Interviews highlight of the job/Paul Peterson

Most writers in the news and sports business are required – by job description – to conduct interviews.

Now, there are some interviews that can be difficult. Try talking to an astrophysicist. A surly and unresponsive pampered athlete. Or a slippery politician whose only goal is to get elected to office.

I’ve usually enjoyed interviewing people from all walks of life, but sports was my favorite subject.

In the course of some 45 years on the job, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to some pretty amazing people.

The late and great Sparky Anderson was among my favorites. The former Detroit Tigers manager was one of the warmest and most straightforward persons I’ve ever met. We spent a half hour chatting at old Tiger Stadium before a 1979 game against Cleveland. One would have thought we were old friends.

Late Milwaukee Braves pitcher Warren Spahn was another one of my favorite interviews. I caught up to him at a baseball card show in Iron Mountain some years ago. I admitted that I had been an avid Braves fan when I was a kid and he opened right up.

A warm and gracious man, he spoke about his days in Milwaukee until the show promoter gently reminded him that he was there to sign sports memorabilia and not chat about baseball.

There were many other memorable interviews. The list includes legendary River Rouge High basketball coach Lofton Greene; Green Bay Packers great Paul Hornung; former major league player and manager Alvin Dark; Michigan Tech and NHL Hall of Fame goaltender Tony Esposito; and Detroit Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline.

The interview I probably enjoyed the most was one with Herman “Winks” Gundlach of Houghton and Dominic Vairo of Calumet.

We met up at the Miscowaubik Club in Calumet in 1995 and the two former college football All-Americans recounted many of their experiences on and off the field.

It was fascinating to hear them talk about playing football in the 1930s when legends like Knute Rockne, George Halas and Don Hutson were around.

Gundlach played his football at Harvard, which was then a college power. He had the chance to play in the 1935 College All-Star game against the NFL champion Chicago Bears, and had future President Gerald Ford and Hutson as teammates.

Vairo was one of several Calumet High products (George Gipp was the first) who played for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Playing before a crowd of 94,000 at New York’s Yankee Stadium, he caught a touchdown pass in an upset of powerful Army.

Just this past week, I had the opportunity to talk to former Michigan Tech football coaches and administrators Bill Lucier and Ted Kearly. Both were instrumental in helping Tech build one of the finest small college athletic programs in the country.

What struck me about these two gentlemen was the sincere regard they have for each other. Their friendship, after nearly half a century, is rock-solid.

Like Gundlach and Vairo, they talked about the old days. But they spoke more about the many fine players they had helped bring to Houghton, rather than dwelling on their own many accomplishments. And they were very proud their grandsons played for the Hancock High football team this season.

It wasn’t hard to see why both are in the MTU and Upper Peninsula sports hall of fames.