Mantle and Maris. Montana and Rice. Russell and Cousy. Of all the great tandems in sports, none can match Bob and Bub for consistency. In their 10 years as SI couriers, Bob Ryan and Bub Watson have never missed a shipment.
It is the B&B boys' task to retrieve our photographers' film from airport baggage claims and bring it to the Time & Life Building in Manhattan for processing. "We make up to 20 pickups a day," reports Ryan, who drives the lead van for 152 Courier Corporation, the four-vehicle outfit he and his wife, Susana, own. They have fetched film from the bowels of Baltimore, the wilds of Washington, D.C., and the nether regions of Newark. "Bob has never let us down," says SI's director of photography Heinz Kluetmeier. "Without him, SI would have to go to press without photos." The courier job is fraught with the daily drama you would expect of major-metropolitan messengers. Baggage delays! Customs hassles! Traffic jams! "Every pickup is like the end of the world," says Ryan. "This is stuff SI absolutely, positively has to have. We work round the clock, Friday through Monday."
Ryan, 58, and Watson, 35, ride together in a minivan they call their mobile office. The interior is liberally encrusted with dust, cigar butts and dog hair. "It's Popeye's hair," says Watson. Popeye is Ryan's Border collie. "I admit Popeye is a hell of a name for a female dog," Ryan says, "but I had to call her that. My wife's cat is named Olive Oyl." (Susana, who also drives for 152 Courier, rides with her own dog. Named Bluto, perhaps? "Nah," says Ryan. "Muggsy.")
Ryan is a roundish guy whose fashion sense favors a black knit cap, black sweatpants and a beat-up sweatshirt from some long-ago Goodwill Games. More often than not, a cigarillo bobs in the corner of his mouth. And he's no stranger to celebrity. As a soda jerk in Newark, he once made a milk shake for Joe DeRita of the Three Stooges. As a waiter at Manhattan's Stage Deli, he served corned beef sandwiches to Yankee catcher Thurman Munson. And as a limo driver, he accepted a dinner invitation from passenger Anthony Newley.
Watson, a 6'4" sometime point guard in the New York Urban Pro Basketball League, does most of the legwork. "Bub is more stylish than me," Ryan concedes. On this day Bub wears a black leather Georgetown Hoya cap backward, one white sock and one red one, one low running shoe and one hightop. "This job's pretty challenging," he says. "The challenge is getting it down." Bob and Bub teamed up in the early '80s while working for another messenger service. Bob was driving from New York City to Boston, and Bub asked if he could go along for the ride. Their cargo was a fish. "It was no live fish," says Bob.
"A dead fish," says Bub. "A frozen fish."
"What the hell kind offish was it, Bub?"
"No, the kind they get caviar from." A sturgeon, we figure. When they returned to the office, Bob was told to get back in his van and drive to Buffalo—a 12-hour round-trip. He offered to drop Bub off at his home in Brooklyn. "No, thanks," said Bub. "I'll go with you." It has been Bob and Bub ever since.
They deliver: Popeye, Susana, Muggsy, Bob, Bub.