My weekend with Budge

By Andrew Mason

“Red Grange was a legend,” Mr. Sperling declared, as if any of us were going to disagree. This place has got Pulitzers and Nobels and presidents and chancellors who have won awards, but only a few legends, he remarked. He should know, he was there when Grange became one after demolishing Michigan during the first game played after Memorial Stadium’s dedication in 1924.

At 93 years old and very spry, Godfrey Sperling can still work a room, especially when there’s food on the table. Budge, as he likes to be called, had a lot of practice thanks to more than 3,000 “Sperling Breakfasts” held in Washington, D.C. that saw just about any political figure worth knowing about in the past half-century sit down over eggs and bacon to answer questions from Budge’s journalist buddies.

Before he dined with presidents, he got his start here at The Daily Illini as a news and sports reporter in the mid-1930s, during the Great Depression. This year, the Illini Media Company chose him to be inducted into our Hall of Fame, next to greats like Hugh Hefner, Robert Novak and Roger Ebert. Little did I know when I was assigned to be his student host that I would get a weekend journey through history.

As a 22-year-old nobody, I was rightly intimidated at the prospect of hosting someone who has lived the life of fifty journalists. But these fears proved unfounded when I met the man who has been hailed for his congeniality as much as his ability.

Throughout the weekend, he regaled me with stories. Like how during a campaign swing in 1960, Budge found himself aboard JFK’s plane along with a couple other reporters, the future president and a few campaign staffers, one of whom was a young, attractive woman.

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That JFK was a womanizer was no secret among the press corps, who liked him too much to write about it. One day, somewhere in Wisconsin, Kennedy told Budge that he would sit for an interview after an event that evening. Back at the hotel later that night, Budge called what he thought was the senator’s campaign suite to confirm the interview. The voice of who answered was of who he thought was the aforementioned young, attractive woman.

“…Katy?” he asked, unaware that this was not the campaign suite.

A pause at the other end.

“No, this is Mrs. Kennedy.”


Budge said that John laughed and laughed about the incident throughout the rest of the trip as Jackie herself remained something less than warm to him.

During the drive back to his hotel Saturday night after he killed with the Red Grange story at the awards dinner, I found that despite his unparalleled path in shaping America’s political news, his induction to the IMC Hall of Fame genuinely touched him.

This man who was in the studio (in the studio!) when Kennedy debated Nixon, the man who said immediately afterward that Kennedy won because Nixon looked terrible on camera and the man to whom Bill Clinton first tried to address what one reporter called his “woman problem” in 1991 genuinely appreciated being honored for his accomplishments by the student newspaper where he got his start.

In a world where journalism is underappreciated and even derided, it’s tough to always keep the faith, especially at a student publication. But being in the presence of someone who has not just been through everything I have and everything I haven’t a thousand times over, but managed to stay one of the few “good” guys in Washington inspires me more than ever to keep working.

My weekend with Budge came to an end Sunday at dawn. I helped him through Willard Airport as far as I could since he had a long flight back to D.C. to catch. Standing in front of security, I thanked him for allowing me the honor of hosting him. As gentlemanly as ever, he wished me a good life and told me simply, “Do great things.”

As he took his single suitcase and starting walking to his gate, I couldn’t help but think that I shared a little bit more with Budge than working at a newspaper.

One weekend, I got to see a legend.

Andrew is a senior in political science. He is the opinions editor.