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I met Roundy only once, but it was memorable.

My dad was the general manager of WKOW-TV, and every Friday night they had a local sports show that ran after the late news.

During football season, the highlight of the show was the guest appearance of legendary Wisconsin State Journal sports columnist Joseph Leo "Roundy" Coughlin, the great sage of the prairie.

Roundy wrote the city's most popular newspaper column — unfettered by the bondage of grammar, spelling and punctuation — and he had an uncanny ability to predict the outcome of college football games.

One night in the 1960s, my dad took me along to watch the show, which was broadcast live.

I remember shaking hands with Roundy and then moving off to the side of the studio. And I remember that just a few seconds before "air," a panicked voice shouted from the control room:

"Tell Roundy to zip his pants!"

Roundy Coughlin, a true legend in a business that doesn't produce many, died Dec. 9, 1971, 40 years ago Friday.

The date and its significance was not lost on John Prien, a Monroe sports fan who first encountered Roundy some 60 years ago when he delivered the State Journal in Monroe. Prien recalled he would slip the sports page out of a customer's paper and read Roundy's column, taking care to reinsert it when he was finished.

The other day, Prien, 72, sent along an extraordinary package of material related to Roundy that Prien acquired about five years ago at an auction.

The contents would delight any Roundy fan, or anyone curious how a columnist could write for 47 years and become a legend in his own time.

The package included a pristine copy of "What More Could be Fairer: The Story of Roundy," by John Newhouse, who was a fine Madison newspaperman (and whose son, Eric Newhouse, won a Pulitzer). The book is both a biography of Roundy and a compilation of his best writing.

Also in the package were nearly pristine pages from the Wisconsin State Journal, most marking significant moments in Roundy's life.

The entire first page of the State Journal's "Spotlight" feature section of Jan. 3, 1971, was devoted to Coughlin's retirement from the paper.

"Roundy Retires" read the large headline. There was a story by Newhouse and amazing photos of Roundy with Knute Rockne, Jack Dempsey and Lou Gehrig.

Also included is the State Journal front page announcing Roundy's death; an editorial in praise of Roundy; and a City Council resolution, five days after Roundy's death, bestowing on Roundy the "Madison Civic Crown for becoming a leading and extraordinary citizen of the City of Madison."

My plan today, on the 40th anniversary of Roundy's death, is to auction off the package that John Prien sent me, with proceeds going to the Rounder's Club, a charitable group that Roundy founded in 1936.

As it happens, the annual lunch meeting of the Rounder's Club is next Thursday, at Fitzgerald's in Middleton. The announcement generally reads, "Cocktail hour begins at 11:30 a.m."

The public is invited, and Wayne Esser, who runs the club, said this week, "Roundy will buy the first drink."

Actually, he won't, but everyone will have fun anyway. Roundy was not famous for going into his pocket. His first words after Rayovac gave him the gift of a hearing aid were, "Now I can hear you when you say you're going to buy."

Anyone interested in acquiring the package of the Roundy book and the assorted pieces by and about him can contact me at the phone number or email below. I am starting the bidding at $50, proceeds going to the Rounder's Club (which in turn benefits the State Journal Empty Stocking Club). If no one bids $50, I will write a $50 check myself — and keep all the great Roundy stuff.

Pat Richter is the special guest next week at the lunch. I'll have to ask him his favorite Roundy line. Mine was Roundy's take on parking meters: "A lot of times slot machines spit and you get some money but the parking meters just say, 'So long sucker.'"

Or this, days before his death, said to a young sportswriter visiting Roundy in the hospital: "If they'd only let me out of here long enough to get up to the Park Hotel and have a drink, everything would be all right."

Contact Doug Moe at 608-252-6446 or dmoe@madison.com. His column appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

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