Get to know soccer writer Larry O'Connor: Old Trafford blades of grass still reside in his fridge

The Detroit News

Editor's note: As coronavirus sweeps the globe, shutting down so many entertainment options including sports, we thought this would be a good opportunity for you to get to know a little bit about us. Up today: sports writer/web producer Larry O'Connor, who can be followed on Twitter @larryo1961

1. I once ate a varnished pretzel. As a kid, I was at the Wayne Community Center hockey rink and wanted to try a soft pretzel since I never had one. So I went to the concession stand and said "one of those," pointing to the shiny brown twisted dough bow in the case. I went back to my seat, took a bite and it was absolutely awful. The girl from the concession stand reappeared and handed me another, informing me I'd been mistakenly given the display model.

The color never returned to Larry O'Connor's face after eating a varnished pretzel.

2. I worked at Tiger Stadium as a junior usher and very briefly as an attendant in the visitor's clubhouse. As a junior usher, I would wipe seats for tips from the paying customers. In 1979, I finagled my way into a 12-hour a day gig working in the visitor's clubhouse. I told the clubhouse manager Rip Collins "I had wheels." I didn't even have my license. I met a whole cast of characters, namely New York Yankees including Reggie Jackson who asked me to fetch him a coney dog and milk (and to put the less-than-dollar change in his locker). Coach Yogi Berra kindly gave me his cap (only for the Yankees equipment manager to summarily remove it from my head at the end of the Bronx Bombers' stay). 

3. I delivered The Detroit News as a kid. I was proud of my salesmanship as the News doled out prizes to carriers for adding customers. I won a 10-speed bike and Tigers tickets. But the best reward I earned turned out to be a dozen Dunkin' Donuts, which likely saved a pal and me from rabies shots. My friend James was assisting me on my route one Saturday morning and as we were planning a trip to the lake that afternoon, we encountered an untethered snarling German Shepherd. Quick-thinking James flipped the doggy a jelly-filled confection, which seemed to satisfy the ravenous beast's sugar craving as he trotted off.

4. I accidentally swallowed the coin during a robust game of quarter-bounce in college. Unlike the 400-some bills stacked up in the U.S. Senate, I can report the coin passed.

5. I've been married to the same woman for 33 years. I met the former Laura Goyette at Eastern Michigan University in the dining commons where I was the student supervisor and she an employee. I knew it was inappropriate to ask a person whom I supervised out for a date, so I waited until the eve of my commencement. 

Blades of grass from Old Trafford, the home stadium of English Premier League's Manchester United, taken in 1991. Despite a bit of freezer burn, they've held up well.

5. Blades of grass from Manchester United's Old Trafford sit in my freezer, which I have kept since 1991. We snuck inside the stadium when a group of cafeteria women sitting in the stands — sounding like the cast from "Coronation Street" — yelled at us for trespassing on the hallowed ground where Bobby Charlton, George Best and Denis Law once performed their magic. We scurried off but not before I swiped a few blades of Old Trafford Red, which I shoved into a photo film canister. 

6. I worked for three Detroit professional soccer teams. My love of the beautiful game extends to the late 1970s. Fortunately, as an aspiring journalist/writer, soccer was an outlet for me to learn my craft. I interned for the Major Indoor Soccer League Detroit Lightning while in high school where they'd let me write player profiles for the game program. That led to similar work with the North American Soccer League Detroit Express and then to a gig as an assistant to the PR director with the Express of the American Soccer League. 

7. My favorite beer is Guinness. On my first trip to Ireland, I arrived in Dublin at 10 a.m. and was promptly introduced to a pint of the black stuff. About 10 jars later and a whole lot Irish revelry, I awoke the next morning without a scintilla of a hangover. A friend and native Dubliner described what I encountered as nothing short of a religious experience. 

8. Charlie is our dog, a pit bull. As a police reporter for the Jackson Citizen Patriot, I vowed I would never own such a breed as I covered too many horrific cases involving pit bull attacks. Then while jogging in the county park, a woman asked me to help her find the owner of a dog that was wandering around with its leash still on. The unclaimed canine happened to be a pit bull mix. We never found the dog's owner, but the dog found us so to speak. Sadie turned out to be the most wonderful dog we ever had. She died after 11 years with us. In her memory, we adopted a pit bull rescue who is proving to be as loving and loyal (and a clown) as his predecessor.

Sadie made us rethink our no-pit bull stance.

9. We have three cats — Cammy, Buster and Poppy — all the result of my wife Laura's volunteer efforts at the Cascades Humane Society in Jackson. All I can say is I am glad she didn't volunteer at a halfway house.

10. I love tinkering with computers and earned A+, Net+ and Linux certifications. My hobby is buying outdated laptops, which might require repair and putting a Linux operating system on them.

11. My favorite book is "A Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole. I've read more profound literary works but none that caused me to fall out of my chair laughing like this one.

12. I saw Ronald Reagan give his acceptance speech at the 1980 GOP convention in Joe Louis Arena. My friend Tom and I sold ice cream from boat-shaped pushcarts downtown that summer and — through Tom brother's connection to a priest — somehow landed passes to the Republican shindig where we watched the future 40th U.S. President deliver his address from the upper bowl.

13. I worked at Burger Chef, which was sort of a 1970s fast food mashup between McDonald's and Burger King. Our Super Chef was a Whopper knockoff while the Big Chef was a Big Mac facsimile minus the secret sauce.

14. I can watch "Goodfellas" over and over again. I'm easily in the double digits. One my favorite scenes features Robert De Niro's character James Conway telling Billy Batts, played by late great Dennis Farina at the bar, "You insulted him a little bit, you were a little out of order yourself" after Batts tells Tommy DeVito to fetch his shine box.

15. My hero is my uncle Ralph, who served and was wounded in Vietnam. He took me to my first Tigers, Pistons, Red Wings and U-D basketball games. I was the batboy on his softball teams and later played third base on one of them. His wisdom, generosity and kindness to others remain with me to this day. I still aspire to be like him when I grow up.

Previous installments

Get to know Tigers beat writer Chris McCosky: From Bo to Gardy, he's covered — and seen — it all

Get to know sports writer Nolan Bianchi: He wanted to be a blue crayon when he grew up

Get to know sports writer Matt Schoch: For some reason, he left the Virgin Islands to come back here

Get to know columnist Bob Wojnowski: He once was a short-order cook; now, he just writes long

Get to know columnist John Niyo: His newspaper career began as Johnny Orr's delivery boy

Get to know UM football beat writer Angelique S. Chengelis: She starred in 'Hoffa', or so she thinks

Get to know Red Wings beat writer Ted Kulfan: He can't skate, seriously (though if Brooke Shields asked...)

Get to know Pistons beat writer Rod Beard: #StartWriting was wrong just this one time

Get to know UM beat writer James Hawkins: No, he's not related to Jim Hawkins

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