WILDCAT WEDNESDAY – After an annual invitation for the last 20 years, I finally agreed to go to Jackson Hole, WY, as part of annual gathering of skiers and non-skiers hosted by Dean Dickie. (Basketball players don’t ski – that’s Monday’s story – but we do fine sitting in the living room conducting an interview with a former Northwestern football player who played for legendary coach Ara Parseghian.) Several former NU athletes know of Dean, his wife Nancy, and their daughters Megan and Lauren due to their long-time support as fundraisers for the NU Athletic Department and for all the NU student-athletes they housed in their beautiful Evanston home. My parents slept better at home in upstate New York, knowing that The Dickies were there for me in case of emergency.
Dean, partner at Ackerman, LLP, has spent the better part of the last 45 years or so as a trial lawyer. His father played for the Yankees before World War II and then for the White Sox after his return to the states. Here’s a quick Q &A we had on one of the evenings before the house dinner was served.
MO: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in a submarine Naval Base in Farragut, Idaho. My father was a chief petty officer. Mother moved back to Dearborn, MI.
MO: You were an only child?
DD: Yes. My mom and dad got divorced when I was five. He went back to Wisconsin.
MO: What sports did you play?
DD: Football, hockey and track. Hockey was my favorite sport. I went to Fordson High School. In the summers I played baseball. My dad stopped playing for the White Sox because he realized after the war that he needed an education. He played a lot with the guys in the Hall of Fame in the Navy. My dad always wanted me to play baseball. I drove him crazy. When I turned 16, I spent my summers working. My first job was a bathhouse attendant at a state park. I cleaned floors of the lady’s bathhouse.
MO: What schools recruited you to play at Northwestern?
DD: Tom Pagna recruited me to play at Northwestern to be a back field coach for Ara. I was also accepted to the Naval Academy. I wanted to go to Dartmouth, but my SATs were not high enough and I needed more math. I wanted to go there because I could play both football and hockey. I was also recruited at Wisconsin and Indiana, but they weren’t of interest. I received a half scholarship to attend Northwestern where I played running back and placekicker.
MO: What was one of your greatest football memories?
I have a photo in my office of me kicking a field goal to beat Wisconsin. Displayed prominently in the background is the Wisconsin coach, Milt Bruhn, who had written me a letter that said I’d never be able to play in the Big Ten.
MO: What was career like at NU?
We had Ara for two years. We had Alex Agassi – Ara’s defensive coordinator. Ara went to Notre Dame and Alex stayed at NU. The fondest memories are of my teammates. I remember that most of all. They were interesting people from all walks of life. Coaches, lawyers, businessmen. I just saw many of them at the Outback Bowl.
MO: After NU, football was over for you.
DD: Yes, it was done.
It was done. But I did play hockey four nights a week all through law school at Georgetown. Washington, DC had a semi-pro team that played all over east coast. Games were played in a small arena that held about 3,500 people before Washington had its own pro team. We’d pack the place on Saturday nights. I’d drag Dave Fisk and Senator Richard Durbin to watch. That was the way we got through law school.
MO: What have been some of your favorite cases?
Post-operative transsexual pilot at Eastern Airlines because she wasn’t the man we hired. We won at the trial court, lost at the Supreme Court. Then a great case – a wonderful jury trial against Michael Jordan for breach of contract for his commitment to Heaven is A Playground, a book written by Rick Telander. The trial went on for six weeks.
MO: I went to see you at the trial. You were always teasing Michael Jordan. As he sat there across from you, trying to look like a choir boy, you gave him a wink and a grin. For six weeks.
DD (grins): I did.
MO: I think you or someone in the paper said or wrote that, “Trying MJ in Chicago is like trying God in Heaven.”
DD: I may have said that.
MO: It never gets boring?
DD: No, never gets boring.
MO: What drew you back into supporting the athletic department at NU?
DD: Our girls were playing basketball and some of our mutual friends were the Perrellis – that’s how I met Don and Dee. Our girls really enjoyed hanging out with the players and the girls on the team were great. Nancy enjoyed going to the games and rooting for the team.
MO: Isn’t it great to have a college team so close to your home?
DD: It’s spectacular. The best part is not only the games. The best part was having the kids live in the house. It was like my children had a group of big brothers and sisters so much so that when [legendary NU football player] Ron Burton died, I met Meghan in Boston and we went to funeral. At one point or another, all of the Burtons stayed at our house. I remember all the fun. College kids like to do nothing and hang out, so Lauren got right in there and was laying around. Ron came in and was chatting and he introduced himself. Lauren didn’t move. He said, “It’s so nice to meet a woman of the leisure class.” Then he later said, “Confidentially, do you ever get change back from a $20. He was such a delightful man. Nancy doted on his son Paul, who lived in our home, too. When he was sick, Nancy always made him soup. Nancy always checked his clothes. Paul would always say, “How do I look?”
MO: Paul always looked good.
DD: Yes, he did.
MO: You housed Donna, then me, then I introduced you to Paul through Brian Musso. Then Paul stayed at the place and it opened the door to so many other football players.
DD: Yes and the rule was the boys had to approve the next one. We had Paul, Marvin Brown, Tyrone Gooch, Louis Ayeni, Mike Sousa, Ikechuku Ndukwe,
and several others. The great thing about Paul was that others were anchored at the waist – Brian Musso and Toussant Waterman. Toussant used to help Meghan with math.
MO: What role did sports play in the lives of your daughters?
Their best friends are their teammates. Sports teaches you so much. Sports teaches you discipline. It teaches you how to deal with adversity and how to accept losing. From their perspective, high school athletics was a door to college. In high school, I made films of the girls and then they identified all the programs that had some need for their position. I sent letters to those institutions, and if interested, they would let us know and we followed up. I was not looking for scholarship. NU was interested in Megan. Megan wasn’t interested in NU because it was too close to home. Marnie and Mary [former Northwestern women’s basketball coaches] were coaching at Cornell. I arranged meeting with goalie coach. She fell in love with school and people. A month after Megan was admitted, they let the coach go. Megan walked into a situation with a new coach that didn’t recruit her. Athletics got them both into fine institutions, which they enjoyed immensely. Meghan played soccer and the she skied and in winter. During her two plus years in the Peace Corps, she frequently played soccer with the boys in the mountains in Ecuador.
MO: Both of your daughters went to law school.
DD: Yes, Lauren went to Washington U, and Megan went to Vermont Law School.
MO: And what do they do now?
DD: Megan is an environmental lawyer working for the Wilderness Society in Colorado. Lauren is in Washington, DC. She spends her non-working time in Colorado as she travels the world practicing international white-collar crime.
MO: Last question, no more Wildcat kids in the house?
DD: And we somehow got rid of all the athletic apparel in the house. The kids would leave stuff – Bowl jackets, sweatshirts, sneakers, party favors – it all ended up in our house. The stuff is finally gone. The memories are worth a lifetime. They literally became part of our family.