HOBART | It started as a friendly hallway wager between students.
Thirty-one years later, the stakes have changed a bit, but the bets are still going strong, sandwiches serving as a link between long-time friends.
"It's unbelievable we've kept it going all through the years," Buzz Underwood said.
In 1983, Underwood was a sophomore and Len Schmidt, Jr. a senior at Merrillville. Both played football and basketball for the Pirates. They lived in the Turkey Creek neighborhood of town, where they took part in countless pick-up games.
"It was loaded with kids our age," Schmidt said.
One day at school, Underwood approached Schmidt about who he liked in the upcoming NBA All-Star Game. Thinking more about having to guard Michigan City Rogers' Delray Brooks, Schmidt was caught by surprise, but picked the East. Dr. J led the East to a 132-123 victory, earning Schmidt two sandwiches at the Underwood family's Lincoln Carry Outs sandwich shop.
Going forward, they decided to make it a three-season deal, also betting on the baseball and football all-star games. When Underwood won, he received two Russell T-shirts from The Athlete's Foot Sporting Goods store in Merrillville, which was run by Schmidt's dad Len. The shirt and sandwich both cost about $3 at the time.
"I've got a closet-full of T-shirts," said Underwood, who boasts the overall lead.
His family has been in the sandwich business since the 70s, originating on Fourth Avenue in Gary. Underwood now owns and operates the popular Hobart location. After the Schmidts sold The Athlete's Foot, the men had to alter the stakes, which became a double or nothing. Per the rules, the loser gets first choice for the next game.
"I've been hot lately," Schmidt said.
Though the men don't see each other nearly as much, they have kept in contact through the bets. They've never missed a game, always remembering to touch base as the date approaches.
"It's the first thing that crosses my mind," Underwood said. "It's a good reason to get together."
"Technology has made it easier," said Schmidt, the director of Northshore Health Center at the Hammond Clinic. "Buzz can just say, 'Who do you like?' I save the text in case I forget."
There's only been one tie over the years, that in 2002, when the baseball all-star game was called after the teams ran out of pitchers with the score 7-7. They hit a snag in the recent NFL Pro Bowl, which featured mixed teams chosen in a draft.
Like he did back in 1983, Schmidt had the East in the recent NBA All-Star Game, meaning Monday's lunch was on Underwood.
The former Pirates talked sports and caught up on what's going with each other, Schmidt enjoying every bite of his grilled roast beef on rye.
Personally, I've long preferred the Lincoln club with bacon, but unlike picking a game, there are no wrong answers here.