There are a few people in North Andover who still remember my column on Nov. 20, 1987.
OK, maybe the number is more like 10,000.
I predicted the North Andover High football team would get croaked by Andover High in the rivalry renewal after a 13-year hiatus.
I wrote it in black and white, with my ugly (albeit younger) mug shot with the column.
It wasn’t just the prediction that riled a lot of people. It was the fact that I got a tad nasty too, comparing this matchup to Hulk Hogan (Andover) vs. Mr. Rodgers (North Andover).
But I have to tell the rest of the story:
A few days before the big game — both teams were 6-1 and Super Bowl contenders in their respective divisions — ex-Eagle-Tribune sportswriter Paul Lafond made a statement in the newsroom.
“North Andover is going to beat Andover!” he said emphatically.
While Paul had been at the newspaper a decade longer than I had been, I didn’t think he was being objective with his prediction. He was born and raised in North Andover, starring on the basketball team.
Anyway, he got me going.
“They have no chance,” I shouted. “Paul, it’s not going to be close. John Perry will score four touchdowns ... North Andover isn’t that good ... ”
After I finished my rant, Paul said, “Write it!”
It was a dare, or at least I took it that way. I remember thinking about it for about 30 seconds while sitting next to the legendary Joe Murphy in our newsroom before saying, “OK, I will.”
I admit I got a little too condescending for a column about high school athletes. But it was more written out of satire and humor. I also figured there was no way I would be wrong.
Well, the column got a lot of play in North Andover. A few locals from town saw me and were not happy. But I made off like I didn’t care.
So I get up the next morning and covered a Lawrence High win. I had honestly forgotten about my column about Andover making mincemeat of North Andover.
As I walked into the newsroom, Paul Lafond, who covered the game for us, said, “You probably should move from North Andover ... They won! They beat Andover!”
I remember being shell-shocked.
Apparently, then-Coach Mike Cavanaugh, in his sharp New York accent, was calling me out on the radio broadcast after the game: “Where is Boit (Burt)! Where is Boit!”
Paul later told me that my column was everywhere in the locker room, a few dozen copies taped to the wall before they hopped on the bus. When they returned to North Andover, they apparently ripped my journalistic essay to shreds.
Well, I remember it being a tough day. I wanted to hide. But it wasn’t over.
Joe Murphy pulled me aside later that Saturday night and said, “You should come back with a column saying, ‘North Andover should thank me’ for the win.”
I wrote it. Joe Murphy edited it. And it ran in the Monday sports pages.
This time, Andover High was not happy, including coach Collins, who lambasted me.
It was a learning experience for a semi-rookie reporter/know-it-all. The great North Andover youth football coach Joe Walsh, who has since passed away, wrote a letter railing my existence as a sportswriter. It was a classic. A few years later, we chatted about it and I think he forgave me.
Over the last decade, I’ve run into several North Andover players on that 1987 team. I still receive a few digs for the original prediction, including one player who hasn’t forgiven me.
In case you were wondering, I have not received any thanks for “inspiring” their incredible achievement 25 years ago. My guess is I never will.