It was with a chuckle and a smile that I read a big city newspaper reporter’s account of an interview he had with Show Low football coach Randy Ricedorff.
The interview took place days before the Oct. 22 game that pitted Ricedorff’s No. 2 ranked Cougars against the top-ranked Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets.
In the interview, the reporter asked Ricedorff his impressions of BRHS’s legendary coach Paul Moro.
Ricedorff’s answer went something like, “I respect what he’s done with the football program, but I won’t be going out to dinner with him.”
The reply tickled me because it rekindled memories of a meal Paul and I shared in the mid-1980s, just before the onset of football season.
At the time, Paul was head coach of the Jackets and I was coach at Show Low High.
Our lunch together was prearranged as possibly a sit down in which we could brainstorm ways to ease the tensions between the two schools and their football teams.
The previous season there had been some goings-on among the two schools’ student athletes that administrators obviously frowned on.
Just prior to the annual rivalry game, a huge “BRHS” was burned in the middle of the Show Low football field. That didn’t go over well with teachers, students, players or administrators.
But then a group of SLHS athletes were caught painting the Blue Ridge High School marquee, which sits in front of the school, the Cougar colors of green and gold.
The prank caused more than a few ripples among Lakeside residents and BR students.
There was also another hoax pulled that I didn’t find out about until about two years ago.
In a series of e-mails between myself and a former SL player of mine, he told me of a late night adventure in which he snuck onto the BRHS campus.
Under the cover of darkness, he hooked up a chain to a coveted Yellow Jacket figurine that stood in the middle of campus. The opposite end of the chain was rigged to the teen’s 3/4-ton GMC four-wheel drive. The former player tells me he cranked up the big V-8 and began to yank, jerk, pull and tow until the statue finally tumbled from its pedestal.
He then loaded it into the pickup and proudly escorted it home to Show Low.
The ex-player says he still has the icon at his ranch in a neighboring state, and whenever he’s frustrated and needs to wipe away some anger, he takes out the now well-worn Yellow Jacket and uses it for target practice with his .22.
But enough of the pranks, back to my lunch with Paul.
At Show Low, one of my assistant coaches was former Notre Dame All American and Atlanta Falcon and Colts All-Pro George Kunz who was the second player drafted in by the NFL in 1969, behind only O.J. Simpson.
I remember George once declaring he was the one who could do something to soothe the ill feelings between Show Low and Blue Ridge high schools.
I think he believed he was some sort of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela or Mother Teresa.
In his efforts to create good will, he decided that he, Paul and I should meet for lunch and discuss ways to soothe tensions.
I agreed, but only if he paid for the lunch and I had the option of choosing the restaurant.
He said “okay” and I picked an upscale eatery on the shore of a lake just outside Lakeside.
Remembering back, one of George’s favorite clichés was “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”
I can’t count the number of times he reiterated that well-worn favorite of his.
Little did he know the validity of that catchphrase might someday be tested.
The three of us, George, Paul and I, met at the restaurant and knowing George was footing the bill, I ordered a meal — steak sandwich I believe — that teachers and coaches in Show Low can’t normally afford.
Over lunch, we talked about ways to mend fences and left the café probably thinking we had made great strides.
But the best laid plans of coaches and George unraveled on game day when I made the controversial decision to not have my Cougar players warm up on the BRHS field.
We conducted pregame on our home field and were bussed the few miles between the two towns to the BR school campus.
We arrived about one-minute before kickoff and ran directly onto the field in front of the Yellow Jacket players, coaches and officials who stared in bewilderment probably wondering if we were going to show up or forfeit.
I think that ploy of mine really upset the BRHS staff — at least they seemed to be a little PO’d.
Looking back, I can’t blame them.
That night, we won a squeaker over the Jackets, scoring the winning TD on a fourth-quarter draw play.
I believe some of the anger the BR staff harbored over my ruse held on to post game, because some of the coaches refused to amble onto the field for the traditional handshakes.
So, in one evening, much of the good will created at the lunch was wiped away.
Which meant George’s good intentions were for naught and the hard feelings between the two schools continued unabated.
Today, the feelings are just as tense and edgy as evidenced by the events that occurred leading up to and after the traditional meeting between the two rivals on Oct. 22.
But one truth still lingers, Paul and I got a free lunch — at George’s expense.
Yes, George there is such thing as a free lunch. Thanks.