Lions' Tate, racer Newgarden renew pingpong rivalry

Geoff Robinson
The Detroit News


IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden, left, and Lions' wide receiver Golden Tate greet each other before the start of a pingpong match Wednesday at Drive Table Tennis Social Club in Detroit.  The two went to high school together and would play pingpong at lunch.

Detroit — With the Detroit Grand Prix returning to Belle Isle this weekend, Golden Tate was given the unique opportunity to settle an old grudge with reigning IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden on the pingpong table.

Yes, you read that right.  

Tate and Newgarden, who attended Pope John Paul II High School together in Hendersonville, Tenn., apparently have a decade-old pingpong rivalry. They were given the chance to settle the score on Wednesday night at Downtown Detroit's Drive Table Tennis Social Club.

"(Tate) and I used to play pingpong during lunch breaks in high school," Newgarden said. "I haven't seen him in years, so I thought it'd be really fun to have another match. I can't remember who was better in high school."

As it turns out, Tate was pretty new to pingpong in high school, and even though he couldn't distinctly remember their matches, he assured Newgarden that the young racer was "probably better."

If it is true that Newgarden was the better player high school, then not much has changed over the last 10-plus years.

Newgarden powered through the first game of the best-of-three match 21-16, as he used power shots and Tate's own unforced errors to get an early advantage on the Lions wide receiver.

In the second game, it looked as if Newgarden would again cruise to victory, but Tate fought off five game points. The two went back-and-forth before Newarden prevailed, 25-23.

"He's a stellar pingpong player and he handed it to me today," Tate said. "I'm not one to make excuses, but I'm a little rusty."

Just prior to the first serve of the match, Tate wanted to up the ante on the stakes. He asked Newgarden if they should put a charitable donation on the line. Newgarden initially threw out $1,000 as the number, but Tate insisted it be $2,500. Newgarden agreed, and with the loss, Tate will make a hefty donation to the SeriousFun Children's Network.

"It was a lot of fun," Newgarden said. "I could tell he hadn't played in a little while, but he's a good player and it was for a good cause."

To their relationship, Tate acknowledged that the two weren't close friends in high school, as he is two years older than Newgarden, but they do share a connection.

"He was friends with my brother, but we were two of the good looking guys in school, so we saw each other around."

Tate said he won't be able to make it out to the Grand Prix this weekend, but he hopes to set something up in the future.

"We're going to get him out there," Newgarden said. "It's hard to line schedules up, but when we find a window, we're going to get him in an IndyCar."

Geoff Robinson is a freelance writer.