Growing up, Adam Teague had two large posters of his role model on his bedroom wall.
“Football card poses of him in old number 39,’’ he remembered fondly. “They were large.’’
Ol’ No. 39 in the University of Wisconsin football jersey was his dad, Bob Teague. Larger than life.
“Those were great mementoes,’’ he went on. “Displayed proudly in my childhood.’’
Family and friends have has been swelling with pride ever since learning that Bob Teague will be inducted posthumously into the UW Athletic Hall of Fame.
Teague’s sterling legacy as a college running back – and later as an accomplished network television reporter – will be recognized during the Sept. 15 campus enshrinement for the Class of 2023.
“This would be recognition, kind of validation of another part of his life where he gave 110 percent,’’ said Adam Teague, 56. “Looking back, he was super proud of his accomplishments.
“I’m sure this would bring him to tears …’’
Teague, a Milwaukee native, fashioned an impressive list of ‘’firsts’’ – not the least of which was becoming the first African-American player to start a football game for the Badgers. That was in 1949.
“Unfortunately, his story has not received the attention it so richly deserves,’’ suggested Pat Richter, a former Wisconsin All-American tight end and the school’s athletic director for 14-plus years.
“Many who could have benefited from hearing about his tales of perseverance may now finally have that opportunity …’’
Perseverance being the operative word for Teague’s inspiring narrative. That was endorsed by Gloria Ladson-Billings, a former Big Ten faculty representative and UW athletic board member.
“There are those people throughout history,’’ Ladson-Billings opined, “that makes you say to yourself, ‘I wish I could have known him/her’ – Bob Teague is clearly one of those people for me.’’
Teague garnered the same level of respect from Elzie Higginbottom, a Big Ten track champion in the early ‘60s for the Badgers and a 2019 inductee to the UW Athletic Hall of Fame.
“Bob’s career blazed a path that later became a foundation for many others,’’ said Higginbottom, the CEO and founder of East Lake Management and Development Corp.
“If it weren’t for the Bob Teagues of the world, there wouldn’t have been a blueprint laid for Elzie Higginbottom or other black student-athletes who attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison.’’
Although he didn’t start until the fourth game of the ’49 season – coach Ivy Williamson finally gave him a chance to show what he could do – Teague still led the Badgers in rushing and touchdowns.
There were some NFL opportunities, most notably in Green Bay. But he chose a different path. Armed with his journalism degree, Teague became the first black reporter at the Milwaukee Journal.
From there, he landed on the New York Times sports desk. That opened the door to WNBC-TV where he integrated the profession as one of New York City’s first black television journalists.
Teague, the author of six books, was widely respected for his integrity and honesty. He didn’t pull any punches. “He did not sir,’’ laughed Adam Teague. “He had a brutal sense of honesty.
“He swung at the fences every time no matter what he did. It was a pretty high standard.’’
Bob Teague passed away in 2013. He was 84. The New York Times wrote that Teague had “established a reputation of finding smart, topical stories and delivering them with sophistication.’’
He was a trailblazer, on and off the field. When he got to the UW, Richter noted, “There were no role models’’ for him. Once he got his chance, he added, “He WAS the role model and a great one.’’
It’s why Ol’ No. 39 has found a rightful home in the UW Athletic Hall of Fame.