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Tales Galore in Jonckowski’s New Book

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July 29, 2018

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A grasshopper goes into a bar. The bartender says, “Did you know we have a drink named after you?”

The grasshopper replies, “You have a drink named Steve?”

That joke and many more are in Dick Jonckowski’s new book It’s All About Me. The well-known Minnesota native has giggled his way through life telling jokes and rubbing elbows with celebrities, most of them sports heroes.

Dick turns 75 in October but he’s still a kid at heart. Still ready to swap tales with a friend or stranger. Still looking to meet a new celebrity, or renew a friendship with an old one. Still ready to add a poster, photo, bobblehead or some other keepsake to the famous memorabilia collection housed in the basement of his Shakopee, Minnesota home. Still going about his day with a twinkle in his eye and ready to have fun because he believes “laugh, and live longer.”

Arlene and Dick Jonckowski in their sports memorabilia-filled basement.

Dick and his wife Arlene dipped into family finances to fund It’s All About Me, Dick Jonckowski: A Minnesota Treasure. It’s a project they talked about for years. As Arlene says in the book: “So I finally told him, ‘Now or never, Dick. You need to do this.’ “

With the help of writer Jim Bruton, Dick wrote a 130-page story about his life as a sports fan who became a field usher at Met Stadium, master of ceremonies for a long list of events near and far, PR man in pro basketball, professional rasslin’ ring announcer, radio host at stations in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and men’s basketball public address announcer for decades as the voice of the Golden Gophers.

There’s not only been a lot of kid in Dick all these years but some “hot dog too.” As a field usher for Vikings games, he liked to return errant footballs to game officials by throwing the balls around his back. When Vikings running back Chuck Foreman slid for about 10 yards on a slick field, Jonckowski rushed over to make the baseball safe at home sign. A video clip ended up on TV’s Tonight Show but Bud Grant labeled Dick a “hot dog” for his antics that played well with Met Stadium crowds but not so good with the Vikings head coach.

Dick’s most infamous incident is still talked about by Vikings fans. In the Vikings-Cowboys playoff game in 1975, Dallas wide receiver Drew Pearson caught a key pass that helped sustain a late drive and soon led to a Minnesota loss. It’s been widely acknowledged that Pearson was out of bounds when he made the catch but the play stood. The Cowboys went on to win the game with another controversial catch by Pearson. Here’s what Dick wrote about the out of bounds incident in his book:

“Drew Pearson was lying there on the ground, and I was so mad I walked up to him and I kicked him—just a little. It was a real sissy kick. I barely hit him at all. I just kicked the bottom of his shoe. I was just so mad and frustrated by the call.”

Dick’s kick was reviewed by NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. He told the Vikings Dick couldn’t be a field usher for the next two seasons. “When I came back in 1978, all the fun was gone. They watched me like a hawk,” Dick wrote in his book.

Dick has lived a life a bit like Forrest Gump. He’s been on assignment in various roles at many sports events but sometimes he’s just crashed the party. After the Vikings-Kansas City Super Bowl he and Arlene were walking around New Orleans when they found the Chiefs’ celebration party. Chief players and former Gophers Bobby Bell and Bob Stein asked what the Jonckowskis were doing at the party? “So I told them we were invited,” Dick wrote in the book while mentioning he and Arlene hung around at the hotel victory party for about 90 minutes.

Dick’s mischief once prompted him to sit—uninvited of course—in the owner’s box of the Cincinnati Reds. When Marge Schott showed up, she hit it off with Dick and invited him to stay.

“There is an old saying, ‘If you play like you belong, you can get in anywhere,’ ” Dick says.

Maybe the first time he tried that out was in 1964 when sold-out Williams Arena was hosting a huge Big Ten game between the Golden Gophers and Michigan. Dick didn’t have tickets so he approached Wolverines star Cazzie Russell when he got off the team bus outside the arena. Dick asked if he could carry Cazzie’s bag to the locker room. That not only got Dick into the building, but he watched the game from one row behind the Michigan bench.

There’s a lot of fun in the book but some serious moments too. Awhile back Dick was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and shortly thereafter was dealing with stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The chemo treatments four years ago were rugged and at least once Dick wondered whether he would survive. He lost a lot of weight and his voice weakened for awhile but he recovered.

“I have been very lucky,” Dick writes in the book. “I only go in once a year now to be checked.”

Dick has kept his sense of humor through his fight with cancer and other ordeals including a basement flood. I always was confident Dick would keep a positive attitude. Years ago he told me it’s important to laugh in life “because no one gets out alive.”

Dick’s book can be purchased by calling him at 952-261-3013.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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