By Sean Kirst | email@example.com
on March 25, 2013 at 6:29 PM, updated March 25, 2013 at 11:05 PM
The last time they spoke, a week or so ago, John Beilein had a tongue-in-cheek request for Teddy Kiddle. Beilein is head men’s basketball coach for the University of Michigan Wolverines, now in the "Sweet 16" of the NCAA tournament. Teddy, who lives near Cincinnati, is a former assistant equipment manager at LeMoyne College in Syracuse.
"My biggest concern, with where he’s living, is that he doesn’t show up in anything scarlet," said Beilein, 60, whose Wolverines wear maize-and-blue. He said he worries about Teddy, 61, succumbing to the many supporters of the scarlet-and-gray Buckeyes of Ohio State, Michigan’s great rival.
Beilein was joking. He has no doubt about his old friend’s loyalty. Their connection, built on utter trust, goes back to the 1980s, when Beilein arrived at LeMoyne as head basketball coach. In a sense, the tale really begins in the early 1970s, when Beilein’s uncle – legendary LeMoyne athletic director Tom Niland Jr. – gave Teddy a job.
Teddy Kiddle, Beilein said, "is true blue."
After a successful coaching run at LeMoyne, Beilein went on to coach at Canisius College, Richmond and West Virginia. He did well at all three schools, a cumulative headwind that carried him to Michigan. Teddy remained at LeMoyne, where the staff would help him fax a message before any game that Beilein coached.
"Good luck," Teddy would say. "I hope you win."
Their bond is so tight that Beilein trusts Teddy with his cell phone number, which Teddy says he uses only occasionally; he understands how busy Beilein is these days.
Teddy and his brother Norman were born with similar learning disabilities. When the brothers offered their faith to anyone or anything, Beilein said, it was unshakeable: He recalls how Teddy and Norman shared a lifetime of devotion to the New York Yankees. They spent most of those years with their mother, Shirley Kiddle, in East Syracuse, until she became too ill to care for them.
A few years ago, Teddy and Norman moved to Ohio to stay with their sister, Peggy Sanders, a registered nurse. In November, Norman died of complications linked to heart disease. Teddy has some health concerns of his own.
Even so, he knows he can rely on a good friend.
"What he does for Teddy is flabbergasting," Sanders said of Beilein. "He’s quite a man."
When Beilein was at LeMoyne, Teddy would sit on the bench during games. Years later, when Beilein’s West Virginia teams would visit Syracuse University for Big East showdowns, the team bus would always make a stop in East Syracuse. Beilein would pick up Teddy, who would join Beilein on the bench in the Carrier Dome.
While it is no longer quite as easy to make that connection, Beilein got Teddy choice seats in January for one of the season’s biggest games in the Midwest. Teddy and his family were there as the Buckeyes beat Michigan, 56-53, at Ohio State.
Now, as Beilein’s Wolverines prepare for Friday’s matchup against Kansas, he and Teddy remain in touch. They spoke by phone just before the tournament. Teddy offered Beilein the same advice he once offered by fax, only this time he expanded it a bit:
"Win it all," Teddy said.
Beilein describes himself as lucky to be part of the friendship. "I would do anything to assist Teddy," said Beilein, who insists that kind of relationship is a part of what he does.
"A basketball coach has a wonderful life, and we’re in a great position – and certainly Jim Boeheim (in Syracuse) has been one of the best at this – to give of ourselves to people who might not always have had the same kind of opportunities," Beilein said. "If you can put a smile on the face of someone who’s gone through a difficult time, that’s the best."
As for Teddy, he speaks wistfully of his duties at LeMoyne. In 1973, he was hired by Niland, the tough old World War II veteran whose family experience helped inspire the epic film, Saving Private Ryan. Niland, who died in 2004, watched as Teddy settled in as an equipment manager. Teddy was particularly concerned about making sure LeMoyne’s athletes had clean uniforms in their lockers before games.
His sister said he often grows lonely in Ohio, where he misses his brother and his job at LeMoyne. For consolation, Teddy watches Michigan games on television. He remains a fan of his hometown team, Syracuse University, whose men’s basketball squad is also in the "Sweet 16." Teddy believes it is possible for the Orange to upset powerful Indiana, which would provide another step toward a dream scenario:
"I hope Syracuse makes it to the Final Four," he said, "where they’ll get beat by Michigan."
Beilein needn’t worry. Surrounded by orange or by scarlet, Teddy Kiddle stays true blue.