I was hoping to go to today's Northwestern football game, but the only seats were near the endzone, so I figured it was not to be. But then for a series of unexpected occurrences -- which began with me contacting my good, close, personal friend Morty Schapiro, president of the beloved Northwestern, about a totally different matter (well, okay, perhaps "occasional email buddy" is closer...) -- and with a helpful assist from Bob McQuinn (to round out the tale), it ended up with me getting a ticket on the 37-yard-line. Huzzah.
What's additionally odd about this is that my dad had had season tickets to Northwestern for 51 years -- and I went through the exact same gate to get to the seats. (They were one section over, but still... The same gate!) While that initially struck me as wonderfully bizarre, I realized that it probably made sense. He had his tickets from being on the medical school faculty, so these are probably the same NU section. Odd that it maybe hasn't changed much in all this time, but it seems reasonable.
By the way, not to worry, this isn't all about sports. I'll get to the other part in just a moment. But it would be inappropriate to overlook the game -- since Northwestern was an underdog, and playing #20 Wisconsin. And they won! 31-17. The game wasn't even that close, as NU had a lead 31-10 with about 7-1/2 minutes to go.
The thing is, Northwestern is actually a bizarre team this year. They lost to Akron (who lost to mighty Central Michigan today). And had to come from behind in the last minute to beat both 1-7 Rutgers and 0-6 Nebraska. Yet they're 5-3 and just beat #20 Wisconsin. And lost to #5 Michigan by only three points, when Michigan came from behind in the fourth quarter to score with only four minutes left. I can't figure it out. They are either the best 5-3 team in the country, or the worst 5-3 team in the country. But I'm glad they've won five games. One more win and they're eligible for a bowl game.
Making the day all the more fun is that, as part of the kindly offer of a ticket to the game, I also got invited to the "president's pregame brunch" that's held at a building in the stadium parking lot. A bit more elaborate than a tailgate party. Scrambled eggs, frittatas, lox and bagels, grits, muffins, croissants, biscuits, yogurt parfaits, fruit and lots to drink, including some stronger libations. A wonderful way to start the day. They even had a small contingent from the NU marching band come in and play three school fight songs and the alma mater (the latter written to the music of Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn...)
By the way, for those of you who watch Pardon the Interruption, you can know that Michael Wilbon is a bit Northwestern support and has an NU football helmet behind him on the set. In fact, he's also a member of the university's board of trustees. If you've ever wondered, though, if it's mainly for television and a sports show -- it's not. Though that should be eminently clear, it was nailed down for any doubters when he was there at the pregame brunch and even served as host for the few presentations. (After talking with my pal Morty, I briefly greeted Wilbon who had come by to visit with the president. At least that's my assumption, since I don't think I was his first choice.)
For those who like to take notes, that's Morty Schapiro off to Wilbon's right in the dark purple sweater. Next to him is the school's excellent athletic director, Jim Phillips.
When Schapiro gave his speech, it was clear why he's been so successful at the school. He was not only charming, he was extremely funny in his comments and off-handed quips. Afterwards, though, I told him that much as I liked visiting with it, it was his wife I wanted to meet, and he introduced us.
I wasn't being facetious. His wife, Mimi Rothman Schapiro, is a fellow-Writers Guild of America member. She's written half a dozen TV movies, most (if not all, but I'm not sure) for the Lifetime channel. Among them, she wrote A Promise Kept: The Oksana Baiul Story, about the Russian Gold Medal figure skater, and the challenges she faced. (You can see her other credits here, including an episode of Diagnosis: Murder.)
What really impressed me though is something that requires a bit of background.
I first came into contact with Morty Schapiro, when I wrote a lengthy piece six years ago about two stories that concerned my dad and his 51 years having season football tickets to Northwestern games. It got to his attention, and offered a wide range of kindnesses to my dad -- like sweatshirts, scarves, caps and other paraphernalia from the school's recent Gator Bowl win, as well as an invitation to see a game in the president's box. That got us in email contact, as I said, and we've lightly stayed in touch over the ensuing six years.
Anyway, when Morty brought me over to his wife and introduced us, her first words were -- "I loved the stories you wrote about your dad!" I was floored. You have to remember: we'd never met, never spoken, never exchanged emails, the articles were written online and not anything I'd sent to her, we'd had zero direct contact -- I think at most maybe she had been aware of my novel, The Wild Roses, and had perhaps bought a copy six years earlier -- but that's it. We were absolutely total strangers. And six years later, he first words to me were an immediate recognition and reference to the article I'd written about my dad. We also talked about Los Angeles where she's from, and us both working at the Universal Studios tour (me as a tour guide, her at the Prop Plaza area). As I told Morty afterwards, "You married well."
The whole event was enjoyable. Tom Brokaw was there, since his granddaughter goes to Northwestern, and it was Family Weekend. (I had a brief chat with him, because I wanted to mention we had a friend in common -- news producer Clare Duffy, who I've written about here often, usually during the Olympics when she covers them, producing Brokaw's pieces. He said, "I don't just know Clare Duffy, we're joined at the hip.") Also there was Mike Adamle, a football great who was the Big Ten MVP and earned All America honors. I mention this because we had had one class together -- not quite a highlight for him, I suspect, since he was a senior and I was a freshman and...well, he was the Big Ten MVP and had no idea who I was. But it was a small class, about 20 people, so I remember him because...well, he was an All American. He went on to play in the NFL for six years, broadcast for NBC, and later co-hosted the show American Gladiators.
And after all that, Northwestern won the game.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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