He half-jokingly claims he got through UNC on a “seven-card stud scholarship.”
He calls himself a “typical goofball alumnus.”
He’s been banned by what is now WWE wrestling, a distinction he carries like a badge of honor.
And, he just made his Hollywood acting debut as “Reporter #1” in The Ides of March — asking George Clooney’s character a question during a press conference.
Neal Rubin (BA-78) worked at The Mirror student newspaper, the Greeley Tribune and the Las Vegas Sun. He is now a three-day-a-week columnist for one of the country’s largest newspapers, The Detroit News.
In addition to the columns, he also writes a blog about his daily experiences, such as his recent open-heart surgery (see side bar) and encounter with a naked man running down a street in Detroit.
Another of Rubin’s claims to fame is a mention in a book by best-selling author Elmore Leonard, who wrote a fake Rubin column in his novel about America in World War II, Up in Honey’s Room:
Honey got in the Pontiac saying, “Did you see Neal Rubin’s piece? I think he’s great, his style is so… conversational. He doesn’t act like he knows everything, the way most of those guys sound with their inside stuff.”
Leonard is a resident of the Detroit area, and Rubin met him through the newspaper. They have become friends, and Leonard wanted to include his friend in a novel.
Thanks to an endorsement from another fan, Rubin is also the writer behind a nationally syndicated cartoon strip.
Gil Thorp is a continuing cartoon about an eponymous high school coach, and the life of the small-town coach, the school and the students. The strip has a following of both old and young — especially among teenagers who may be able to identify with the cartoon’s topics.
Seven years ago, when the writer for the strip ventured in another direction, a fan of the comic strip recommended Rubin as the new writer.
“The distributors of the strip contacted me and said if I wanted to write for them, I had to submit an audition script,” Rubin says. “I guess they liked it.”
But before all of this, before UNC and Las Vegas and Detroit and Gil Thorp, Rubin was a high school student at Arapahoe High School in Littleton.
A year ahead of him in high school was Randy Bangert, now the Greeley Tribune editor.
“You could tell, even in high school, that Neal had a natural flair for writing,” Bangert says.
When Rubin was still at UNC and sports editor for The Mirror, the Tribune hired him as a sports writer. “I remember once,” Bangert says, “Neal was at a high school game and wrote a column about the bad behavior of parents. They got pretty mad, and we got a lot of complaints … but he was right.”
At UNC, Rubin says he joined regular poker nights around Greeley. He earned enough to pay for tuition and expenses, and even opened a bank account with the poker money.
As for the ban by the WWF, as it was called then, it happened shortly after he arrived in Detroit. “It was 1987, and I went to Wrestlemania for a story for the Detroit Free Press,” Rubin says. “I was astounded. There were 90,000 people there.”
WWF champ Hulk Hogan wrestled Andre the Giant, and that night, Rubin decided he wanted to learn more about Hogan.
“I requested an interview and was refused,” Rubin says. “So I started researching and found his real name was Terry Gene Bollea. I tracked him back to his high school days, where he streaked the school graduation, wearing nothing except a nylon stocking over his head.”
Enraged WWF officials called the newspaper, banning Rubin from all events.
Rubin is married now. He and wife Marcy Hayes — owner of a public relations company — have two sons, ages 22 and 16. The oldest, Spencer, was just admitted to film school, and 16-year-old Conner is in high school.
Just last year, Hollywood rolled into town and began filming The Ides of March, directed by Clooney, who also plays presidential candidate Michael Morris.
“He told his producers that he wanted some real reporters in the press conference scene, and they asked me,” Rubin says. “It was pretty amazing. I had my own room in the trailer, a make-up person and costume, and I asked a question during the press conference.”
Rubin delivers this line to Morris: “Did you know her well, Governor?”
“But I got to speak with George Clooney, and sat down and talked with Marisa Tomei and Phillip Seymour Hoffman,” he says.
Rubin remains a diehard UNC fan.
“On our honeymoon in 1996, my wife and I went to New York, but I tried to talk her into going to Florence, Alabama, where UNC was playing the [national championship]. I finally called KFKA radio in Greeley and had them put me on hold so I could hear the last few minutes of the game.”
He says he hasn’t returned to Greeley since the UNC football playoff win over Central Missouri State in 2002. “That was an outstanding game,” he says. “It was a comeback win for UNC.”
The university and his Greeley friends remain on his mind.
In a single comic strip of Gil Thorp in 2006, he indicated two of the students who had been caught blowing up mailboxes were Marcus Newton (BA-67) and this author, two Greeley Tribune reporters (and UNC graduates) he knew when he worked at the newspaper.
And currently, an assistant football coach to Gil Thorp, Bob Kazinski, was introduced into the strip as a former football player at UNC.
So, while Rubin, a popular columnist for one of the nation’s largest newspapers, is far removed from the university, he can always reach back and make contact once again. NV
—Mike Peters (BA-68) spent 40 years reporting for the Greeley Tribune.