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Andreu and Dooley: From beach boys to covering a premiere college sports program, friends end career together

Zach Abolverdi
Special to The Sun
Robbie Andreu, left, and Pat Dooley, who retired Tuesday after a combined more than 60 years of sports reporting at The Gainesville Sun, pose for a photo in the press box at Ben Hill Griffin last Saturday.

Everyone knows the rules: no cheering in the press box. 

An exception was made Saturday during halftime of the Florida-Kentucky game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The University Athletic Association staff and UF beat reporters broke protocol to give a standing ovation to Robbie Andreu and Pat Dooley. 

After 60 years combined at the Gainesville Sun and a relationship dating back to high school, the two best friends were covering their final game for the newspaper before riding off into the sunset together. 

Heads buried in their computers, both were writing their usual updates when the PA announcer began talking about the two 66-year-olds. 

“I’m sitting there thinking, ‘How do we handle this?’ I didn’t expect anything like that,” Andreu said. “It got a little bit emotional there at times. We know so many sports writers in this business who never had a chance to reach the finish line like Pat and I have. 

“They got fired or laid off, or their paper went under before they got to retirement. So it is rare that we not only made it to the finish line, but did together at our same paper. So it was very touching and very much appreciated that they recognized us the way they did.”

After the round of applause, Andreu and Dooley were presented with Gator backpacks and tickets to go to the LSU game with their families. UF ambassador and former coach Steve Spurrier, who called Andreu and Dooley his favorite sports writers, asked them for a group photo with athletics director Scott Stricklin and AD/Emeritus Jeremy Foley.

“The UAA didn’t have to do that,” Dooley said. “They could have just said, ‘Hey, Pat Dooley and Robbie Andreu are doing their last game.’ But they did it right like they do everything. 

“That’s why I have so much respect for Jeremy Foley, Scott Stricklin and everybody there. And to have Coach Spurrier involved, it was emotional for me and I know it was for Robbie. We couldn’t believe it.”

Lifelong friends

Dooley first met Andreu at St. Augustine High School after transferring for his junior year.

They didn’t have an immediate connection, he said, but did share a common interest. 

“We both played out at the Ponce de Leon Golf Club,” Dooley said. 

Andreu remembers them talking in the lunchroom one day about getting a golf team started, and then they organized a petition at the high school. It was a success, but Dooley calls it the biggest mistake they ever made.

“Two years later,” he said, “we’re in the athletic director’s office and he’s threatening to throw us out of school because we’re throwing clubs too much.”

Like many of their classmates, they attended St. Johns River Community College after graduation. They became roommates there and again as seniors at UF, building a friendship that would span decades. 

“We hung out in high school, camping out, going to the beach, all that stuff. Then we ended up being roommates twice in college,” Andreu said. “We used to watch the "Andy Griffith Show" all the time. I remember playing touch football at our apartment complex and going to basketball games.” 

Both didn’t know they wanted to be sports writers until attending UF. Andreu got the itch after stringing some football games for the Sarasota paper, while Dooley freelanced for a few outlets and worked at the Gainesville Sun as a student.

“That was back in the old building by the Hippodrome,” said Dooley, who was mentored by Al Hall. “Back in those days, you would write your story on a typewriter and then you’d put it on this thing called a telecopier. It would take four minutes per page to go through.” 

Dooley graduated from UF in 1976, while Andreu finished his degree in the spring of 1977. After spending a half dozen years together in school, they’d spend the next decade away from each other pursuing their careers. 

Newspaper start

Andreu was hired by the Bradenton Herald out of college, while Dooley went to work for the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. 

To this day, he still doesn’t know how he landed the job. 

“Here’s my job interview: I’m wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts and a Panama hat,” Dooley said. “I mean, what a dumbass. But they liked me.” 

Dooley spent a year there before leaving for the Jacksonville Journal, his favorite paper growing up. When the Jacksonville Bulls came to town, he covered USFL, NFL and college games in 1984.

“I covered 52 football games in one calendar year,” Dooley said. “That may have been the greatest year of my life.”

Andreu took over the Tampa Bay Bucs beat for the Herald before joining the Clearwater Sun in 1980, when he first started covering Florida football games. Three years later, the Sun Sentinel hired Andreu away and eventually moved him to Gainesville. 

“I’ve been covering games going all the way back to 1980,” Andreu said. “In 1988 I decided to take the leap and take the UF beat, mostly to be closer to my dad and sister in St. Augustine. But that’s when Pat and I reconnected.”

Dooley left Jacksonville in 1987 to become the sports editor for the Gainesville Sun. When the beat writer position opened up in 1993, he immediately called Andreu to meet about the job. 

At the time, the Sun Sentinel wanted him to move to Fort Lauderdale and cover the Marlins. He wrestled with the decision for a few days before ultimately making a career-changing decision. 

“I couldn’t sleep. I would go run at night wondering what I should do,” Andreu said. “But I wanted to stay here, and it turned out to be the best decision of my life. I ended up where I was supposed to be.”

On Gators beat

Dooley became the Sun sports columnist in 1994, and the two have been covering the Gators ever since. 

They’ve taken countless road trips together over the years, but both said their favorite place to travel was Arizona for the national championship games in 1995 and 2006.  

They chronicled title teams from the Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer years, including a pair of Heisman Trophy winners in Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow. 

“I don’t think either one of us would have lasted this long if we didn’t have that Spurrier run and then that Urban run,” Dooley said. “There was never any shortage of things to write and I think for that reason, we never really were looking to go anywhere else. We were just like, ‘OK, what’s next?’ That’s why I spent 33 years here.” 

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Both covered Florida’s probation period and three failed tenures, but the success of the football program and the other sports on campus will be the stories they remember most. 

“Saw so many good things happen, some bad things, but met a lot of cool people along the way,” Andreu said. “Spurrier came along and man, was it ever fun covering the beat when he was here. He is an amazing guy, and it was an amazing run. 

“You kind of felt like you’re part of it because you’re there every day covering practice. It was just an amazing time to cover Florida football. Couldn’t ask for a better experience. It’s stuff I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Spurrier has been reading Andreu and Dooley since they started at the Sun and still subscribes to the paper. He said he’ll miss following their work and appreciates the way they covered his teams. 

“They told it like it was,” Spurrier said. “If we messed up, they’d say we messed up and I’d agree with them. But overall, it was pretty complimentary and they were always very fair with what we did. We had a wonderful relationship and some fun times.

“I don’t know if it’s happened anywhere in the country where two sports writers were born one day apart, went to the same high school and college and worked at the same paper for almost 30 years. You couldn’t script it any better.”