My first day of work as a sports writer was on Dec. 27, 1965 at the Duluth News Tribune and Herald. The ethic learned immediately was that you didn’t give the final copy read and write headlines on your own stories.
The Internet age has changed things, although it has never altered my theory on complaints to the “desk’’ about headlines: They should be made very sparingly, or you are going to hear the response, “Go ahead and write it yourself then.’’
There’s a good chance that a headline that doesn’t seem to fit the message you intended means that your paragraphs didn’t get across that message.
The mini-column that I wrote for the Star Tribune’s Sunday edition on Christmas Day concerned my belief that if the Gophers fired Tracy Claeys, it would come with high and mighty words, but it would be a business decision.
And based on that, the Gophers then would go for Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck, since at age 36 he has gained a reputation as a hard-selling, motivational type. This wasn’t intended as an endorsement of Fleck, only a prediction on what would take place if Claeys were to be fired.
The headline in the on-line edition of that column reads, “Reusse: Tarnished Gophers football program needs rah-rah salesman.’’
As a sports writer two days short of his 51st anniversary, this wasn’t a headline that I saw as worth a complaint.
I was attempting to make the point that if Claeys were fired, it would be because of a belief by university President Eric Kaler that a football program with sagging ticket sales even before the sexual assault charges made by a university office would need a rah-rah salesman … so that headline was close enough.
The issue is that in modern media, people read sentences, not paragraphs, before offering a response. The feedback received was that a Minneapolis sports columnist was in favor of Claeys being ousted to bring in Fleck, as a required super salesman to rescue Gophers football.
One Twitter response from a newspaper reporter in another city was this: “(Reusse) thinks U of Minn’s football problems (generations old) can be solved by W. Mich coach PJ Fleck.’’
Blame me. I didn’t get the message across.
The truth is, I would be the last guy to get on the Fleck bandwagon. I’ve long been nauseated by coaches who embrace wretched, sophomoric clichés as alleged motivation and to sell themselves to the public and to the media.
Lou Holtz came to town in December 1983 and within two days he was making it sound as if his roots in Minnesota went back to Father Hennepin. I was in St. Paul then and was a lonely voice battling the tidal wave of media and public gushing for Holtz.
I’m not sure how long it took, but I soon started to refer to him as the “Music Man.’’ Eventually, the promotion of Holtz was such that there was a Holtz look-a-like contest.
Lou Holtz conducts the Minnesota Orchestra in 1984. (File photo)
On a Sunday night, I went to the Pioneer Press library to find a large photo of Robert Preston as the “Music Man’’ and convinced the artist on duty to put a U of M Gopher logo on Preston’s hat band. When you went to the jump page for the rest of the satirical column on the contest, there was my nominee for the Lou Holtz look-a-like contest:
Robert Preston, with a Gopher logo on his Music Man hat.
I thought it was hilarious – until being invited to the office of the late, great editor, Deborah Howell, for a serious butt chewing after the column and the altered photo appeared in Monday’s Pioneer Press.
Holtz was a terrific coach, by the way, but to me, his brief stay here always will be the time when the Music Man came to our River City.
It’s a character flaw of mine. I can’t stand coaches who are 100 percent dedicated bull slingers. I was taking shots in print at Tim Brewster the day after his first news conference.
When he was 7-1 in his second season and the Gophers were headed to Pasadena, Brew Mania was sweeping Minnesota and the hand grenades were being tossed toward us early cynics by the Gopher zealots.
We survived. Gophers football nearly didn’t.
Now there’s a good chance the Gophers are going to get Fleck. And I know the first time I hear him say, “Row the Boat,’’ that I’ll have to find the nearest waste basket in which to puke.
Addendum: When the Gophers built the Gibson-Nagurski building as part of the deal in hiring Holtz, I referred to it in print as the Taj Ma Holtz. More than three decades later, I’ve recycled that joke by referring to the new dome as the Taj Ma Zygi.
There is now another Holtz joke with a chance to be recycled. When and if Fleck is announced as the new football coach, I’m fairly certain he’s going to be Music Man II.