Every night about 11 o'clock, when it was time to lock up the pages, the old state editor whacked the forms with his ruler, into which he had carved the words, "Never Let the Facts Get in the Way of a Good Story." On any test of curmudgeons, he scored a 97. He once said, "Kindred, if you write one more gee-whiz story about a hero second-sacker, I'll run your fingers through the presses." To be a good newspaperman, he said, "You can't believe anything you hear and only half of what you see. And look, kid never assume anything -- except a 4 1/4 percent mortgage." Yes, this was a long, long time ago.
The state editor's shining moment came when the city editor, a dandy, returned from a Nieman Fellowship year at Harvard. Pointing to his tie clip, the city editor said, "This is my Harvard Key."
The state editor drew on his cigar. "Big deal," he said. "Home on my garage, I got a Yale lock."
Home on the wall of my little typing room I have a yellow ribbon handed out at the last Super Bowl. That week the hostages came home from Iran, and the National Football League ordered up tens of thousands of the yellow ribbons to pass out to the fans in the Superdome. The city of New Orleans even tied a ribbon around the building, such was the celebration of joy across the country. As newspaper people came to work in the Superdome that day, they were handed the same yellow ribbons the fans would wear.
"You gonna wear that thing?" a buddy said.
"We're supposed to be objective, aren't we? Why should we make the NFL look good by wearing their bleeping propaganda ribbon?"
"I'm wearing it because I care more about the hostages than I care about whether anybody thinks Pete Rozelle has bought me with a ribbon."
The curiosity that makes a person a newspaper reporter often is accompanied by the old state editor's skepticism, cynicism and irreverence. It is a wonderful mix, and the best reporters are those who know how much of each ingredient a story needs. The terminally cynical threw away the yellow ribbons at the Superdome.
"This is football," my buddy said. "Not politics."
Had John Thompson been a minister, he would have preached it from the pulpit. Had he been a carpenter, he would have talked it up with his guys on the crew.
"But I'm not a minister and I'm not a carpenter -- I'm a basketball coach," he said. "Basketball is my whole life, my happiness and my sorrow and my protests. People use what they have, and what I have is basketball."
So he put a green ribbon on his lapel.
He gave his Georgetown University players green ribbons to wear on their uniforms.
This was not basketball, this was life.
Waiting to play Villanova on Feb. 21, Thompson watched television in his Philadelphia hotel room. He saw a grandmother from Germantown, Pa., saying she intended to wear a green ribbon to remind people that little children were being killed in Atlanta. The number of little children killed is now 20. Another is missing. The grandmother said she wanted somebody to notice.
"There I was, getting nervous about a game," Thompson said. "And I thought, 'Little kids are getting killed, and I have no concern about it.' You get wrapped up in what you're doing. I thought, 'What am I doing getting nervous about a game when something so much more important is going on?' I decided to do what the lady on TV was doing."
When Georgetown came into the court that night, the two referees asked Thompson what the green ribbons meant.
Then they asked if he would give them ribbons.
They wore them on their belts.
Thompson is no marcher. A Washington radio station asked him to be part of an Atlanta crusade. The station would make up red ribbons. Thompson said no. He was asking no one to do what he did. What he did, he did because he thought it was right. What anyone else did, that was their business.
From Philadelphia, from Georgetown University's basketball team, the idea of a green ribbon spread quickly, proof it touched hearts.
The University of Wisconsin wore the ribbons, American U. and St. John's and Gonzaga High wore them, CYO teams are wearing them, Mark Aguirre had one on when De Paul lost to St. Joseph's, the Atlanta Hawks wear green wristbands, the University of Alabama-Birmingham wore ribbons while beating Kentucky -- and Lefty Driessell made his own green ribbon the night Maryland played Tennessee-Chattanooga.
Driesell was in his hotel room that day, reading from a daily prayer book called "Upper Room." Something in the reading reminded him of Atlanta.
"The book happened to have a green cover," Lefty said. "So I just cut a piece of it out and wore it. The game was going to be on television, and I figured it might help, a little, to focus attention on a serious problem. I want them to find that crazy killer."
Maybe it is coincidence, but the federal government came up with $1.5 million to help the Atlanta police department only after the cries of pain spread from Atlanta to Germantown. Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis did their big-bucks benefit only after a grandmother went on TV talking about green ribbons. In Atlanta, the black community trusts no one -- "The feeling in the community is," said the mother of a murdered child, looking for someone to blame, "is that if it isn't the Klan, it's the cops" -- and only now, after the green ribbons, is anyone paying much attention.
"It was not my intention to yell at anybody that they ought to wear the ribbons," Thompson said. "But it was no accident, either, that I did it for a game on television. I saw a way to assist that grandmother. Basically, the reaction has been positive, and I feel good about it because it might have made some little difference."
This was not basketball, this was life.
Basketball starts again Thursday.
The semifinals of the NCAA's East Regional begin that night.