Shortly after I became the arts and entertainment editor of the Ann Arbor News in September 1983, Brian Malone, then the paper’s editor, came to me and said, “Of course, you’ll continue to do Dump the Dope.”

I looked at him as if he were daft. I had already been on the arts job long enough to know that there was no way in hell I would be able to do that. For the previous three football seasons, this character I had created, and the contest that bore his name, had been wildly popular, so I understood his position. But being the Dope was a lot of work.

“Dump the Dope” was a knockoff of a promotion by the Grand Rapids Press, called “Beat Becker,” in which prizes were awarded to anyone whose predictions bested those of Bob Becker, the sports editor. My version was called “Dump the Dope” because for some years I had written a sports column called “The Inside Dope.”

Each week, I would predict ten college and five pro games in my persona as the Dope. I modeled the character after Major Amos Hoople, the protagonist of an old comic strip called Our Boarding House. One of my earliest jobs as a sports writer was to insert local high school football predictions into a column about college football circulated by the Our Boarding House syndicate. So I was steeped in Major Hoople’s pompous prose and interjections, like “fap” and “gak” and “egad.”

Anyone whose picks were more accurate than mine got a bumper sticker proclaiming “I Dumped the Dope.” The ten entrants with the best records for the season each got a T-shirt bearing the same boast, and were entered into a drawing for the grand prize, a trip to a bowl game. The drawing was held on a Saturday morning in a basement meeting room at Arborland. Dressed in full Dope regalia–shorts, white socks, athletic shoes, and a specially made T-shirt saying “I Am the Dope”–I would draw the winning entry.

I was tickled by how it took off, at least at first. Almost like a writer for a TV series, I created more characters–Mr. Smart Guy, a straw man who served as my foil, and the “junta,” a thinly veiled code word for the newspaper management that constantly threatened to thwart me.

I also wrote a Monday recap, which I fussed over endlessly, always trying to strike the precisely Dope-y note. The Dope took every opportunity to point out how little he knew about football and often used some quixotic selection device–all home teams, all visitors, the team whose name started earlier or later in the alphabet–but it was still a daunting task for someone who has trouble deciding which socks to wear.

Based on the experience in Grand Rapids, the News honchos were expecting a couple of hundred contestants at most. But there were more than 1,000 the first week, and the eventual record was 4,000–more than one for every ten papers sold. The junta was stunned, and more than a little resentful of the unexpected expense of hiring temps to open and sort the entries, a situation that I squeezed as much juice out of as I could (“Stop sending your picks! The junta doesn’t want to pay for processing them.”).

My life changed in ways I never could have envisioned. It became impossible to go out to dinner or a movie or a concert without someone, often several people, wanting to interrupt whatever I was doing to engage the Dope in conversation, not to mention hearing people yell, “Hey, Dope” at me when I walked down the street.

Even then, I had spent enough time in the company of celebrities to know I didn’t want to be one. Fortune was fine with me; fame was a different story. I began to dread going out in public.

So it didn’t break my heart to set Brian straight and conclude my reign as the Dope, although the concept lingered on. I think it was my late friend and colleague John Barton who filled the breach in the fall of 1983, succeeded by “Dump the Dopes,” a sort of committee of sports writers, and “Level Larcom,” with sports editor Geoff Larcom as the frontman, and possibly one or two other iterations that I’ve forgotten.

Artifacts lingered on, too. Well into this century, I would sometimes see a rust bucket of a car noodling around town that seemed to be held together by Dump the Dope bumper stickers. Ed Surovell, who helped me sell the one house I ever owned before he became a mover and shaker, once called to say he was mailing me something found in a house he’d been cleaning up that I might find of interest. I was hoping it was, say, a packet of mature savings bonds that were inexplicably endorsed to me. It was a “Dump the Dope” bumper sticker.

And, as recently as last year, there was a woman in my writing class who said she hoped her piece wouldn’t embarrass me, then produced some photos of me in my Dope outfit and read an account of her son winning the grand prize in the contest. My recollection of some of the details differed from hers, and I half-heartedly tried to correct her, but what was the use? She liked remembering it that way, and it wasn’t altogether unpleasant to think that I–or, more precisely, a persona that I created–had passed into folklore, the subject of fond, if fuzzy, memories.