Thursday, December 14, 2017

Tech's second bowl game: a long day in Baton Rouge

          (This was written for the Louisiana Tech sports information department as part of its bowl package)
      To start, two significant factors about Louisiana Tech's second football bowl game: (1) It was Terry Bradshaw's final college game; (2) he was sacked 12 times for 143 yards.
      That should tell you something about how the game went. It was a long Saturday afternoon for the 1969 Tech Bulldogs.
     Oh, there were similarities with Tech's first bowl game, played 364 days earlier:
      -- It was still called the Grantland Rice Bowl, although the site had changed ... from Murfreesboro, Tenn., to Baton Rouge, La.
      -- It again was the NCAA College Division Mideast Regional game (no playoffs beyond that, though).
      -- It was another powerful Tech team (8-1 regular-season record, with an excruciating one-point loss), even better than the year before (8-2, with a six-game winning streak).
      -- And Bradshaw was still the Tech quarterback, the star attraction.
      He was the College Division All-America QB (an honor announced the previous week), and considered by many the best at his position in the country, regardless of classification. And that included the NFL talent scouts who saw him as a potential high first-round draft pick.   
      The most notable similarity: The final result was a 20-point margin. But this time Tech -- a 33-13 winner against the University of Akron on Dec. 14, 1968 -- was a 34-14 loser.
      Because, in a significant difference, this opponent -- East Tennessee State -- obviously was much stronger, an unbeaten, once-tied team that had won the Ohio Valley Conference championship. 
      Didn't matter that the "experts" -- primarily the Dunkel Power Index -- had Tech as a 14-point favorite coming in. ETSU had won games by 2, 4, 6 and 2 points; Tech had only one narrow escape (a 1-point victory). Results against two common opponents made Tech appear as the much stronger team.
      Prediction fiction.
      No, ETSU had a heralded, ball-hawking defense which had held seven opponents to no more than seven points. (More on that unit in a moment.)
      Turned out it had no fear of a Tech team that had averaged 35.2 points a game -- a school record that stood for 29 years -- and was boosted by one 77-point game. ETSU's speed and aggressiveness proved too much for the Bulldogs, and even Bradshaw.
      From almost start (Bradshaw was sacked for a 19-yard loss on his first play) to finish (Terry sacked on his final three  plays, for 9, 14 and 14 yards), not much went right for Tech.
      Maybe Bradshaw had tougher days in a 14-year NFL career and was treated more roughly -- such as 1976 when Cleveland defensive end Joe "Turkey" Jones slammed him on his head and neck, causing a concussion and sidelining him for a few weeks. He was sacked 307 times in the pros, but likely never more in one game than this one.
      Still, despite all the harassment and some mistakes, he stood in and showed his talent, completing 20 of 39 passes for 299 yards and the Bulldogs' only two TDs, and -- briefly in the third quarter -- leading a Tech comeback and hopes for a victory.
      Bill McIntyre, The Shreveport Times sports editor/lead columnist, reflected Terry's status in his postgame column.
      The second paragraph read: "You get a Terry Bradshaw every three or four decades, maybe. You don't get one very often. A Y.A. Tittle comes wheeling through Louisiana football in the '40s and you get a Terry Bradshaw in the late '60s. Probably a Joe Ferguson in the early '70s, but you don't get one very often."
      He went on to write about Bradshaw's travails that afternoon, including an injured leg near the end of the game.
      And, in his game story, McIntyre turned to a cliche'-filled paragraph to describe the scene: "Bradshaw, the finest passer ever produced in Louisiana, was the boy caught on the burning deck as the Pirates climbed aboard. He was the kid with his finger in the dike and the water swirling around his shoulders."
      Actually, ETSU was the Buccaneers; its defensive players -- the "Hardrock Club" -- were rewarded for good deeds with skull and crossbones decals (the pirate theme) on their helmets. In this game, they could have used an extra supply.
      (Both teams' helmets also included a "100" logo, emblematic that season of college football's 100th anniversary.)
      Not only was it Bradshaw's finale, but so, too, for his fellow seniors who had helped resurrect Tech's program in the 1968 season after a couple of down years.
      The group included split end Tommy Spinks (Bradshaw's teammate and close friend since junior high in Shreveport), tight end Larry Brewer, offensive tackle Butch Williams and defensive tackle Johnny Richard -- all all-conference selections -- plus others such as fullback Buster Herren, center John Harper (a team tri-captain with Bradshaw and Spinks), speedy wide receiver Robbie Albright, safety Ricky Taylor, running back  Dwain Istre and punter Butch Troegel.
      But there were rumors ...
      In the game's aftermath, and maybe beforehand, word was that Tech's players -- after a long, hard season -- voted to refuse the bowl bid. Head coach Maxie Lambright, his program fully functional in his third season at Tech, wasn't having that. 
      Another factor: the site of the game. Baton Rouge perhaps wasn't the players' idea of an ideal bowl trip.
      For its first five years, the Grantland Rice Bowl had been played in Murfreesboro, hometown of America's most famous sportswriter. The bowl was named for him. 
      But as Tech's team and fans well knew, the weather in Murfreesboro the day of the game in 1968 had been brutal (snow flurries and a wind that brought the chill to near 0 degrees) and the attendance at Middle Tennessee State University's old stadium had been estimated at 600.
      So when Baton Rouge and its downtown Lions Club bid for the game, the NCAA was happy to move it. (Why it remained the Grantland Rice Bowl at the new site is hard to explain, but it remained that way through 1977 and two more host cities -- Fargo, N.D., and Anniston, Ala.) 
      Now the site was Memorial Stadium, Baton Rouge's best high school stadium, a no-frills facility just off downtown in the long shadow of the majestic Louisiana State Capitol building. It seated 22,000 -- and this game, on a beautiful mid-50 degrees afternoon for football, drew 16,101 paid spectators.
      But that stadium ...
      "Some of the players, and even some of the coaches, were not enthused about a bowl game in Baton Rouge," remembered Tech offensive backfield coach Mickey Slaughter, Bradshaw's coaching mentor in 1967-69. "We knew what Memorial Stadium was like, and playing there didn't seem the preferable place to end a very good season."
      And, as Slaughter recalled, "They had had a circus there the week or two before that game, and the smell was still just awful."
      About a circus and the smell, that was a fit for Tech football that day.
      It was 13-0 at halftime. A zero for a Tech team that had scored no fewer than 23 points in any game.
      The Bulldogs never caught up, although they closed to 13-7 and later 20-14. At the end of the third quarter, they were on the ETSU 34 with a chance to take the lead.
      Typical of the day: On the first play of the fourth quarter, Bradshaw was blitzed and tackled for an 18-yard loss. Tech ended up punting, and then its defense sank.
      The omen, though, came on Tech's first offensive play and series.
      ETSU defensive end Ron Mendheim (No. 89) introduced himself right away, closing on Bradshaw as he dropped back to pass and then retreated on his scramble ... and Mendheim chased him down from behind. So second-and-29, and it got worse.
      Terry completed two passes in a row to Istre, for 13 yards (nullified by a motion penalty) and then a 35-yard gain (brought back by a clipping penalty). On Tech's fifth play, Mendheim was back, blindsiding Bradshaw and causing him to fumble. ETSU recovered at Tech's 17, and soon scored.
      By halftime, Mendheim had five sacks, and Bradshaw had avoided another sack (and a 24-yard loss) with a desperate throw. Intercepted.
      Another pass, deflected, was picked off, too. So was a third one.
      But, considering ETSU's 34 interceptions in the regular season, it fit a pattern. The Bucs' defense was known as "Bennett's Bandits" in honor of secondary coach Buddy Bennett.
      "We made that guy famous nationally," Slaughter recently recalled, laughing. "Well, if not nationally, maybe just in the deep South."
      Indeed. The next year Bennett was the secondary coach for the Tennessee Vols and first-year head coach Bill Battle. An unheralded secondary improved rapidly, intercepted 36 passes (eight against Alabama) -- the "Bennett's Bandits" nickname had moved to Knoxville -- and then four more in a 34-13 Sugar Bowl victory against Air Force, capping an 11-1 season. And the following season, 1971, Bennett became defensive coordinator for Frank Broyles at Arkansas.
     More early offensive misery for Tech: After the Bulldogs recovered an ETSU fumble on a punt at the 30, Herren caught a flare pass from Bradshaw, but fumbled the ball away at the ETSU 10. (Buster later did go in for Tech's first TD on an 8-yard pass.)
      Meanwhile, ETSU broke two significant offensive plays -- a 37-yard halfback option pass that completely fooled Tech's defense for the game's second TD, and just after the Bulldogs' first score, a 61-yard run (longest in NCAA College Division bowl history then) by Jerry Daughtry to the Tech 1. 
      "When No. 44 (Daughtry) broke loose on that simple little dive play," Bradshaw said after the game, "and ran all the way to the 1-yard line, that mentally broke us."
      Except it didn't; Terry misfired on that recall. Because he rallied Tech again for its second score on a 19-yard pass to old buddy Spinks late in the third quarter. 
      Tech's top receivers -- who had totaled 94 catches for 1,854 yards in the regular season (Spinks 46 for 995, Brewer 30 for 357, and Albright 18 for 502) -- had decent days vs. ETSU: Brewer five catches for 111 yards, Spinks five for 76, and Albright four for 72. Didn't matter.
      The last quarter was all ETSU, drives of 88 and 44 yards, capped with touchdown passes by Larry Grantham for 33 and 18 yards. Ballgame.
      Proof that Tech made a lot of little plays: It led in first downs, 17-15. But the Bucs' total-yardage edge was big (419-256) and their 245 rushing yards was 14 short of the then-NCAA College Division bowl record.
     Tech assistant coach Pat Collins, then the linebackers coach and later the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame/national championship head coach at Northeast Louisiana, summed up the game in his usual direct, salty manner:
      "They just flat beat the hell out of us," he told an Alexandria Town Talk reporter covering the game. Slaughter, standing nearby, nodded in agreement.  
      Lambright was more low-key, as was his media manner.
      "East Tennessee State was the best team out there today," he said. "They are a fine, fine team. ... I didn't think anybody could get to Terry as many times as they did." 
      He specified ETSU's third-down success as a key. "They made their big plays, and we didn't," he said. "It was as simple as that."
      That, and a dozen sacks, three interceptions and two lost fumbles, and a leaky defense.

    Bradshaw afterward was disheveled, battered and bruised -- red welts were evident -- as he shed his grass-stained white jersey in the quiet Tech dressing room. He appeared to have been on the losing end of a fight.
     Moments after speaking with general manager Don Klosterman of the Houston Oilers, he faced the surrounding media.
      "Most of the time they blitzed on second down," he said of the ETSU defense. "I thought I had picked up a key, but the way they were jumping around, it was hard to tell what they were going to do."
      Then he reflected on the past four years.
      "I've had a great career at Tech," he said. "I just hate to lose the last game. I hate to lose any game."
      But the game proved -- if there was doubt -- that Terry could take a beating and keep playing, and Klosterman voiced what NFL teams were thinking.
      "We want him," he said. "We think he is one of the greatest pro prospects to ever come along. We just hope we get a chance to draft him." 
      Picking 14th, they had no chance. A little more than six weeks later, after Bradshaw had played in a couple of all-star games (one with Spinks and Brewer as teammates), the Pittsburgh Steelers made him the No. 1 overall pick. 
      Terry would go through two difficult losing seasons in the NFL, but by his third year the Steelers were in the playoffs and soon winning four Super Bowls in six seasons, and he was on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
      Louisiana Tech football would sink badly in 1970, then hit its greatest era -- 44-4, three national championships -- from 1971 to '74. (That included a 12-0 record in 1972 and another Grantland Rice Bowl at, yes, Memorial Stadium in Baton Rouge, and a 35-0 victory against Tennessee Tech. That one didn't smell.)
      For East Tennessee State, it never before or since had a season like 1969 -- its only season without a loss. Under respected coach John Robert Bell, the Bucs were very good again the next year (7-1-2), but winless in 1971. After that, only once in 35 seasons did they win more than seven games, and interest in the program waned so badly that the university dropped football after the 2003 season. 
      After 11 dormant years, ETSU fielded a team again in 2015; its head coach until Dec. 8 this year was Carl Torbush, a Louisiana Tech assistant in the early 1980s, then head coach for one year (1987).
      But on one December 1969 afternoon in Baton Rouge, ETSU had its finest football hours. And Louisiana Tech -- in Terry Bradshaw's last stand -- had a game to forget. If only we could. 
      Note: From 1965 to spring 1969, I was student assistant in Louisiana Tech's sports information office. The fall of 1969 was my first fulltime football season at The Shreveport Times.
      Photos copied from Alexandria Daily Town Talk, Dec. 14, 1969.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A great (and dumb) experience: first trip to Yankee Stadium

        This happened a long time ago -- 50 years -- and it was so embarrassing, so stupid, that I have never told the story in print.
       It has a happy ending; I did make it to Yankee Stadium -- the old, original, fabled Yankee Stadium, my field of dreams -- on August 18, 1967.
       And it has a sad ending. But you have to read this piece to get there.
Murray Pompeo
       It involves a neat, gentle kid -- Murray Pompeo -- from Paterson, N.J. (a key element to the story). He really is the hero of this adventure; he took me to the Big Stadium in the Bronx.
       But not before I messed up big-time. 
       Here is the confession, the major problem (and try not to think of me as a total idiot, just a partial one): I lost, or misplaced, and certainly did not have with me, Murray's contact information.
        Another key element: Murray and his mother lived with his stepfather, and I did not know his last name.
       So, no address, no phone number, no way to reach them. 
       But I knew Murray would pick me up at the airport -- Newark, close to where he lived -- and we would go to Yankee Stadium and then his parents' apartment in Paterson.
        Fine ... until my Delta flight from Atlanta was canceled. And then I had an issue. 
        I also had the makings of an adventure.
        I had been in Atlanta -- after my very first airplane trip, from Shreveport -- to spend a few days with my good friends, the Tuckers, who had moved there from Sunset Acres, our neighborhood, a few months earlier. 
        We had gone to some Atlanta Braves' games, and the second part of my vacation -- after a summer of covering American Legion baseball for The Times -- was the New York City area ... and Yankee Stadium. It was an awful Yankees team that season, but No. 7, Mickey Mantle, was still playing -- first base, on two bad legs. And I'd in person never seen him play.
        Murray Pompeo, his parents' only child, invited me to come up, stay with them, and go to Yankee Stadium.
        We had become friends in our second year at Louisiana Tech University, dormitory mates and he was going to be my roommate that fall. He was a big kid, built funny (big hips, big butt) because of glandular problems; he smoked constantly; and he was a late-night hanger-on in the dorm TV lounge area. That's where we began visiting. 
         I was there in a hopeless attempt to study -- I wasn't diligent, not with a TV and other people there -- and Murray, well, I never saw him study.
        He was likeable, and such a sports fan, a Tech fan (I was working in the sports information office) ... and a Yankees fan. Perfect.
         So I did have his address and phone number at one point, and we set up my trip. The schedule: an early Thursday flight from Atlanta to NYC, an afternoon game that day with the Baltimore Orioles and a Friday doubleheader with the Minnesota Twins.
          (Game tickets were easy, and free. Ballclubs then were very generous with "comp" tickets for sports newspaper departments, so I arranged them through The Times ... for the Braves' games and the Yankees' games.) 
          All set, and then the flight cancellation. I was re-booked on a United flight ... to JFK International. 
          I needed to let Murray know I wasn't going to be at Newark at the agreed time. Didn't have his contact info.
         Time to panic. I was 20, more naive than I am now, and dumb (d-u-m-b).
          Found a pay phone (this is three decades before cellphones), called home (collect, of course), and asked (told) Mom to find Murray's phone number or address.
          I had no idea where I had put it, nor had my parents thought to ask for it. I just assumed everything would work out well.
          Of course, Mom couldn't find the info. (I took that well.) Strike one.
          So, it was on to NYC/JFK on United, lots of time to think of what to do. 
          I knew the Thursday game at Yankee Stadium was a scratch, and I wondered what Murray must have been thinking when I didn't show up at Newark.
          Got to JFK, and got to a pay phone to call Louisiana Tech (because surely they had Murray's address and phone number). Charged the call to my parents' number (of course) and tried the admissions office where I knew Mrs. Patsy Lewis -- wife of Coach E.J. Lewis -- would help me.
          Patsy wasn't there. The girl who answered was not willing to help (likely couldn't give out that info anyway). So,  strike two.
           Asked for help at JFK. Someone suggested I go to Port Authority (by subway or bus) and then catch a bus for Paterson, N.J., and that's what I did. Port Authority was quite a trip; traffic and people everywhere, including one lonely, lost Louisiana kid.
           But not brainless; I did scramble well. Got to Paterson by early evening, found a hotel downtown and got a room, and had a plan.  
           In the morning, I would go to the Paterson newspaper office, where I knew -- this was from my experience at The Times -- they would have a city directory.
           Don't even remember the paper's name; only that it was downtown, not far from the hotel. So I went in, found people in the newsroom, told them my "problem," and they were very helpful. They were willing to dig into their files and/or call the authorities.
           I always have been lucky, so here was the best luck, as I remember it: Murray -- maybe because he was 21 -- was listed in the city directory as a student. Had his address and phone number.
           I called, and he was there in 10 minutes. Problem solved.
           It was midday; the Yankees' doubleheader was a twi-nighter, which meant -- I think -- about a 1 p.m. start for Game 1, about 4 p.m. for Game 2.  
           It was about a 30-minute drive to the stadium, and we arrived just after Game 1 had ended (a 1-0 Yankees victory in which Mantle had played first base and gone 1-for-2). 
This is about the angle we had during the first game
 I saw at the old Yankee Stadium.
           Quite a thrill walking up the tunnel to see the historic stadium for the first time. We had great seats, front row of the second level, just to the left of home plate, right behind the media area (which hung over the first deck). 
           (During Game 2, Joe Garagiola -- then one of the Yankees' broadcasters -- walked right in front of us, going to make a pit stop, probably. Someone behind us yelled, "Hey, Joe." Garagiola never looked up, kept walking and said, "Hey, guys, howya doing?")
           OK, Game 2 lineups went on the board, Yankees took the field. No Mantle.
           More luck. Tie game (2-2), bottom of the sixth inning, Yankees loaded the bases with one out. Ruben Amaro, a .227-hitting shortstop, due up. He went back in the dugout, and it was quiet for a moment ... and then the roar of the crowd (22,991 paid, plus us freebies) began to rise.
            They sensed what I did ... No. 7 was coming out of the dugout to pinch-hit.
            One of my great early life thrills. But not a good result. On the second pitch, batting right-handed against lefty Jim Merritt, Mickey hit a hard grounder to the third baseman, who stepped on the bag and easily threw to first for a double play.
            So much for the only time I was in a stadium -- the stadium -- when Mickey Mantle batted.
            The Twins won the game 4-3 when Rich Reese pinch-hit a ninth-inning, two-run homer. At the time it kept Minnesota -- with Zoilo Versalles, Tony Oliva, Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, the nucleus of the team that two years earlier had played in the World Series -- in first place of the American League. They were still first on the next-to-last day of the season.
           So ended my first Yankee Stadium visit (there have been three since, all to the renovated -- and now obsolete -- ballpark). 
           My trip wasn't a total disaster; the mistake really was harmless (I've made thousands that were more harmful to me and others). 
           It was an inconvenience, but it turned out to be a wonderful day, nonetheless, thanks mostly to my friend Murray. That night at his parents' apartment, they were so gracious and we had an Italian meal -- lasagna, which I think was a first for me. 
           Flew back to Shreveport the next day, no problems, and soon I was back at Louisiana Tech as fall football practice began.
           Now the sad part. Murray and I never roomed together at Tech. I cannot recall if he even came back to school (don't think he did). If he did, it wasn't for long.
           They found cancer -- leukemia I believe it was -- and he was gone in about six months. 
           I was grateful to have known him, and I never forgot how he helped me get to Yankee Stadium, although our visit was delayed a few hours.    
           It was a learning experience: If you are meeting someone, have their contact info -- always.


Friday, November 24, 2017

"There Is A God"

        Today's topic is an unusual one for me: religion. Heard something this past week that resonated with me.
       The bulk of this blog is provided by one of the world's most famous and most historic actors, Sir Sidney Poitier.
      It is a segment on religion and spirituality from his book written in 2007, Life Beyond Measure, sub-titled Letters to My Great- Granddaughter. He was 80 then; she was not yet 2.
      The timing was right because it is Thanksgiving week, and the Christmas season is here for the next month. And obviously, I like what Sir Sidney write and -- in our case, through audio book -- what he said.
       In a previous blog or two, I have written -- and people close to me know this -- I am not the religious type. Proud to be Jewish, would not have it any other way, but have not been observant in decades.
       Even my parents, Holocaust survivors whose family were terribly thinned because of religion (and hatred), were not that deeply observant. My younger sister has stayed with it.
       But my parents believed in their God. I believe. Certainly support anyone who practices their faith and religion.
       To be honest, though, I am not comfortable in how religion so often divides us. I am not comfortable with people -- yes, friends -- who "wear their religion on their sleeve," who push it (my opinion) at every opportunity in every conversation.
       (An example, going back to my previous blog about the Robertsons and Duck Dynasty: Duck hunting did not interest me, nor did Phil and the family's very religious theme.)
       Sorry if these thoughts offend you. When I hear that sports and politics shouldn't mix, I also think that sports and religion shouldn't mix. If so, only at a minimum.
       Houston Astros fans' prayers were answered. Mine weren't. OK, that's a joke.
       Really, though, I don't think God favors a team or players over another. And I don't think God directs free-agent players to a team -- yeah, I've heard that said -- but money sure does.
       Enough already. On to the segment from Sir Sidney Poitier because he puts religion in terms with which I agree.
       "Dear Ayele,
       As you will learn in time, there are many religions, many sects, many images of God. ... Each culture has its images. While I have mine, which differs in some measure from images held by others, my image of God permits me to question it, and myself. Why else would we have been given a curiosity, an imagination, a network of instincts and perceptive capabilities. I believe these gifts were and are survival tools, without which we could not have survived as a species. Gifts given to us, I believe, by the image of the God that I embrace.
       That brings me again to my own position, which is I believe there is an intelligence, and it is limitless, it is alive, it is conscious, and this is just a part of what it is. I don't think it's interested in one religion over another religion, held by two different cultures. 
       But I feel this about my life, I feel that I am constantly in the presence of God, by that I mean, I am constantly going about my life conscious that the universe is aware of me and I am aware of it. I go about my life feeling that the all-encompassing God has a relationship with me, and I with it. I have to then accept, or rather insist, on embracing the God that I think looks after me. I couldn't have survived as I have under my own direction, my determinations or my own choices. I made all of my choices and I stand by them all, even the ones that turned out in one fashion or another to have been incorrect, to have been unworthy of the me I perceived myself to be. I don't lay it all to the fact that I believe myself to be imperfect and finite, which I am. And it is our mistakes and fears, our imperfections that damage some of the people we care about, that damage our environment.
       So I come back to the belief that I am not here without its concurrence. I may not want to believe that, but I do not know which of its designs require me to function in a certain way. Not independently as an entity as I may think, but as a part of other things, as part of another kind of objective. I am interrelated as a coming together of all kinds of energies, and these energies come together in order to produce a result that is necessary for the functioning of the universe.
       There is more to say about the questions, answers and mysteries related to God and the nature of the universe and I have contemplated them in my time. ..."
       (He then describes his return to the Bahamas for the first time in eight years to see his parents, and how he was able to provide money -- from his film-career beginnings -- for them to live in a home with electricity, indoor plumbing and a porch for the rest of their lives.)
       They talked of "the unlimited prospects of the life upon which I was embarking, a life beyond measure, without barriers to where I could go and who I could become.
       "And, as we sat there late into the early hours of the morning, no one said it per se, but I know that deep down in the center of the joyous occasion, we were all thinking the same thing: 'There is a God.' "   

Monday, November 20, 2017

The mythical athletic world of Phil Robertson

       When it comes to his athletic career, reality star Phil Robertson -- the famed "Duck Commander" -- is not very real.
       But he and his family are real good at spreading myths. Such as (1) he was All-State in football, baseball and track; (2) he was a major-college recruit; and (3) he had NFL potential as a quarterback.
       The first part: no, no, no.
       Major prospect: doubtful.
       The NFL? Oh, please. No way.
       Quickly: I pay very little attention to anything ol' Phil or his relatives have to say.   
       He is as far-right conservative as one can get, and I don't travel in that direction. His brand of religion isn't mine; his social and political views ... not interested. 
       The TV shows, videos and books about him and his Duck Dynasty family ... no thanks.
       But I checked for one aspect: athletics. That's because I was around for Phil's time at North Caddo High -- 30 miles north of Shreveport -- and Louisiana Tech University. 
       We saw Phil from the opposing side in high school; we compiled the game and season stats in football as student assistant in sports information for most of the three seasons he played at Tech.
       But what I've seen and heard from Phil & Sons is about as far from true as the length of Terry Bradshaw's longest pass (that might've carried 80-85 yards) or his national-record javelin throw in high school (244 feet, 11 inches).
      I wrote about Phil and Terry 4 1/2 years ago, so I will try not to repeat much of that. 
     So why write this piece now? It is admittedly a nitpicking, innocuous exercise ... except it is like finding a resume' that is greatly exaggerated. 
      It irks me to read and hear what I know is not so.
      Phil's athletics bio and story-telling are -- I saw this term in a book I am reading -- "stretchers."  
      I wrote some of this two years ago, but held off because I could not verify what I recalled. Now having checked microfilm of the 1960s Shreveport Times, I can tell you this:
     Myth No. 1: Phil Robertson not only was not All-State in football, he wasn't 1-AA all-district. He was honorable mention.
     (Fred Haynes of Minden was all-district, having led his team to an undefeated state championship. Then he was a starter at LSU).
     Phil might have pitched for North Caddo -- as his sons will tell you -- and he did make all-district in '64 ... as an outfielder. But the special baseball players in Class AA in our area, the All-State guys -- five of them -- were at Jesuit (state champs) and Ruston (two, one a future major leaguer).
     He did throw the javelin, and he did make it to the state meet. But he was second in the district meet two years in a row (a Minden athlete beat him both years), third in the '64  regional, fourth in the state meet ... and not All-State. He was not Terry Bradshaw in the javelin, not close.
     Myth No. 2: A Sports Illustrated "Campus Union" story dated March 22, 2012, says: "... Robertson said he fielded offers to join the football programs at LSU, Ole Miss, Baylor and Rice."
     Can't disprove it, but it is highly doubtful. He wasn't that good as a high school QB, and I suspect Louisiana Tech was his best offer.
      I can tell you that we had five talented QBs in the 1960s at our school that Phil could envy: three signed major-college scholarships (LSU and Arkansas); the other two signed with Tech. Three were drafted by pro football teams.
      One started ahead of Phil at Tech; the other backed up Phil, but went on and won four Super Bowls.  
      Phil ducked his football career.
      A lot of us sensed, early in 1968, that when Bradshaw's potential blossomed -- it soon did -- he would replace Phil as Tech's starting QB. My opinion: Phil sensed that, too. Losing was not fun, and he loved duck hunting.
     Myth No. 3: A tryout with the Redskins.
     It is so ludicrous, it is laughable. It is a joke. Nothing about it adds up. It is Phil at his BS-ing best.
     He talks about this on a Sports Spectrum TV segment posted (March 25, 2013) on YouTube.
      A transcript (found through a Google search) of the video follows:
      So Robertson left football and, the following season, he hunted ducks while completing his degree.  
      A year or so later, though, a former Louisiana Tech teammate, running back Bob Brunet, was with the Redskins and thought Robertson could still make the team. Brunet told Robertson to come up and he would likely be the backup and earn about $60,000.
      “At the time, $60,000 didn’t seem like a whole lot even in the ’60s,” says Phil, who worked as a teacher for a few years after earning his degree from Louisiana Tech and then earned his master’s degree in education, with a concentration in English. 
       “I said, ‘I don’t know about that. I would miss duck season, you know? I’d have to be up there in some northern city.’ I said, ‘Brunet, you think I’d stay?’ He said, ‘I doubt it. You’d probably leave with the ducks, Robertson.’ I said, ‘Probably so.’”
      “That’s when (future Hall of Fame coach Vince) Lombardi went to Washington for a few years right before he quit coaching. …What (Brunet) said was, ‘We got this hot dog, Robertson, but you can beat him out easy.’ I said, ‘Who’s the hot dog?’ He said, ‘You’re not going to beat out (future Hall of Famer Sonny) Jurgenson. You’re not going to beat him out, but this hot dog, his backup, no problem.’ I said, ‘Who is he?’ He said, ‘Joe Theismann.’"
     Phil paused, smiled, then chuckled, recalling the conversation and how good Theismann became—a Super Bowl XVII champion, NFL MVP, and a two-time All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection.
     “(Brunet) said, ‘No problem, we’ve got him, hands down.’
     ‘I may do it,’” Phil recalls says. “But I didn’t do it. I stayed with the ducks. But looking back on it, who knows if I’d gone up there, you know, I might not have ever run up on Jesus at 28.”
       Now, the truth, the facts:
       -- Lombardi coached one season (1969) in Washington. Brunet never played a regular-season game with Lombardi as coach. In fact, he quit the team.
       Robert was the best back (when not hurt) we had at Tech in my time there (1965-68 seasons), a two-time all-conference player. The Redskins drafted him, and as a rookie in 1968, he had the second-most carries on the team. The coach that season was Otto Graham.
       After Lombardi came in -- having sat out one season following his Green Bay retirement -- Brunet did not take to his fierce coaching style.
       (The Great Coach was the opposite of the dignified soft-spoken legendary Tech coach Joe Aillet, and the head coach in Robert's senior season, Maxie Lambright, was a quiet man, too, more intense than Aillet but nothing like Vince.)
       So Brunet left and sat out the 1969 season, the time of Phil's story. 
       Robert did return to the Redskins in the spring of 1970, with Lombardi still there. But in June, Lombardi's fast-spreading cancer was found, and he never returned to coaching. He died before the season kicked off. 
       So Bill Austin was Brunet's head coach in '70, and George Allen came in '71 (and Brunet was a standout special-teams player for him into the 1977 season).           
       -- Jurgensen did not start much in 1971 through 1973. He was injured a lot and then the backup to Billy Kilmer (including a hapless Super Bowl against the "perfect" Miami Dolphins, 1972 season).
       -- Jurgensen and Theismann were on the same Redskins team only in 1974. The "hot dog" -- after three years in Canadian football -- barely played that year. Kilmer started 10 games (and got hurt); Jurgensen started four (and a playoff game). 
         By then, Phil had been out of football seven years. 
         And if I have the timing correctly, Phil's downward spiral hit in the early 1970s, and he soon was drinking and rowdy and split from his family for a time -- not exactly headed for the NFL. Then he found religion.
         Don't remember religion being a factor for Phil at Tech. His religion was hunting and fishing. In fact, Bradshaw had more of a religious leaning (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) then than Phil. 
          So maybe Phil and Brunet had a conversation about him playing for the Redskins. But, good gosh, what Phil tells makes no sense.
         He's told it so often, though -- and written it -- and his sons talk about him being All-State and "turning down a chance to play professional football," and they all believe it now ... and want the world to believe it.
         Our lack of success in 1966 and 1967 wasn't all Phil's doing; the teams weren't sound. But the QBs were not difference makers.
         As a passer, Phil did have a quick release -- Bradshaw has mentioned that often in interviews -- and he had a decent arm. But not a great arm, like Terry. 
         Pro potential? Hardly. Alan, Jase and Willie -- the sons -- can twist it the way they want and repeat the un-truth.
         NFL teams were not going to be interested in a guy who quit before his senior season -- "to chase the ducks, not the bucks" as he likes to say -- and who in two years as a starter threw 32 interceptions (nine TD passes) and led his teams to three wins (Bradshaw, as a freshman sub, was the star of the only 1966 victory).
         It was nice of Tech to invite Phil back for a September 2013 game, reunited with Terry, and to honor him. But it was for his notoriety (and ducks success), not for his football past.
        Give Phil and the Robertsons credit for inventiveness, ingenuity, creativity, self-promotion ... and a duck dynasty.
        They have millions of reasons -- and dollars -- to be happy, happy, happy. And I'm happy to provide the truth on Phil as an athlete.
        He is out "in the woods" on so much (that's the name of his new show on CRTV, a subscription-only channel. No subscription here, thank you).
         The promotion, which I am not looking for but which is popping up regularly on my computer, says, " ... just truth, from Phil's mouth to your screen."
         Phil's truth, not ours. If he tells you he was All-State in three sports or an NFL quarterback prospect, don't believe him.
         God-appointed messenger? You decide.
         Reminds me of a friend who used to joke, "Any man who says he runs his household will lie about a lot of other things, too."


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

If he were a rich man ... he WAS a rich man

         (Part 4, last in series)
         Irving Zeidman was Shreveport's Tevye, and what a great Tevye he was. Never saw a better one.
         He knew he could play the role, sing the songs (If I Were A Rich Man, etc.) of Fiddler on the Roof.
          So when the Shreveport Little Theater acquired rights to do the play in 1971, Irv's acting chops resurfaced. He first had acted in community theater -- drama and musicals -- in Monroe in the early 1950s, then again in Shreveport about a decade later. 
          He and the Fiddler cast were quite a hit at the Marjorie Lyons Playhouse -- adjacent to the Centenary College campus -- in the summers of 1971 and '72.
         Nothing but sellout performances. Only eight shows were scheduled in 1971, but demand for tickets were so great, the show was extended three times ... to 18 performances. And then staged again -- encore -- the next summer, with Irv still as the dairyman.
         We saw the play twice. He was as good as -- yes -- Zero Mostel (Broadway stage) or the Israeli actor Topol (movie).          
        Here is who agreed: longtime Shreveport Little Theater producer/director and Centenary theater/drama/speech professor Robert Buseick, who directed Irv in Fiddler.
        In 1971, he told The Shreveport Times entertainment writer/critic, "I had seen eight previous productions [of Fiddler] and never had I seen a finer Tevye than IZ."
        Not surprisingly, if you knew IZ, he added this, " ... Irv was very friendly, but frequently wore his emotions on his shirtsleeve and he could be very easily hurt."
The Zeidman family, 1971, on the set of Fiddler on
the Roof i
n Shreveport.
        That might have been tough love from a director, but from audiences of that day there was nothing but love for Irv.
        Mrs. Zeidman (Hazel) helped, too, behind the scenes with costuming and staging and keeping the cast fed and entertained. And it was a great family gathering for the Zeidman kids, who returned to town for performances (and a group photo).
         Unanimously, he was chosen The Times drama award for best actor for the 1971-72 season, and he went on in subsequent years to play in Cabaret (Herr Schultz) and Man of La Mancha and a couple of other productions. 
         Then his heart began to fail. Two heart attacks, and doctors warned him his time might not be long. 
         He did not quit trying; he was a daily runner -- well, jogger -- and he kept at it. He kept his beard, grown for the Tevye part, too, until the end.
         And that came in early November 1975. His mother-in-law found him, sitting in the living-room lounge chair usually Hazel's spot, unresponsive. Rushed to a hospital, he was already gone. He died peacefully in his sleep.
         Hazel was in California, attending to a difficult childbirth for oldest daughter Barbara. So the funeral was held up a day or two for Hazel's return to Shreveport.
         Going through his papers in the following days, his family found a sheet of paper on which, thinking back to his early days, he had written the lyrics to a Jewish song for children that he would sing to his own young children in Hebrew.
         At the time of his death, his sister lived in Florida; his brother, who was a butcher, lived in Trenton, N.J.
         Hazel outlived Irving for 41 years until December 2016; she was 96 1/2. She spen the last 12 years after a stroke in a care facility near Susan and husband Bill in Celina, a little town just northeast of Dallas. 
         Barbara, now 75, recently moved from Shreveport to San Diego to be near family.
         IZ had nicknames for so many, and Barbara long ago  was "Babu," his first baby. He called the kids, when they were young and zany, his "Zeidmaniacs." The favorite family dog, a dachshund, was "SubaD," a combination of the kids' names.
         And I suspect that it was Irv who tagged our favorite Shreveport Sports' player back then, Lou Klimchock, a star prospect in 1959 at age 19, as "Baby Lou."
        Irving knew his first three grandchildren; there are now nine. Irv and Hazel have eight great grandchildren (and counting).
        Certainly Irving would have sung to them all.
        It is easy to speculate that IZ could have been a major-league baseball broadcaster or Broadway performer based on talent. But, Susan said, his family had settled in Shreveport, he liked the town and he was comfortable. He did not want to uproot Hazel and the family, keep them moving and into the big cities for possible fame and fortune.
         It was the big fish/little pond or little fish/big pond option, and Irv chose to be a big man in Shreveport. And a happy one.
         "He was just a great big bundle of good humor," Jack Fiser -- another of my mentors and McIntyre's predecessor as sports editor/columnists at The Times -- told Bill in 1975. He was a Zeidman contemporary, covering the Sports and Centenary. "The way I'll always remember him, he was one of the most consistently happy men I've ever known. A man of intense talent ... in all times." 
         IZ spread the happiness at home. "He was always like a kid at Christmas," daughter Susan recalled. "He loved seeing his kids and grandkids with their presents." 
         So he wanted to play Zorba, but it never happened. For his memorial service, Rev. Burton D. Carley, in 1975 the first minister of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church (where Irv and Hazel attended), wrote a poem in his honor.
         It began: 
              Dear Irv, wherever you are:
              I just wanted to tell you
              That you really didn't need to play Zorba.
              You were Zorba -- I mean all his best qualities!
              Your love for life,
              Your earthy humanness and personal warmth ...
         It includes:
              Anyway, I just wanted to tell you: 
              I loved you Irv Zeidman.
              I am better for having known you
              And so is all the earth.
         (Personal note: Rev. Carley, who retired in 2015 at age 67 after 32 years as minister of First Unitarian in Memphis, presided over our wedding in February 1977.) 
         So when IZ chose Shreveport, it was a rich decision for us. 
          The only way tend this series is the way Jerry Byrd began and ended his column in 1975, and the way Bill McIntyre ended his column. Both referenced Irv singing, If I were a rich man ...
          Irv Zeidman -- the best Tevye -- was a rich man.