Bud Armstrong's addiction to the nightly drama of putting out this newspaper's sports section was so strong that he stayed with it seven years posthumously.
Saturdays always have been the come-to-your-maker evening for people working on the sports desk of metropolitan dailies. The size of the Sunday section always has made for more editions squeezed closer together and with earlier deadlines.
The Saturday night pace was typically frantic on Dec. 22, 2001.
The Timberwolves defeated Chicago 95-74 and forward Wally Szczerbiak expressed gratitude he had not been traded to the Bulls. The Wild defeated the Canucks in Vancouver in a battle that beat writer Tom Jones compared to "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." There was also a note that right wing Marian Gaborik missed his second game of the season because of injury.
There was considerable advance copy on the Vikings' final home game with Jacksonville. This 33-3 loss would be the last home game for receiver Cris Carter, as expected, and also for coach Dennis Green, as speculated.
The "Briefly" column was occupying its position on page 2. We can be sure the man compiling this feature was Armstrong, since the lead item concerned Bode Miller falling in a slalom race in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, followed by reports of Alpine and Nordic races in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and Ramsau, Austria, and Brezno-Osrblie, Slovakia.
This was followed by several horse races from around the globe and an update on a memorial service in Auckland, New Zealand, for Peter Blake, a yachtsman murdered by bandits in the Amazon.
"We call those 'Bud sports,'" said Kevin Bertels, the man who makes sure the sports copy moves on those hectic nights. "Skiing. Premier League soccer. Cycling. Tennis and horse racing from every corner of the globe. Those are Bud sports."
Armstrong does not apologize for his efforts to shine at least a dim light on these activities. "I think every sports department should have someone who enjoys sports out of the mainstream," he said.
The Briefly was long since completed and the battle was waging to get metro-edition copy handled and "off the floor" by 11:15 p.m. Team player that he was, Armstrong waited until the copy crisis passed to tell a co-worker, Judd Zulgad, to call 911.
Bud was having a heart attack. The paramedics from HCMC arrived almost immediately. He tried to get off a chair, collapsed on the floor and the paramedics started hitting his chest with paddles. He came back, seemed to be gone for a while at the hospital, and came back again.
Tonight, seven years and a few Saturdays later, Bud will work his final shift on the sports desk.
His first came in August 1965, when sports editor Sid Hartman plucked him from scores of applicants to fill an opening on the Morning Tribune's staff.
"The reason Sid hired me is that every other applicant wanted to write as much as possible," Armstrong said. "I had no such ambitions. I wanted to work on the desk."
This wasn't the first indication that Bud looked at the world somewhat out of the norm. "I grew up in Miami Beach and got so tired of 78 degrees and sunny, I couldn't stand it," he said. "I had to get to a place where they had seasons."
That's how Armstrong wound up at Marquette and a journalism school that sent amazing numbers into the newspaper business. His first postgraduate job was at a small daily in Belvidere, Ill.
"I worked mornings ... and I hated it," he said.
He moved to the Illinois State Journal in Springfield, Ill., and started working nights. He has continued to do so for 45 years, the last 43 at the same newspaper as ... well, Sid.
"I'll always be grateful to Sid," Armstrong said. "He hired me."
He joined a small and very talented sports staff at the Morning Tribune -- writers such as Bill McGrane, Merrill Swanson, Dwayne Netland, Ira Berkow and Bob Fowler, columnist Dick Cullum and a wonderful slot man in Bob Sorenson.
The slot person was in charge of both laying out the pages and copy flow. Sorenson had the job four nights a week and the new kid three. "We shared that job and a love of books," Armstrong said. "He became my best friend."
Later, Sorenson became the newspaper's books editor and died young from cancer. Bud maintains the connection by checking what Sorenson's son, Tom, has come up with as a sports columnist for the Charlotte Observer.
"Tommy writes great stuff," Bud said.
Armstrong had an appreciation for great writing, even though he claims a lack of that skill. "My sports editor in Springfield was Ed Alsene," Bud said. "One day he came to me, after I had covered some games the night before, and said, 'I think you should consider becoming a full-timer on the desk. You're good at laying out pages, editing copy.'
"Maybe he was saying, 'And you're a lousy writer,' but I think Ed recognized that I didn't enjoy getting quotes from 16-year-olds and trying to make them sound important. Whatever the motive, Ed's advice was the best I've ever been given.' "
Bud will bow out on a Saturday night with a schedule that includes games with the Timberwolves, the Wild, Gophers hockey and the NFC playoffs. It will be hectic -- and humor-filled.
"There's never been a night in 43 years that we didn't have some laughs," Armstrong said. "Without those, I probably would've been gone years ago."
Actually, he was gone for a while on that Saturday before Christmas, but Bud enjoyed the work enough to make a comeback more dramatic than Liverpool's 6-minute flurry against AC Milan in the 2005 UEFA Champions League final.
Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. • firstname.lastname@example.org