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The Buddy system


Kirsten Teevens thought she was done with this two years ago. Her husband, Buddy, had woken up one day and decided that instead of traveling with Kirsten and their two kids to a vacation in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, he'd bike there. From Hanover, N.H.

"We were at the end of our driveway, like, 'Okay, see you. Bye-bye,' " Kirsten said. "Honestly, the man is nuts."

Teevens is now in his third year of a second stint at his alma mater, Dartmouth. He quarterbacked Dartmouth to an Ivy League championship in 1978, coached the Big Green to two more in '90 and '91 and sometime in between, after his little sister Moira biked from coast to coast, he decided his life wouldn't be complete without a similar trip of his own.

So 20 years later, Teevens has decided to make his one trip. On May 7, two days after Dartmouth's spring game, Teevens will begin his trek in San Diego. He plans to be in Connecticut for his son's prep school graduation on May 31. Somehow, he convinced Dave Shula, his favorite wideout from his playing days at Dartmouth, to bike the first few legs with him. Those are 160-mile-a-day legs.

"His wife thinks he's nuts too," Teevens said gleefully. "They may just commit the both of us."

May is ordinarily the month Teevens hits the road anyway. He visits high schools and chats up coaches and alumni. For a school like Dartmouth, that generally means criss-crossing the country. Bet the athletic director's loving how flush the recruiting budget's going to look.

"It makes a lot of sense," the 50-year-old Teevens said.

A daily runner and dedicated bike rider, the father of two amped up his bike rides a few months ago. He ran the St. Louis marathon with his 21-year old daughter Lindsay last weekend ("Yeah, it was like he was jogging around her," Kirsten said) and he got himself a newfangled helmet with a built-in headset for his cell phone. He bought a road atlas at the campus bookstore, drew a diagonal from San Diego to New Hampshire and had the Big Green Alert blogger post his early itinerary. Kirsten wants to know why people reading the blog keep offering to put Buddy up -- as opposed to riding with him.

"I'm begging people to go with him. Begging," she said. And then Kirsten asked me where I lived.

Teevens is hoping to pick riders up along the way, kind of like Forrest Gump did with runners. He's got Shula at least until Albuquerque ("I think he'll stay longer -- he'll get the bug," a confident Teevens said.) and he's so sure he'll have other companions, he's already worked out the rah-rah Dartmouth speech he'll give them.

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"It's different from when you're in a shirt and tie in front of someone," he said. "I think there's a legitimacy when you work out with someone, when you've got sweat on your hands and smell like a goat."

There are no pretenses to this dude. This is a prime chance to get attention for the Ivy League's smallest school, and yet Teevens has no PR flack or anyone making a marketing push. He hasn't signed on with a hotel chain for free nightly stays and said he's too shy to officially ask for donations to a charity. Meanwhile, Shula, who lost his mother to breast cancer in 1991, is -- smartly -- already collecting pledges for the Shula Foundation. All the Don Shula Steakhouse franchises, of which he's president, know about the ride and could promote it.

The only thing Teevens has really done outside the actual training is "promise my wife my insurance is paid up." And don't think he's kidding.

"Oh no, I went in (to the insurer's office)," Kirsten said. "I told them I need the max of everything I can have. He does this stuff and I'm like, 'Honey, you're a psycho.'"

To which Teevens chuckled and said, "She's just a worrier. It's not like I'm a huge risk taker."

So he says. When a player brought Teevens a baby alligator during his first year at Tulane several years ago, he stuck it in his backpack, got on his bike and rode home. Then he threw the thing in the family pool.

"There wasn't a lot of gardening or weeding done at that house," Kirsten said.

At Stanford he'd climb a ladder, jump into the branches of the eucalyptus tree Kirsten swears was the campus' biggest and hack away with a chainsaw. The man who wants to climb the Matterhorn is still pretty peeved John L. Smith ran with the bulls before he could. And he totally stopped short when asked if mothers might be wary of sending their sons to play for him.

"You know, I never thought about it. I'm more concerned with the young men," Teevens said.

Let's be honest, those young men have to be totally into this. Unlike a sad number of his peers, here's a man who's telling his players to push their bodies to their limits while doing the same himself. Here's a football coach who's not wedded to the traditional ways of doing things, one fully up for creative alternatives. Here's a guy who loves his school, is convinced he can make friends on any road in America and will go to any length to get kids to come play for him.

Most importantly, after some 3,600 miles, Teevens will never be able to tell a player, "You're nuts."