Ted Peterson was in charge of outstate sports coverage, mostly high schools and also town-team baseball, for the Minneapolis Morning Tribune. He was the contact my father, Richard, used to get me hired as a Tribune sports "copy boy" in August 1963.
Two-plus years later, I still was answering phones to take highlights, scoring summaries or give out scores to hopeful gamblers, and performing other menial tasks.
My favorite of those was typing the bowling scores: 700s for men, 600s for women, as I recall. What I know for sure is if you were a friend of mine, or a town character in Prior Lake, and didn't get your name added to the bowling scores a time or two … it was an oversight.
Mr. Peterson was aware that my academic pursuit at the University of Minnesota had run into complications (a lack of enthusiasm being one) and said:
"You want to get into sports writing? Go see Bruce Bennett in Duluth. He's looking,"
Man alive, was he.
Bennett was the executive sports editor of the morning News Tribune and the afternoon Herald. And he asked some penetrating questions as I sat across from his desk for an interview in early December 1965.
Q: Have you written articles, particularly on deadline?
Me: "Copy boys don't write articles at the Tribune. But I'm a dynamo on bowling scores. And I'm undefeated in taking the sailing results from Lake Minnetonka on summer weekends."
Q: Have you edited copy, while also providing headlines and photo cutlines?
Me: "None of that. But I was relentless in my searches to fill Sid Hartman's list of small mug shots required to run alongside his column, which means I've developed a thick skin when verbally abused for failings."
Mr. Bennett said he would get back to me. There's a good chance no one else interviewed, because the offer came a few days later. I could have the job and Bruce was willing to go $3 over lowest union scale, to $76.08 per week, to bring me in.
That was only a $25 cut from what I was making as a copy boy. And, let's face it, if the job actually paid more than poverty wages, Bruce's leading candidate would not have been a 20-year-old who had never written an actual article for a newspaper, or edited anything other than a paper submitted for a school assignment in the hope it would attain a coveted C-plus.
My first shift as a sportswriter was on Dec. 28, 1965. "Take that chair on the sports desk and listen to this guy, Dick Gerzic," Bennett said. "He'll get you through the night."
Fifty-five years as a sportswriter, as of Monday. Thank you, Mr. Gerzic, up there on that big sports rim in the sky.
There was something of importance in Duluth that was much more mysterious than reporting, writing on deadline or editing. It was called hockey.
I grew up in southwest Minnesota. As I've said repeatedly, it might as well have been downstate Indiana. We had Edgerton in 1960, Marshall in 1963 and Luverne in 1964 as state champs. Hoops Heaven.
The only hockey game I had watched was on TV: USA 9, Czechs 4, to take the 1960 gold medal, with former Fulda Giants third baseman Jack McCartan (1956) as the winning goalie.
Fortunately, the unstoppable hockey force that was (and remains) John Gilbert covered the sport for the Duluth newspapers. He offered many seminars as we shared commutes or made after-work breakfast stops to join his fellow puckheads.
I was only trusted to cover the Hornets, a senior team that played on Sundays and was managed by the great Connie Pleban. I was straightforward with my hockey ignorance to Connie, and he made sure to have a Duluth old-timer sit next to me to explain what in the name of Rip Williams was going on.
The UMD Bulldogs were in their first season in the WCHA. The new Duluth arena and convention center was being built near the lakefront that winter. The go-to hockey building remained the Duluth Curling Club, a grand old dump dead next to Lake Superior.
I can still hear that cruel winter wind blowing in from Gitche Gumee and whistling through the Curling Club walls. That was tremendous.
The main beat that winter became the Duluth East Greyhounds basketball team, led by the wonderful Joe Mrkonich, a coach I loved for the rest of his days, and now mine.
The Greyhounds wound up as state runners-up, losing 82-75 in overtime to Edina. East had won Region 7 and then Bennett called me in to inform me that he would be covering East in the state tournament, not me.
What he left unsaid was, "This is big for our newspaper, and we aren't that confident you could handle it."
Disappointing at the time, but Bruce was correct with that decision, and there's also this: I stayed in Duluth for only four months, being hired by my friend Mike Augustin for a raise at the St. Cloud Times. But it was a correct decision to take that $76.08 a week in December 1965.
I've gotten 55 years out of it, as of Monday.