Near the end of my days as sports editor of The Daily Tribune, football fans in
Wisconsin Rapids and
everywhere else in the state were shocked when their hero Vince Lombardi left
the Packers and went to the Washington Redskins as coach and general manager.
The biggest fans at the newspaper were the boys in the backroom—the printers who came to work as early as I did. I was very busy early every morning, and the back shop crew had strict orders from the publisher not to bother me by asking for reports on the latest scores and happenings. When I had processed that information, however, they read every word before turning the paper accounts into type.
The printers were a pretty jolly crew, and we exchanged a lot of good-natured banter at times when deadline pressure was absent. I decided to play a little trick on them one afternoon after most of them had gone home and things were slow at the sports desk.
|A legend not to be trifled with|
I snitched some blank teletype paper from the wire editor's desk and wrote a story with an Associated Press dateline saying Lombardi had decided to return to the Packers. He once again would take over the coaching reins as well as the general manager duties. And he guaranteed a Super Bowl victory at his press conference announcing the change.
I wrote a headline, specified a modest type size for it, and indicated it should appear only in a single-column format. It was Tuesday afternoon. I clearly marked the story "Hold for Thursday" and dropped it in a box where we placed material that didn't have a pressing time element.
Very early the next morning, a printer timidly approached my desk clutching the story. "I know I'm not supposed to bother you," he said, "but are you absolutely sure we shouldn't run this Lombardi story today? This is a fantastic thing."
I said I thought it was just a routine announcement, and we were pretty far from
Green Bay. There wasn't any rush about running it, and
my space was really limited that day. I told him to put the story back in the
hold box. I figured I would go to the
back room as soon as my deadlines were met and have a good laugh with the boys
about the fake article.
Before that could happen, the head of the printing plant entered Editor Carl Otto's office with the story. I was summoned almost immediately. Otto thought the story was page one material, and I had lost my mind.
When I explained the hoax, Otto failed to find any humor in the situation. He questioned my ancestry as well as my intellect, and he could be very forceful. I never tried another stunt like that again—anytime, anywhere.
(This story was first published in “Days with the Dads: Recollections of a Small-Time Journalist”)