My phone is filled with pictures of Chuck Machock. My head and heart are filled with the stories behind them.
There are several black and white images from his playing days that I saved whenever I spotted one. They were always good for busting his chops the next time we saw each other.
Chuck (#21 in photo) was a standout basketball player at Elyria Catholic High School near Cleveland and came to Cincinnati in 1956 on a full scholarship. He was a sophomore when Oscar Robertson arrived on campus. Race relations were obviously very different at that time and it was uncommon for white and black athletes to room together, but Chuck jumped at the opportunity to get to know Oscar better when the Bearcats traveled to road games.
That resulted in the running joke that I used over the years when I reminded listeners of the night in 1958 when “Chuck and his road roommate combined for 56 points at Madison Square Garden.”
Oscar scored all 56.
Robertson’s arrival and the publicity he attracted helped Cincinnati recruit a star-studded roster that eventually made five straight trips to the Final Four. That made it difficult for Chuck to earn significant playing time so in his junior year, Coach George Smith asked if he would be interested in coaching. At the time, UC had just two coaches for the varsity and freshman teams – Smith and Ed Jucker. The freshman team would begin practicing first each afternoon under Coach Jucker, but after an hour he would leave to assist Coach Smith as soon as varsity practice began. At that point, Chuck would run the remainder of the freshman practice even though he was still a student. As a result, he aided in the development of many of the players that helped Cincinnati win back-to-back National Championships in 1961 and 1962.
There’s a photo of Chuck crouching in from of the bench when he was the head coach at Central Florida.
In his first season at UCF, Chuck got 17 technicals. According to legend, there was even an ejection where he kicked the scorer’s table so hard that he put his foot through it and lost his shoe. Rather than bending down to recover it, Chuck marched off to the locker room wearing one shoe.
The school president wasn’t thrilled with that behavior so the following year Chuck made him a bet that he would go the entire season without getting a “T.” They promised to go out to dinner after the season with their wives and the loser of the bet had to pay the check.
Chuck made it to the final game before getting his only technical.
That was close enough for the UCF president who picked up the dinner tab.
His best player at Central Florida was Stan Kimbrough and Chuck played a huge role in helping Stan transfer to Xavier for his final three college seasons where he earned a spot in the XU Hall of Fame before making it to the NBA.
So yes, Musketeers fans owe a debt of gratitude to Chuck Machock.
There’s a photo of us holding chopsticks at one of our many meals together.
As one of 10 children, Chuck didn’t go out to restaurants very often as a kid. As a result, he loved to dine out with a preference for Italian food, fish sandwiches (a must on Fridays), burgers, and hot dogs.
Especially hot dogs.
One morning before the Bearcats were about to travel to UConn, I got a call from Chuck. “Hey Jackass,” he said (Chuck’s phone calls usually began with a term of endearment along those lines), “Do you have the internet at your house?” “Uh, yeah Chuck,” I replied, “I have the internet. What’s up?” “Do me a favor,” he said. “Go to the internet and type in East Coast Dogs. You got that? East. Coast. Dogs.” Click. He hung up. East Coast Dogs turned out to be a gourmet hot dog restaurant in Hartford. Hot dogs, brats, sausages, funky toppings, etc. So I called Chuck back and said, “That looks great. Let’s go there for dinner when we get to Hartford tonight.”
When we arrived the place was empty. And filthy. But what the heck, we were there and decided to try it. When I asked the guy taking our orders if he had any recommendations he coldly replied, “I hate hot dogs.” Not a good sign.
If you wanted a soft drink they had a self-serve machine and if you wanted a beer there was a bar next door where you could order one and bring it back into the restaurant. So I went and grabbed a beer, Chuck got a diet coke, and we sat down to eat our gourmet hot dogs. Despite our surly server, they were actually really good.
So we’re enjoying our feast when Chuck suddenly blurts out, “Hey, do you want to laugh your balls off?” I said, “Sure, who doesn’t want to do that?” So Chuck holds up his cup and slowly twists it until I can see the words, “Tip Jar” written on the side. Apparently, he had accidently taken the tip jar off of the counter and used it for his soft drink. After I stopped convulsing with laughter I said, “Is there any money in there?” Chuck said, “I don’t know, let me find out.” He proceeded to swig down the rest of his diet coke and shook up the ice until he could see that there were in fact no coins at the bottom of the cup.
I often referred to him as “Tip Jar Machock” after that.
It reminds me of another story about Chuck and coins.
In our first season together, the Bearcats traveled to a holiday tournament in Puerto Rico and stayed at a fancy resort with a casino. The players used their spare time and spare change to test their luck at the slot machines with the exception of Immanuel McElroy who was married with two young children and was carefully saving every penny of his meal money.
When Chuck noticed that Immanuel could only watch as his teammates played the slots he stood next to him for the rest of the weekend and quietly slipped him coins so that McElroy could take part in the fun.
Nobody was left out of the party if Chuck was involved.
There’s the screen shot of Chuck famously getting kicked out of an NCAA Tournament game in Salt Lake City.
We obviously had a lot of laughs about that in the years that followed. From the seatbelt we forced him to wear in his first game the following year, to my tradition of ending every basketball broadcast by updating his streak of consecutive games without being ejected (Bill Raftery loved that). It was 446 games at the end of Chuck’s career.
That even amused David Letterman.
Whenever the Bearcats were in New York City for the Big East Tournament, I tried to attend a taping of the Late Show with David Letterman. The first time I went, I learned that Dave would take a question or two from the audience before the show began.
The next year I was able to sit in the front row, so when Dave came out to take questions I stuck up my hand and began frantically waving like Horshack from “Welcome Back, Kotter,”
Sure enough, Dave picked me and asked where I was from and what I was doing in New York. I told him Cincinnati and that I was there to broadcast the Big East Tournament on WLW Radio (knowing that Dave had listened to the station as a kid in Indiana). After he informed the audience that WLW was one of America’s great radio stations, I invited him to be a guest color commentator on the Bearcats’ game the next day.
Dave said, “That’s very kind, but don’t you already have a color commentator?”
I said, “Yes, but I might actually need you because my partner got kicked out of an NCAA Tournament game once for yelling at the referees.”
Letterman began laughing hysterically and asked me for the details. By the time I finished telling the story, the opening theme song started and it was time for the show to begin.
Dave ran out on to stage and here’s how his opening monologue began:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t usually do this, but since it’s a Friday night and you’re in such a great mood, I thought I would kick off the program this evening with an impression. This is my impression of a college basketball radio announcer getting kicked out of his coverage of the NCAA Tournament.”
The audience erupted as the camera cut to me laughing like a hyena in the front row.
Dave continued: “The announcer is seated courtside, and he’s broadcasting the game back to…oh, let’s just say Cincinnati. The color commentator is such a homer that when there’s trouble for the home team – the Cincinnati Bearcats – he becomes so incensed that he jumps to his feet and starts heckling the referee.”
More applause and laughter from the audience.
“And it goes something like this,” said Dave. “Foul? Are you crazy! What are you blind! What are you trying to pull! That’s not a foul!”
And just like that, Dave’s ad-libbed imitation of Chuck Machock became a running gag throughout the rest of the episode, complete with the addition of Cincinnati sponsors.
“He wasn’t traveling!” Dave suddenly yelled later in the monologue. “What are you blind!
That’s not traveling! And we’ll be right back after this message from Kroger.”
After each rendition of Dave’s out-of-control basketball announcer, the camera cut to me doubled over in laughter at the Ed Sullivan Theater.
“Harrison brings the ball up to half court,” Dave said a few minutes later. “Bounce pass to Johnson, Johnson dribbles to the key, comes back out, takes a shot from three-point range. It’s good! What! His foot was on the line! His foot was on the line! What’s the matter with you ref! You’re out of here! And we’ll be right back after this message from Queen City Tires.”
It went like that for the rest of the episode. And just before doing the Top 10 list, Dave explained what happened to Chuck and introduced me in the audience.
It was a once in a lifetime experience. The only thing that would have been even better was if Dave had actually joined Chuck and me on a broadcast.
But for all the fun we had over the years ribbing Chuck about his ejection, it wasn’t really a story about an out-of-control announcer. It was about a fiercely loyal friend.
When Bob Huggins was ejected from that NCAA Tournament game, Chuck thought it was a severe overreaction by the official – especially in a game of that magnitude. Chuck wasn’t angry about a bad call against the Bearcats, he felt his friend had been wronged and let the official know about it.
If Chuck Machock was your friend, he had your back.
Finally, there’s my favorite picture of them all. It shows the two of us cracking up on press row.
We called approximately 600 games together and at some point we probably looked exactly like that before, during, or after every one of them. Nobody made me laugh harder or more often.
Chuck was a kind and selfless man who loved his family, his friends, basketball, and the Bearcats.
And we will love him forever.