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Bob Oates, longtime L.A. sportswriter, dies at 93

He served on the original Pro Football Hall of Fame selection panel and covered 39 consecutive Super Bowls.

April 29, 2009|Claire Noland

Bob Oates, a longtime sportswriter for The Times who covered 39 consecutive Super Bowls, died Monday at his home in Baldwin Hills of age-related causes, said his son, Bob Jr.. He was 93.

Oates, who also worked for other Los Angeles newspapers, was the last surviving original member of the panel of sportswriters that since 1962 has annually chosen the inductees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, May 02, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 58 words Type of Material: Correction
Bob Oates obituary: The obituary of former Times sportswriter Bob Oates in Wednesday's Section A stated that he was the last surviving original member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. According to the Hall of Fame, Art Daley of the Green Bay Press-Gazette also was on the first panel in 1962 and is still alive.

"Even right up to the last meeting he attended, he was as informed and prepared as the first meeting," Joe Horrigan, vice president of communications for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said Tuesday. "It was a pleasure to have him in the room. He was the grand old man. He had a soft voice, but everyone listened and paid attention."

Known as an analytical writer who focused on the Xs and O's of the game, Oates began his streak of covering the Super Bowl with the first one, played at the Coliseum in 1967. He worked each successive one through Super Bowl XXXIX on Feb. 6, 2005, and the Hall of Fame selection meeting the day before.

In 2006, when he was 90, he missed Super Bowl XL to stay home with his wife, Marnie, who had suffered a fall a few months earlier. She died in February 2006. Oates never attended another Super Bowl.

Only four sportswriters have covered every Super Bowl: Jerry Green of the Detroit News; Jerry Izenberg of the Newark Star-Ledger; Dave Klein, a former Star-Ledger reporter who had moved on to a pro football newsletter; and Edwin Pope of the Miami Herald.

The National Football League arrived in Los Angeles in 1946, when the Cleveland Rams moved west to play in the Coliseum, but Oates had been covering big-time football in Los Angeles since 1939.

His beat at the Hearst Corp.'s Examiner included USC and UCLA, teams that in those days were more popular than the NFL, and the minor league Los Angeles Bulldogs and Hollywood Bears.

Once the Rams showed up, he covered the NFL for the rest of his career, joining the Herald Examiner in 1962, when Hearst merged its morning and afternoon papers, and then to The Times in 1968.

"He loved the business, and he was the kind of writer who was fascinated by game strategy," columnist Bill Dwyre, The Times' former longtime sports editor, said Tuesday. "He was part sportswriter and part coach."

Oates received the Dick McCann Memorial Award in 1974 from the Pro Football Writers of America, recognizing long and distinguished reporting.

During football off-seasons, Oates wrote general-assignment sports stories on a broad range of subjects.

When the Rams pulled up stakes and moved to St. Louis in 1995 and the Raiders returned to Oakland that same year after 13 seasons in Los Angeles, Oates continued to write about the NFL from a national perspective.

He retired from his full-time position at The Times in 1995 but continued to write football columns for the paper and its website on a freelance basis until January 2007.

He wrote two football books, and in 1996 published "Sixty Years of Winners: A Sportswriter's Look at Champions of the Century."

Robert Maclay Oates was born May 20, 1915, in Aberdeen, S.D., one of four sons of William Maclay Oates, an administrator at what is now called Northern State University, and his wife, the former Idah Armstrong.

According to his 1996 memoir, Oates was a voracious reader of newspapers as a child. He published his own weekly while in high school and worked for a daily newspaper while attending Yankton College in South Dakota.

There he met his future wife, and, after graduation in 1937, they married and moved to Los Angeles. They had two sons, Bob Jr., a writer, and Steve, a dentist who died in 2003.

Oates served in the Army during World War II, staying stateside because of poor vision, and earned a master's degree in journalism at UCLA.

Besides his son, he is survived by two brothers and two grandchildren.

Services are pending.

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claire.noland@latimes.com

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