Loren Tate and I go back a long way. He doesn't even remember the first time I saw him. He was called "Sonny" in those days. He was pitching for a semi-pro baseball team in Lansing, Illinois, and I was a batboy for the Calumet Park Troublemakers, his opponent at the time.
We crossed paths again briefly in 1966. He was being hired as the new sports editor/columnist at the Champaign News-Gazette and I was leaving the rival newspaper, the Champaign-Urbana Courier, to take a job as the high school sports editor at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.
We've agreed to disagree on several issues over the years. But we've also come to the same conclusions on others. That's what the newspaper business is supposed to be all about. I have my opinion. You have yours. Let the reader decide for himself.
All of our joustings have involved University of Illinois football or basketball. I'm an Illinois graduate and Illini Nation has never been able to understand that a newspaperman isn't supposed to wear the colors of his alma mater on his sleeve. He is supposed to be objective, not a cheerleader.
So I have been amused over the years as Tate has fought some skirmishes with Illini Nation. Most of the time he is firmly entrenched in their corner. But, occasionally, he takes a opposing view and they simply rebel, taking one shot after another on their hometown Website, Illiniboard.com. He says he even has a love/hate relationship with some coaches.
But I'm too old to fight any longer. So is he. I much prefer to read a good book, usually biography or history, never fiction. I have a huge library on the Civil War, my passion. I'm also big on World War II and the Old West. And I'll never pass up a good sports book.
Which finally brings me to the point of this exercise. Tate has put together a wonderful read called "Tatelines," published by the News-Gazette. It is a compilation of his best columns involving every facet of Illinois sports from Red Grange to the Slush Fund scandal to Illinois/Michigan football to Harry Combes to Mike White to Dave Wilson to Deon Thomas to Lou Henson to Dee Brown to Ron Guenther to Chief Illiniwek.
It is a must read for any Illini fan who ever thought he knew anything about Illinois athletics. Tate, as an observer and historian, has collected a body of work that rekindles 40 years of memories, even the column on the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a one-time football player at Illinois.
There are 113 columns in the book, not a boring read among them, all keepers. Tate is 77 years old and still going strong, writing four columns a week. He claims he semi-retired in 1996. Who's he kidding?
When I called him the other day to tell him how much I am enjoying his book, he said he didn't have too much time for chitchat because he was writing a column on ex-Illini and U.S. Ryder Cup golfer Steve Stricker and had a deadline to meet.
Looks like he'll have to do a sequel, "More Tatelines." Do yourself a favor, get a copy.