After a Half Century, Michigan Sports Hall of Fame Writer Mike O'Hara Retires. 'It Was a Ball.'

June 10, 2024, 7:55 PM by  Allan Lengel

Mike O'Hara

Mike O’Hara isn't one of kind but the last of a kind.

After more than 50 years as a sports journalist, the last 12 as a columnist for the Detroit Lions’ website, O’Hara officially retired Monday. The 78-year-old, who spent 42 years at the Detroit News, and covered more than 500 Lions games in his career, tells Deadline Detroit a contributing factor to stepping down was an issue with his eyesight, which made the job more challenging.

“I’ll miss the camaraderie,” O’Hara says.

Perhaps one of the funniest journalists to carry a reporter’s notebook, O’Hara, a 2019 Michigan Sports Hall of Fame inductee, was a true character, clever, smart and quick to deliver a quip or tell a joke and schmooze with newsroom colleagues and people on the beat. He delivered a joke in a calculated comedic style that often had people smiling even before the punchline was delivered. 

His solid prose and insights also made him a well respected beat reporter, whose views and insights were sought after on local radio and TV shows, some of which he co-hosted.

A 1963 graduate of Detroit Pershing High School,  he eventually earned a degree from Wayne State University in the mid-1990s. 

The irreverent O’Hara came to the Detroit News in 1966 as a copy boy and was promoted the next year to a sports writer. His career was interrupted in 1969 when he was drafted by the Army for a two-year stint. He went to Vietnam in the Army's 20th Engineer Brigade, photographing and writing about the operations for fellow soldiers and officers to read. 

Interestingly, his roommate was a D.C. native with Tennessee ties named Al Gore. The two kept in contact over the years, but lost touch about 10 years ago, O'Hara said.

Upon his return to the states in 1971, he resumed his career covering sports, and in 1977 took over the Lions' beat for the News. He also wrote sometimes about other sports like boxing and baseball.  He retired from the News in 2008, and then wrote for three years for Fox Sports and Fox Sports Detroit before becoming a columnist for the in 2012. The past two years he worked part time.

Former Detroit News colleague and friend Lynn Henning, who still regularly contributes sports stories to The News, said O’Hara “ absolutely immersed” himself in the Lions beat at the paper. He said during the football season he worked tirelessly, six days a week, but on the eve of his one day off, he would watch Monday night football at Carl’s Chop House on Grand River in Detroit and have a very leisurely dinner.

Coach Campbell congratulates O'Hara

“So even in his leisure during football season, it was very much an exercise in football,” Henning said, adding that “to be on that beat for that many years, and also with the bad football teams, and to do it with the resolve that he did, was very noble.”

“He never let the arduous days or bad days get in the way of his sense of humor,” Henning said. “His quips were absolutely lightning fast.”

O’Hara said he had fun covering the beat, but he wasn’t a homer. From a reporter’s vantage point, he said, it didn’t matter if the team won or lost. It was just interesting covering the sport fairly, and that was his job.

He said the more fun coaches to deal with were Monte Clark, Wayne Fontes and Dan Campbell, the latter who acknowledged his retirement at a press conference last Thursday.

"We just want to thank you — all of us in here, want to thank you — Mike, for everything that you've done," Campbell said. "It's been a hell of a career, man."

O'Hara delivered some heartfelt words at the press conference.

"I don't know if it was luck or whatever it was, but I'm certainly thankful. I just want to make this clear: I'm retiring just because it's time for me to retire. I had a ball doing what I was doing, and I'd go back and re-do all whatever it was, 55 years, again, especially getting up every morning the last 40 years to cover the Detroit Lions. It was a ball."

At the press conference, he was also congratulated by Detroit Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp and Rod Wood, president and CEO. 

Besides some favorite coaches, O'Hara says he loved dealing with Matt Stafford, who he affectionately described as “one of a kind,” as well as players like Taylor Decker,  Jared Goff, Alex Anzalone and Jameson Williams.

He said not all the players were great to interview.

“Some guys have trouble putting words together.” 

Asked if the Lions can make it to the Super Bowl this season, he responds: 

“Yeah, I don’t think they’re the number one team in the NFC, but I think they’re right there. I don’t think it would be an upset if they go.”

Editor's Note: The author of this story, Allan Lengel, worked with O'Hara at the Detroit News from 1984-1995. They are also friends.  

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