Sunday Special: Reflections from the press box

Sunday Special: Reflections from the press box

They have covered the Big Ten forever. They know every nook and cranny of the conference.

They are the Big Ten Sages.

Staff writer Bob Asmussen (28 years at The News-Gazette) caught up with one veteran/retired reporter from each of the league's original 10 schools. Sorry Penn State, Nebraska, Rutgers and Maryland, but you haven't put your time in yet. We will call you when are a bit older.

They shared stories about their favorite personalities in the Big Ten and those they didn't like so much. They gave us their elite sports figures at each school and the best places to get a pregame snack — or a postgame beer.

ILLINOIS

Loren Tate
The News-Gazette

Age: 85.
Bio: In his 50th year at the paper, Monticello native continues to write four columns each week and keep close tabs on his alma mater. Has won countless state and national awards for his writing. Also a regular presence on WDWS 1400-AM, including his popular weekly "Saturday SportsTalk."

Who is your all-time favorite Illinois coach or athlete to work with?

I'd have to say Lou Henson because we had a 20-year relationship that was tremendous, and it hasn't ended to this day. I was equally tight with Harv Schmidt in basketball before Harv was fired. In football, I had great relationships with Mike White and Pete Elliott. Lou revived the program, and he did it in the most honorable way I can imagine. He tried to get in-state players and was successful in that.

You could trust Lou. He never swore. If you asked him privately a question, he might tell you the answer, but you might have to hold it for a day. He was just tremendously honest. We never had a fight. I wrote some things that I knew he surely wouldn't like. I wrote what I had to write, then I stayed away from him for a day or two. I waited until things cooled off and we never had a problem. He understood our jobs. I trusted him when he told me something.

Who was the biggest challenge to deal with?

I don't think Ron Zook and I ever hit it off. I don't think he particularly respected me and it's hard to fall in love with a guy when you know he doesn't really appreciate what you're doing. He lost some games, and I thought he was partly responsible in some cases and wrote that. He didn't like it. I think he looked at me like "Does he have to be here?"

Who are the four athletes/coaches on Illinois' athletic Mount Rushmore?

You have to start with George Huff. You go right to Red Grange (right) because he's the most renowned player in Illinois history. Then you go to Dick Butkus. The fourth one, I think you have to go with Bob Zuppke because of the national championships he won and the fact that he had a strong program. I love Ray Eliot as a person. Maybe he belongs up there. Basketball-wise the most famous are Dee Brown and Deron Williams. They go together. I don't see anybody that jumps out off the 1989 Flyin' Illini. It was a team.

What is the hidden gem in the Champaign area? A bar/restaurant/historic spot that all visitors should check out.

I don't think the Esquire is hidden, but that's what you're at. It's downtown. It's a hangout for Illinois sports people. I want to mention the late Arnie Yarber's place, Po' Boys. He had a great barbecue joint that brought a lot of Illinois athletes to him.

Other than Illinois sites, what is the one Big Ten venue that you enjoyed going to the most?

For football, it has to be the Horseshoe (Ohio Stadium). Illinois during the 1980s had great success going to the Horseshoe. There's something special about football in Columbus. Illinois had a good fortune there. When you talk about just having fun, Bankers Life Fieldhouse is just the best. When the Big Ten tournament is held in Indianapolis, that's the place.

INDIANA

Bob Hammel
Bloomington Herald-Times

Age: 80.
Bio: A 52-year journalist and 30-year sports editor/columnist/reporter at the Herald-Times. Started writing at his hometown newspaper, the Huntington (Ind.) Herald-Press. In his Huntington years he first met Loren Tate, who worked at the Hammond (Ind.) Times.

Who is your all-time favorite Indiana coach or athlete to work with as a reporter?

My most frequent criticism was for being too close to coaches, and I plead guilty to genuinely liking the breed (my brother was a coach, and his experiences opened my eyes to sides of the job that I and most fans don't realize) and being inclined to think their judgment in coaching situations was far superior to mine — and to their most common critics. My friendship with Bob Knight (right) was the most noted, but it was just as true all along my career, before and after coming to Bloomington. In their times, John Pont, Doc Counsilman, Sam Bell, Bill Mallory — a whole lot of people became lifelong friends of mine, along with Bob Knight. They were constant sources of in-depth stories, a by-product of their knowing and having confidence in me. I don't apologize for that, or in retirement, regret it at all.

Who was the biggest challenge to deal with?

In my first seven years in Bloomington, there was a second newspaper, and it was clear only one would survive. The day-to-day competition was great for my professional development but testing on the nerves.

Who are the four athletes/coaches on Indiana's athletic Mount Rushmore?

This is a school with four Sullivan Award winners (America's amateur athlete of the year), two college basketball Players of the Year, an Olympic decathlon champion, Mark Spitz at the head of a long line of Olympic gold medalists, the most successful soccer program in college history — I don't want to be the one to pick four out of that group. In just my time (1966-1996) primary nominees would include Spitz, Gary Hall, John Kinsella, Charlie Hickcox and Jim Montgomery from swimming (there we're talking 16 gold medals, among other things), Jim Spivey and Bob Kennedy from track, Quinn Buckner, Scott May, Isiah Thomas and Calbert Cheaney from basketball, Anthony Thompson and Antwaan Randle El from football ... and I've already left off some other personal favorites and highly qualified candidates while not even getting into soccer.

What is the hidden gem in your area? A bar/restaurant/historic spot that all visitors should check out.

Assembly Hall is the eye-popping tourist stop for most people, and it has been enhanced in that area by recent improvements. Nick's is the iconic bar, although just around the corner is The Gables, where "Stardust" — in 2000 voted America's song of the century — was pecked out on the piano and played for the first times by Bloomington native/IU graduate Hoagy Carmichael. There's a historic marker out front noting that, and another about three blocks up 7th Street noting that major college basketball — not just IU and not just the Big Ten, but virtually the entire aristocracy of college basketball — was opened to African-Americans by the courageous, go-it-alone breakthrough career of Bill Garrett (1948-51) that finally brought down the terribly ill-named (and widely observed) "gentlemen's agreement" keeping blacks out. And, across the street from that plaque, behind the sprawling Indiana Memorial Union, is another marker noting where the building stood (the original Assembly Hall) that was the site of the first several Indiana high school basketball tournaments, the state's enduring symbol. Excepting Assembly Hall, all of these, from Nick's to the Garrett marker, are within one easy walk.

Other than Indiana, what is the one Big Ten venue that you enjoyed going to the most?

Honesty compels me to say Bloomington — handiest to my family and my bed, among other things. The others were basically just a hotel and a gym or stadium, for the most part. I did particularly enjoy my first trip to Penn State, wandering a little to get a feel of the campus and culture and learning, to my amusement, that the hallowed carved Nittany Lion is made of Indiana limestone, from the Bloomington area. That was something of a sop for me, because I was strongly opposed to expansion outside the original Big Ten states. Meeting Joe Paterno made that much easier for me to accept, once it was a fait accompli.

IOWA

Rick Brown
Des Moines Register

Age: 63.
Bio: Worked at the Des Moines Register for 37 years before retiring in December 2015. He was an 11-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year and was elected to the Kinnick Stadium Wall of Fame in 2016.

In any sport, who is your all-time favorite Iowa coach or athlete to work with as a reporter?

I feel very fortunate because there are a lot of candidates to consider. The relationships I had with coaches and athletes left the biggest void when I retired from the newspaper profession. But if I had to narrow it down to one, it would be a basketball player, the late Chris Street. His tragic death in January of 1993, midway through his junior year, still leaves an emotional wake in this state. He was a tremendous young guy who worked so hard, and was improving so quickly with an unmatched work ethic. I called him Emotion in Motion. But the thing I remember and respected the most about him was his willingness to talk to reporters, after good moments and bad. He always faced the music. He played with his heart on his sleeve. And he dealt with reporters the same way. He gave you the unvarnished truth.

What Iowa athlete or coach was the biggest challenge to work with?

Actually, it would be one of Street's teammates, center Acie Earl. Acie (1989-90 to 1992-93) made himself into a first-round NBA Draft pick, but he never cared much for reporters. It was a chore talking to him. But I've got to give him credit. When I called him to talk about the 20th anniversary of Street's passing, he returned the call. And it was the best interview I ever had with him.

Who are the four athletes/coaches on Iowa's athletic Mount Rushmore?

I'd have Hayden Fry there. He brought Iowa football back to life. He inherited 17 straight non-winning seasons, and saw that grow to 19 before the 1981 team won a share of the Big Ten title and went to the Rose Bowl. His teams won a share of three Big Ten titles and went to 14 bowl games. Also there would be wrestling coach/icon Dan Gable. The former Olympic champion coached the Hawkeyes to 15 NCAA titles and 21 straight Big Ten crowns. Halfback Nile Kinnick (right), the "Cornbelt Comet," would be there, too. The football stadium is named after the 1939 Heisman Trophy winner, who lost his life in World War II. My fourth would be Cal Jones, who won the Outland Trophy in 1955, was a three-time all-Big Ten guard and made 22 different all-American teams during his career.

What is the hidden gem in the Iowa City area? A bar/restaurant/historic spot that all visitors should check out.

The Hamburg Inn No. 2. It's not very big, but the breakfast is fantastic. It's a hot spot during caucus time in Iowa, with most presidential candidates stopping by when in Iowa City. And it's a great place to discuss all things Hawkeye.

Other than Iowa sites, What is the one Big Ten venue that you enjoyed going to the most?

Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind. Basketball has always had a special place in my heart, and this place lives, eats and breathes basketball. The passion for the sport there is unmatched. Going there was always a highlight of the season.

MICHIGAN

Larry Lage
The Associated Press

Age: 43
Bio: Has worked at for AP since 2000 and is currently based in Ann Arbor, his hometown. Covered Michigan State sports from 1994-2000 for the Lansing State Journal. He's won two Beat of the Week awards for top story in all of the AP. Graduated from Michigan State with a degree in elementary education "in case my dream job didn't work out."

In any sport, who is your all-time favorite Michigan coach or athlete to work with as a reporter?

Bo Schembechler (right). I grew up in the shadow of Michigan Stadium and Schembechler's mantra, "The Team, The Team, The Team," was instilled in me as a kid and still serves me today. I didn't cover Schembechler as a coach, but got to know the late, great legend after AP hired me in 2000. Sitting in his office in a building named after him, Schembechler spun tales about him and Woody Hayes for a story I did in the "10 Year War." He had me so fired up I wanted to suit up and hit someone for the first time since I played football at Ann Arbor Pioneer High School.

What Michigan athlete or coach was the biggest challenge to work with and why?

Brady Hoke. Former Michigan football coaches Lloyd Carr, at the end of his career, and Rich Rodriguez, at the start of his short stay, granted my requests for behind-the-scenes access for narrative stories that are my favorite to write. Hoke turned down my request, and I never felt he truly trusted me as Carr, Rodriguez, Jim Harbaugh and many Michigan coaches, athletes and administrators have over the last 20 years.

Who are the four athletes/coaches on Michgan's athletic Mount Rushmore?

Bo Schembechler, Fielding H. Yost, Red Berenson, Cazzie Russell. Also considered: Don Canham, Carol Hutchins, Fritz Crisler, Bennie Oosterbaan and the school's Heisman Trophy winners: Tom Harmon, Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson. Schembechler and Yost are locks. After that, I could make an argument for several people to fill the final two spots. Schembechler, the iconic Michigan Man, won or shared 13 Big Ten titles in 21 years, had a top-10 team 17 times and took the Wolverines to 10 Rose Bowls. Yost helped Michigan avoid losing a game for a sensational, 56-game stretch from 1901-05 with his "point-a-minute teams." He also shaped its facilities as athletic director with the construction of Michigan Stadium, an 18-hole golf course along with the nation's first intramural sports building and multipurpose field house, which was named after him. Berenson was a star hockey player for the Wolverines in the early 1960s. After a solid NHL career and short stint as one of Scotty Bowman's assistants in Buffalo, he came back to campus and was Michigan's coach for a 33-season run that ended this year and included two national titles. Russell was AP's college player of the year in 1966 when he averaged nearly 31 points a game, bumping his career average to 27-plus points a game that still stands as a school record. Crisler Arena is known as "The House That Cazzie Built," because Russell made Michigan basketball popular enough that it outgrew Yost Field House.

What is the hidden gem in the Ann Arbor area? A bar/restaurant/historic spot that all visitors should check out.

Knight's Steakhouse is a townie restaurant, with a newer, nicer spot downtown and a throwback location on the west side. You can get a great steak, burger or fish dish along with the stiffest drinks in town. If you go and drink booze, please follow my advice: "One if you're driving, two if you're not and three if you lost your job or got a divorce .... and that's a bad thing."

Other than Michigan sites, what is the one Big Ten venue that you enjoyed going to the most?

Ohio Stadium, where I saw No. 1 Ohio State beat No. 2 Michigan 42-39 in 2006, the day after Schembechler died, and witnessed the Nick Saban-led, unranked and 28-point underdog Michigan State Spartans stun the top-ranked Buckeyes in 1998. Runner up: Assembly Hall, where my ears are still ringing from some Michigan State-Indiana basketball games I covered there while for the Lansing State Journal and The State News in the mid-to-late 1990s.

MICHIGAN STATE

Steve Grinczel
Booth Newspapers of Michigan

Age: 63.
Bio: Grinczel covered Michigan State football and basketball, and Spartan athletics in general, for Booth Newspapers of Michigan (The Grand Rapids Press, et al, and Mlive.com) from 1986-2009 and was the Big Ten correspondent for Sports Illustrated for 15 years. He has been the online columnist, "Grinz on Green," for MSUSpartans.com, the official website of Michigan State athletics, since 2011. He's covered four Olympics, 18 Final Fours, two Rose Bowls, numerous other bowls, a World Series, a couple of NBA Finals, a couple of MLB All-Star Games and two Super Bowls in addition to writing five books, including "Michigan State Football — They Are Spartans," and "Gregory Kelser's Tales of Michigan State Basketball."

In any sport, who is your all-time favorite Michigan State coach or athlete to work with as a reporter?

I feel sorry for any sportswriter anywhere who didn't get a chance to cover Jud Heathcote when he was the MSU head basketball coach. You looked forward to every chance to interact with him because you never knew when the Johnny Carson of coaching was going to leave you in stitches. Despite his reputation for being a curmudgeon, Jud had a way of perfectly complementing a victory or disarming a tough situation with humor, as he did when in the postgame after he intercepted an errant pass thrown to the bench by one of his players, and angrily bounced it from the floor and into his nose at Illinois' Assembly Hall. However, no sportswriter covering a beat anywhere in the world has it better than those covering Jud's hand-picked successor, Tom Izzo. The Spartans basketball program is an open book in a day and age where access to teams, players and coaches is becoming more and more restricted. The time Izzo gives local media is arguably unprecedented in the annals of big-time sports. He'll talk for 45 minutes at the podium during his weekly press conference, and then spend another 45 minutes to an hour chewing the fat at a less-formal round table, answering specific questions from a writer doing a project, spinning yarns and going off the record on multiple sports- and non-sports-related topics. Then, he'll take reporters' calls from anywhere in the country, in addition to his Big Ten teleconference obligation. If you work for a student paper anywhere in the nation, even the University of Michigan's Michigan Daily, and you need a quote from Izzo, there's a good chance he'll take your call and give you a thoughtful, insightful quote. What's more, he makes sure his players are always accountable for their actions on and off the court. There is no ducking the press after a bad performance (in fact, Izzo is as interested as anybody to see how his players respond to tough questions in the paper or on the internet). There are coaches who say they don't read the papers during the season; Izzo reads everything. And if one of his players gets in trouble, Izzo won't shield him from owning up to it to reporters. He might even call a press conference. One of the most rewarding aspects of covering Izzo's teams is how players blossom under him. Travis Walton is one of the numerous Izzo players who came to East Lansing as a shy, timid, reticent freshman and left a mature, self-confident, well-spoken young man the media flocked to as a go-to source of quotes and information before and after games his final two seasons. And finally, Izzo has proved to all coaches of big-time programs, you can have practices open to the media and provide ample access to your players and assistant coaches (and even support staff), and win conference championships, go to Final Fours and capture the national title.

Who was the biggest challenge to deal with and why?

Well, Nick Saban (right) certainly forced reporters to bring their A-games to every encounter with him, or risk being crushed under the weight of his football intellect and verbiage during his five seasons as the Spartan head coach. To say that Nick didn't suffer fools easily would be an understatement. His intensity, of course, is legendary, and he could be unduly harsh, even with his closest allies. I remember once, while guest-hosting his radio show, I asked him a pointed question about why MSU stopped running a certain trap play against Iowa that picked up good yardage on three successive tries. It was a question a lot of people asked because what looked like a promising drive eventually stalled. MSU won the game so I felt safe challenging him on a coaching point, so, I asked him about it, and he gave a politely benign answer on air I have no memory of because I was melting from the heat of his glare. When we went to break, he methodically took off his earphones, set them gently deliberately in front of him on the table top, and then began scribbling Xs and Os on a legal pad, with arrows going here and there. Then, he fumes at me and says, "Now did you ask that question because you noticed...." He then buried me in jargon that I recall had something to do with "wham blocks" and other inside-football terms. But, after I made it through the rest of the show despite standing just 2 inches tall, Nick signed off by thanking me for guest-hosting the show and complimented me for being the fairest reporter on the beat. I'll never forget that. The other challenging part about covering Nick is that his answers to questions at press conferences, or in one-on-one situations, had a tendency to just drone on and on and on. I can't imagine covering him in the old days when reporters used just a notebook and pen to take notes — you had to use a tape recorder. And then, you had to transcribe. However, I found that as you deconstructed the interview, good, if not great, information and excellent quotes always rose to the top.

Who are the four athletes/coaches on Michigan State's athletic Mount Rushmore?

Wow, this is impossible, but I'm glad you limited to athletes and coaches, because President John Hannah, who saw football as Michigan State's ticket into the Big Ten and national prominence as an academic and research center, is the seminal figure in MSU sports as we know them today.

Even so, the field is wide and deep. I mean, how do you leave off Biggie Munn, who built the Spartan football program into national-championship-winning powerhouse. Or Kirk Gibson, or Bubba Smith, or Lorenzo White, or Mateen Cleaves? You could have a Mount Rushmore just for coaches and for athletes. MSU's first basketball coach was a protege of James Naismith, for crying out loud.

That said, I'm going to take a different approach, featuring two coaches and two players.

Duffy Daugherty, who was an iconic blend of coaching acumen, showman, personality and recruiting prowess. His '65 and '66 teams were among the greatest in college football history, and his '66 squad — just look at the first-round draft choices on that team, four among the first eight chosen — is one of the greatest collections of talent ever. Add to that that Daugherty presided over the MSU sideline in the 1966 "Game of the Century," against No. 1 Notre Dame, who the second-ranked Spartans battled to the most infamous 10-10 tie in sports. The game attracted an unprecedented media horde of over 700 and ABC commentator Chris Schenkel called it "the game that changed the game." That event, which served as a precursor to the Super Bowl hype, opened the door to the exposure college and pro athletics have come to take for granted. Finally, the beloved Daugherty built his team with minority talent from the segregated South, where they were not allowed to play for Alabama, Texas or Georgia. George Webster was from South Carolina and Bubba Smith and Gene Washington came from Texas. This took place during the height of the Civil Rights movement, and while Daugherty didn't make recruiting black players out of the South an overt statement against discrimination — Michigan State, after all, had welcomed black players for decades — that team was as instrumental as any at getting the Southern schools to change their ways or be left behind.

Next, I would put the late George Webster on it. Webster was lauded as the greatest player in school history back in the 1980s and still waiting to be dethroned. He actually was named All-American as a defensive back, but was prototypical, and quintessential, roverback. He might be a safety on one down, a defensive end on the next and a linebacker the next. At 6-4, 225, Webster was ahead of his time, but would be a dominant defender in any era, particularly now.

I don't know how MSU could have a Mount Rushmore without Magic Johnson on it. As a sophomore, he delivered MSU's first national championship. And, like the '66 football team, he was the leader and face of a team that was a key component in a transformative season. In '79, Johnson mesmerized the nation as an unheard-of 6-9 point guard with a 1000-watt smile and off-the-charts charisma. The NCAA final, against Indiana State and Larry Bird, is still the highest-rated basketball game in history, and it ushered in what has become known the era of basketball we know as "March Madness." The Final Four might have become the celebration we know it as today without Magic, but the genesis could only start once, and it began with him (and Bird, of course). That he continued to carry the MSU banner all those years as a champion with the Lakers, and then as a business mogul, makes him the school's greatest athletic treasure.

Sustained excellence is why Izzo has to be the fourth face chiseled into MSU's Mount Rushmore. The seven Final Fours, seven Big Ten championships, four Big Ten Tournament titles, the national championship in 2000 and 20 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in his 22 seasons as head coach, might be enough to get him there. But last summer, his contribution to the game at large was immortalized by his enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He really has accomplished everything a college basketball coach can accomplish, at least once, and that includes sending a cadre of first-round draft picks to the NBA. What is as impressive as anything about Izzo's resume, however, is how he has kept Michigan State, which had a checkered basketball tradition before he took over, shoulder-to-shoulder with the nation's elite programs on an annual basis. It's generally agreed that Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, UCLA and Indiana comprise the sport's blue-blood contingent. Others, such as UConn, Syracuse and Arizona, have fallen in and out of the conversation over the years. The one that hasn't dropped out over the past 20 years is Michigan State, and if the blue-bloods ever add a new member, it just might be the Spartans because of the constancy Izzo has delivered through the program for two decades.

What is the hidden gem in the East Lansing area? A bar/restaurant/historic spot that all visitors should check out.

The building where Dagwood's Tavern and Grill has been around since many of the mighty oaks on MSU's campus were saplings. A payroll supervisor with Oldsmobile named Derwood Root made it a bar in the mid-1940s and eventually named it Dagwood's, possibly in honor of the sandwich made famous by the comic strip, and because it would be more memorable than Derwood's. Since it was located just beyond the East Lansing city limits in neighboring Lansing, it could sell adult beverages. East Lansing was a dry community until 1968, so it goes without saying that Dagwood's became a popular hangout for coaches, students and athletes. It's easy to imagine Biggie Munn or Duffy Daugherty having a post-practice meal at Dagwood's, and oh, if only those ancient walls could talk. The quintessential neighborhood bar is located a long outlet pass down Kalamazoo Street from MSU's Breslin Center, and while it's a time-capsule with many of the original decor, it's been modernized with plenty of flat-screen TVs. The menu features an eclectic blend of typical bar food and interesting items such as the pig wings, grouper sandwich and the olive burger, a delicacy found only in Michigan. The best thing about Dag's might be the prices. You can get a burger, fries and a beer for about $10.

Other than Michigan State sites, what is the one Big Ten venue that you enjoyed going to the most?

I thought old Ohio Stadium, when the running track still ringed the field, was mecca. The gloomy shadows cast on the lower bowl by the upper deck, the towers, the architecture, the stature, all made it seem larger than life, even bigger than Michigan Stadium, even though it wasn't. I still like it even after the remodeling, but now it's second to Minnesota's William's Arena. All the facelift at Williams has done is brighten up the place, maybe the way it was back when it was new a 100 or so years ago. I love the raised floor, which makes it unique. I love the barn. I love the buttered white popcorn. You really feel like you're going back in time when you go in there.

MINNESOTA

Sid Hartman
Minneapolis Star Tribune

Age: 97
Bio: Ageless wonder continues to cover Minnesota sports. Less than a month after suffering a broken hip, he attended P.J. Fleck's opening press conference as Gophers football coach. The Minneapolis native is honored with a statue near Target Center.

In any sport, who is your all-time favorite Minnesota coach or athlete to work with as a reporter?

Bud Grant, whom I introduced into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and have called a close, personal friend for over 70 years.

What Minnesota athlete or coach was the biggest challenge to work with?

I got along pretty well with everybody who worked for the Gophers.

Who are the four athletes/coaches on Minnesota's athletic Mount Rushmore?

These questions are very tough for me to answer, because when you've been covering a university for 70 years it's difficult to single out individuals. There's been so many tremendous athletes and coaches that I've covered at the U that I wouldn't want to single people out.

What is the hidden gem in your area? A bar/restaurant/historic spot that all visitors should check out.

Vescio's Italian Restaurant in Dinkytown is one of my favorite restaurants, and they have a pizza named after me.

What is the one Big Ten venue that you enjoyed going to the most?

Without a doubt, Michigan Stadium (right). You walk in and you're in this gigantic hole. And professionally I've probably had more positive relationships with Michigan coaches and players over the years of my reporting than any other school.

NORTHWESTERN

Skip Myslenski
Chicago Tribune

Age: 72.
Bio: After stops at the Rochester Times-Union, Sports Illustrated and the Philadelphia Inquirer, landed at the Chicago Tribune in October of 1978. Remained there until accepting a buyout in August 2008, and a year later signed on with NUsports.com as a Special Contributor. Along the way served as the Trib's national college basketball writer and covered about two dozen Final Fours, as well as nine Olympics, maybe a dozen Super Bowls and Ali's fights with George Foreman in Zaire and Joe Frazier in Manila. This summer will celebrate 50 years in the writing racket.

Who is your all-time favorite Northwestern coach or athlete to work with?

Randy Walker was accessible, and treated you with respect, and never ducked questions. But I could say that about all the NU coaches I have worked with. This is what separated him (and I smile as I think of this)— the analogies he unfurled. Here, for one example, is what he said when talking about his game: "I think football's primal. It goes back to the Stone Age. There were cavemen back in the Stone Age who hid in the back of the cave and hoped no one would find 'em, and they went out and foraged and found bits and pieces. Then there were other cavemen who took a club in their hand and went out and kicked somebody's butt with it and took what they wanted to take. We're still doing that. That's what our game is. You've got to learn to come out of the cave with your club in your hand and get after it. That's what people do who prevail in our game."

What Northwestern athlete or coach was the biggest challenge to work with?

This is going to sound as if I've drunk the Kool-Aid. But I've never found either a coach or a player to be a challenge (your word), and I'm talking of both my time at the Tribune and these last eight years as a contributor to NU's athletic web site. This is not to say they were all great quotes. But. Well. I'm 72 now, and in my 50th year of asking questions, and I wouldn't be doing that still if the folks I had to work with were pains. But they're the opposite. They make it easy and enjoyable for me to do work that, all these years later, I still love doing.

Who are the four athletes/coaches on Northwestern's athletic Mount Rushmore?

The versatile Otto Graham (right), who played at NU in the early 1940s, goes on Mt. Rushmore. In football he broke all the Big Ten passing records; was twice an All-American; and, as a senior, was the league's MVP and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting. In basketball he was also twice an All-American; was twice the conference's second-leading scorer; was the league's MVP as a senior; and was so efficient a performer that the legendary Indiana coach Branch McCracken once exclaimed, "That boy can shoot from east, west, north or south. No angle is difficult for him, and he's really terrific." Then there's this. He even found time enough to join the baseball team, primarily playing center field, and ended his career as a .300 hitter

Pat Fitzgerald is there as well. To recap his well-known saga: Twice an All-American as a player. Part of the 1995 team that won the Big Ten championship and made the school's first bowl appearance since 1948. One of the captains of the '96 team that shared the Big Ten championship and played in the Citrus Bowl. The winningest football coach in school history. Has taken teams to seven bowl games in his 11 seasons as a head coach.

There too is lacrosse coach Kelly Amonte Hiller. When she got to NU in 2002, she took over a program that had not competed on the varsity level for over 10 years. But in 2005, her fourth season at the school, her team went 21-0 and became the first outside of the Eastern time zone to win the sport's NCAA title. Her teams have since won six more, and have never failed to qualify for the NCAA tourney.

The final face up there would be Anucha Browne, a star and standard bearer on the women's basketball team in the first half of the 1980s. She established 24 school records; was a three-time all-conference selection; was twice the Big Ten's Player of the Year; and, as a senior in '85, was an All-American and a Naismith Trophy Player of the Year finalist after leading the nation in scoring (30.5 ppg).

What is the hidden gem in the Evanston area? A bar/restaurant/historic spot that all visitors should check out.

One favored watering hole is Prairie Moon. But it (and the rest of the block it is on) is tentatively scheduled for razing early next year to make room for yet-another apartment building. Another fine watering hole is Smiley's, and its barbecue is delish as well. Then there's The Barn. It's an enterprise of Amy Morton, whose dad Arnie has steak houses across the country, and the go-to spot in Evanston for something special.

Other than Northwestern sites, what is the one Big Ten venue that you enjoyed going to the most?

Minnesota's barn, which I loved going to simply because it was, well, so different.

OHIO STATE

Tim May
Columbus Dispatch

Age: 63.
Bio: May was born in Alabama (going to Crimson Tide games with his dad and brothers in the early 1960s), grew up later in Texas, and has been at the Columbus Dispatch since 1976. He has covered Ohio State football since 1984 and was named the "beat writer of the year" in 2014 by the Football Writers Association of America. He also has covered a lot of other things, including the NFL in the late '70s-early '80s, the Indianapolis 500 since 1985, and Buster Douglas' stirring upset win over Mike Tyson in 1990 in Tokyo.

In any sport, who is your all-time favorite Ohio State coach or athlete to work with as a reporter?

I have enjoyed working with every head coach — Earle Bruce, John Cooper, Jim Tressel, Luke Fickell, Urban Meyer — for various reasons, and I liked my interaction with Woody Hayes many times. As for my favorite athletes, there are several: Chris Spielman, because he was bigger than life, even as a freshman; Mike Lanese, whose intelligence shown through in every interview, evidently why he wound up becoming a Rhodes Scholar; Robert Smith, who always had a glib, honest answer to any question; Kirk Herbstreit, who understood our role and was straightforward in conversations; Eddie George, who is as approachable and considerate now as he was as a player headed to the Heisman; Orlando Pace, who for being a big man always had a grace about him that set him apart as much as his pancake blocks; Anthony Gonzalez, because he was, as I once told him, "curious" about all kinds of things, not just football; Troy Smith, who was never intimidated or afraid to tell you what he was thinking; and Kirk Barton, who was all of the above and then some.

What Ohio State athlete or coach was the biggest challenge to work with?

The 1991 offensive coordinator Elliott Uzelac never cared for me, and the feeling was mutual. He was brought in to lend some discipline to the early Cooper regime, but as the date shows, he was probably the main reason Robert Smith walked away from the team that preseason of '91. After the season Uzelac was relieved of his duties, but paid for the next season, revealing that he was the first assistant coach to have an extended contract.

Who are the four athletes/coaches on Ohio State's athletic Mount Rushmore?

That's easy. Chic Harley, whose derring-do on the field in the late 19-teens elevated the program so much that it led to the building of Ohio Stadium in 1922. Bill Willis, a defensive lineman in the early 1940s under Paul Brown who helped lead the Buckeyes to their first national title in 1942, and went on to become one of the first African-American players to re-integrate the National Football League. Woody Hayes, who shook off the early critics to become one of the nation's premier big-name coaches over his 28 years at OSU, leading the team to three recognized wire service national titles, thus putting annual expectations over the top. Archie Griffin (right), still the only two-time winner of the Heisman Trophy, and a lifelong ambassador for the school whose humility is as legendary as his football exploits.

What is the hidden gem in the Columbus area? A bar/restaurant/historic spot that all visitors should check out.

My older son Kyle says a great one is the Press Grill in the Short North area between downtown and the campus, because of its variety of libations plus "they have the best burgers in town." As for an interesting site, the Chic Harley grave, in Union Cemetery just up Olentangy River Rd. from the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, has a tombstone which bears the end to a tribute poem from James Thurber. Written by Thurber while a student at OSU, it reads: "And there's nothing quite so thrilling, from the first year to today, Like the glory of the going when Chic Harley got away."

Other than Ohio State sites, What is the one Big Ten venue that you enjoyed going to the most?

Nebraska is way up on the list now, mainly because the fans are so into their team yet absolutely respectful of the opponent. That is amazing in this age. But the Big House in Michigan always will stick in my mind for three reasons: the sheer size of the crowds; it being the site of several huge OSU wins AND losses; and the fact that the original place, as seen from above, was really a Block O.

PURDUE

Tom Kubat
Lafayette Journal & Courier

Age: 71.
Bio: Native of Hazel Park, Mich., studied journalism at Indiana. Had 40-year career at Lafayette Journal & Courier. Covered Purdue basketball from 1981-86. Covered Purdue football from 1986 to 2008. Inducted into the Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame in 2007

In any sport, who is your all-time favorite Purdue coach or athlete to work with as a reporter?

Joe Tiller was a breath of fresh air in many ways for me. After covering Gene Keady's tremendously successful first six seasons as Purdue's men's basketball coach, the editors at the Journal and Courier asked me to switch and start covering Purdue football. The football program was struggling but the editors felt that it was the bigger program in terms of fan interest and thus wanted me to take over the beat. I began covering Boilermaker football in 1986 and, by the time Tiller arrived for the 1997 season, Purdue had just one winning season (with the help of a forfeit victory) and no bowl game appearances since 1984.

Not only was Tiller a breath of fresh air because he won immediately, leading Purdue to 10 bowl games in 12 seasons, but he understood the media. Not that he was cooperative all the time (closing practices about halfway through his tenure) but he understood our jobs and tried to help us do it. If you were fair with him, he reciprocated. He was thorough with his answers and had an excellent sense of humor.

In short, he was the consummate professional and treated media with respect — besides being one heck of a football coach.

What Purdue athlete or coach was the biggest challenge to work with?

Jim Colletto. This is a stretch, because of the Purdue head coaches I covered — Gene Keady in basketball, and Leon Burtnett, Fred Akers, Jim Colletto and Joe Tiller in football — all were professional, cooperative and fair. The only reason I picked Colletto here is because he despised the recruiting services that rated incoming recruits, and we had some disagreements in that area. If a Purdue recruit was not rated very highly, Colletto would get upset when that story appeared in the paper. He argued that those rating services were not very knowledgeable, especially when compared with the coaches who scouted players at games and watched a lot of film/video of them. Even when I told him that fans enjoyed following those player rankings, and that my editors wanted me to write those stories, he remained upset. But to his credit, Colletto never let this disagreement ruin our relationship, and he was very cooperative overall.

Who are the four athletes/coaches on Purdue's athletic Mount Rushmore?

Joh Wooden, Rick Mount, Joe Tiller and Drew Brees.

Wooden is a no-brainer. Wooden, of course, is best known as the coach who built the UCLA dynasty, winning 10 national championships from 1964 to 1975, including an incredible seven in a row. What many people don't know is that Wooden was college basketball's first consensus three-time All-American, playing for the Boilermakers from 1930-32. As a strong, tough 5-foot-10 senior guard he led the 1932 team to the mythical national championship. That was before the days of the NCAA Tournament, but the Helms Athletic Foundation recognized the Boilermakers as national champs, and also named Wooden as its national player of the year. No question, Wooden was an integral part of putting Purdue athletics on the map.

Mount (right): Despite his on-and-off relationship with Purdue, most fans, even to this day, list Mount as the Boilermakers' all-time greatest player. While not noted for his defense, he's still considered arguably as the greatest shooter ever in college basketball. As a 6-4 guard from 1967-70, Mount is still Purdue's all-time leading scorer, with 2,323 points — despite playing in an era when freshmen weren't eligible for the varsity and the three-point shot was not yet part of the game. In fact, if he had played all four years with a three-point shot, he most likely would be the Big Ten Conference's all-time leading scorer.

A two-time consensus All-American, his offensive numbers were eye-popping. As a senior, he had two 53-point games plus a 61-point explosion, an NCAA Division I record at the time. With his dead-eye accuracy from long range, Mount was virtually unstoppable, scoring double figures in 72 consecutive games and 30-plus points 46 times.

Taking over a severely struggling program, Tiller introduced the spread offense to the Big Ten and led Purdue to 10 bowl games in 12 seasons, including the 2001 Rose Bowl.

Tiller's teams were famous for their high-scoring offenses — affectionately nicknamed "basketball on grass" — but they also featured defenses that usually were among the best in the conference.

With 87 victories at Purdue, he's the school's all-time winningest football coach.

While I was writing a book about Tiller's success at Purdue, former Boilermaker quarterback and current college football TV analyst Gary Danielson said something that sums up why Tiller belongs on the school's Mount Rushmore.

"When I rate my top five most important people in Purdue football history, I put Joe Tiller at the top," Danielson said. "He was the perfect guy at a very important time in college football, when the economics of the game were exploding. Had he not worked out, I can see Purdue being in very, very dire straits."

While many people claim that Tiller's spread offense hit the ground running at Purdue, in actually took off like a rocket, thanks to the right arm of Brees. Lightly recruited out of high school, because of a knee injury suffered as a junior, and scouts who thought he was too short (at 6-feet) and lacking a strong arm. But Brees' bullseye accuracy and his fierce competitive attitude to succeed made up for any would-be shortcomings. Not only did he lead Purdue to only its second Rose Bowl appearance, in 2001, he left campus as the holder of two NCAA records, 13 Big Ten records and 19 school records. He's still No. 1 on the Big Ten charts for most completions in a season (361) and career (1,026), most passing yards in a career (11,792) and most touchdown passes in a season (39) and career (90). While he's gone on to become one of the all-time great NFL quarterbacks, leading New Orleans to a Super Bowl victory, he was an integral part in helping Joe Tiller build a program that arguably saved Purdue football from total disaster.

What is the hidden gem in the West Lafayette area? A bar/restaurant/historic spot that all visitors should check out.

While La Scala in downtown Lafayette is an excellent Italian restaurant and McGraw's Steak Chop and Fish House is outstanding, fans attending a Purdue game should check out Bruno's Pizza and Big O's Sports Bar in West Lafayette, just a few blocks from campus. The place is filled with sports memorabilia. It's famous for its pizza (with loads of cheese covering the toppings) and Bruno Dough, in addition to Swiss, German and Italian fare.

Other than Purdue sites, what is the one Big Ten venue that you enjoyed going to the most?

Being from the Detroit area, I attended many Michigan games, so it's no surprise that my favorite venue to visit while covering Big Ten sports was The Big House, Michigan Stadium. Even though there are more raucous and louder stadiums, I've always loved The Big House because of its simplicity — just a huge hole in the ground, a simple bowl, with no decks, no huge steel beams and no track circling the football field. Plus, for my money, Michigan's The Victors and Notre Dame's Victory March are the best college fight songs. So, before every game I covered in Ann Arbor, I would join a handful of other media types and walk up to the open-air deck of the press box to watch the Michigan band high step onto the field and play the fight song. Awesome.

WISCONSIN

Jeff Potrykus
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Age: 56.
Bio: Started at the paper in January 1985 and covered high school sports until moving to the Madison area in the spring of '95 to help with UW coverage. Has covered UW athletics every year since — save for 1997-'98 — when he helped out with Packers.

In any sport, who is your all-time favorite Wisconsin coach or athlete to work with?

So many candidates. Working with Greg Gard and Paul Chryst is heavenly as both are professional, get what we do and don't sweat things they can't control. Dick Bennett was a treasure and brutally honest about everything. Athletes include cornerback Jamar Fletcher (cocky as hell but backed it up), Frank Kaminsky (hated dealing with media but was awesome when he talked) and Nigel Hayes (you never knew what to expect).

But I'll go with a football player who isn't known to most folks outside the state of Wisconsin — safety D'Cota Dixon. Dixon navigated his way through a horrendous childhood in Florida to become a valuable starter for UW and, by all accounts, a terrific individual off the field. He is thoughtful, engaging and is always willing to take time to chat about football, life, etc. The one-on-one interview I had for a story on him lasted 1 hour, 22 minutes and 31 seconds. He could have kept on talking if I hadn't cut him off.

Who was the biggest challenge and why?

I'd probably have to go with Ron Dayne (right). Obviously, reporters needed to talk to Dayne quite often during his four seasons at UW. He was always pleasant but just had little to say. Was painfully shy when he was in college. I think the first time I can remember him being at ease and opening up was during the ramp-up to the Heisman ceremony.

Who are the four athletes/coaches on Wisconsin's athletic Mount Rushmore?

Let's go with Donna Shalala, Barry Alvarez, Dayne and Mark Johnson.

Shalala earned her spot by hiring Pat Richter, who hired Alvarez. That hire turned out to be the catalyst for lifting the football program and entire athletic department from the muck. Alvarez's accomplishments in turning the football program around need no explanation. But he has also had a pretty solid run as AD. The football, men's hoops and men's hockey programs — the Big 3 at UW — are in good hands. And he brought back to UW his eventual successor — former All-American offensive tackle Chris McIntosh. McIntosh is currently the Associate AD for Business Development. Alvarez won't talk about his retirement or his eventual successor but everyone expects McIntosh to take over the department once Alvarez decides to hang up his loafers. Johnson, the son of legendary hockey coach Bob Johnson, helped UW win the NCAA title as a freshman in 1977. That team finished 37-7-1 and remains one of the better teams in NCAA history. Johnson was a star on the U.S. team that won gold at Lake Placid in 1980, played 13 seasons in the NHL and has led the UW women's hockey team to four NCAA titles and three second-place finishes in 15 seasons.

What is the hidden gem in the Madison area? A bar/restaurant/historic spot that all visitors should check out.

Like most Big Ten campuses, UW has its share of must-see places. But I'd be an idiot if I didn't put the Terrace at Memorial Union No. 1.

Outside of Wisconsin sites, what is the one Big Ten venue that you enjoyed going to the most?

Only covered a couple of games there but my favorite Big Ten venue was St. John Arena at Ohio State. Just loved the charm of that place. Of the places I visit regularly, I'll go with Mackey Arena. The place is loud, clean and retained its old-school charm after the renovation. And the fans are great.

Comments

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Moonpie wrote on May 14, 2017 at 8:05 am

UGH!!!!!!!!!!!

But, this is indeed a good reflection --  after the inevitable start with Ancient Tate jowling about who kissed his ring and who didnt.

bbabcock wrote on May 14, 2017 at 7:05 pm

Really enjoyed the article and the recollections of these longtime sports journalists!  I particularly enjoyed the comments by Sid Hartman, a real Minnesota legend in his own right!