With apologies to David Foster Wallace, author of a collection of short stories entitled Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. I haven't read it, but assume it features a lot of hideous men. There are exceptions, and, alas, they too are mortal.
My sister told me today that Bob Gelle, a former colleague of hers at St. Olaf College and a friend of my parents, died yesterday. His obituary is here. More than two notable things, but here's two.
One, I know it was a different time, but--holy crap!--what a great athlete he must have been. After growing up in Osakis, Minnesota, all-state in football and state champion in the shot put, he gets a football scholarship to the University of Minnesota, and is starting at linebacker his sophomore season, 1950. He decides he prefers basketball, however, and becomes a three-year starter for the basketball team, captain and MVP his senior season. He also played baseball for the Gophers. Oh, and threw the shot and discus for the track team. Four sports at the U of M! How good was he at basketball? Good enough to be drafted by the Lakers after his senior year. I knew this history, vaguely, I think mainly from my dad, but my sister, who knew him better, was shocked. He wasn't a big talker, especially about himself.
Two, he never played for the Lakers, or so far as I know even tried out, opting instead to fulfill "his Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) obligations at Fort Meade in Maryland." Quaint. He returned to Minnesota in 1956 to teach social studies and coach at Edina High School. After one year, he was offered the head basketball coaching job at St. Olaf, a position he held until 1981. He also coached football and track and field, taught physical education, and was athletic director for seventeen years.
He was the basketball coach at St. Olaf during my student days, and I remember one game, against a team whose coach had a Napoleonic complex, in which I'm about 90 per cent sure Gelle pulled a fast one. St. Olaf had been locked in a tight game when, sometime in the second half, a close call went the Oles' way, and Coach Napoleon couldn't control himself: he was assessed multiple technical fouls and ejected from the court. While he was performing his Bob Knight act, Gelle quietly inserted St. Olaf's best foul shooter, who was being spelled on the bench, back into the game. When order was restored, this kid made about nine free throws in a row, and suddenly the game wasn't very close any more.
The last time I saw Gelle was at my mom's funeral in 2014. He would have been 83, and was getting around with the aid of a walker--I think the joints in his legs had given out from carrying around the musculature of his upper body for so long. I remember that he kidded around with my young daughters and wasn't wearing a necktie. I can't remember him wearing a necktie. He wouldn't have been the type to special order anything, and he probably couldn't buy off the rack dress shirts that he could button at the top--neck too big.
Exhibit A-1 of America's casino economy might be the king's ransom paid to athletic superheroes, with the result that those not quite good enough to make it can seem somewhat pathetic figures. The syndrome is no doubt abetted by the psychological distress brought on by the way all the public adulation gives way to gray obscurity when the subject has attained the approximate age of 23. Gelle seems to have been saved from this fate by intelligence and a kind of plodding decency that, having been an occasional listener to "Prairie Home Companion," I associate with the Lutheranism that he evidently practiced his entire life.