Buzz Bissinger: A Savior for the City

More than two decades ago, Buzz Bissinger won a Pulitzer writing for the Inquirer, then published his masterpiece, Friday Night Lights. Now he’s rich, and famous. So why is he back at the Inky as a columnist — and why is he so mad?

Anyone at all familiar with Buzz’s oeuvre could have predicted what would happen at what became his Waterloo: an infamous April 2008 appearance on HBO’s Costas Now in which he went after sports blog’s callow editor, Will Leitch, like a rabid dog. (He started out by saying, “Will, I think you’re full of shit.” It went downhill from there.) Buzz accused Leitch, and blogs in general, of profanity, stupidity and bad manners, doing so profanely, stupidly, and with extreme bad manners. The backlash was “enormous,” he admits. The highlight — lowlight — may have been a posting on that described, in loving detail, Buzz enjoying coitus with a horse.

Leitch was the brash rookie that night, the newcomer who didn’t know his place in the locker room. Buzz’s tirade was both professional and personal: Didn’t Leitch realize he, Buzz, had penned the best football book of all time? But to the sports bloggers, everyone — Favre, Tebow, A-Rod — is fair game. Veneration is anathema. “I’m never going to make peace with them,” Buzz says resignedly. They have no craft; their writing isn’t burnished, polished, labored over the way his is. These Deadspin kids — all they want is gotcha now, without any of the pain.

The funny thing is, Buzz’s Inquirer writing verges on the sort of Internet screed he says he despises. He utilizes a blogger’s ramped-up emotional outrage. And while the columns draw on his reservoir of knowledge of the city, they don’t break new ground. “That’s become the norm in the blogosphere and increasingly in print — strong opinion without a lot of new reporting,” Stalberg says. All that sound and fury runs the risk of signifying nothing. Buzz has gone after his old hero Rendell harder than he has anyone, but when Cohen’s asked what Ed thinks of Buzz’s handiwork, “I don’t think I’ve ever discussed the column with the Governor,” he says.

 Still, Buzz is proud to be bucking the trend. “Steve Lopez told me, ‘You’re the only person in America who’s gone back into newspapers,’” he says, like it’s a badge of honor. He views his column as a reaffirmation of the power of the press, and to those of a certain age, it is. “Your average newspaper columnist still has considerable influence today,” Stalberg says, “because it’s print, and it stays there.” Well, no. Print gets recycled. Words only live on forever on Buzz’s bête-noire Internet. (“By the way,” Stalberg says, “is he still wearing those leather pants?”)

Speaking of Lopez, when you repeat Buzz’s “eradicate the memory” quote to him, he retorts: “He’s going to eradicate my memory? How, with eight columns a year? Tell the little sissy to write three a week and get back to me.” Then adds, “I love the bastard like a brother.” Buzz has devoted friends, and they cut him the slack they feel he deserves. “Nobody I know is more miserable in success,” Lopez says of his old buddy. Asked if writing his column makes Buzz happy, Ceisler says, “Buzz is not the type of person who strives for happiness.”