For he was able to see beyond the skills and endeavour of the players to the greater human drama of the struggle to achieve something worthwhile, something memorable. Sport was his chosen arena, the themes he picked out were universal and human.
But his head was not in the clouds. When McIlvanney retired in 2016, Sir Alex Ferguson recalled receiving a late night call at home. “McClair, is it a small or a capital c?” McIlvanney had asked. The details mattered.
After his death was made public yesterday, the newspapers he worked for and his numerous fans all began highlighting their favourite articles.
The Scotsman today publishes his wonderful report for this paper of the 1960 European Cup final.
Do yourself a favour, spend some time reading a true master of journalism. Genuinely one of the best of us.