Sometimes the greatest moments in sports come when you least expect them. You occasionally hear and see some amazing little nuggets of eternal truth that stick with you forever.
“You can hear a lot by listening,” Yogi Berra is alleged to have said. Lindsey Nelson once said that Yogi really never said everything attributed to him, but there’s no sense letting the facts get in the way of a good story, particularly the inspiring ones.
At former University of Tennessee athletics director Bob Woodruff’s memorial service Nov. 6, 2001, the Rev, John E. Pennington Jr., pastor of West Knoxville Baptist Church, said that Bob had an amazing sense of perspective, a sense of balance in his life.
Pennington noted that there were times his son Joe would be agonizing, as youngsters do, over a game that had gotten away. Woodruff’s response: “There’s always another game.”
When Joe exulted over a big win, Woodruff’s response was, again, “There’s always another game.”
Despite an occasional bump in the road every now and then, there was always another game, another weekend, for Tennessee fans. And the weekday talk shows merely add to the excitement.
Gen. Neyland also knew that well, even without the advice given by sports fans over the airwaves. Folks were more direct in those days.
When things were going bad in the late 1940s, a Vol fan on the elevator at the Chisca Hotel in Memphis said some disparaging things about the General after a lopsided loss to Ole Miss (43-13, Nov. 8, 1947) at Edward Hull Crump Stadium. Two weeks later, after a win at Kentucky (13-6, Nov. 22, at Stoll Field), the same fan said, “There’s the greatest coach in the country.”
Neyland, who had overheard both conversations, said, “That’s not what you were saying two weeks ago.”
Several of us were sitting in the television booth at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss., back in 2004, waiting for an 8 p.m. (CDT) kickoff of the Tennessee-Ole Miss game. The announcer, not to be named, looked at the shadows lengthening toward the far side of the field and asked: “Are we on the west side? Which way is north?”
There was also a television play-by-play announcer who smoked a great deal in the press box, and everywhere else for that matter, back when that sort of behavior was tolerated. (When it wasn’t, he snuck into a nearby bathroom for a quick smoke.)
There was one game at Florida, televised by CBS, when Verne Lundquist, lead announcer for that network’s college football broadcasts, had a staff minion thrust a note through the curtain separating the two broadcast venues, saying in essence, “Get rid of the d— cigarette.”
There was also a time at Kentucky, when his spotter reeked of smoke after the game. David Climer of The Tennessean, found the gentleman’s wife after the game and told her, presumably in his defense, “Your husband may smell like he’s been in a bar, but he’s really been in the television booth all afternoon. I saw him there.”
Occasionally spotters get more recognition than they deserve (or want). In 1999, at Tuscaloosa, Ala., the Vol coverage team downed a David Leaverton punt inside the 1. That’s not considered good field position for the offense.
The spotter quickly passed a note to the play-by-play announcer, saying that, just the past week, Alabama had had a 99-yard drive for a touchdown against Ole Miss. The announcer, acting as if Moses had just handed him the Ten Commandments, said, “Our spotter just told me that Alabama had a 99-yard drive against Ole Miss last week.” The irony is they did it again against Tennessee. Fortunately, the Vols won 21-7.
There was once a legendary football coach who wrote a book with a prominent writer in the community. One day, the writer’s obituary appeared in the newspaper, complete with picture. One of the coach’s loyal staffers showed him the obit. The response was immediate: “Did he die?”
Finally, there was a story told of a rookie sportswriter, in search of an angle for a story. He pointed in the direction of the setting sun from the press box at the Polo Grounds and posed the following question to the legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice, a native of Murfreesboro.
“Is that west?”
Rice thought for a moment and said: “If it isn’t, son, you have a heck of a story.”
If you watch and listen carefully, there are a number of stories that can get anyone through any number of days that words won’t come through the fingers onto the keyboard.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015