William N. Wallace ’45W, a former New York Times sports writer and lifelong Yale football fan, died Aug. 11 of acute myeloid leukemia in Norwalk, Conn. He was 88.
Wallace’s sportswriting career began at the News, where he covered football and other sports as a Yale undergraduate. After graduation, he reported on local sports for several New York newspapers before joining the Times in 1963.
Wallace wrote about Ivy League football for the Times and was one of the first reporters in the country to cover professional football on a national scale. Wallace received the Dick McCann Memorial Award from the Pro Football Writers of America in 1986 for his pioneering coverage and his contributions to the field. Throughout his career Wallace wrote extensively about professional football and myriad other professional and collegiate sports, including baseball, yachting and crew, though he always held a special spot in his heart for Yale football.
Wallace’s daughter, Carol Wallace Hamlin, said his passion for sports started at a young age and never relented.
“Sports was a metaphor to him — a narrative,” she said. “He was always able to turn a sporting contest into more than the number of innings or downs.”
In 1934, Wallace, aged ten, attended the famed Yale-Princeton football game at Palmer Stadium. Eleven Bulldogs played both offense and defense with no substitutions for the entire 60-minute game. That roster snapped the Tigers’ two-year, 15-game winning streak, and inspired Wallace’s book, “Yale’s Ironmen” 71 years later. Wallace’s last article of his 44-year career at the New York Times was a Dec. 2007 obituary of James DeAngelis ’35, the last surviving member of the 1934 lineup.
Wallace was a fixture at the Yale Bowl on Saturdays for more than sixty years and rarely missed a home game. Even after his retirement from the Times he kept and was re-issued press credentials so that he could continue to watch the game from the press box.
Steve Conn, Yale’s associate athletics director, said Wallace focused carefully on every play.
“It wasn’t a time to ask questions during the game, but he was always happy to share his thoughts at half-time or after the game,” Conn said.
By his own admission, Wallace was too small to be a serious football player, but he had a passion for the game that he combined with his gift for writing over the course of a distinguished career. Wallace had a talent for bringing together the things he loved — Yale, football and writing. Until this year he organized a group of former Yale newsmen spanning more than thirty years in age that gathered regularly for lunch at Mory’s. The group most recently met in April, when they sat at their usual table under a photo of the Yale Ironmen.
During his time at Yale, Wallace was a catcher for Branford College’s baseball team and also wrote a football column for the News. He graduated in 1949 with a B.A. in history after serving four years in World War II. Wallace was a prominent figure on campus, according to his classmates, and was described by his friends as fiercely loyal to everyone around him.
“He was the kind of man who made a friend wherever he went,” said John Rohrbach ’45W, Wallace’s friend and colleague at the News. “He wasn’t casual about his acquaintances though: friendship for him was a long-lasting affair.”
Donald Marshman ‘45, a fellow member of the Mory’s group along with Rohrbach, added that Wallace always seemed to be heading off to another corner of the country for classmate’s birthdays, anniversaries or other special events.
Wallace served as corresponding secretary for the class of ’45W and was responsible for compiling the class notes that are included in every issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine. As the members of a class grow older, it increasingly becomes the job of the corresponding secretary to bear notice of his classmates’ deaths, most often in two or three brief sentences. But Marshman said Wallace treated his role differently.
“[He] would write little biographies for each one, so that in each issue there would be five fairly lengthy paragraphs,” he said. “It was partly because he was a journalist and he was doing what came naturally, but that work takes time and effort, and he put it in happily. He was very loyal to his class and to Yale.”
Wallace never quit reporting on the Bulldogs, and his readers never quit following. For the last few years of his life, Wallace wrote and distributed a newsletter on Yale football entitled “Bullpoop.” Set up as a humorous fictional conversation between the old, romantic “Bull” and the younger, better-informed “Dog,” Wallace’s Bullpoop recapped football games and discussed current events and Yale football trends.
“I was amazed at the length of the list of his followers,” Richard Mooney ’47 said. “As far the Yale circuit was concerned, he was Yale football.”
While he distributed his newsletter to a few hundred Yale alumni, his nephew Sanford Miller added that many subscribers would send out “Bullpoop” to more people, and readership was likely in the thousands. Wallace’s last issue came out on Apr. 22 of this year.
Wallace remained passionately concerned with the changing state of Yale Athletics for the entirety of his life.
“He was adamant about the fact that Yale sports were a huge part of the culture of the Yale he and his fellow Yalies knew,” Chelsea Janes, a former sports staff columnist for the News, said. Wallace gave a speech at a Yale class dinner in October 2011 on the subject of athletics and admissions, she added.
“In the hospital when we visited him 10 days before he died, he was still going on about the plight of Yale’s recruiting,” Wallace Hamlin said. “Right up to the end he was paying attention to what was going on, he was so keen on the institution of Yale.”
In addition to his daughter Wallace Hamlin, Wallace is survived by his wife, Linda; three other daughters, Eve and Josephine Wallace and Alexis Silverman; a stepdaughter, Samantha De Refler; a sister, Susan Drake; and five grandchildren.