Lou Nanne: Minnesota Legend, International Man of Mystery, and Heart Throb

Post date: Apr 03, 2019 5:16:49 PM

(This blog is dedicated to the memory of Mary Ann Mancini who passed away in 2014. Without her kindness, many of my North Stars and Met Center memories would never have happened.)

On Monday April 1st, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to meet and talk with Minnesota North Stars Legend, Lou Nanne. (Thankfully, it was not an April fool’s joke)

A few weeks previous I had posted on Twitter about the anniversary of Norm Green announcing the North Stars would be leaving. With all the Norm Green drama, I think that sometimes people forget how hard Lou Nanne fought to keep the team here. So, I tweeted about that too and added, I would love to interview him. To my surprise, he responded and was willing.

In preparation for the interview I did a ton of research on his life. There were some things that immediately stood out to me.

Plane Crash

In September 2001, Lou was a passenger in a small engine float plane to Giants Ridge in northern Minnesota for a round of golf. According to the Associated Press, something went wrong with the landing and the plane skidded across the water and crashed into a dock. In David Shama’s blog, Lou said he wasn’t worried about dying. He was more worried about how his shoulder would take the impact because it had been injured previously. Everyone survived. The group made their tee time and played their round.

International Incident

Lou wanted to help Frantisek Musil defect from Czechoslovakia. They flew to Italy (Musil was vacationing in Yugoslavia) and the plan was to drive across the border, put Musil in the trunk and drive back. Lou thought it best to do a dry run the night before. On his way across the border it seemed easy enough. On the way back however, there were soldiers with guns stopping and checking cars. His plan was to drive slowly to the checkpoint, and at the last minute hit the gas and bust through the wooden gate. Remember that scene in the movie ‘Stripes’? That’s what I envisioned only with Lou driving the EM-50. Luckily, they never had to use that plan because the consulate helped get Musil out on a flight to London.

Met Center Frat House

I read the Bob Showers book about the history of the North Stars. Lou contributed to the book. If you’ve never heard him tell stories, you should. Storytelling is an art. Lou is a master of it. He has a fantastic memory, and a great sense of humor. The Bob Showers book chronicles many of these short stories. As I read them, it reminded me of college and my fraternity house. Met Center seemed like a REALLY fun place back in the day. Hijinks and pranks, such as locking referees in their locker room, and messing with Sid Hartman. I had never heard of Wren Blair before, but he sounded like quite a character. Lou discusses not only his superstitions but other players as well. Apparently, we had a goalie who took off all his pads, got completely naked and showered between each period.

My favorite story is the Toronto playoff story. Lou was so worked up he couldn’t watch. He left the arena and wandered around looking for a place to hide out until the game was over. Everywhere he went, there was a TV on and people wanted to talk hockey with him, so he eventually went back. When he got back to the arena, the team doctor stopped him (not knowing he had left) and asked him what he thought of a certain call by the refs that went against the North Stars. Not wanting anyone to know he had left, he agreed and said, “You’re right”. (Lou had a habit of going down to the referee’s locker room and giving them an earful if he thought they made a bad call.) Again, not wanting anyone to know he had left and hadn’t seen the game, he went down to the referee’s room and yelled at the refs for the bad call – even though he never saw it.

The Interview

A friend of mine who does a lot of interviews told me the key to interviewing is having good questions. I put together a crack team of highly experienced writers to help. (A few teachers I work with who are the biggest Minnesota sports rubes I know) I made sure I had more questions than I needed. I didn’t plan to ask all of them, but wanted to have plenty just in case. My focus was to hear Lou tell the story of the North Stars leaving, and specifically what he did to keep the North Stars here. That’s the angle we’re using in the film.

The day of the interview arrived. I was a nervous wreck. I’ve been a middle school teacher for 20 years. I stand in front of 7th graders everyday with NO fear or script. But this was different. This was my first real interview with someone like Lou. I had previously interviewed my dad for the film because of his unique views on the Twins. But that’s my own father. This was Lou Nanne - Minnesota legend. The only thing my dad is a legend of…is his recliner. 😊 I was sweating so much I had to change my shirt before I got there.

I met him at his office downtown. I was greeted by his wonderful assistant, who had been extremely helpful in setting this all up, and she led me to his office. A friend who works in sound and lighting, came along because we thought there may not be enough light or might need wireless microphones. But his office was perfect and we didn’t need either. His office overlooks a breathtaking view of Target Field. A fitting scene for someone who has been an advocate for Minnesota sports for almost 60 years.

We set up the cameras and dove right in. As I said, I was nervous, but after the first few questions the nervousness started to go away. I think Lou already knew this was an amateur film, but we made sure he knew anyway. He made us feel at ease.

Once I had asked everything I wanted to know about the North Stars, there were a few questions that my writing team wanted me to ask about other Minnesota sports topics if we had time. One of those was about the Gophers and recruiting. There are people out there that believe when it comes to recruiting, Minnesota should shut down the borders and only recruit here. One of my colleagues wanted to know what Lou (originally from Canada) thought of that philosophy. I had it written in my notes as “Should the Gophers only recruit Minnesota?” I read the question verbatim. Lou’s response was, “That’s a dumb question to ask ME.” referring to his Canadian roots. Yep. It sure was. Or at least the way I worded it. A good interviewer would have immediately followed it up with a clarification that the question was intended as a criticism of that view. But because I thought I had offended him, I quickly moved on. When I got home, I immediately emailed his assistant to clarify the question and asked if she would pass it along to him. Within minutes of hitting send, Lou PERSONALLY emailed me back to assure me he was not offended and said that he gets asked that question a lot. What. A. Class. Act.

What did I learn? I learned that I need to work on my interview skills. I have a face for radio and a voice for subtitles. Therefore, if I want this film to go anywhere, I need to get better at this. I need to be prepared for those situations and be ready to clarify or have better follow ups. But… who better to make that mistake with than someone as easy going as Lou.

I also learned that Norm Green may not be as responsible for the North Stars leaving as people think. That statement might ruffle some feathers. Yes, Norm took the team away, and he will be remembered for that forever. But from what I am learning, he may not have had a choice. The Metropolitan Sports Commission had a LOT to do with forcing the move and seems to have dodged much of the blame all these years. But I’m going to save some of that for the film.

Lastly, I learned that I might be making the wrong documentary. WHEN-ESOTA? Is about how hard it is to be a Minnesota sports fan and why bad things keep happening to us. Even though I plan on moving forward with my film, I truly believe someone needs to make one about Lou Nanne and the history of the North Stars. For those of you who have seen 30 for 30’s on ESPN, you know how they work. What better topic than the North Stars origins, the eventual move to Dallas, and all the hijinks that went on at Met Center in between? All told by the one person who was there for it all, who’s survived a plane crash, almost started an international incident, and according to my mother - was a teenage heart throb.

The best thing I learned about Lou? Even though he was born in ‘the Soo’, he considers himself a Minnesotan. So do we Lou. Thanks for being one of us.

(Sources: Bob Showers- Minnesota North Stars - History and Memories with Lou Nanne; Star Tribune; Minnesota Good Age; David Shama’s Minnesota Sports Headliners Blog; Associated Press; Wikipedia)