was the wordsmith who described nearly all of the great sports events in the Crescent City. There was none bigger than Muhammad Ali's return to boxing glory as he beat Leon Spinks in the Superdome in 1978. Finney wrote, "There was some periodic wrestling on the ropes between the two, but the closest Ali came to vaudeville were a few shuffle steps when he knew he had a champion of seven months in the bag." He was a 17-time Louisiana Sports Writer of the Year.

"The guy could write just some fascinating wonderful memories of iconic moments of Louisiana and sports history," said Finney Jr.

His journalistic chops would be challenged in 1975 when Eastern Airlines Flight 66 from New Orleans crashed in New York that summer. Finney happened to be in New York covering a sports story when he was thrown into covering the crash.

"He covered the plane crash and people at the paper are saying wait he was just a sports writer," said Lind. "He was more than a sports writer, he's a news man. What he had to call on, his wealth of knowledge few people had.  It's like he was a Rolodex of people files and numbers all in his head."

When his fulltime gig at the paper ended in 2011 Finney kept writing as a columnist. His words through the decades will live in print forever. His knowledge shared with generations of future sports writers looking for the real story.

"He was something else at the end they called him paw paw and they had a lot of fun, a lot of fun," said Lind. "New Orleans is so lucky, so blessed to have had a talent like that for so long."

Finney was married 61 years to the love of his life, Doris before she passed away in 2013. The Finney's had six children including three sons, Peter Finney Jr., Dr. Timothy Finney and Michael Finney and three daughters, Barbara Finney Weilbaecher, Jane Finney Haas and Elizabeth Finney Donze.

A public mass of Christian burial will take place on Saturday August 20, 2016 at 11 a.m. at St. Rita Catholic Church located at 2729 Lowerline Street in New Orleans. Visitation will begin at 9 a.m.  A private burial will follow funeral services.

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