On Sherman Lewis's Bingo Career
"Oh my gosh, how awesome!" Rachel Zagaroli said, when I told her that one of her best bingo callers was now working as an NFL consultant in Washington. "I'm gonna have to send him a note and say, 'What is going on?' He never said anything to me at all."
Zagaroli is the senior services manager for the city of Novi, and thus responsible for the Novi Senior Center, where Sherman Lewis was a prized volunteer before he left retirement to join the Redskins this week. When she went back and glanced at his application Thursday morning, she discovered that it indeed said he had experience coaching football at three levels: high school, college and the NFL. But she never knew this, never heard him talk about football, and never saw Lewis carry himself like a guy with multiple Super Bowl rings.
"He has never ever said this; he's never talked about this, and I've talked to him many times," she said. "This is the weirdest thing. He'll be hard to replace. We will miss him, a lot, and the people will miss him, not only the bingo people but the people he delivers meals to. Sometimes that's the only person that they see during the day, and that can make a huge difference in someone's life. And I think that's what Sherman does, he makes a huge difference in people's lives."
(It turns out that Lewis was also a frequent volunteer for the City of Novi's youth football camps and clinics and flag football programs, so he wasn't hiding his football knowledge from his community.)
If the Novi seniors didn't know about Lewis's football life, his new bosses in Washington didn't seem to know about his bingo life. Vinny Cerrato was asked in a Tuesday conference call what Lewis has been doing since he retired, and whether he's been active in football.
"Uh, ah, I don't, professionally, I know he hasn't been," Cerrato said. "His son is the defensive coordinator at Eastern Michigan."
A few reporters have made light of the bingo thing, which is to be expected, but I can tell you from personal experience that you need to have a certain gravity to pull that off. I once wrote a 4,000-word story about bingo; serious players are fanatical, and they know when the caller isn't keeping up his end of the bargain.
"When you're calling bingo, it's a leadership thing, it sure is," Zagaroli agreed. "You're in total control. It sounds silly, but when you have your bingo players here, oh my God, there's nothing else in life happening at that time but bingo."
Lewis called games a couple times a month in Novi--coming in when he wasn't scheduled if the center was in a pinch, helping to set up the games, and most importantly, establishing a relationship of trust and friendship with the seniors. He worked in front of a crowd of 40 or 50 players, and despite what Zagaroli described as a "gentle" calling voice, he did it to perfection.
"He's one of our best bingo callers--he gets along with the people so well, and he seems to love it, because he comes here all the time," she said. "I'll tell you, if I have someone calling in there who they don't like, they'll say, "We don't like this person.' They'll come right out and say it. And they have never said that for Sherman."
The center only just found out that Lewis was leaving, so they haven't yet found his replacement. It's one of the hardest jobs to fill, since it requires such command, and since most people would rather play than call. I suggested they try to find another ex-NFL coach, and Zagaroli joked that this time, they would make a big deal about it.
"Just make sure it's known that he's an absolutely awesome guy, and that he will be missed," she said. "I'm so excited for him. We're going to be talking about this for a long time."
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