Thursday, September 26, 2013

Don't Play Games with St. Vincent

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”)


PiedType said...

I was halfway expecting you to say the story had actually gotten into print by mistake! I've seen more than one joke like that get past a cadre of writers and editors before finally being caught at the last second.

Dick Klade said...

Editor Otto made is clear I would have been an ex-sports editor if that story made print. He also was clear about how close I came to unemployment just by providing the possibility a fake story might appear in the Tribune.

Tom Sightings said...

You were playing with fire, that's for sure. But don't forget, we East Coasters have a claim on Lombardi. He was born in Brooklyn, played football for Fordham University in The Bronx . . . and there's a rest area named for him on the New Jersey Turnpike!

Bill Hamilton said...

Your blog about Coach Lombardi returning to Green Bay gave me more than the usual amount of pleasure. First, because my high school days were spent with my being a "printers' devil"; second, I often had some kind of a gag going with the editor or our sole reporter.

My mom told the reporter she was tired of my bringing saw shavings home in my rolled up sleeves and, of course, depositing them on my bedroom or bathroom floor. She showed mom I could roll up the sleeves to the inside and would stop carrying saw shavings home. I learned the trick and life with mom became much better. I have rolled my sleeves to the inside ever since--at least 67 years! I saw the reporter just before I graduated from college, and she could not believe I was still rolling long sleeves to the inside.

Dick Klade said...

Bill, the favorite prank at my hometown paper was at the expense of any new "devil." The printers would send their neophyte helper down main street with an empty bucket and orders to "bring back a bucket of steam."

The pharmacist who shared a building with my Dad had the last laugh one time. He filled the lad's bucket with dry ice from his ice cream cooler. The devil proudly returned to the print stop with what looked like a real bucket of steam.