Mike Lynch, graduating senior, proud member of the Harvard football team, wanted to find something special for Steve, the team manager.
“A really good guy, and great to me — just great,’’ recalled Lynch, WCVB’s mainstay sports anchor, thinking back nearly 40 years to his playing days with the Crimson. “He worked hard, and a lot of that work is thankless. Team managers might be the most underappreciated guys in all of sports. But wherever you saw [coach Joe] Restic on the field, Steve was right next to him, a fistful of papers in one hand, an airhorn in the other.
“Steve was diligent, responsible, took the whole job seriously.’’
So Lynch that fall in 1976, a day after his final Yale game, made his way straight to the Coop in Harvard Square. Steve, the ever-professional team manager, wore a jacket and tie to every game. The jacket always unbuttoned, his tie invariably flew all over the place, to the point it seemed perpetually fixed to one of Steve’s shoulders.
The football team manager, when he wasn’t busy on the field, was a math and economics major. Style wasn’t really Steve’s priority.
“So what am I going to get him, right?’’ said Lynch. “I don’t know . . . but finally I figure, ‘OK, tie clasp.’ It cost me five bucks, which, hey, that was a lot of bread back then.’’
It was the ubiquitous, ever-useful tie clasp, to be placed horizontally across the tie and pinned to a dress shirt, adorned with Harvard’s iconic “Veritas’’ crimson-colored logo. Lynch could not recall if the clasp was gold or silver in color. But he did remember what he told Steve the day he gave it to him.
“Thanks for everything,’’ Lynch told him, handing it over, shaking hands, two young men about to find their way in life outside Cambridge. “I hope things work out for you when you graduate.’’
And things worked out kind of OK for Steve Ballmer, former football team manager, Harvard Class of ’77. His roommate and close pal, Bill Gates, stayed in touch, even after Gates dropped out of Harvard. In 1980, Ballmer became one of Gates’s first hires in a burgeoning startup venture known as Microsoft that Gates and Paul Allen began in 1975.
Ballmer, who went on to a legendary career as Microsoft’s CEO, any day now will write the $2 billion check to take ownership of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, the team that abruptly went up for sale when owner Donald Sterling became, shall we say, a bit carried away with his words.
Numerous sources peg Ballmer’s worth, much of it gained during his 30-plus years at Microsoft, north of $20 billion. Please be advised: If you are pursuing a career in sports, this figure is at least $1 billion above the standard wealth accumulated by most former college football team managers.
“Yeah, he’s paying two billion for the Clippers,’’ mused Lynch, sports anchor and humble haberdasher of billionaires. “For him, that’s like peeling off a $20 bill.’’
The night it became known throughout the NBA that Ballmer would purchase the Clippers, Lynch quickly rummaged through old boxes at home to dig out a program from his playing days. His Channel 5 sports segment during the 11 p.m. broadcast that night had Lynch joking that his old pal Steve, the team manager, might have been kind enough over the years to kick a few shares of that stock to an old Crimson buddy. Lynch proudly showed the grainy black-and-white headshot from the football program, a broad-faced, nattily-attired Ballmer wearing a pleasant smile.
“The people you meet, the opportunities that a sport can bring you . . . ’’ Lynch pondered late last week, “the perfect case of how you just never know.’’
He hoped, said Lynch, that everyone realized Ballmer was widely liked and respected on the team because he cared about the job, took his role in the team process as seriously as the players. If you’re going to do a job, any job, do it well and do it to the best of your ability.
“For Steve,’’ noted Lynch, “it wasn’t some extracurricular activitity to put on his résumé.’’
Ballmer, recalled Lynch, routinely was in the athletic offices at least an hour ahead of the players, usually to run off the mimeographed sheets (“The ones with the blue ink . . . with that smell,’’ recalled Lynch) that would carry Restic’s orders for individual drills. These were the sheets that Ballmer kept clutched in his hand, following Restic around the practice field, handing them to the legendary coach as he popped in and out of individual group practices.
“Steve also was the guy who set up the balls for each squad . . . eight lined up over here for the kickers, five over there for the quarterbacks . . . cones out for whatever drills Restic wanted us to run,’’ recalled Lynch, who was both a quarterback and a kicker. “Each time Restic wanted a change, Steve would blast the horn. It was Steve’s job to keep him on time. If he ran, say, five minutes too late, Steve would hear about it, because Restic felt is was the manager’s job to keep him punctual.’’
The best he could recall, said Lynch, he has seen Ballmer only once since graduation. By coincidence, they passed each other outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles when the Celtics faced the Lakers in the 2010 NBA Finals.
“He was on the move, both of us were, and it was just a fleeting, ‘Hi, Steve . . . Hi, Mike,’ no time to talk,’’ recalled Lynch. “I can’t tell you what happened to the tie clasp. Seems like every time I see him on TV, or in a picture, he never wears a tie . . . always an open-collar shirt. Maybe I should have yelled, ‘Hey, I want my tie clasp back!’ ’’
Meg Gandle, a Coop salesperson contacted last week, noted the Harvard tie clasp, the one Lynch paid $5 for in 1976, retails today for $26.98.
“They’re not really a hot item,’’ she said. “But we do sell a lot of cufflinks with the same [logo].’’ Cost: $42.98 per pair.
Informed that the $5 tie clasp today sells for $26.98, Lynch noted, “I guess I should have bought 20 of them and sold them later.’’
Sounds like maybe the billionaire team manager taught the quarterback/kicker a thing or two about how to make a buck.