Thursday, March 15, 2012

Picking Up Butch: In Which We Redeem Rick Reilly, Temporarily

Lost in Norm MacDonald's brilliant Twitter takedown of Rick Reilly this weekend (a tour de force of understated knife twisting), and frankly lost somewhere between the back pages of Sports Illustrated and Bristol, CT, is that Reilly was once an insightful, funny and compelling presence in the sportswriting firmament. In fact, he authored one of my favorite sports columns ever, a story both personal to me and universal in its appeal.

My parents both attended Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. Careful readers know that the bucolic Green Mountain burg is my birthplace. In 2003, Reilly penned a moving tribute to one of the great small-school traditions of all-time, Picking Up Butch.

Here are the first few grafs:
The best college tradition is not dotting the i at Ohio State. It's not stealing the goat from Navy. Or waving the wheat at Kansas.

It's Picking Up Butch at Middlebury (Vt.) College.

For 42 years Middlebury freshman athletes have been Picking Up Butch for football and basketball games. It's a sign-up sheet thing. Carry the ball bags. Gather all the towels. Pick Up Butch.

Basketball players, men and women, do it during football season. Football players do it during basketball season. Two hours before each home game, two freshmen grab whatever car they can get and drive a mile off campus to the tiny house where 54-year-old Butch Varno lives with his 73-year-old mother, Helen, who never got her driver's license. And they literally Pick Up Butch, 5'3" and 170 pounds, right off his bed. They put him in his wheelchair and push him out of the house, or one guy hauls him in a fireman's carry. They pile him into the car, cram the wheelchair into the trunk, take him to the game and roll him to his spot in the mezzanine for football games or at the end of the bench for basketball.
My father framed the article. It hangs today in his old office. Later, other national media outlets picked up the story - Butch got airtime on CBS, ESPN and others, always with the same refrain: its the best tradition in college sports. On this most glorious of sporting days, I highly recommend a reread of Reilly's article. It's easy to be a cynic in today's sportscape - hell, the caricature that's now Rick Reilly does it professionally - but Butch has a way of bringing us back to the best of our natures.

So read Picking Up Butch. And enjoy the Madness.

19 comments:

zman said...

This redeems the school after your quiddich post.

Shlara said...

I remember this column--it was really good.
Love the story and the character of the Vermont kids.
Reilly is still a loser.

T.J. said...

Rick Reilly is still an epic d-bag.

rob said...

i only said we'd redeem him temporarily

Danimal said...

he really is a tool, but....
in 1994, he ventured to pinehurst resort under the auspices that he was going to write a glowing piece on the property and experience there. when he left the property, those that facilitated his boondoggle had a warm fuzzy feeling that rick was going to do them and the property right. he didn't give them any other indication. instead, he wrote this...

http://preview.tinyurl.com/7eo7pbq

it's long. but it's pretty good and all true. and it set the wheels in motion shortly thereafter for that property and many others to do something to improve the situation...2 years later they hired us and we've been there ever since. that article had as much to do with us getting hired there as our charm & good looks.

Danimal said...

but really, there isn't a bigger tool out there.

i wish i could find the clip...at the '09 British Open reilly shows up to do one of his pre-coverage stories donning a white suite & purple tie. peter alliss is heard off camera saying to peter gannon, "when did neil sedaka come in here?"

numbnuts hears it and gets defensive, commenting on alliss' short sleeve dress shirt.

Dave said...

it's not like reilly himself picked up butch, right?

Mark said...

I remember seeing a piece about 'Picking up Butch' a few years back on ESPN. And I too think Reilly is a douche.

TR said...

Reilly may be a douche, but his doucheness pales in comparison to many talking heads, like Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith.

I think we're piling on a little much here. There are many folks who are far more annoying.

Mark said...

I disagree. Reilly is a different type of douche. The "I'm better & smarter than you" type who acts like he's not a total self absorbed self promoter when he's as bad or worse than those he tries to differentiate himself from. He also regularly tweets pics of his plastic wife (who's no actually very hot despite what he thinks) and includes captions like "scoreboard". He's a total douche, TR. and he thinks he's funny. He's not. Not in the least.

Danimal said...

it's the "funny" thing that really irks me about him. he thinks he's funny as hell, the bees' knees. i will pile on the douche that is rick reilly all day long. but yeah, skip bayless is right there with him, but a different kind of douche entirely. i'd put both of them on the mt. rushmore of sports guy douches. who are the other 2?

Geoff said...

The Mt. Rushmore of Sports Douchiness: Reilly, Bayless, Cowherd, Stephen A.

Geoff said...

Random political rhetoric generator...real time saver.

http://phrasegenerator.com/politics#.T2FKT0cEhtj.facebook

rob said...

celebrate butch, you assholes. stop talking about reilly.

Danimal said...

butch on the other hand, that's good stuff...

Igor said...

I celebrate Butch every day at my job, sort of. It's a great story.

On the other hand, I trash Rick Reilly every year. He's lousy.

Mark said...

Im working on the first day of March Madness. Don't tell me what to do, tiny.

Shlara said...

In case you were not near a TV, I wanted to let you know that Jay Wright is back in teh TruTV studio today, and still looks good.

T.J. said...

Thursday Madness open thread posted above...