The Rumor Mill

There have been some monumental rumors that will live in people’s memories forever. Probably the greatest rumor ever was started during a popular radio show on Halloween night in 1938. I don’t think many people reading this blog, if I have any readers, were snuggled around the radio after an evening of treat or treating to listen to Orson Wells. He broadcast very convincingly that the earth had been invaded by Martians. Since no one could text, email, twit, or Facebook in 1938, the rumor spread. People even committed suicide rather than being taken captive by these aliens. Of course, it was just a Halloween prank.

One of the most shocking rumors I heard was during my college days. The rumor Paul McCartney of the wildly popular rock band, The Beatles, had died, spread like wildfire. McCartney hadn’t been seen in a while.

There also was very convincing evidence. Why would Paul cross the street barefoot in the Abby Roads album? Also, if you played Let It Be backwards and at a different speed, you could image a very deep voice saying, “Paul is dead!” Now almost 40 years later, Paul McCartney is still signing, making DVD’s (do you still say records?), and losing mass amounts of money in highly publicized divorces. The rumor did help sell records.

Sports can provide great rumors of their own. I remember when then Nebraska football coach, Tom Osborne, had a terrible time beating arch rival, Oklahoma. After another frustrating loss, ESPN announced Osborne had been fired. That was one colossal rumor in the state of Nebraska.

That same year, a report came out that Osborne had accepted the head coaching job at Colorado. Maybe he couldn’t beat Oklahoma, but the citizens of Nebraska were not going to let Colorado get our coach. Maybe he couldn’t beat Oklahoma, but he consistently won nine or 10 games every season. The uproar was so large that Osborne had to announce he was staying at Nebraska, even though he never intended to leave in the first place. Then the Cornhuskers went on to win three national championships under the now esteemed Coach Osborne.

I found out how easy it was to start a rumor in athletics when I was a very lowly assistant football coach at Milford, Neb. Milford had played its biggest rival, Friend, on a Friday midway through the season. Milford was very good and Friend very bad back in the mid 1970s and the score reflected that fact. The next Monday, Friend came to Milford to play a junior varsity game. Friend showed up with everyone on their football team except their seniors to try and keep the game competitive. It worked, although Milford did win 13-6. Right after the game, I heard one of the Milford coaches gloating how his junior varsity team had just beaten Friend’s varsity team. At the same time, I heard him say, “And they lost McKees”.

I didn’t know who McKees was, but I assumed he was one of their varsity players and now he was injured. I saw my best friend, the team’s offensive coordinator, Chuck Wergin, and I told him that Friend had just lost their best varsity player to injury. It was some guy named McKees. Chuck was astounded Friend would play such a great varsity player in a junior varsity game.

I could see my story was building momentum. I took this valuable piece of information to the head coach. He was shocked by my revolation, but admitted he didn’t know what position McKees played. He must have been one of Friend’s best players. Just then, the assistant that leaked this information on the great Friend football player, walked into the coach’s office dangling something from his right hand. The assistant coach exclaimed, “I found MY KEYS!” His keys had become the great Friend football player McKees, and my rumor was squelched.

That leads me to the phone call I received Monday afternoon from Ryan Menley, the sports director at KQ2 television station. He had just returned from the Missouri Western media luncheon, where he heard a whopper of a rumor. Apparently, the giant scoreboard at the Bearcat Football Field had been brutally sabotaged. That was the buzz at the media luncheon in St. Joseph.

Ryan grudgingly gave me the facts on how such a hideous crime was committed. Apparently the fraternity that resides across the street from the football stadium had played a classic Halloween trick. They had loaded their cannon, which fires very loudly after every Northwest football score, with a large pumpkin. I’m not sure what they used to propel that pumpkin, but it had traveled across the street, past the track, all along the 120 yards of football field, cleared the track once again, and while gaining momentum, had slammed into the scoreboard, dealing it a deadly blow.

As much as I would have loved to play a Halloween trick on Ryan and sent him speeding to Maryville to video this disaster, I had to dispel the rumor. However, it was a great rumor and very harmless. I’m sure no one committed suicide after turning distraught with the devastating news of the scoreboard’s demise. I’m pretty sure no one died at the fraternity crossing the street barefoot to view the damage. Hopefully Northwest will have their defensive backs healed for Saturday’s important game. Thank goodness the backs didn’t sustain the awful injuries that stopped McKees cold in his tracks. Also, we’re all grateful Coach Tjeerdsma is not headed to Colorado (or Texas). Come to think about it, Coach Tjeerdsma going to the Buffalos is one great rumor. It puts him right up there with Coach Osborne.

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Gene Steinmeyer

About Gene Steinmeyer

Gene Steinmeyer coached the Northwest Missouri State women’s basketball team for 13 seasons before retiring after 26 years as a collegiate head coach after the 2011-12 season. He retired as the second winningest women’s basketball coach at Northwest as his 2010-11 team won both the MIAA Regular Season and Tournament Championship advancing to the NCAA National Semifinals one game shy of the national championship game.