EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 24, 2012

Anatomy of a (bad) prediction

The day Andover -- and Burt -- lost big

Bill Burt
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — 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.