The Best-Loved: Former Alabama Beat Writer Celebrates Cecil Hurt
EDITOR'S NOTE: This column commemorating the life of legendary Alabama sportswriter Cecil Hurt was submitted by Brett Hudson, a University of Alabama alumnus who worked with Hurt at the Tuscaloosa News in 2019 and 2020.
Cecil Hurt changed my life with a phone call. A Twitter DM, really.
I was in the parking lot of the famed Hyatt Regency in Hoover — or in the shadow of the It Just Means More sticker, both are equally early imposing — at the end of the first day of SEC Media Days in 2019. I was on the Mississippi State beat at the time. We would greet each other whenever Alabama and Mississippi State crossed paths, he would occasionally cite me as someone for Alabama fans to follow for intel on the Bulldogs, but that was mostly the extent of it.
I read the message as I was turning my car keys to leave. The direct message read: “Hey Brett. We have a job opening on the UA beat. Call me if you want [phone number]”
Sure, Cecil, let me be the one sports writer in America that wouldn’t take an opportunity to call Cecil Hurt.
Our phone conversation couldn’t have lasted more than five minutes. If I wanted the job, he would make sure the people doing the hiring knew about me. Later that week, I met with executive sports editor Edwin Stanton over lunch. A few weeks later, I did the formal interview, and a few more after that, I was on the job.
That phone call with Cecil gave me a professional opportunity I wasn’t confident I’d ever earn. It gave me daily access to the greatest sports writer of this generation. (He’d beg me to delete that line if he could.) It gave me my smartest, funniest friend and an unrivaled road trip companion.
It also gave me personal opportunities I couldn’t repay him for if he lived another 62 years. Because of Cecil, I moved back to Tuscaloosa a few months before my daughters were born. We bought a house 5 minutes away from my mother-in-law. My parents have season tickets, giving them plenty of excuse to visit frequently. I have hundreds of priceless moments of sharing my daughters with my family that wouldn’t have happened if Morgan and I weren’t in here in Tuscaloosa again.
The latter is what I thanked him for when I saw him on Monday.
In hindsight, it’s fitting that Cecil had such a profound impact on my life in a short phone call, for brevity is the soul of wit, and no one had more wit than Cecil Hurt. It’s what made him the unquestioned master of Twitter. It made him uniquely able to reference Attila the Hun and The Grateful Dead in the same sentence of a college football story.
In a realm he would actually care about, it made him profoundly skilled at brightening the lives of those around him. Since his death, you’ve probably seen several examples of a quick Twitter DM doing it, sometimes in as little as a singular sentence. I saw him do the same with in-person conversations in every press box we visited together.
I can’t imagine leaving a conversation with Cecil with anything other than a smile. I doubt I ever saw it happen.
That same wit played well in longform. When we traveled to football games together, Cecil did 50% of the driving and 90% of the talking, exactly as it should have been. One doesn’t bring too much of themselves to a conversation with Cecil for the same reasons they don’t bring a Filet-O-Fish to Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami.
Cecil could fill a car trip from Tuscaloosa to any SEC town with nothing but college football stories you’ve never heard before. Allow him to span the topics to his upbringing in Huntsville, his early-career sabbatical, his pride in his nieces and nephews, the ill-advised decisions of his college days, and you’d have enough material to get anywhere in the world. Only a fool would travel anywhere in the continental United States without asking Cecil for restaurant recommendations.
We’ll all miss Cecil the writer, Cecil the Twitter artist. Cecil’s affable nature and love of the Tuscaloosa and Bama communities made him more than a writer to a huge percentage of his readership; they’ll join us in missing Cecil the man, too.
As he wrote about the 2020 national championship team, Cecil, “though, was the best. And, for years and years to come, (he) will remain the best-loved.”