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  • Budd Bailey

Split personality

By Budd Bailey

There were two Chuck Dickersons. One of them was named “The Coach.” The other was named “Chuck Dickerson.”

Sometimes it was tough to believe that they existed in the same body.

Dickerson, who recently died at the age of 86, certainly was one of the most memorable characters to come along in my time in the Buffalo sports media.

I knew him first as everyone else did, as “The Coach.” He was an assistant with the Bills from 1987 to 1991, when the team moved from good to great. He came up with some great quotes in interviews, which is why everyone tried to come up with ways to get a microphone or a notepad in front of him. Clearly, The Coach enjoyed the spotlight.

In fact, he probably went too far one time before the Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins in 1992, when he said some things that were instant bulletin board material in the other locker room. I don’t think the Bills would have won that game had The Coach stayed quiet, but he was shown the door by the team after the game.

Eventually, The Coach returned to Buffalo after a year and became an afternoon talk-show host. He was anything but boring with his opinions. What’s more, as a former NFL assistant coach, The Coach knew plenty about football. Sometimes he went too far, and sometimes he let some personal feelings get in the way of his opinions. That was part of the bargain. Bills’ coach Marv Levy’s line in response to Dickerson’s comments – “He’s been fired more often than a Civil War cannon” – stuck. In fact, it was hard for me not to think about that, and Chuck, when I toured Gettysburg.

I haven’t been a big talk-show listener ever since I hosted one from 1978 to 1986. But let’s put it this way. You could make up a scale ranging from “light” (as in illumination) to “heat” in terms of style of talk shows. I was definitely on the light end, while The Coach offered plenty of heat mixed in with some light. I listened occasionally, particularly during the Bills’ season.

At some point in the 1990s, someone had the bright idea for Dickerson to host a quarterly sports trivia show.  WGR brought in Bob Gaughan, Milt Northrop and Mike Haim as “experts,” and I was asked to join them. It sounds like fun, so I was in.

And it was fun, and Chuck set the tone. There were plenty of laughs on and off the air. The format was rather simple. Callers could ask us a question. If we didn’t know it, we’d ask the caller a question in return. If he knew that answer, he won some sort of prize.

Here’s a little secret about the format. We had a portable table about two feet by two feet that was filled with reference books. It would be wheeled in before the start of the show. If we knew the answer to the question, we’d shout it out right away. (Footnote: People tend to ask questions about famous events, so it’s easier than it sounds to know this stuff.) If we didn’t, we stall. One person would start furiously looking through the books for the answer, while the others chatted about the question. Quite often in those pre-Google days we’d find the correct information, and couch it by saying, “If I had to take a guess …” We didn’t give away too many prizes.

One time, the radio station set up a remote broadcast at Damon’s on Sheridan Drive in Williamsville on a Friday night, and promised to feed us after the show. That sounds good, and I brought my wife Jody along for company. After we were done broadcasting, Chuck and wife Shirley (who couldn’t have been any nicer … or calmer) were the only ones who could stay for dinner. It was an unlikely foursome, especially since Jody wasn’t that much of a football fan, but that was OK.

As we were sitting down, I wondered what might jump-start the conversation. So soon after we sat down, I said to Chuck, “You must have some stories about recruiting while you were an assistant coach in college that Jody would enjoy.”

Right button. Chuck was off. He told us about how he had gone to the worst part of East St. Louis, Illinois – containing some of the epic slums in America – on a recruiting trip. Chuck went upstairs to the kid’s bedroom, walked in the room … and realized that the bedroom did not have an outside wall. Try dealing with that sort of poverty while you’re in high school.

Chuck told us about how he had recruited another poor kid to the University of Minnesota. A problem came up in November. It was getting cold, and the freshman was too poor to own a winter coat. Chuck went out and bought him one. “You think I’m going to bring a kid to Minnesota, and let him freeze up there?”  There was some explaining to do to university and NCAA officials over that one.

And Chuck told us about how someone had claimed that the athletic department had a “slush fund” that was handing out money to any student who asked for it. That could be considered technically true, but here’s the story. The offices of the athletic department had metered parking. Sometimes students needed to run in for a few minutes, and they didn’t have any change. When that was the case, the receptionist let those students grab a quarter or two out of a container so they wouldn’t get a ticket. Some slush fund.

Seeing how I can remember so many details of my dinner with “Chuck Dickerson” about 30 years later, you’d have to say it was an enjoyable and memorable experience. Everyone should have had the chance to spend time with “that guy.”

Chuck’s radio run eventually came to an end, which ended the trivia show. I lost touch with him at that point, never reconnecting. But I was sorry to learn of his passing, and I’m left hoping now that both “Chuck Dickerson” and “The Coach” had a long and happy retirement.

Life was more interesting when they were around.

(Follow Budd on via @WDX2BB)


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