Monday, April 23, 2018

What's in a nickname: Tech's Blond Bomber

     So, in case you were wondering 50 years later about the best of Terry Bradshaw's nicknames ...
     My old buddy, O.K. "Buddy" Davis, was wondering Saturday when he sent this text: "Can u give me background on when you, Paul Manasseh came up with the Blond Bomber nickname?
     "Can't recall my input, either," he added.
     So because it was yesterday -- well, 1968, actually -- this required a little research. Hello, microfilm on newspapers.com.
     It is not exactly what we have thought for decades.
     We always have given the credit to Paul Manasseh, the veteran sports publicist from Shreveport who that fall was the sports information director at Louisiana Tech University. 
     He had one student assistant (me, a senior at Tech) and one regular office visitor who helped us in SID work, Ruston Daily Leader sports editor Buddy Davis, a recent Tech graduate.
In 1967 and 1968, Terry Bradshaw still
had hair on top of his head, and it was
very blond ... so "The Blond Bomber."
     Bradshaw, everyone at Tech knew, was a huge talent, but going into that season had never started a college game. He did not have a nickname, as we remember it.  
      But soon his talent blossomed, and he was on his way to being the best quarter back in college football -- at any level (Tech was an NCAA Division II team, but Terry could have played for any "major"). Proof: In January 1970, he was the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. You likely know the rest.
     Oh, the nickname ...
     Manasseh -- wise media person, personable, guiding force for many budding sportswriters/broadcasters as, after nine months at Tech, he moved on to 14 years as SID at LSU -- loved Bradshaw's talent (heck, all of us at Tech did). Began writing and talking about it soon after he took the Tech job in July.
     Shortly into the season -- which began with Bradshaw, in his first start, starring in a victory against a "major," Mississippi State (albeit a weak one -- 0-8-2 -- that year), Manasseh tagged Terry with two nicknames: (1) "The Rifleman" and (2) "The Blond Bomber."
     Those references were made in releases sent out from the Tech SID office.
     For years -- and I noted this in an April 14, 2012, blog piece on Bradshaw -- Manasseh, Buddy and I have received credit for those nicknames. Thanks, but it ain't exactly so.
     Because Buddy and I have kidded each other for more than 50 years, I replied to his text Saturday by saying, "Think Manasseh came up with it and you took the credit." 
     Buddy's comeback: "We all did (football emoji) (smiley face)."
---
     Now the real kicker: Don't believe Manasseh was the originator, either. He adopted it, and adapted it.
     It was not original. Actually, it was a takeoff on "The Brown Bomber," longtime heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis in the 1940s.
      Looked this up: "Blond Bomber" was used -- several times -- by pro wrestlers, and by a body builder (Dave Draper) earlier in the 1960s, and there was a 1954 TV show, Adventures of the Falcon, with an episode titled "The Blond Bomber."
     And reading about a book a couple of years ago about Texas' football legends, we noted that Bobby Layne -- the 1940s University of Texas and then 1950s Detroit Lions' great quarterback -- was nicknamed, yes, "The Blond Bomber."
     In Louisiana, though, the first blond bomber reference -- note, it was lower case -- we could find in 1968 for Bradshaw was by sports editor/columnist Bill Carter of the Alexandria Town Talk in a Sept. 27 story (the week after the Mississippi State game). He had not used it in a column effusively touting Bradshaw's promise eight days earlier.
     So here is what I think happened (feel free to correct us, if you have a better version):
     Manasseh was very good friends with Carter, and saw his blond bomber reference in the Alexandria paper. Paul picked up on it for Tech releases, and changed it a bit: He upper-cased it.  
     Ah, from then on, Tech's Blond Bomber. It caught on.
     Buddy loved it, I loved it, and we began using it ... a lot ... for years and years.
     So did all the Louisiana sportswriters; it become commonplace. For instance, we found references in columns in the next month by The Shreveport Times' Larry Powell, Jim McLain and Bill McIntyre.
     McLain, in fact, doubled up, starting his post Tech-Northwestern State column -- the one after the Bradshaw-to-Ken Liberto, 82-yard winning TD pass with 13 seconds remaining -- by calling Terry "The Rifleman" and later "The Blond Bomber."
     (McLain, too, first used "The White Knight" nickname for Joe Ferguson -- like Bradshaw a star QB at Woodlawn High -- in 1967 because great offensive-line protection allowed Ferguson's white jersey, when his team wore white, to remain spotless through games.)
     "The Rifleman" nickname was a natural because of the very popular 1960s television series.Terry had the "rifle" right arm and he much resembled Chuck Connors, the 6-foot-6 baseball major leaguer-turned-actor who starred as Lucas McCain, with his ever-present, often-used rifle.
     "Blond Bomber," too, was a natural. Terry then still had hair growing on top of his head -- first a crewcut, then a little longer and combed over -- and that hair was more white than blond. Plus, he could throw long passes on target -- bombs -- as well as anyone we've seen.
     (By the way, we have seen it written often as Blonde Bomber. No, not for Terry. We are not grammar experts, but our understanding is that blond is masculine and blonde is feminine. So there.)
     In time, Bradshaw would become the Pittsburgh Steelers' "Blond Bomber." But I don't remember hearing him ever talk about nicknames. 
     To him, that was never as important as winning football games -- and he was very good at that, and nearly as good as he has been in his show business/football analyst career. 
     Outspoken, yes. Crazy, goofy, funny ... certainly. He has played those roles well. Also, a helluva lot smarter than we all realized. 
     Criticize him if you want, but that doesn't play well with me. He has represented Shreveport-Bossier and Louisiana Tech well through the years.
     Does not matter who gets credit for the nickname. It worked, and it remains a cherished part of a football legend. We were there for its genesis.
      Terry Bradshaw, The Blond Bomber. (How many times have we written that?)   
   

           
         
         


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Remembering the Holocaust ... and Charlottesville

Rose and Louis (The Shreveport Times photo)
     This Sunday afternoon, I will be thinking of Mom and Dad ... and millions of other people.
     I also will be thinking of last August, and the tumultuous weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.
     Thinking, remembering, and reflecting. That is what the annual Holocaust Remembrance Service in Shreveport-Bossier is for me. And I am sure Beatrice Van Thyn feels the same, as do many others.
     That is why we attend. To honor those who suffered through the Holocaust, those who paid the ultimate price (6 million Jews, 11 million victims, 60 million altogether -- military, people of the world). Our family lost too soon: four grandparents, two uncles, one aunt, an in-law aunt and uncle, one nephew, and my parents' first spouses. 
     This Sunday (3 p.m. start), I especially will think of Mom. Because the service this year will be in Brown Chapel on the Centenary College campus.
     Special connections: (1) Mom often was a featured speaker at the Shreveport-Bossier Holocaust Remembrance Service; (2) she and Dad, as Holocaust survivors, were among those lighting the 11 eleven candles commemorating the 11 million victims of Nazi occupation/persecution; (3) Mom loved Brown Chapel, was a speaker there several times, and chose it for her memorial service (eight years ago in July).
     As many people remember, for years she spoke publicly about the Holocaust, her experiences in it and in life.
     She wrote prolifically in English, her second language, although I am sure she wrote Dutch to her friends back in the old country. Long takes on her and her original family's Holocaust days; poetry -- most her own, some borrowed -- and letters to the newspapers.
     I am sharing some of those editorial-page letters (saw them again recently as I culled our paper files and created digital files).
     One of her favorite subjects -- and not in a positive manner -- was David Duke. Surprised?
1990 The Shreveport Times
     Is there anyone in the United States, and with Louisiana ties, that is more symbolic of anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and white supremacy advocate? He was the America's leading Nazi wannabe and Grand Wizard (of the Ku Klux Klan), so the answer is ... no.
     Much as I love my home state, it is a forever-stain on Louisiana that he actually had success there politically.
     He was -- among other things -- an elected state representative and a finalist in the 1991 state governor's race, having drawn 80,000 more votes in the primary than the incumbent governor, Buddy Roemer. It took a "Vote for the Crook" campaign for Edwin Edwards to keep a Nazi promoter/sympathizer out of the governor's chair. (Soon enough Edwards and Duke were convicted felons.)  
---
     Duke is still around, of course, spouting his white trash, and he has enough followers to draw attention ... from those who want to pay attention. 
     Which brings us back to Charlottesville. He was there, he was on camera, and he had plenty of would-be-Nazis company. 
     Just as a reminder, I again watched the "Vice News Tonight" behind-the-scenes coverage of the Nazi/KKK/white-supremacists types ... and the slanted hatred they espouse. It is really head-shaking. Pitiful. Annoying. Obnoxious. And, well, laughable.
     Had my say on this last August: http://nvanthyn.blogspot.com/2017/08/here-is-my-red-line.html
     Do not care to rehash it any further, except to say that I will not agree with the "many sides," "both sides" were guilty. That argument is an overreach, a misinterpretation.
     And those Nazi/KKK/white supremacists publicly loved that people -- influential people -- are at least partially, if not fully, taking their side, giving them an out or an excuse.
     Of course, this protest also involved the Confederate-hero statue issue -- in this case, Gen. Robert E. Lee -- so the question of slavery, of those clinging to their Southern roots and heritage, was combined with the pro-Nazi cause.
     We could write a whole blog on that. Personally, I like statues; I did a sports page piece on the sports statues in the Fort Worth-Dallas area. But, hey, statues of Stalin and Saddam Hussein -- and for football's sake, Joe Paterno -- came tumbling down. Can you imagine statues of Hitler, Goebbels, Rommel, etc.? Yeah, right. 
     So the Confederate statues symbolize heroes to some, slavery to others. Heritage or shame. There is both sides of this debate.
     But both sides guilty in Charlottesville? C'mon. It is just not right.    
     No, no, no -- one side is bent on hate speech, and prone to violence, eager to provide that violence and, in this case, even defending and slanting the facts about a car driven into the crowd, injuring many and killing one young woman. 
     The other side is sticking up for decency. 
     Even if we disagree on politics and social issues today, I would hope we could agree that David Duke and his cronies are wrong, wrong, wrong. 
     They were waving their Nazi, KKK and Confederate flags, carrying their lit torches through the night, chanting "this is our country" and "blood and soil" -- the Nazi standby from the 1930s -- and "Whose streets? Our streets!" and, the twist on the current-day slogan, "White Lives Matter."
     The decent view is: It is all our country -- no colors needed -- and all lives matter. 
     To equate the thugs in Charlottesville with a left-wing radical shooting bullets rapidly into a Republican baseball practice, we don't consider it the same thing. Our U.S. Congresswoman from the district here in Fort Worth did that in echoing the "both sides" claim, and a couple of people on my Facebook page agreed with her. 
     Mrs. Kay Granger's office is close to where we live, across the street off University Drive, so I took a copy of my blog piece and a short note there. To her credit, she answered with a lengthy, well-done letter and strongly denounced -- twice -- the white supremacists' actions and views.
     She cited the baseball practice shooting as "an example of political violence, and I denounce it as well" and went on to write, "... I cannot imagine that anyone but severe partisans would not agree with my position in denouncing both actions."
     I don't consider myself a severe partisan -- you might -- but that was one man with an obvious mental-health problem (we've heard this description repeatedly in other cases). How many one- or two-person violent acts have we seen here in recent memory?
     One lone wolf, not a mob or a movement. It is not a parallel situation.
     Cannot deny that the counter protesters in Charlottesville -- the anti-fascist group -- were ready for battle, that some went there knowing they would have to fight to protect themselves. History tell us how violent the Nazi/KKK types love to be.
     But the rally itself -- the largest white supremacists gathering in the U.S. in a decade, they bragged -- was the instigator. 
---
     Look, the Charlottesville movement had a license to protest (so giving that crowd permission was the first problem ... but where do you draw the line on protests?). 
     Tried to tell you before the current administration was in office that there would be plenty of protests. Got lots of criticism for defending the Hamilton cast ("wrong place," "wrong time," "disrespectful). 
     And now you have had the women's marches, the NFL players' national-anthem protests, the young people-led gun-restriction protests, the abortion/anti-abortion protests won't subside, the Black Lives Matter protests. We don't all agree, but -- Lord help us -- we don't want violence.
1994 The Shreveport Times
     So about Charlottesville, it's not anger I feel (although my friend in Holland, daughter of a Holocaust survivor, wrote a note saying she thought that). It's sadness. Sad that the Nazi/KKK/white supremacy loudmouths are there and visible.
     It is, true, a small and loud faction of our society. It is, unfortunately, a growing menace -- again -- in Europe. We don't need to ignore them; we need to pay attention. We need to tell them, often: You are just wrong.
     We don't need to be scared, either. Guarantee you that Rose Van Thyn was not scared of David Duke or any of the others.
     Don't think she ever was in the same room with him. She chose not to be; he had some public appearances in Shreveport-Bossier.
     But one member of our family -- my sister Elsa -- was an LSU student at the same time as Duke in the early 1970s. The other night, when I told her I was going to write this blog, she remembered several times listening to him speak at LSU's Free Speech rallies, almost always wearing his Nazi uniform (as did often on campus).
     And she remembered laughing at how outrageous he was, that while others were denouncing the Vietnam War, Duke was blaming the Jews for it and blaming Jewish women for inciting protests.
      Had my mother seen Duke, she would have gone face to face, toe to toe with him -- well, sort of, at 4-foot-9 and 110 pounds (maybe), perhaps not face to face.
      She did not use bad language, but if there was something she did not like, you knew it. She would not have backed away from David Duke. She would not have been violent, but you could see his always-present bodyguards stepping in, couldn't you? Rose did not need bodyguards. 
      What happened in Charlottesville last year, and the Nazi-type rallies and speeches we read and hear about (too often) are very good reasons why a Holocaust Remembrance Service is important. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Baseball needs a shift in the scoring rules

      Don't want to change how baseball is played, only how to mark it up on the scorebook. My thoughts are on the designatedwriters.com web site.
      http://www.designatedwriters.com/col…/baseball-scorekeeping/
        F5 or F7? That is the question. 
      If you are a baseball person, you might understand this. If you are not, you won't care.
      Those of us old-school baseball purists who -- grimace -- accept that defensive shifts are now part of the game have a suggestion for baseball's rules makers.
      If you don't want to outlaw defensive shifts -- and make people play in the positions as they have for 150 years -- at least change the scoring rules. Change how outs are recorded on the official scoresheet.
      If you have kept a baseball scorebook since you were about 10 years old, if you learned early on that 1 is pitcher, 2 is catcher, 3 is first base, 4 is second base, 5 is third base, 6 is shortstop, and 7-8-9 are outfielders, left to right, think about what happened last Thursday on Opening Day.
      The Houston Astros used a four-man outfield. We've seen it before, we think, over some 60 years of watching the game. But ...
      On his first at-bat this season, Texas Rangers first baseman Joey Gallo -- faced an Astros' defense without a third baseman. Sort of.
Astros' defense against the Rangers' Joey Gallo
      The Astros' third baseman, former LSU star Alex Bregman, was playing in deep left field. Yes, the "5" was playing in the "7" spot. (So was the regular "7" to Bregman's left.) 
      And Gallo, a left-handed hitter -- very much a pull hitter -- flied out to the third baseman ... in deep left field.
      Score it F5 (Bregman's position) or F7 (where he was playing)? First thought I had when it happened. If you have been a scorekeeper, and been paid for it, these things cross your mind.
      Seconds later, we heard the Astros' announcers ask the same question,  and debate it. 
      By current scoring rules, it has to be F5. We're suggesting that it needs changing. 
      It should be changed to reflect the defensive positioning. So maybe make it 7-B (and in the official statistics, give Bregman an outfield putout).  
      Just as if the third baseman -- in the current trend of defensive shifts -- is playing in the shortstop spot, and the ball is hit to him, he should be "6-B." And if the shortstop is on the right side of second base, he should be "4-B."
      A friend this morning suggested that it could be scored F7 (5) to indicate where the ball was caught and the player who caught it. My view is that it could be F5 (7).
      Whatever, it needs changing from the current system.
      A couple of times already this season -- and often in the past couple of years -- we have seen the second baseman, playing in shallow-to-medium right field, field a ground ball and throw the batter out at first base. Against a conventional defense, that is an single.
      So why not make it a 9B-3 putout, or 4(9)-3?
      Simple changes, in our thinking, and more of an indication where the outs were made. 
      But changing baseball scoring rules -- and we have several we could point out need changing, but save that for another time -- is rarely done. 
      If baseball's stats keepers want to be more accurate, and reconstruct games on paper to show what really happened, they need a Plan B, or another way to do it. Shift the system.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A Holocaust survivor ... a television (behind-the-scenes) legend

      The man's name is Peter Lassally, and he was a television star -- not in front of the camera, but behind the scenes.
     He is known in the TV world as the "host whisperer."
     Some of us who consider The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson the greatest of all television programs know who Peter Lassally is.
     What I did not know until earlier this month is that he (1) is a Holocaust survivor; (2) lived in Amsterdam; and (3) has an Anne Frank connection.
      And that draws my attention. I have known Holocaust survivors from Amsterdam quite well.
      Learned all this from a 9 1/2 minute segment on Lassally during CBS' Sunday Morning program March 11. 
      Lassally was executive producer of Carson's Tonight Show for the bulk of Johnny's 29 years of legendary television.
      After Carson's death early in 2005, I remember Lassally appearing on several programs to talk about Carson's life, career and personality. But Lassally's personal background was not part of those discussions. 
      He was as close to Johnny -- very much a loner despite his show-business persona -- as anyone could be, including Ed McMahon. But Carson was only one of the stars Lassally promoted.
      He produced Arthur Godfrey's television show in the 1960s when Godfrey was, arguably, the medium's biggest star (as he had been on radio previously). After Carson retired, Lassally was executive producer for the late-night shows of David Letterman, Tom Snyder and Craig Ferguson,  and also an advisor for Jon Stewart.
      Thus, the "host whisperer" title. Well-deserved.
      On Sunday Morning, Mo Rocca -- entertaining, informative and usually a bit zany -- was Lassally's  interviewer. No zaniness this time.
      Here, taken from CBS' Sunday Morning web site, is the 2 1/2-minute transcript from the interview pertaining to the Holocaust:
---
      If Peter Lassally sounds blunt -- even dour at times -- it may have something to do with his life before television. 
      He was born in Germany in 1933. Jewish, the family fled to Holland. For a time, he was in grade school with Anne Frank.
       Lassally: "Well, she wasn't in my class, she was in my sister's class, who told me afterward that she was not a popular girl. I mean, all her experiences were not unusual or strange to me; you hid from the Nazis the best way you could. And we tried and failed."
      When he was 10 his father died. Soon after, he and his sister and mother were sent to the first of two concentration camps [note: Westerbork and Theresienstadt].
      Rocca asked, "Was there ever, in your 25 months in the camps, even just a moment where you sort of forgot where you were?"
      "No. No. Never forgot where you were," Lassally replied. "I remember watching from my window a little baby being swung against the lamppost and, you know, that's what my life was like: Watching them kill an innocent baby in the most brutal way possible."
      Lassally recalls another cruel tactic of his captors, this one psychological: "The middle of the night, word comes to the barracks, 'Everybody outside, form a formation.' You didn't know whether it was a transport going out to another concentration camp, or you'd stand there for hours in the rain, in darkness. And they did it just to scare you and make you nervous. They always had you off-balance."
     Rocca: "So that you were always scared?"
     Lassally: "Always scared. Always scared. Which is what our President is doing."
     He elaborates on his refusal to watch any news programs these days. The video runs another couple of minutes and ends with Lassally reflecting on his life.
     Looking at a photo of Lassally in his TV executive producer days, Mo Rocca says, "What I see is a little bit of wariness. A guy who has seen a lot."
     "I saw a lot, you are right about that," Lassally answered. "I saw plenty. Everywhere!"
---
       The remaining Holocaust survivors are dwindling, but for us, the story is never diminished. Lassally was among the fortunate; his life -- like that of so many others -- is a tribute to what's possible.
      We never forget those we lost in the Holocaust; personally, the family we never knew.
      Nor do we forget the survivors we knew, the ones we lived with, the ones who were their friends.
      We never forget. Peter Lassally never forgot. 
---
      Link to the full interview:
https://www.cbsnews.com/video/tv-exec-peter-lassally-on-working-with-the-kings-of-late-night/
      Photos taken from the interview on CBS' Sunday Morning web site 



Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Butch Williams' life has been one of achievement

         Those of us who for decades have known Wayne Williams Jr. -- always "Butch" to just about everyone -- know that he has been an achiever all his life. And a battler.
     We admire that. We have for all those years.
The Williams family -- at the Frisco (Texas) Bowl, December 2017
     He was, when we first knew him in the mid-1960s, a darned good athlete. Not a superstar, but he was a difference maker. And it was that way in his career, too.
     Whether it was in athletics, as a player and coach, or in education, as a teacher or administrator, he met with success -- and earned respect.  
     He always has been a big man in Minden, Louisiana -- and Webster Parish -- and his family has been a treasured one in that area, especially in education.
     Most proudly, he was -- to use an expression we favor -- the son of the father. Wayne Jr. (Butch) followed Wayne Sr.'s career path -- teaching and coaching, then school administration, from high school principal to the same job:  superintendent of Webster Parish Schools.
     And Irene Williams ("Mama Rene") -- Sr.'s wife, Jr.'s mother -- was right there -- for 34 years the school secretary at Minden High.  
      It was a dynasty of sorts.
The young just-married couple, April 1969
     But Butch's biggest achievement, as I am sure he said repeatedly over the years, is the family he and Ki built over nearly 49 years of marriage.
     She was Karen Marlowe of Mangham, Louisiana, when they began dating and fell in love as students at Louisiana Tech University in the late 1960s and married in the spring of 1969, a few months before Butch's senior football season.
      Three sons and six grandkids are their pride and joy.
---
      Here is the reality: For more than a decade, Butch faced an opponent tougher than Springhill and Northwestern State in football or Jesuit and Bossier (in baseball). Cancer sucks.
      Even as schools superintendent, he worked through the early battles. After his retirement (in June 2011), his life -- with Ki -- was his kids and grandkids, his love of gardening, staying in touch with friends, and following Louisiana Tech athletics. 
      But cancer kept striking. It attacked his neck and his liver last summer; a Facebook post on Aug. 11 told of his infusion treatments. And the couple of times we spoke in the fall, he told me about the every-other-week treatments in Baton Rouge -- where son Trey (Wayne III) lives -- so it was a difficult, demanding process.
      It sapped his strength; it took his hair. He no longer was the beefy guy who -- after being tried in several positions -- bulked up to 235 pounds and became an all-conference offensive tackle ... in front of quarterback Terry Bradshaw. 
      Still, he was hopeful, optimistic ... but cautious.
      Time now is precious, and it is short. Prayers are in order.
---
      The personal connection: We arrived at Louisiana Tech at the same time, as freshmen in August 1965. He was a football linebacker and end, or had been at Minden High; I was a student sports information assistant.
      Butch for years was a good source for stories and background information on high school athletics and Tech football (especially about our years there, the Phil Robertson and Bradshaw years at quarterback).
      When he was coaching and afterward, Butch was a cooperative media source. But not always a happy one. I remember a young coach not being enamored with a few stories or columns -- slanted, he said -- written by a young sportswriter. Oh, well. But ... always friends.
      In early December, when he did not reply to phone and Facebook messages and an e-mail we sent him, seeking info on Tech's 1969 football bowl game, it was unusual. And not a good sign.
      So, it was a pleasure -- a treat -- to see Butch and Ki at Tech's pregame Frisco Bowl gathering in late December.
      It was nice to be with our son and two oldest grandsons that evening, but to visit with Butch for a few minutes -- twice -- was even better than Tech's rout of SMU.
      He was feeling good that night and that week, and detailed his health issues. He apologized for not getting back to me and assuring me that rumors that the seniors on Tech's  football team in 1969 did not want to play in the Grantland Rice Bowl in Baton Rouge -- Bradshaw's last Tech game -- were not accurate, that as team captains, he and center John Harper urged their teammates to relish the experience.
      (It was a long day for Tech, especially for the offensive line and Bradshaw, sacked 12 times by East Tennessee State. Butch, for one, played, although he was needing surgery on an injured knee.)
      Plans for us to talk about this prospective blog piece did not develop after that, as he again met physical challenges. But with his family's permission, here is the tribute to Our Man in Minden.
---
      A recap of his sports career: 
      -- He was a starting linebacker and end as a junior on Minden's talented, unbeaten Class AA state championship football team in 1963; he was the best player as a senior on the '64 team. 
     -- He was a good and versatile baseball player. He became an all-conference offensive tackle at Louisiana Tech.
     -- He was a dedicated, hard-working football assistant coach for a decade at Minden High. 
     -- More significantly, he was a state championship-winning coach in baseball (1972) and, for a couple of decades, spent summers coaching Minden's American Legion baseball team; twice his team made the North Louisiana finals.
     -- As principal at Sibley High (10 miles south of Minden), he helped start the football program.
      How good an athlete was he? In researching for this piece, we came across these highlights:
      -- In the spring of 1964, the eventual Class AA state champion Jesuit (Shreveport) baseball team beat Minden 7-0 as super pitcher George Restovich gave up one hit. Butch got that hit.
      -- He was the placekicker for Minden in 1963 and 1964. The '63 team eased to most of its victories, but in 1964, Butch's PAT delivered a 7-6 victory against Airline (Bossier City), a first-year school. His PAT late in the game saved a 20-20 tie for Minden in a bitter rivalry game with Jesuit.
       (About that game: Jesuit's sensational junior running back Tony Papa was badly injured early that night when a Minden player hit him from behind long after Papa had handed off the ball on a trick kickoff return. Jesuit faithful always thought it was a "cheap-shot" hit -- that's what we heard -- and the Minden player who did it, they recalled, was Butch Williams. He swore to me it wasn't him ... but he knew who it was.)
      -- In his greatest '64 game, he scored 29 points in a 35-20 victory against Homer on four touchdowns (two short runs, a 42-yard pass reception, a 52-yard run with a fumble).
      -- Against North Caddo in '64, he intercepted a pass and ran it back 60 yards for a touchdown on the last play of the first half. Minden went on to win 41-18.
---
      Butch, as like many of us, was a great admirer of Louisiana Tech's legendary head football coach-athletic director Joe Aillet, and he recalled these moments:
      As an eager freshman linebacker during a controlled scrimmage in the fall of 1965, Butch made the mistake of tackling QB Billy Laird, who that fall would be all-conference for the third year in a row. Coach Aillet -- soft-spoken, polished and polite, a professor-type coaching football -- rushed up (he was past age 60) and practically yelled, "No, no, no, we don't hit Billy."
      Another day, leaving the field after practice, Butch had his head down when Coach Aillet walked past. "He stopped me and asked, 'How are you doing, Wayne?' -- he always called me Wayne. I said, 'I don't know, Coach; I'm doing a lot of things wrong.' He said, 'Wayne, when we correct you, it means we think you have a chance to be a very good player. So keep at it.' "
      Two years later, Butch Williams was a regular in the Tech offensive line.
---        
      The highlight of Butch's coaching career, no question, was the 1972 Minden baseball season. It was one of the most dramatic, and surprising, events we covered in prep athletics.
      The 3-0 state-championship victory spoiled a perfect season for Bossier, a team that had gone 26-0, including three victories against district rival Minden. But junior pitcher Ronald Martin no-hit the Bearkats that day.
       It was Butch's second year as the Crimson Tide baseball coach and his team, tied for second in the district with Jesuit, had to be voted into the playoffs by a district committee.
        Reading back over the two stories we wrote that day, the funniest quote was Butch, finally greeting his pitcher after the title celebration and telling him, "You did a goooooood job."
---
     More Williams family history: Wayne Sr. and Rene met in Dayton, Ohio, where he was stationed just after World War II when he was a captain in the US. Army Air Corps. By 1947, when Butch was born in Haynesville, La., his dad was principal at Shongaloo High School. He also had coached there.
     After the family's move to Minden in 1950, he became principal at Minden High, from 1952 to 1961, took a supervisor's position and then became superintendent. In honor of his 44 years of service, the Minden High football stadium -- "The Pit" -- was named for him in 2009.
     When Mama Rene retired from Minden High in May 1986, the city honored her with a "day." 
      The Williams family influence in Minden and the parish extended into business. For 4 1/2 decades, Butch and Ki  have owned Minden Athletic Supply in the old downtown, and younger brother Jimmy Williams helped manage it. Even Wayne Sr. worked there after his retirement from the education field.
      Butch's career took him from coaching and teaching biology and chemistry at Minden High to assistant principal there, then moving to Sibley as principal and staying on when that school consolidated with several others in the area to become Lakeside High.
       After 21 years as principal, in June 2003, he moved to his father's old job -- superintendent of Webster schools.
       Two contracts extensions followed. So did financial challenges in the schools and a controversial plan to consolidate several parish high school/middle schools.
       The superintendent has to make tough decisions and needs school-board support. It was waning. And so if Butch was beloved by most people in parish schools, he also has to take the heat. And he did ... until his surprise announcement on March 7, 2011, that he was ending his 38-year career in education.
       "I have had about all of this fun I can stand," he said at that school board meeting, then took his accrued vacation/sick time ... and left the building.
       He did consulting work in area schools for a short while, and took the time with Ki, the kids, grandkids, Tech athletics, Facebook, his garden and his friends.
       And, unfortunately, with many doctors, nurses in hospitals and clinics. Cancer is a brutal opponent.
       The last couple of times we talked -- his voice obviously weakened -- or traded messages, he told me how blessed his life had been, how grateful he was for friends and especially Ki and his family.
       The old offensive tackle is still battling, trying to block cancer. Our friend Wayne Williams Jr. -- Butch -- never backed down. He has done a goooooood job. 
Butch and his three sons


The grandfather always was a gamer.

Friday, March 16, 2018

College hoops' "what could have been"

      Let's rewrite history and suppose Willis Reed and Elvin Hayes -- future NBA stars, Hall of Famers, both from north-central/east Louisiana -- had played basketball for LSU in the 1960s.
      Or pick a future star -- say, Robert Parish, Louis Dunbar, Larry Wright, Calvin Natt, Joe Dumars, Rick Robey, Orlando Woolridge -- and put them at LSU in the 1970s.
      Or Karl Malone delivering as the Tigers' "Mailman" in the 1980s. Or P.J. Brown, like Malone another Louisiana Tech big man who lasted for 15-plus years in the NBA, going there.
      Think they might all have helped LSU's program?
      And today -- this morning -- envision Robert Williams playing for LSU in the NCAA Tournament instead of for Texas A&M. 
      Think the Tigers -- just like all the other men's basketball teams in Louisiana -- would have been shut out of the NCAA Tournament (for the second year a row)?
      We can no more rewrite history than LSU could get those guys in school. 
      But the point is, "what could have been," as suggested a couple of weeks by Dale Brown -- mastermind of the LSU men's program for 25 years.
      Dale, as most anyone who has been around him for, say, 10 seconds, can spin some tales (pick a subject), and among those are his adventures in recruiting over three decades in college basketball.
      He was reacting to our recent blog piece about Parish's statistics at Centenary finally being officially recognized by the NCAA, and in that piece, we mentioned that while Brown recruited Robert for LSU and happily would have welcomed his 7-foot presence, Robert did not qualify academically.
      By Parish's senior year in high school, LSU had just  integrated its basketball program. Among the talent Dale inherited when he became the Tigers' head coach in the spring of 1972 was Collis Temple Jr., a 6-foot-8 forward recruited out of Kentwood, Louisiana, in 1970 by Press Maravich and his staff. He was the color barrier breaker in LSU's program.
Houston coach Guy Lewis with his two big stars
from Louisiana in 1966-68 -- Elvin Hayes and
Don Chaney. Imagine if they had played at LSU
instead of Houston.
      But the barrier breaker could have been Elvin Hayes ... if, as Dale tells it, the "Big E" could have made that choice.
      He could not, of course. In early 1964, Hayes' senior year in high school, LSU was not yet recruiting African-American players.
      He was a still-developing 6-9 forward who averaged 35  points a game and led his Eula D. Britton High School team in Rayville, Louisiana -- 22 miles east of Monroe -- to a state championship in the all-black athletic association (LIALO).
      Was he the best player in the state? Little question. In his team's state-title game, he had 45 points and 20 rebounds.
      But the bulk of the publicity, the white guy considered the state's best prospect, was 6-4 forward Bobby Lane of Isadore Newman High (New Orleans), the do-it-all leader of two consecutive LHSAA (the all-white organization) Class A state championship teams.
      (Oh, LSU didn't get Lane, either. He chose to attend and play at Davidson, N.C., College.)
--- 
      Here is the Dale Brown version of Hayes' "what could have been" story.
      In Hayes' fabulous college career at the University of Houston (late 1965 to March 1968), he was the nation's best college player not named Lou Alcindor. A 16-year NBA career followed and included 27,313 points, 16,279 rebounds, one NBA championship, two other Finals appearances and 12 All-Star Games in a row.
      Several years later, he made it to LSU.
      By now, he operated a company that cleaned campus dormitories and he had come to LSU seeking a service contract. He visited with Coach Brown, and that night attended the LSU basketball banquet.
      "He told me it was the first time he'd ever been on the LSU campus," Dale recalled. "And then he got very emotional about LSU. He said that when he was in high school, he really wanted to go to school there and wrote a letter to the LSU coaches. Never heard back from them."
---
       LSU was a football school always. It did have a couple of basketball highlights -- a pre-NCAA Tournament national championship in 1935 (Sparky Wade's team) and, led by  Bob Pettit (from Baton Rouge, and a future NBA all-timer), SEC championships in 1953 and '54, and an NCAA Final Four in '53. 
       Jay McCreary, an Indiana Hoosier through and through, was near the end of a less-than-mediocre eight years as LSU head coach when Willis Reed and Elvin Hayes came along.
       McCreary ignored Hayes. University of Houston coach Guy Lewis did not.
       It was Lewis and assistant Harvey Pate who recruited Hayes and another Louisiana black-school star, guard Don Chaney -- from Baton Rouge no less (McKinley High) -- and signed them on the same day to integrate the Houston program. And they added a third player from the state, 6-7 forward Theodis Lee, from Carroll High in Monroe.
      (Lewis and Pate would bring their talent search back to Louisiana, most notably for guard Poo Welch from LaGrange-Lake Charles in 1969 (after two years in junior college), Dunbar -- best player other than Parish many of us saw in high school -- out of Webster High-Minden in 1971, and "outlaw" Benny Anders from Bernice in 1981.)
      Houston, riding Hayes' turnaround jumper and rebounding prowess, became a national powerhouse.
      In the famous "Game of the Century" -- Jan. 20, 1968, before 52,693 paid at the Astrodome, the first nationally televised regular-season college basketball game -- Elvin and No. 2-ranked, 13-0 Houston stopped No. 1-ranked, 14-0 UCLA, winner of 47 consecutive games over 2 1/2 seasons. Hayes outscored the awesome Alcindor 39-15, outrebounded him 15-12, and made the winning two free throws in Houston's 71-69 victory.
      (That season, Houston twice played Centenary, winning 118-81 in Houston and -- yikes -- 107-56 in Shreveport. Hayes scored 40 the first game, then 50 at Hirsch Youth Center.)
      Houston went to two NCAA Final Four in a row (1967 and '68), and lost to UCLA in the semifinals both years. In '68, the revenge score was a rout, 101-69.
      LSU didn't go anywhere from 1954 until Brown's program finally took hold in 1979 and became a postseason regular.
---
      Let's backtrack to early 1964 as Hayes was finishing high school. Willis Reed was finishing that spring at Grambling College, about 20 1/2 miles directly south from his hometown of Bernice (which is 73 miles from Rayville).
      Don't know if Willis ever thought about LSU. But what a sensational four-year career he had at Grambling.
Willis Reed: a young star at Grambling College
(no thoughts of LSU in the early 1960s).
Photo from Small College Basketball Hall
of Fame.
      It began in the 1960-61 season when he was the  freshman star center on GC's NAIA national championship team and ended with him as the New York Knicks' second-round NBA draft pick, eighth overall, in 1964.
      And, of course, he helped the Knicks to their first NBA championship in 1970, made the Basketball Hall of Fame, became a team executive ... and a legend.
      LSU obviously never gave him a look. Not in 1960, at West Side High School in the Bernice suburb of Lillie (that is a joke; it's all very rural territory).
---
      "You can't believe the number of black players who were not recruited before schools in Louisiana were integrated," Dale Brown said in suggesting this post. 
      Oh, yes, we can believe. Those of us who can name many of the great players Louisiana high school basketball has produced know.
      And so, just a sampling from the 1950s through about 1970 when LSU -- and other state schools -- finally followed the basketball integration path first taken by Southwestern Louisiana and Louisiana Tech:
      -- Bob "Lil' Abner" Hopkins, a lithe 6-8 center-forward from Jackson High in Jonesboro who scored 3,759 points (29.8 per game) for Grambling in 1952-56, then played four years in the NBA and was the Seattle Supersonics' head coach in 1977.
      -- Bob "Butterbean" Love (Morehouse High in Bastrop, then Southern University 1961-65, a 6-8 small forward who for eight years was a scoring machine for the NBA's Chicago Bulls).
      -- Lucious Jackson (also Morehouse High, then Pan American in Edinburgh, Texas, which he led to the 1962 NAIA national championship) and then as a bullish 6-9 power  forward helped Wilt Chamberlain and the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers to the only NBA title not won by the Boston Celtics in an 11-year span.
      -- Chaney, a guard, a defensive phenom who started for those Hayes-led Houston teams, then helped the Celtics win two NBA titles and was an NBA head coach for 12 of his 22 years in coaching.  
      -- Theodis Lee also started for Houston in the monumental 1967-68 season, was a team co-captain the next year and went on to play for a decade with the Harlem Globetrotters, then died in 1979 of cancer, only a few weeks after it was found.
      -- Wilbert Frazier (Webster High in Minden, Grambling 1961-65), a 6-7 forward who had two pro seasons.  
      -- The players out of McCall High (Tallulah): guard Jimmy Jones (Grambling 1963-67, then a six-time all-star in the American Basketball Association) and three stars on Stephen F. Austin's NAIA power in the early 1970s -- guard James Silas, a top-flight ABA and NBA player for Dallas and San Antonio), forward Surrey Oliver and center George Johnson.
---
      We could give you a long list of terrific players from Louisiana that LSU did recruit successfully, and a long list of good/great ones that LSU could not sign, who chose another Louisiana school perhaps closer to their homes or decided they wanted to play for an out-of-state school.
      But if you have gotten this far, you have earned an ending. So we will return to Robert Williams and Texas A&M.
      He is the Aggies' biggest star, a strong 6-10 forward who likely will be a high NBA Draft pick. He is that good, has that much potential.
      Coming from Oil City, Louisiana (just north of Shreveport) and out of North Caddo High School, he might have been a natural for LSU.
      No. Although LSU -- when Johnny Jones was head coach -- was very interested and recruited him, Williams apparently always preferred A&M.
      So this NCAA Tournament, in fact today, might be the end of his college career. The Aggies face Providence in the  first of the day's 16 first-round games. LSU faithful can watch Williams and think, "What could have been."  
      Elvin Hayes and Willis Reed probably will be watching, too.