Wednesday, August 26, 2009

“Uncle Teddy and Me”

It wasn’t until late in the night – after watching all the remembrances of the late Senator Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy, after seeing that he had played football at Harvard in the mid-1950s – when I remembered of a conversation I had with him in 1971.
At that moment of life, I was part of the Michigan Daily, the student newspaper at the University of Michigan, a member of the sports department. During the Wolverine football season, the paper published a contest – Gridde Picks – where students, or readers of any kind, would select the winners from among 10 games (tiebreaker included), all vying for a free pizza from a greasy spoon called Omega Pizza (we later upgraded the pie to be from the Cottage Inn; a substantial improvement in quality to be sure and it was just around the corner from the paper offices).
For each week, we also had someone affiliated with that Saturday’s opponent make his choices, which would be published as a means of comparison … and much humor. It was our chance to pen some ridiculous prose in that small box and for the folks in the sports department to actually make rudimentary political comments outside the lines – so to speak.
The 1971 home opener was a weak Virginia squad (who was summarily dispatched 56-0 en route to an undefeated regular season for Michigan). But finding a famous UVA alumnus at that time was a tad difficult.
Until one of us remembered that Sen. Kennedy went there for law school. BINGO! That was connection enough and I took it upon my shoulders, and big mouth, to try and reach him to make that week’s picks.
A series of phone calls made their way through the Boston and then Washington offices, a gaggle of aides and assistants, until … without warning; “Uncle Teddy” was the next voice I heard.
I explained the situation with as straight a face as I could muster, and as he listened, I could heard his tongue becoming fastened firmly into his cheek.
“You ARE serious, son?” he said in his best BAH-Stan accent. I assured him I was.
“What does the winner get?” he asked and was told of the piping hot pizza awaiting that week’s victor.
“If I win, will I get one?”
“Positively,” I said. “We’ll arrange for it to be delivered.”
“I want a fresh one, you know,” he said sternly. “With toppings?”
He was told it would be cheese since it was just a student paper and not the Boston Globe’s budget.
“Sure, why not; I love a good pizza,” and with that, he promptly picked all 10 games and gave a big margin of victory for Michigan over the Cavaliers.
“They don’t really play good football down there; I have no idea why they are playing you,” he astutely said.
And with that, he thanked me and gave his office address in case he emerged as victorious as he believed a Kennedy should.
Fortunately, he failed to win that week, but it might have been one of the few times he didn’t.
For the record, three weeks later, I yanked Cmdr. Lloyd Bucher, he of the infamous USS Pueblo (the ship captured by the North Koreans in one of the testier international incidents in 1968), out of a “boring staff meeting” to do the same thing.
The captain was not upset; he seemed rather amused that I had the nerve to do something like that. When informed Sen. Kennedy had participated three weeks earlier that seemed to clinch the deal.
“I hope I can do better than he did,” Bucher said.
He got close, but no cigar … or pizza.
And it took his death to remember all that.
Damn, I wish I could raise a greasy cheesy slice to the memory of both men. But the diet says no. It’ll have to be part of my memories.

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