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Recalling a memorable interview/Paul Peterson

August 26, 2011
By Paul Peterson - For the Gazette , The Daily Mining Gazette

Just the other day I was asked by a local sports fan about which interview I remembered the most.

I had to pause and think about the question. After all, in some 40 years on the sports beat there were a lot of people whom I had the privilege to talk with.

An interview I did with then Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson in Tigers Stadium in 1979 certainly ranked way up there. Anderson was easily one of the most personable people I have ever met.

We chatted during batting practice before a game against Cleveland for a good half hour .... and you would have thought we were life-long friends.

There was an interview with former River Rouge High basketball coaching legend Lofton Greene in the early 1970s. Greene, a white man from Tennessee, was honest and forthright when I asked him if there were any particular difficulties in coaching at a basically all-black school.

"Kids are kids anywhere," he said during a basketball camp at Michigan Tech. "If you treat them fairly and with respect, they will respect you right back," he said.

Former major leaguer Alvin Dark was up here at a local Bible camp when I caught up with him in 1984. Dark, a very good infielder for the New York Giants, played in the famous Bobby Thomson "Shot Heard Around the World" playoff game in 1951 against the Brooklyn Dodgers.

But he said his most vivid memory came in the 1954 World Series against Cleveland. He said the famous catch made by teammate Willie Mays on a long drive by Vic Wertz of the Indians didn't surprise him that much. "Willie always pounded his glove before he made a catch, and he did on that play. We knew he had it all the way."

But my most memorable interview was one done in 1997 with late local football legends Herman "Winks" Gundlach of Houghton and Dominic Vairo of Calumet.

We got together for lunch at the Miscowaubik Club in Calumet and the memories from the two friends flowed for a good hour and half.

Gundlach was an All-American lineman at Harvard -- a major college power in the 1930s -- and he was a treasure trove of stories.

He talked about how he played lacrosse for a year at a smaller college out east before making the Harvard football team. He also spoke of playing in the College All-Star game against the Chicago Bears. His teammates on that team included future President Gerald Ford and future NFL Hall of Famer Don Hutson of the Green Bay Packers.

"Ford was the kind of guy who was always pulling off jokes," he recalled. "Hutson had kind of an aloof manner. He was good and he knew it."

Vairo was a bit more reserved reminiscing about his days as an end at Notre Dame. He earned notice on some All-American teams for his hardnosed play and was named by film actress Mae West on her list of favorite college players.

Vairo, described by legendary Chicago sportswiter Grantland Rice as "lean and as tough as a hickory tree," said playing at Notre Dame was a privilege he didn't take lightly.

"You have to remember that Calumet High had sent several players to Notre Dame .... and that George Gipp had been there just 15 years before me," he said. "There was a legacy to uphold."

The two old friends shared a chuckle when Gundlach spoke of attending a big Notre Dame-Army game in 1935 before more than 90,000 fans in New York's Yankee Stadium.

"Dominic (Vairo) caught a touchdown pass in that game, and I was telling the people around me that he came from my neck of the woods in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan," he said. "They looked at me like I was crazy."

For me, the interview was like going back in a time to an era when copper was king around here.

But it was also about two young men who made it to the big time and later went on to become pillars in their communities.

In interviews like that one, the privilege was all mine.



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