"VOICE OF THE MINNESOTA GOPHERS"
Minneapolis Star-Tribune - December 30, 2009
Some people wear their heart on their sleeve. Dick Jonckowski wears his on his shelves. And his walls. And even his ceiling.
Jonckowski loves teams, athletes and sports in general. So much so that he's made sports both his calling and his decorating theme.
"Most people collect Twins or Vikings, but I have so many favorites in every sport, I collect it all," he said.
During his 40-plus years as a sports broadcaster, he's rubbed elbows with a lot of players, coaches and athletic directors, amassing an array of memorabilia so massive that he sometimes hosts tours in his Shakopee home.
What does his wife, Arlene, think about the wall-to-wall coverage? "She's a big fan, too," Jonckowski said. "She likes sports. Not as much as I do, but who does?"
Sports and collecting have been intertwining passions ever since Jonckowski was a child. He still has his first piece of memorabilia: a program from a minor league baseball game, the first he ever attended, when he was 3. "My mother kept everything," he said.
In 1950, when he was 7, Philadelphia was having a banner year, so he started collecting Phillies items. "I liked the players and their uniforms -- the red and white pinstripes," he said. Then, after Detroit won the Stanley Cup in '55, he started collecting Red Wings memorabilia. "I love their logo, the red wheel with wings," he said.
As a student at New Prague High School (where he met Arlene, who was a cheerleader), Jonckowski was always more interested in sports than in his studies. "My teacher said, 'I hope you get a job in sports because you don't care about anything else,'" he recalled.
He dreamed of playing major league baseball, and he got as far as the minors in South Carolina in 1962. But he was released, and so he returned to New Prague, where he worked at a bank and hitchhiked to the old Met Stadium to work as a field usher at Twins and Vikings games. He drove the bullpen car, caught field goals and incomplete passes that went out of bounds, and discovered he had a knack for making crowds laugh at his antics. "I had a ball," he said.
At the urging of friends, he started taking classes in broadcasting at Brown Institute. "My friends said, 'You love sports so much. Why not be a sports broadcaster?'" he recalled.
He started his broadcasting career as a disc jockey in Ladysmith, Wisconsin. In 1966, he became sports director at KSMM-AM in Shakopee. He's also carved out a career as an announcer, emcee and guest speaker at events ranging from state tournament games to charity banquets. "A lot of the teams I've worked for are now defunct," he said. "Someone once said, 'If you want your team to leave town, hire Dick Jonckowski.'"
One of the more unusual events he worked was a "Gong Show" at the Shakopee women's prison in the late '70's. "It was amazing the talent you found in that prison," he recalled. "I was a little nervous. There were all these guys with machine guns. I was wondering how to warm them up, so I started out with, 'It's great to have a captive audience.'"
Jonckowski is best known as the public address announcer for University of Minnesota men's basketball and baseball games. (He also announced Gophers football games for a decade.) "Paul Giel [the U's former athletic director] gave me my first chance," he said. "It was '86 and Clem Haskins was the basketball coach. Paul said, 'If you and Clem hit it off, it's your job.'"
They did, and Jonckowski has been announcing Gophers basketball games ever since, now with coach Tubby Smith. Jonckowski's motto is "Laugh and live longer," and he's known for his one-liners. (Sample jokes: "My wife just ran away with my best friend. ... I sure miss him." "I'm dating a homeless woman." "How's it going?" "Great! I can drop her off anywhere.")
"I love to see people laugh," he said. "People send me jokes all the time, and I make up a few."
Jonckowski got his nickname, "the Polish Eagle," when he was selling cars, between basketball announcing jobs in the summer of 1968. "Every salesman had a nickname on their business card, and they told me I needed one," he said. "They said, 'You're Polish and you love sports. What are your favorite teams?' I said I liked the Philadelphia Eagles, so they said, 'We're going to call you the Polish Eagle.' It's stuck ever since. Now I'm always introduced as the Polish Eagle."
Over the years, he's had his share of on-air bloopers, such as the time he inadvertently revealed his team loyalty while announcing a high school basketball game. "It was 2000, and Shakopee High School was playing Red Wing," he recalled. "A Shakopee player was bringing the ball up, and I said, 'Take a timeout, Joe!' I forgot my mike was on. I thought the people from Red Wing were going to kill me."
The most exciting game he ever announced was the Gophers' triple-overtime win over Iowa in 1994, he said. "At the end of the game, I was hyperventilating."
Jonckowski has an encyclopedic memory for scores and stats, which also comes in handy for staying on top of his voluminous collection. Even though he owns thousands of artifacts, he claims to know where every bobblehead, bat and pennant is located. "I could find pretty much anything here," he said. He's maxed out his space, but still "sneaks in" new finds on occasion. "If a thing for one of my favorite players came out, I'd probably get it," he admitted.
And if the house were on fire and he could save only one item, what would it be? "It's hard to pick one thing," he pondered. "I guess I'd grab [former Governor] Arne Carlson's commendation on my 50th birthday. Or this bust that was given to me by my family."
The bust is his likeness, rendered in gold. His wife and and their two adult children, Jeff and Jennifer, presented it to him not long after he was inducted into his fifth "Hall of Fame." (Those include Shakopee High School Athletics, New Prague High School Distinguished Alumni, Minnesota High School Basketball and Football and Mancini's Restaurant's Sports Hall of Fame).
When his family gave him the bust, "They said, 'Now you're in the family hall of fame,'" he said with a laugh. But to Jonckowski, his career has been its own reward. "I've been really lucky to be able to do something I really like almost every day of my life."