By SCOOTER HOBBS, Written for the LSWA
It’s a long-lost and forgotten ritual in these times, another innocent victim of the internet and Twitter and instant news.
But back in the day, back when newspapers cost a quarter and you had to spend one if you wanted the latest scoop, it was quite the late-night thing for a select few. A few hours after an LSU football road game — after a frantic but well-orchestrated beer run to beat the closing laws — a gaggle of sports writers from the LSU beat, from all corners of the state, would belly up in one of their hotel rooms to reflect on the night.
The idle chatter wouldn’t really be about the game — that was for fans — but rather their own prose and wit related to it.
And soon enough it would be time for a spirited game of Pass the Laptop. Join in at your own risk. It was, you see, no place for the faint-hearted, nor the self-conscious. Any praise usually came with the sarcasm font.
Basically, each of the writers would open their laptops, their night’s finished work, and they’d get passed around the room from one to another for approval or ridicule.
Inevitably, as the old Radio Shacks — high tech for their day — made the rounds, the comments would start:
“It was working for Teddy tonight.”
“Teddy’s got it going here.”
“It was happening for him.”
“Good one, Teddy.”
“I might as well quit and get a real job.”
There would be touchdowns on that screen, maybe the odd interception or bad call and probably a final score somewhere. But there was a whole lot more — the emotions of the contest, the color and sounds and smells, probably something funny or offbeat, all of it tied together in an easy, flowing style.
Teddy Allen, with his deft touch for making those words dance to his own tune, was dang-near undefeated in Pass the Laptop, the envy of this strange fraternity.
In fact, “It’s happening for …” became a catch phrase in press boxes around the state and beyond.
That’s probably as good a testament as any to why Teddy Allen is being inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, but certainly not the only reason. Receiving the Louisiana Sports Writers Association’s Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism, the West Monroe High School grad is among the 12-person Class of 2022 being honored June 23-25 in Natchitoches. For participation information, visit LaSportsHall.com or call 318-238-4255.
This is a classic five-tool “media personality” we’re dealing with here.
Teddy — it’s easy to forget he has a last name — will always be a sportswriter. He keeps gravitating back to it. It was what he was always meant to be and, at heart, what he always will be.
But he’s probably just as well known for his news-feature/humor columns that after three decades of Sunday publications in Shreveport and Monroe, have found a new home every Wednesday, free to enjoy with the Online Journals group blanketing northwest Louisiana.
Or for his home-spun color commentary on Louisiana Tech sports radio broadcasts.
Or when firing off Tech news bureau releases that people want to read over and over.
Or as a much-in-demand speaker and master of ceremonies, such as his annual gig entertaining at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, where he has to tuck in his shirttail but still makes it look far too natural and easy (it’s not).
And, in a footnote to basketball history, as the Tech sports information graduate assistant who thought a rising sophomore from Summerfield needed a nickname to break out on the national stage, and suggested calling Karl Malone “The Mailman.” Because, you know, he always delivers. That nickname did, big-time.
This is a man who, in a pinch, can even bolt a face mask onto a football helmet for you.
Unassuming Renaissance Man. No, that’s way too pretentious for Teddy. Man for All Seasons. Jack of all trades, maybe.
At any rate, the total package.
And all the while this Mayberry-esque son of a preacherman — outskirts of Mayberry, he says of his early upbringing in Lake View, S.C. — has been lifting self-deprecation to a high art form, laced with Olympic-quality aw-shucks-ing.
Don’t be fooled, no matter how many times he calls somebody 20 years his junior “Mr. Dave” or “Miss Patty” or his references to just about anybody as “a beautiful human being.”
He ain’t no Gomer. This is a guy who cares deeply for his craft, whatever it is that chosen day. Works hard at it, with a lot of pride that he desperately tries to hide.
“The best advice they can give you in journalism school is to write like you talk,” his longtime friend and fellow sportswriter John James Marshall says. “That’s what Teddy does better than anybody. When you read his words, you can almost hear him saying them. His personality is evident in everything he writes.”
True, but … well, shucks.
First Teddy had to give up a promising career digging ditches or cracking rocks or some such at the far end of the oil patch for Beacon Oil, up there near Homer.
A semester’s worth of paid-up education didn’t really take like an academic scholarship should — “Liked my friends, didn’t like school,” he says — so that’s where he ended up, generally very disheveled out in the middle of nowhere among a “bunch of valves.”
“If I’d kept working there,” he says, “I’d have fallen on a crucial handle and blown up three parishes by mistake.”
Most days his contribution to the oil and gas business finished up with him covered with grass and the dust and chips from the native concrete and red dirt.
That was exactly the scenario when his future changed, there cleaning off his personal grit and grime outside the homeplace in Claiborne Parish where his father was by then preaching. Out of nowhere the local sheriff pulled up and apprehended him.
Teddy wasn’t in any trouble. Sheriff J.R. “Snap” Oakes was also chairman of the deacons at dad’s church.
But next thing Teddy knew, he was in the squad car and they were hell-bent speeding toward Ruston, finally rambling to a stop at the Louisiana Tech football field house.
Sheriff Snap declared sentence on Teddy, explaining to him that this was going to be his new home for a good while, and that he was going to work as a football manager on scholarship and that this time he was going to go to class most every day.
Teddy may be the only person who was sentenced to a four-year term at Louisiana Tech.
Soon enough he was learning to properly affix face masks to Tech helmets — equipment manager and future Tech athletic director Jim Oakes was Snap’s son — along with whatever else he was told to do.
Mainly, “They told me to be available but not obvious, and also to out-dumb people. Just be regular,” he says.
See, there’s that self-deprecation gene kicking in again. Pay it no mind. It’s a thing with him.
But when you’re Teddy Allen, it’s hard not to stick out in a crowd, no matter the unassuming posture.
Soon enough, word got out about his knack for words in that theme-writing class and legendary journalism professor Wiley Hilburn suggested he get himself on the school newspaper covering sports.
Teddy told the professor, “I don’t know how to do that.”
He got a quick lesson right there in the George T. Madison Hall parking lot from Hilburn.
“Write what you know,” Hilburn told him.
Marshall was sports editor of the Tech Talk at the time. “It didn’t take long for Teddy to figure it all out and when he did, it was obvious that he had — and has — a style all his own,” he says.
The rise through newspapers was rapid, from Longview, Texas, to Monroe, to Shreveport and then the state’s flagship paper at the time in New Orleans, the Times-Picayune, to cover LSU, before his north Louisiana roots beckoned him back to Shreveport.
But that fresh and engaging “style” followed him everywhere — a style that sports alone eventually could not contain.
He’d already been getting letters and, later, emails from people who said they didn’t really care much for sports but loved reading his stuff. It was different.
At The Times in Shreveport, it was managing editor Jim Montgomery who first decided that there was too much bad news in the newspaper and that he wanted somebody to write about some happy things and some perky things, quirky and off-the-wall stuff.
He already had somebody in mind.
Teddy could keep his hand in sports. And, for sure, he’d toe-tap back in occasionally to knock out a sports story on his lunch hour that you could bet would add to the truck-full of those writing award plaques already cluttering up his house.
But the edict from his editor sounded familiar: “Write what you know.”
“That limited me a good bit,” Teddy says.
So the first happy-dappy column was about a friend’s mom and dad taking the friend to see the St. Louis Cardinals play — “I knew baseball.”
The second was about a woman and her dog — “I knew dogs, not women.”
The third was a trip to eat lunch at a detention center — “I knew about food, thought it’d be fun. It wasn’t.”
“But those are the only three things I know about,” Teddy says. “I’ve been recycling those three columns ever since.”
There he goes again — the self-deprecation thing. He’s bluffing again.
Among the odd and the strange and the trivial that he’s entertained his loyal following with were, but not limited to:
A headless woman at the State Fair (“Tough quote”); a sotted public address announcer who took a leak in the back of a high school press box not equipped for the task; bicycle-riding bears; Aunt Judy, who hit a duck playing golf; Uncle Chad, who baptized Vanna White; Teddy himself playing golf — at Angola; or himself again, skydiving, and vowing never to do it again; most things country music-related.
The list goes on and on, even the brief side gig writing jokes for singer Andy Williams in Branson — “Sweet person. Man, oh man, could he sing.”
Teddy could probably sing, too, if he ever put his mind to it. He can always entertain you while enlightening you, whether he will admit it or not.
He just can’t help himself. It’s a gift that has been in his back pocket for his entire life.
Just ask the gang that used to dare play dueling laptops with him way back when.
And pity the poor soul who had to tidy up that hotel room the next day.
Artwork by CHRIS BROWN, Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame