SALT LAKE CITY — In an era long gone, before texting, FaceTime and even before emailing, Bruce Woodbury was the public’s lifeline to University of Utah sports. He got the information to the newspapers, which then delivered it to the people. He did so by driving his weekly press release downtown to the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune offices.
Woody put the “Ute” in “distribute.”
In that sense, he played an important part in getting Utah athletics to where it is today. Woodbury passed away this week from a variety of health complications, some that afflicted him his entire adult life. Not that you heard much about it; he never complained.
Woody’s passing is a loss everyone who ever hummed “Utah Man” should mourn, because that’s what he was, throughout college and his entire career. He never worked anywhere else.
He rubbed shoulders with all the greats, from Arnie Ferrin, to Lee Grosscup, to Ticky Burden, to Missy Marlowe, to Rick Majerus, to Alex Smith, to Elaine Elliott, to Andrew Bogut, to Kyle Whittingham.
Some star athletes came before he got a job in sports information, some after, but if you wanted to reach any of them, Woody made it happen. In football terms, he ran interference, though he never actually interfered. He enhanced.
Woody, who retired in 2007, had the complicated job of publicizing teams without compromising their interests, but he did it gracefully. He knew that over time the goodwill would come back to nest. When bad news occasionally hit — a season-ending injury, suspension, arrest or death — and his phone started ringing, he always picked up, even though he didn’t want to.
He gave the media everything he could.
Then he gave the university everything he had.
Along the way, he became everyone’s friend. It’s easy to like someone who will drive past a shouting parking attendant and jump a concrete island to get a couple of writers to the airport. Though a confirmed Utah Man, he didn’t even have enemies at BYU. There and elsewhere he was respected as a sports information director who navigated one of the more difficult jobs imaginable. Sometimes the media were mad at him for withholding a big story; other times the coaches were mad about a story that got out.
Woody handled it all with aplomb.
An added benefit was that he did his job with humor. A memorable one-liner came during football pregame announcements. He first would warn the media against cheering in the press box, at risk of expulsion. Then he would add his own touch: “There will be no jocularity allowed.”
Which naturally led to a lot of jocularity just before kickoff.
Woody believed in the tradition of favoring the local media, knowing they would be there long after the national outlets had turned off their lights. He got me a floor seat for the greatest Final Four matchup in history, Magic vs. Bird, and a midfield view at the Fiesta Bowl, the Final Four and hundreds of other events. Arranging and approving seating is a routine part of the SID’s job, but the location was up to him.
One winter road trip to Laramie, I became sick. I went straight to my hotel and climbed in bed. The next day he arranged for a doctor to phone me in my room. Later, I called Woody and told him I was still too sick to make the game.
That night, flat on my back and sweating profusely, I turned on the TV and, to my relief, noticed the Wyoming-Utah game was starting. I figure at worst I could write my game story from the telecast. Instead, I fell into a fevered sleep. When I awoke several hours later, the game was over.1 comment on this story
Panicked about what to do for my newspaper report, I bolted up in bed. Underneath the door was a neatly stapled game book with all the stats, as well as a play-by-play log and quote sheets, compliments of Woody.
I filed the story without ever seeing the game.
I’ve often been accused of that anyway, but this time it was accurate.
One of the most treasured tenets of real journalism is objectivity. Befriending people you cover can make things uncomfortable, but he never made people feel that way. He understood the media’s job as well as he knew his own. That night in Wyoming said it all. I always thought I was just covering his team, when all along he was covering mine.