Thursday, September 10, 2015

'Most interesting man ... most interesting life'

         Cosimo O. Brocato -- C.O., to the world, Coach to many of us -- was, as I've heard it said and seen it written, funeralized Wednesday morning.
         As I sat in the chapel at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Arlington, Texas, before and during the Mass of Christian Burial, I thought of Coach and of the Jesuit High School Flyers of Shreveport -- the 1960s Flyers.
         Because while he has been remembered for years and especially since his death (after bladder cancer) on Sept. 1 as the super NFL talent scout for 40-plus years, those of us from Shreveport, those of us from the 1960s glory days, knew him as a legendary coach.
         Legendary isn't enough. He was a giant to us, even those from across town.
         While not many people in that chapel Wednesday morning, other than his family, knew much about the high school coaching phase of his life, there were at least five of his former St. John's/Jesuit players -- among his pallbearers -- who knew what I knew.
         So the stories I heard Wednesday, in the reception after the funeral service, were about how tough, how demanding, C.O. Brocato was as a coach at Jesuit  in the 1960s. I've been hearing those stories for years.
         And one of his star players, Tony Papa -- a name that all Jesuit fans and most Shreveport and North Louisiana football fans from those days will remember -- was one of the story tellers.
A Shreveport Journal photo: The Jesuit Flyers give their coach
a victory ride after the 1964 season-opening upset of Bossier.
          The photo display in the lobby of the church was a snapshot of Coach's life -- as a kid, with family and friends, as a high school football player on the very practice field where he later would coach, as a star running back-linebacker-placekicker at Baylor University (where he helped the 1951 team play -- and lose a close game -- to Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl), as a young coach of various sports, in those 1960s golden days at Jesuit, and dozens of shots of him conducting tryouts/drills at NFL Pro Days and workouts.
         He had hair in those high school and Baylor days; then he went bald during the Jesuit coaching days -- hence the ever-present hats -- and then, on and off, he had hair again. Don't think I would have asked him about this subject, though.
          I thought it was significant that his funeral service was held only a little more than a long touchdown pass away from Maverick Stadium on the University of Texas-Arlington campus because there in the mid-1970s is where his coaching career ended.
           He had been a brilliant state championship coach at Jesuit, taking a program that had never had any success in the school's long history and building it from an 0-10 season before he returned as coach and winning five district championships in 11 years -- the last four in a row, all unbeaten in district.
           Twice his teams played for state titles, losing the first time and then winning 34-33 against Lake Charles in 1967 -- definitely one of the greatest high school games I've seen in 50-plus years -- to cap a 13-0 season. And, in my opinion -- and I know Tony Papa agrees -- his 1965 team (Papa's senior season) might have been the best of the Flyers' teams, eliminated on first downs after a tie game with Morgan City in the semifinals.
          His college coaching career, as a defensive coordinator at Northern Arizona and then UTA, was only so-so, but it had its good moments. And when he left coaching in the mid-1970s -- UTA was on its way to shutting down its program -- he turned to the NFL.
           He scouted talent, scouted and evaluated college players, working for a combine for a few years, but for almost four decades for the Houston Oilers-turned-Tennessee Titans. He was honored often in recent years by that organization for his work, and the team named its draft room for him.
            Thanks to Charean Williams, the superb NFL/Cowboys writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram who wrote several nice stories about him over the years and did the first Bible reading at Wednesday's service, Coach Brocato three times was on the Pro Football Hall of Fame nomination list.
           As hard-driving as he was as a coach, he also was a taskmaster as a scout. Several stories have detailed that and I had to laugh Wednesday when someone recalled Coach's work.
            "The other scouts all looked to him; they didn't get started until he arrived [at a workout]," he said. "He was their leader. I told the kids working out, 'He's a nice guy, but do what he says. You don't want to mess with him." 
            He was direct and plain-spoken and, well, he could be coarse. There were those who -- frankly -- despised him. But as several people recalled last week, away from football he could be charming and talkative, and he was a sharp dresser with -- as several Jesuit grads remembered -- the most polished shoes in town. 
            Father Luke Robertson, who conducted Wednesday's service, recalled his recent visit at Coach Brocato's home nearby the stadium and church -- he lived in Arlington with his wife Lucy (who died in 2010) since 1972 -- and that Coach was his usual story-telling self.
           Father Robertson summed it up nicely: "He was the most interesting man who led the most interesting life."
           I don't know that the Jesuit football Flyers of the late 1950s and 1960s would use "interesting" to describe their coach. Tyrannical might be better.
           As the headline on Jimmy Watson's story in The Shreveport Times last week said, "Brocato's Jesuit players loved, feared him."
           Here's Art Adams' recollection (from that story): "He would get right over you and knocked the crap out of you, and no one thought anything of it in those days. We all went two ways, so he would run you to death to get you ready."
           Think Tony Papa, his star player of 1964 and 1965, had any sway?
           "I was a team captain [in 1965], with Joe Looney, and we're in practice on one of those hot August days, and we're all dying, all thirsty," Tony recalled Wednesday. "Joe says, 'Tony, go ask him if we can take a water break.' So I get up my courage and go up to him and say, 'Coach, some of the guys want to take a break.'
           "He blows the whistle and calls the team together and says, 'Tony says you guys need a break. Who needs a break? How many of you? Raise your hands.' "
           As he relates this, Papa shrinks down in his chair to show the players' reaction. No one raised their hand.  
           "He then tells us to take a lap around the field, and then we go back to scrimmaging."
           Because I was at a school across town, my exposure to Coach Brocato was limited to watching him guide (and berate) his team's players when we played them in two games, a jamboree and in a couple of preseason scrimmages. I could tell it was a little rougher than our coaches, who could be pretty demanding (but not like that).
           I also was around Coach when he umpired high school and American Legion baseball, and he was a diligent and fair umpire. Suffice to say, no one gave him much trouble.
           Papa recalled another classic Brocato incident.
           We (Woodlawn) had routed Jesuit (it was either 45-0 or 37-0, 1962 or 1963) and when the Flyers' bus got back to the school, Coach Brocato asked the players: "Who drove their cars to school today?"
           Papa said, "We didn't know exactly what he meant, but a few guys finally raised their hands. Then Coach said, 'Bring those cars around to the practice field and turn on the lights.'
        "So then we practiced for about an hour."
        As I spoke to Becky Brocato, Coach and Lucy's daughter, on Wednesday, a tall, elderly gray-haired man came to tell her goodbye. He was holding a 1952 Orange Bowl program and he thanked her for presenting it to him.
        He introduced himself as Gale Galloway and said he had been C.O.'s teammate on the 1951 Baylor team, a starting center and linebacker. C.O. played running back and, as Galloway put it, "came in at linebacker when we really needed him."
        When I got home, I looked for information on that Baylor team, coached by George Sauer, a longtime college coach and then Baylor athletic director and father of a future New York Jets' Super Bowl hero wide receiver.
        Here is what the Baylor football guide told me: Galloway is a former chairman of the Baylor board of regents, past president of the Baylor "B" Association and the Baylor Alumni Association, and president-CEO of GLG Energy, an oil production company.
        Not knowing all that, I asked him if he could have foreseen Coach Brocato's career.
        "I knew that whatever C.O. was going to do, and I didn't know that it was going to be in football," he said, "that he would be a success. I knew he would do it well, and he would do it right."
        The football world was fortunate that the game was Coach Brocato's life's work.
        He is being buried this morning in Shreveport, and I'm sure Jesuit (once St. John's, now Loyola College Prep) will be well-represented. We all know they are burying a legend.
         (Next: Tony Papa, also a legend)


  1. From Tim Brando: A wonderful piece and brought back a ton of memories. You always do!
    My Dad (Hub) and C.O. were really tight. I was at the Morgan City game and remember thinking the rules were pathetic breaking a tie back then. I was 9 years old.
    Like Fair Park, Byrd, Woodlawn and Bossier, I remember all their big-time talent from the '60s and it helped mold me into the sportscaster I am today.

  2. From Ron Hill: Thanks for posting this. How well I recall those Woodlawn-Jesuit games back in the day. Thanks for telling us about Coach Brocato.