ATHENS – Football is a very violent sport, but it also has a way of bringing people together. Take the case of Mitch Rogatz and Charlie Bishop.
On the surface, the two men have very little in common. They’re not the same age, not in the same business and they attended different colleges. Rogatz has degrees from the universities of Illinois and Chicago; Bishop did his undergrad work in West Virginia before receiving a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia.
But they live in the same neighborhood in the Chicago suburb of Glencoe – the picturesque community where the movie Risky Business was filmed – and they both love football. And that is what has brought them together and made them very close friends.
And that’s also why they will attend the Georgia-Notre Dame game together in South Bend, Ind., on Sept. 9.
“I’m getting even more excited about it just talking about it right now,” Rogatz said in a recent telephone interview.
If you’re in the sports publishing business, you’ve probably heard of Rogatz. He is the president and CEO of Triumph Books, which produces more sports books than any publishing house in the world. As such, Rogatz has overseen the publishing of more than a dozen books on both Georgia and Notre Dame. Included in that list are several books written by or about former UGA football coach Vince Dooley.
This is how Bishop and Rogatz came to be such good friends. As neighbors, Rogatz and Bishop often got together to watch college football games on Saturdays. Rogatz quickly learned what a big sports buff his neighbor was and, in particular, what a rabid Georgia Bulldogs’ fan he was.
“Over a period of time he learned I was a University of Georgia graduate and, of course, he gave me some of those books,” Bishop said. “He’d drop these books on my doorstep as he’d go to work early in the morning. I’ve got signed copies of Dooley’s stuff, John Elway’s stuff, Jerome Bettis, all kinds of stuff.”
The books were great, and Bishop is proud to say he has read every one. But one fall Saturday in particular, Rogatz blew his friend away.
“We were watching a Georgia game on TV one day and he says, ‘Would you be interested in going to Athens with me? Vince has invited me to come down there to spend some time with him the week of the Auburn game. Would you like to go?’ I said, ‘Are you kidding me? Absolutely!’”
Neither man could remember exactly what year that was, other than Auburn won the game and it was not long after Dooley had retired as athletics director. That would likely have made it 2005 as Dooley retired in 2004, and that’s the only time Auburn has beaten the Bulldogs in Athens since.
Rogatz and Bishop said they spent half the game with the Dooleys in their special box and half of it in the stands, “with the commoners, I guess,” Rogatz joked. They also got to experience the Dawg Walk beforehand.
But the game itself actually was not the highlight for Chicago friends that day. It was getting to hang out with Dooley at his home.
“We were in Bulldog heaven,” Rogatz said. “We had lunch with Vince and Barbara, his engaging wife, and their daughter, Deanna. It was so wonderful to be part of that family in a real-time way, to be included and experience that type of casual and genuine thing in someone’s home.”
Both men also referenced a happenstance meeting in the middle of their visit with the Dooleys that afternoon. The phone rang midway through lunch. It was a gentleman from Boston whom Dooley had met sometime before who happened to be attending the game that day with some friends. Only, these weren’t everyday fans. They were all CEOs of major companies who had chosen Athens that weekend for an annual pilgrimage they take to a college football destination somewhere in the country.
“They were friends of friends and they just wanted to say hello to him while they were in Athens,” Rogatz explained. “So he said to them, ‘Please, just stop by the house.’ About an hour later, lo and behold, these strangers came to his front door and rang the doorbell. He welcomed them into his home and gave them a little tour of his living room and his Bulldog room. He was so welcoming. They were there only about 15 minutes, and then they left. Then he rejoined us. It was so casual and charming. You could tell that’s who he is, that’s what he does.”
That remains Rogatz’s one and only experience attending a Georgia football game.
Oddly enough, he has never attended a game at Notre Dame, even though Chicago is only about 90 minutes from South Bend. Rogatz also has overseen the production of a half-dozen or so books on the Fighting Irish or their heroes.
“Being a sports guy in Chicago, there are a lot of Golden Domers here, so I’m surrounded by Domers and they’re very present and proud,” Rogatz said with a laugh. “It’s almost a religion for them, as you know. They make their pilgrimages back to South Bend every fall.”
And that is what Rogatz will do in September, as well.
Once again, thinking of his good friend Charlie Bishop, Rogatz decided to cash in some of his markers with the University of Notre Dame. He wrote to Notre Dame to ask about getting some tickets to the Sept. 9 game against Georgia. The Irish complied, so the two men will attend the game with their respective sons.
At the time, Rogatz had no idea how grand of a favor he had been granted. It wasn’t until later that he read about the tremendous demand for tickets, particularly among Georgia fans, because so many thousands of them are making a pilgrimage of their own for the game. The Bulldogs and Irish haven’t met in football since they played for the national championship in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1981. Georgia won 17-10.
So, once again, Bishop finds himself as the recipient of Rogatz’s kindness and good nature.
“Mitch is the most gracious person I’ve ever met,” Bishop said. “I don’t know how to describe him. Mitch is Mitch. He’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.”
Said Rogatz: “The question is whether we sit on the Georgia side — because Charlie is obviously a Bulldog through and through — or do we sit on the Notre Dame side because they are our hosts? I told them whatever was the easiest for our hosts we would happily accept. But I did let them know that my partner-in-crime was a Bulldog.”
The best part of the whole trip is the two men expect to be reunited in South Bend with an old friend. Rogatz has been coordinating with Deanna Dooley to arrange a rendezvous with Coach Dooley either in Chicago or South Bend. At last check, it’s expected to happen, and they’re eager to return the hospitality they experienced a dozen years ago in Athens.
“It’s going to be fun to see him again,” Rogatz said.