The Star Tribune continues to have a healthy-sized newsroom, thanks to committed ownership rather than a slash-happy hedge fund. What we no longer have is Lou Gelfand — not Lou himself, but a full-time person dedicated to convincing a reporter that it would be in the best interest of all stakeholders were he or she to fess up to an error in fact or even judgment.
Lou served as the "reader's representative'' for the Star Tribune for 23 years, with that role ending in 2004. He had a different assignment and there was a disagreement over his departure a few years later. He died in 2013 at age 91.
I came here in 1988 after spending nearly two decades at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. We had a more casual approach to corrections on that side of the river, not searching for them but printing one when it was absolutely necessary.
Having Gelfand in a prominent office was an adjustment. When summoned to Lou's office and then departing a few minutes later, you were undertaking the newsroom's walk of shame.
The greatest brouhaha of my 32-plus years — either as employee or contractor — at the Star Tribune came on March 2, 1991. The column was supposed to be on a Buster Douglas boxing exhibition in Duluth, but that was canceled, so I decided to write a few quips.
One was comparing Clem Haskins' explanations for various events (mostly road losses) to Tariq Aziz's explanations for Saddam Hussein's behavior as Iraq's dictator. No response to that one. Another was a three-paragraph put down of the progress being made in girls' and women's basketball that included the phrase "tiptoed ball throwing.'' Big response to that one.
As we approach the 30th anniversary, I can say the reaction was the slap upside the head that allowed me to say with sincerity today:
The arrival of Title IX and opportunity for girls and women in athletics is the No. 1 happening in Sports World of my lifetime.
And now back to Lou: I'm not sure what he might have offered over that grievous error in judgment, but I'm guessing he understood the outrage of his constituency, which was readers.
What I did discover with Lou was when becoming aware of an error, the best move was to head to his office and self-report. If you did that quick enough, there was a chance you can beat those dozen or so readers that scoured the paper cover-to-cover daily for the chance to call Gelfand and say, "Ah-hah, Lou, I found a couple more.''
Honest, I'm thinking Lou had a red button, sort of like the Trumpeter in the Oval Office when he wanted a Diet Coke, that would light up when one of his regulars was checking in.
Lou came to mind on Sunday night, when I checked to find out what Packers coach Matt LaFleur was saying about his ludicrous ploy to kick a field goal when fourth-and-goal, down 31-23, with under three minutes remaining in the NFC title game.
Would LaFleur admit it was a moronic decision, coming on the heels of the semi-moronic decision to go for a two-point conversion while still in the third quarter, experiencing momentum, and trailing 28-23?
My guess was, "Of course not,'' and that was correct.
"Yeah, anytime it doesn't work out, you always regret it, right?'' LaFleur said. "It was just the circumstance of having three shots and coming away with no yards. And knowing that you not only need the touchdown, but you need the 2-point conversion.''
And why again was that you needed the two-pointer, Matt?
And who was the quarterback you had to get a fourth-down touchdown … Aaron Rodgers, right?
Seeing that from LaFleur sent me back to a couple of losers in the wild-card round:
- Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin deciding to punt on fourth-and-1 near midfield on the first play of the fourth quarter, with his team storming back from a 28-0 deficit to within 38-23 against Cleveland. "We had some stops, wanted to pin them down, maybe provide a short field for our offense,'' Tomlin said. " … I just wanted to keep the momentum going in terms of field positioning.''
Not momentum in scoreboard position, field position. OK, Mike.
- Tennessee was fourth-and-2 at Baltimore's 40, and trailing 17-13. Later research indicated that over the past four seasons, teams had been in that situation — trailing in the fourth quarter, fourth-and-2, between the opponents' 35 and 50 — 75 times, and had gone for it every time.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel went for a punt, even with Derrick Henry in his backfield; yes, contained throughout the day, and also the most-powerful back on the planet.
Vrabel also defended himself. And not only that, Arthur Smith, the offensive coordinator that couldn't talk his boss out of the punt, was hired last week as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.
So, I added LaFleur's dunderhead approach on Sunday to the Tomlin/Vrabel blunders, and that's when I came to this conclusion:
The NFL needs its own version of Lou Gelfand. Clearly, we in the media can't get these head coaches to admit their errors, and thus the NFL needs a "fan's representative'' with official status to call these people on the carpet.
Lou always was calm about it, but also direct: You messed up, we're going to print a correction, and perhaps give that mistake a full airing in Sunday's reader's rep column.
"Yes, Lou,'' you said, before walking back silently and head down, before scrunching in your cubicle.
That's what was needed Monday morning in Green Bay. A call to LaFleur from Lou in the NFL office, to describe clearly to the Packers coach the errors he had made, and to inform him that an admission of those was about to be publicized by the fan's representative.