The floor director yelled, letting everyone know we were three minutes from starting the ‘KARE-11 Gophers Sports Extra’ show, and yet, our guest had still not arrived.
The year was 1994, and it was my first time hosting the program, which was 15 minutes in length, nestled in between the end of the 10 p.m. news and ‘Saturday Night Live,’ which ironically, was then recorded and shown in its entirety on a tape-delay basis.
Still no guest. I tried hard not to panic. “Don’t worry,” the floor director told me, ‘The Wooger’ is ALWAYS late, but he’ll be here.” ‘The Wooger’ is Gopher hockey coach Doug Woog, whose team had played and won a game that night at Mariucci Arena. Woog had to be in Golden Valley by 10:35.
The door to the studio flew open, Doug Woog dashed in and walked rapidly toward his chair as he had done many times before. The floor director waited and started to put Doug’s microphone on as he noticed for the first time that the show’s previous host Randy Shaver wasn’t sitting next to him. He looked uneasy.
We shook hands and introduced ourselves as Doug asked, “Anything you want to talk about?” He meant about the game, of course. I had watched the entire game while preparing for my Saturday 10 p.m. sportscast, selected the highlights we would talk about, and I already scripted the questions I had planned on asking him.
However, I stared straight at the camera, and tried my best to sound annoyed while saying, “Yeah, I want to talk about how much it bugged me that South St. Paul always finished second or third in the St. Paul Suburban, yet, I always had to see your crappy team play in the state tournament, because you guys got to play in section four instead of section three.”
“Five!.. Four!.. Three!.. Two!.. One!…”
The show’s opening credits began to play, and a pre-recorded piece started rolling.
Woog, who had previously been the head coach at South St. Paul for years, stared at me, mouth hanging wide open, eyes bulged in disbelief.
I turned toward him and said, “I mean, think about it, if your Packers had to play in section three with White Bear Mariner, Stillwater, North St. Paul and Hill-Murray, you’d NEVER had made the state tournament, you’d never had gotten the job at the ‘U,’ and Housley would never had gone straight to the NHL.” (Housley is a NHL Hall of Famer and a local phenom who played for Woog at South St. Paul)
Woog was flabbergasted, which was exactly what I wanted. Then, right before I began to read the script on the teleprompter, I cracked a big smile and said, “I’m just messing with ya! I’m a Mariner guy, and I can’t tell you what a thrill it is to be here with you. I’m a big fan!”
I winked, turned to the camera and said, “Good evening everybody, and welcome to the Gopher Sports Extra, my name is…”
The segment went off without a hitch. I welcomed Woog, we talked about the game, went over highlights and pitched to the first commercial break. We didn’t even have time to talk about what I did to him.
When the first commercial began to play, I looked over at Doug with a big smile and saw he’d still been staring at me in disbel
ief. He said simply, “You’re a beauty,” and shook his head.
I loved Doug Woog.
I had the honor of working with and covering Doug’s Gopher teams for six years. Over his 12-year tenure with the Gophers, Doug’s teams won 388 games and obtained an average of 27 games per-season. But with Doug Woog, it was never about the numbers.
As a three-time first-team all-state player at South St. Paul, Woog played in four state tournaments, where he was the tournament’s leading scorer in 1962. At the University of Minnesota, he was an All-American, team captain and team MVP.
As the Gophers head coach, he had the unenviable task of coaching in the shadow of the legendary Herb Brooks. I covered Woog’s teams in the Frozen Four and NCAA Regional play for four years in a row, only to witness the heartbreak that came with not being able to deliver another NCAA championship with Minnesota’s ‘Pide on Ice.’
During his last two seasons with the Gophers, Doug’s teams missed post-season play, and the heat was on. It was not pleasant. As rumors swirled about his future at the U, I tracked Doug down at his cabin where he had the misfortune of answering the phone. Because of our relationship, Doug gave me the scoop, and I felt like a schmuck.
After Doug “retired” from the U of M in 1999, we began to lose contact. I would see Doug occasionally at charity events, and we would laugh about what I did to him the night we met, or about the time he helped me out when I had food poisoning while covering the team in Madison, or about how I told him he was forbidden to recruit any more players who weren’t bigger than I was.
Years later, I heard Doug was not in good health. I regret not having sought him out. I feel like a schmuck.
During our time doing the ‘Gopher Sports Extra’ together, the KARE-11 crew always remarked about what a good guy ‘The Wooger’ was, and how much they’d like to go out for a beer with him. I told this to Doug, and he explained that while that sounded great, when he finished recording the show he had to race back to the ‘U’ to talk to recruits and parents. So, we worked out a compromise.
One Saturday night after the show ended, we all went into the backyard. I had bought beer, and Doug graciously stood out in the cold, having a beer with the crew, who were able to ask him all the questions they could in the span of one beer. At the end of his beer, Doug said he had to go because as he was late. Of course he was, Doug Woog was ALWAYS late.
Now, ‘The Wooger’ is gone at 75. I don’t know about you, but for a guy who was chronically late, that seems awfully early, especially for a great guy like Doug Woog. Thanks coach.