When Bill Foster passed away last week, obits led with his accomplishment of coaching four different Division I basketball programs to 20-win seasons. But I'll always remember Bill Foster for being the man who unknowingly helped me advance my relationship with the lovely woman who is now my wife.
Here's how the chain reaction unfolded over many years:
During my senior year, Northwestern held open tryouts for walk-ons. Four players -- the entire sophomore class from the previous season -- had transferred, and Foster needed to bolster the roster. I decided to participate in hopes of writing an interesting story for the campus newspaper. Despite nearly puking during one of three early-morning sessions, I survived to craft a column full of the self-centered navel gazing that you would expect from a 21-year-old.
But Foster loved it. He loved it so much that he made a request to have it reprinted in the team's media guide.
A few months later, ESPN was in town to televise Northwestern's game against Wisconsin. Getting on ESPN was a much bigger deal back then in terms of national exposure. To put it in context, ESPN2 was still more than two years away from launching.
Bill Raftery was the color commentator. In his preparation for the game, Raftery saw the column in the media guide and said he would try to mention it during the telecast. (Not that he needs any vouching from me, but this is just another example of why Raft is so beloved.) I scrambled to make sure I was videotaping the game.
Late in the first half, one of the guys who had made it as a walk-on entered the game. His name was Jake Haunty, and when he pulled down a rebound, Raftery had his cue to name-drop me. He delivered:
So there were my 15 seconds of fame -- "of course, he got cut" -- right in the middle of a 74-57 loss to Wisconsin, en route to an 0-18 Big Ten season for the Wildcats.
Fast-forward to about 15 years later. It was time to transfer anything worth saving from VHS tapes to DVD. I didn't need to keep the whole game, but I figured I'd give it one last look before pulling Raftery's shout-out for digital posterity.
Northwestern's first field goal of the game was a three-pointer from Todd Leslie. ESPN cut to a shot of a Northwestern cheerleader celebrating. I did a double take. The cheerleader was my girlfriend. Not college girlfriend. Girlfriend at that very moment I was watching the tape. I rewound it to make sure. Then later in the first half, she got another celebration shot.
We had overlapped for two years as students but never run into each other on campus. It was more than a decade later that we connected as fellow instructors in a summer journalism program at Northwestern. I knew she had been a cheerleader, but to see her getting airtime on the same ESPN broadcast that included Raftery's plug of my column was flabbergasting.
At the time I discovered this, she and I were doing the long-distance thing, so I decided to spring this footage as a surprise on my next visit. I burned a DVD of a movie we had been wanting to watch and added the two clips of her at the end.
If Bill Foster doesn't put my column in the media guide, then Bill Raftery has no reason to give me a plug and I wouldn't have taped the game. Without the tape, I have no special surprise on that visit.
Now we would've gotten married regardless, as we weren't exactly waiting for a sign that this was all meant to be.
But we got one anyway.