Guess who’s turning 75 this year? Sorry, you don’t win a prize if you already know the answer to that.
That’s because it’s the Guest Guesser, a Seattle Times Sports section staple since 1939 that has brought fame, fortune and fun to generations of people predicting the outcome of college and pro football games.
How much fortune? This year, you can win a weekly prize of $100 and compete for a grand prize of $2,000, plus bragging rights of being listed atop the “Winners” and “Leaders” lists.
It’s a variation of a wildly successful formula that has stood the test of time. In fact, it was being proclaimed the champion of such contests right out of the gate.
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In 1939, The Seattle Times ran a story about the flood of mailed entries it received for the new contest: “So far the total for three weeks is 14,818 — one of the most amazing responses any newspaper feature ever received.”
Back in the day, there was a weekly parade of celebrity guessers that included Washington Gov. Clarence Martin in 1939 and UW quarterback Warren Moon in 1977, and grand prizes that included trips to the Rose Bowl or Super Bowl.
The winners also became somewhat famous, with a big story and photo in the Sports section.
Art Landskov made Guest Guesser history in 1969 by correctly picking the outcome of all 20 college and pro games, the first time in three years anyone had done that. The headline: “Art Landskov Had ‘20-20’ Vision.”
Landskov won $1,000 for his Week 3 victory, money he and his wife, Julie, used to help buy their first home, a $27,500 four-bedroom rambler.
Reached recently at their home in Tacoma, Landskov and his wife laughed at the memory.
“It was really fun,” said Art Landskov, a retired chemist. “I got so many calls from friends and relatives.”
Were they asking for a loan?
“Our pastor called and asked for 10 percent,” said Julie, a retired teacher. “He was a good pastor.” And the Landskovs gladly tithed.
The Guest Guesser also played a role in Seattle political history when, in 1940, The Times turned the upcoming city council election into a Guest Guesser contest by having readers predict the outcome of that race.
When newcomer Bob Jones was elected by about 20,000 votes, the Guest Guesser got credit.
“Everybody seems a little amazed the lead was so big. And by golly, I was too,” Jones was quoted as saying. “I think three things ran it up that high. First was this Guest Guesser business in The Times. That stirred up a lot of excitement in what was otherwise a rather cut-and-dried campaign.”
The Guest Guesser was started 75 years ago by then-Sports Editor Henry MacLeod, said his son Alex MacLeod, who like his dad was a former Seattle Times managing editor. The contest now is overseen by Senior Sports Producer Bob Wickwire, in his seventh season as Guest Guesser “commissioner.”
Wickwire said he entered the contest as a youth, but because he is an employee of The Times, can no longer compete.
Instead, Wickwire said he enjoys keeping an eye on the results and taking pride in putting together a challenging collection of games that tests your pigskin-prognosticating power.
And while you are limited to one entry per week, feel free to team up with someone. That’s what 14-year-old Bill Urlevich Jr. and his dad were doing when they won the grand prize in 1984 of a trip to the Super Bowl.
“I know we both can say it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I mean it was the Super Bowl, biggest game in professional sports,” said Urlevich, now an advertising copywriter for The Costco Connection magazine.
Seeing the story and picture of him and his father was a thrill, too. Urlevich was then a freshman at Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien, where he played football.
“I got a little bit of notoriety,” he said. “The varsity coach (Tom Merrill), he’d call me ‘Super Bowl.’ ”
Such experiences have helped keep the Guest Guesser alive when so many similar contests have faded.
“We looked at cutting Guest Guesser several times, especially in the years before technology made it easier to manage,” said Cyndi Nash, a former Seattle Times news executive. “But readers shared so many stories about families playing the game across generations or decades-long rivalries between friends that we always found some way to keep it going.”
Guess that was a pretty good idea, too.
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.