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Remembering Jack Grinold, and an unplanned car ride to New Hampshire

April 22, 2017 Columns No Comments

On December 8, 1995, I was nearing the end of the first quarter of my sophomore year at Northeastern. It was the first day of finals – the school on its old quarter systems had fall final exams run on a Friday, then Monday through Thursday of the following week – but that wasn’t all. The men’s basketball team, with whom I was a manager, had a game that night.

I had a final exam that day, so it was going to be a close call making the team bus. I had every intention of going. Sure enough, I missed it. But all was not lost. The game was only about an hour away, at New Hampshire, so I figured someone in the athletic department would be going. I asked around, and sure enough, athletic director (and also the head football coach at the time) Barry Gallup would be going, and he would be able to take me. We would be joined by someone else from the athletic department as well.

That would be my introduction to Jack Grinold.

I was in my first year as a manager with the team, so at that time I didn’t know nearly as much about what goes on in a basketball program as I do now. I didn’t know Jack, or what he did or its significance, and I certainly had no idea I was with a Northeastern legend.

The ride to New Hampshire was longer than it would normally be, as we had to pick someone up. But the entire ride was painless with four people talking about sports, especially the local sports scene and college in particular. At that time, one interesting topic was Boston College and UMass playing each other at the Garden (at that time, the FleetCenter) the next day. The two schools had only played each other once since 1979 at the time, and this was to be the first college basketball game in the new arena. The Commonwealth Classic, as it was dubbed, sold out at fairly high ticket prices, something unimaginable in pro sports-dominated Boston nowadays.

We got to UNH and the Whittemore Center, a new building at the time. The UNH men’s basketball team played home games there at the time and for a little while longer before moving across the street to Lundholm Gym except for a few special occasions. I joined the basketball team ahead of the game and resumed my normal managerial duties as if I came with the team in the first place.

If you’re a basketball fan, it was a great game. It was a back-and-forth conference opener mixed in during non-conference play. The Huskies and Wildcats needed two overtimes to settle it, and the home team came out on top in a game where a couple of Wildcats never left the floor. That didn’t make for a fun bus ride back to Boston (I went back with the team).

Years later, I would meet Jack many more times. I was fortunate to be present at a tribute Northeastern held for him in 2011, and on a number of occasions covered basketball games in Matthews Arena seated in the press box that now bears his name. Though known more for his work related to football, he was around the basketball program plenty as well, especially as they joined the CAA and once again had home games at Matthews Arena over a decade ago.

Media relations is not a glamorous job by any stretch of the imagination. It is demanding, with hours that are all over the map. In our line of work, people like Jack Grinold are unsung heroes. They are very rarely mentioned in the copy they help us put together, but make no mistake, they are a big part of it. Like coaches, they are a fraternity as well. We deal with many of them, with a wide variety of personalities, and we appreciate them a lot more than I think most of us ever publicly state. And many that I know are just fine with being out of the limelight, preferring instead for their institution’s coaches and athletes to be the ones there.

Over two decades have passed since that unplanned ride to Durham with two important people in the athletic department. Much has changed for me in that time, not the least of which is that I graduated from Northeastern about three and a half years later. I’ll still think back to that ride to Durham for the good fortune it signified, not only to make it to the game, but for the people I was the car with. It will be one of many memories from those years.

Thanks, Jack, and rest in paradise.

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