Arno Goethel was the executive sports editor of the St. Paul newspapers. He decided to do some public relations work with his staff by hosting a party in the basement of his home. There were alcoholic beverages provided in great supply.
There was some strategy in this, since Goethel had a staff divided between a group of veterans and a younger generation that might not be treating the more-experienced sports writers with a proper level of respect.
Don Riley was the long-time sports columnist for the morning Pioneer Press. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Riley sold more newspapers with his ''Eye Opener'' column than anyone in the history of Ridder-owned newspapers in St. Paul.
The Eye worked days and I worked nights. He covered the underbelly of sports ... with a tremendous fondness for boxing. I was the Twins' beat writer for five years and pretty much stuck to the other pro teams and the Gophers during the offseason.
Riley and I might have been at the same event 25 times in the first seven, eight years that I worked in St. Paul (starting in September 1968). We drank in different locations -- him at Gallivans's and bars owned by the Landrevilles or Montpetits, me at Luigi's -- so we didn't cross paths all that much in my early years in St. Paul.
And then the night at the Goethels, Arno and Ruth, five of us younger fellows got Riley telling stories and, honest to Lewis Black, I never laughed harder before or since.
Don started telling us about his attempts to get in on those lovely dollars that he saw rolling in for others at the State Fair. Number one was his try to take advantage of the popularity of the Chinese product, chow mein, more than a half-century ago.
Riley and his partners came up with the Chow Cone. Great idea. People would have it served in a large ice cream cone and thus be able to enjoy chow mein as they walked the grounds.
Trouble was, the first members of a family served at the Chow Cone stand had the hot chow mein come through the bottom of the cone and land on them. The stand didn't make it through the first day.
There was also the putting game conceived by The Eye and his fellow brainstormers: make a 25-foot putt, win a Teddy bear.
Don had a carpenter of his acquaintance build the platform for the putting game. When it was complete the night before the Fair would open, Don invited one of his young daughters to give it a try. She putted and the golf ball headed for the hole as if it was drone looking for enemy combatants.
The platform was somewhat grooved toward the hole, and the Teddy bear supply did not last long.
By now, Riley had us howling in the Goethels' basement, and then he came up with my all-time favorite:
Riley and a guy who did printing (in Forest Lake, I believe) started a weekly college football newspaper for what they anticipated to be a national audience. They had reporters in the six regions of the country: East, South, Midwest, Southwest, Mountain and Pacific.
The catch was that all the reporters were Riley, writing under various aliases. Don would buy newspapers from around the country at a local newsstand and collect news off the Associated Press and UPI wires. And then he would hack away his inside information.
Riley was identified in the newspaper as the editor in chief, complete with a mailing address. The kicker was when Riley received a letter from a lonely subscriber in Texas or Oklahoma complaining that Bill Wilson (to create a name to fit the story) had been taken off the Southwest beat and moved by editor Riley to a new geographical area.
Yup, The Eye hadn't bothered to check the previous week's bylines and messed up on who was supposed to be covering what area. He wrote back the subscriber with a wonderful yarn about this publication being the one college football newspaper with a budget large enough to move around its regional writers to get a different perspective on things.
Don Riley died on Thursday at 92. His daughter Shannon told Jim Wells, a colleague of ours in St. Paul, that Don was telling stories right up to the end of his life.
I'm standing at a counter in the Fort Myers airport, waiting for a very delayed flight, and writing this in an e-mail on a borrowed computer. There are many more Don Riley stories that need telling, but I just wanted to get this on the record:
Starting with that night of storytelling in the Goethel basement, The Eye became one of my favorite people, and every time I ran into him in the years that followed ... it was a joy.