Sports writing with a Missil: pithy, concise

JACK THOMPSON WOULDN'T have been the Throwin' Samoan. Hugh Campbell wouldn't have been the Phantom of the Palouse. Nor Keith Lincoln the Moose of the Palouse. The nicknames -- perhaps the greatest in WSU sports history -- were the work of Harry Missildine, himself an all-time great. His game was sports writing.

For Cougar fans who came of age in Spokane in the 1960s and '70s -- and for another generation who lived on the Palouse in the '80 and '90s -- there was one byline you always read.

Harry Missildine was almost ubiquitous with WSU football and basketball, first with the Spokesman-Review and then, in semi-retirement for the last 20-plus years, with the Moscow-Pullman Daily News. His writing was snappy. His insights pithy. His reporting skills supreme. And his personality was straight out of central casting.

The nicknames he bestowed on the people he covered stuck like glue, because the word according to Harry was the gospel to his readers.

Bill Gaskins and '65 Cougs were done in by "The Night Watchman."

In 1965, the Cougars missed a Rose Bowl berth when they lost at Arizona State, 7-6. In Cougar lore, thanks to Harry, the contest is forever remembered as the "Night Watchman's" game. A two-point conversion by WSU in the waning moments was nullified by a delay of game penalty. Harry somehow learned that the official timing the play was using a watch with a sweep seconds-hand, so the following morning Harry's column declared: "WSU was beaten by the Night Watchman of Tempe."

His writing was colorful, yet economic. Consider this passage from a Cougar win over Stanford in 1972:
Washington State's defense, blasting and blitzing, shut out Stanford in the second half Saturday in cool and sunny Martin Stadium ... Until the end, bitter for the Cardinal and richly rewarding for the Cougars, it was a nail biter.

"Harry would come into the newsroom, pull off four or five feet of paper -– whatever length he felt the story required -– from the back end of the AP teletype machine, put it into his typewriter and go nonstop -- no pauses, nothing -- until he reached the end of the scroll," remembers Steve Witter, a Spokesman-Review sportswriter and copy editor in the 1970s. "What came out was flawless."

Witter's brother, Greg, the executive editor of, worked with Missildine at the Daily News in 1983-84.

"He had a gruff, gravelly voice and told things like he saw them, but he was so gracious -– whether he was offering tips on writing or your golf swing," Witter said.

He added, "When we were kids, my cousin John and I read every word Harry wrote and to this day we still use some of the phrases we found in his columns. In fact, whenever you see the word INDEED in a CF.C story, consider it one of Harry's legacies. That's a word you rarely see on the sports page. Harry made it a staple."

Missildine's brilliance, though, wasn't apparent to Witter until his sophomore year at WSU.

"I was covering a Pullman Greyhounds game for the old Pullman Herald," he remembered. "Harry was also in the press box but I thought he was just watching the game for fun, because he didn't have a notepad and spent most of the evening talking with Keith Lincoln. With two minutes left, as I struggled to think of what to write, Harry picked up a phone and started dictating pure poetry back to the Daily News copydesk. Talk about intimidating."

And talk about funny.

One time a Spokesman-Review copy editor, on deadline, was exasperated that he couldn't track down the first name of a kid who had scored all the TDs that evening for one of the area's small rural high schools. Missildine, without looking up from his typewriter, blurted out, "Just call him Bud and put it in quotes!"

The Missil, a member of the Inand Empire and State of Washington sports halls of fame, covered the Cougars for five decades.

When a CF.C editor decided to write a column about the greatest Cougar victories of his lifetime, he sought out two people first: Bob Robertson and Harry Missildine.

EDUCATED AT THE acclaimed University of Missouri journalism school and seasoned by military service in World War II and Korea, Missildine was a major league talent. Memorable twists of phrase flowed from him like beer from a tap.

Cougar running backs Andrew Jones and Ron Cheatham didn't rush for yardage against Idaho in 1973. They were WSU's principal ground-eaters.

Ken Greene wasn't just a star defensive back. Following a game-saving deflection in the endzone against Cal, Missildine characterized him one of the great goaltenders in college football.

Quarterbacks performed handsomely. Harry was especially fond of Chuck Peck and used his Twice Over Lightly column to launch an informal fan club for the QB from Ballard.

Harry seemed to have a lexicon all his own. There weren't just final scores. In 1977, for instance, he referred to the meaningful numbers -- WSU 17, California 10.

In distilling the Cougars' rout of Washington in 1973, he summed up the essence of WSU's multiple-veer offense this way: Run ‘em ragged, then pass for points and big gainers.

In the wild 1975 Apple Cup, won by Washington 28-27, Missildine said it all in his first 30 words: Jim Sweeney took the rap for the fourth-and-one call in the deep fourth quarter Saturday that started Washington on the road to one of the greatest escapes since Harry Houdini."

HARRY'S RUN AS A sports writer came to an end this past October when complications from a stroke suffered last year made it impossible for him to put his typewriter to work. He died last week in Moscow at the age of 85.

He was one-of-a-kind. For the Cougar faithful who grew up with his words as their guide, he was simply the best. His passing marks the end of an era and serves as a stark reminder that time waits for no one.

Harry's influence on the founders of CF.C, whose love for both the Cougars and the written word were fueled by Harry in the 1970s, is nothing less than palpable. We thank him for that. More than anything, though, we thank him for all those crimson memories. Indeed, Harry, we're proud to say we knew ya.

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