Andy Baggot: Pat Richter's grand legacy

2012-04-27T05:00:00Z 2012-05-23T17:55:51Z Andy Baggot: Pat Richter's grand legacyANDY BAGGOT | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6175

If you're one of the thousands hanging out at the State Capitol on Saturday morning, waiting to take part in the Crazylegs Run, you might find yourself in the company of Pat Richter, the former University of Wisconsin athletic director who is serving as grand marshal.

While stretching your quads and hammies for the 31st annual rite of spring in Madison, you may be inclined to chat up the man most responsible for the robust financial health and national acclaim for UW Athletics.

Some people are good at making small talk with celebrated characters such as Richter, a Madisonian whose career as a student-athlete and administrator at UW is legendary.

But others struggle even if their intent is just to say thank you to Richter, whose instincts and diligence paved the way to Rose Bowls, modern facilities, NCAA tournament pedigrees and unprecedented profits before he retired in 2004.

Perhaps some conversation starters are in order.

Like John F. Kennedy.

Like many of us, Richter has a fascination with the star-crossed clan of American politics. In fact, he and his family once lived next door to one of the Secret Service agents assigned to protect the late president. Gerald Blaine wasn't part of the motorcade in Dallas when Kennedy was assassinated Nov. 22, 1963, but he recently wrote a book titled "The Kennedy Detail" that includes a riveting account of that heart-wrenching day.

Like Clint Eastwood.

In his travels, Richter regularly is approached by people who believe they've stumbled across "Dirty Harry" Callahan. It's the squinty eyes, lanky frame and laconic presence. It's the distinguished look of gray hair lobbed casually back over his head.

"I just had someone think I was Jack Palance," Richter said of another craggy-faced Oscar-winning actor (who died in 2006).

Like his Plan B.

What if future Hall of Famer Barry Alvarez turned down Richter's offer to become UW football coach in 1989? The list included Michigan defensive coordinator Lloyd Carr and Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jim Donnan.

"Jim Colletto was in there, too," Richter said of the then-Ohio State offensive coordinator.

Like memorabilia.

If the house was on fire and all living creatures were safe, Richter would grab two framed keepsakes. One is a photo of the first footprint on the moon signed by Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins. The other is the first issue of Sports Illustrated, from August 16, 1954, autographed by Milwaukee Braves third baseman Eddie Mathews, who graced that inaugural cover.

Like fantasy island.

If Richter — who hasn't run Crazylegs, but said he walked it with his wife before he became AD in 1989 — were dispatched to a deserted island with four coaches he hired at UW, who would he take? Alvarez, former men's basketball coach Dick Bennett, current men's hockey coach Mike Eaves and current men's basketball coach Bo Ryan would make the trip and, at some point, the competitive juices would surely flow to a fantasy basketball court.

"We'd play 2-on-2 with Mike as referee," Richter said, chuckling. "I'd take Bo."

Like the future.

Does Richter, 70, expect to see the Badgers win a national football title in his lifetime? "Give me another 10, 15 years, yeah," he said.

Like mulligans.

If Richter could go back and change one aspect of his tenure as UW athletic director, what would he do? Reinstate baseball? Rewrite the script for The Shoebox? Redo the Jim Launder fiasco?

"I'll take my mulligan on the next tee," Richter said.

Contact Andy Baggot at or 608-252-6175.

[Editor's note: The date of the first issue of Sports Illustrated was listed incorrectly in the initial version of this story.]

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