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A special preview... Sports

Chapter 16

Because of a cool and overcast weather prediction this morning, I began my day with a nice, energizing jog in the North Mississippi Delta. While jogging in the overcast, gray, and non-threatening conditions, I was reminded of a similar morning experienced with my great-uncle Willard.

Willard treasured these days when teeing off early in the morning at the local municipal golf course. One special Sunday remained imprinted in my thoughts because it was my friend’s eighty-fifth birthday on the fourth of November in 1985. We were the first twosome off that cool and overcast morning at exactly 7:00 a.m.

My golf buddy walked with the energizing pace of a man twenty years his junior. He frequently described how the cool weather boosted his energy level when engaging in his favorite pastime. Despite his age, Willard refused to ride in a golf cart. Willard was rolling putts with amazing touch this morning on the perfectly manicured putting surfaces. Our local grounds crew of two prided themselves on maintaining excellent greens for players opting to plunk down five bucks for golf.

After a slow beginning, Willard jump-started his round with nice par- saving putts on holes number seven and eight. A triple bogey bit him on number nine following a bad swing with the driver.

When arriving on the eighteenth tee, Willard said nothing. I was aware that he needed a four for eighty-four. Willard struck his trademark power fade, but the conditions allowed no roll. His shot carried 150 yards and didn’t move an inch. He lashed his three wood another 150 yards to within 120 yards of the eighteenth green. The rain was now intensifying as my friend reached for his three iron.

Willard offered, “Think I can’t, Cary Grant?”

With his powerful hands, he struck a low, boring shot into the wind and rain. His Top Flite number-two golf ball landed short, but found the only hard spot in the wet fairway. The ball propelled forward another fifteen yards onto the fringe of the green. Willard firmed his fifteen-foot putt into the center of the hole. After this remarkable score, my great uncle broke into a rendition of “the Hobo Shuffle” on the eighteenth green in the cool North Alabama rain.

Later that evening, I wrote a short poem about my best friend. I wrote:

Willard came to play rain or shine
Focused on the very best bottom line
Oh, he loved the thrill of a story line
Even when competing just for a dime

The cool delta morning air was eerily similar to that fascinating day with my best friend. My running pace increased as if inspired by the memory of Willard’s gritty eighty-four on his eighty-fifth birthday.

My eyes glanced westbound to see nothing but a pale gray and overcast sky. Being an avid football fan, my thoughts envisioned this day being similar to the weather expected for the Ohio State- Michigan football game in late November. My thoughts were on the good old days, when a man named Woody roamed the Buckeye sidelines in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Across the field paced a man named Bo, in charge over the Michigan Wolverine program. A sold-out crowd of 107,000 in the largest stadium in the country roared for their respective teams. This was the most intense rivalry in college football.

I longed for the good old days when the Wolverine defense yielded rushing yards in ways similar to how Ralph Nader spent money: in small increments. The Schembechler coached teams played defense. On the other hand, if Woody’s eleven on defense couldn’t make the play, he would deliver the forearm blow. Despite not being a Woody Hayes fan, I dearly loved his passion for the game. I missed his passion for the game. Nothing came close to Woody versus Bo. We had our Bear, but Bear versus whom?

The day I envisioned in Ann Arbor was identical to today’s weather conditions: forty-five degrees, cold, overcast but non-threatening sky, and chance of rain later in the day. In fact, just enough rain to alter a late field goal or a punting situation.

The day would have taken place in the early 1970s, not long after Bo assumed the helm at the Wolverine program. Bo understood the significance in defeating his dreaded rival. These evenly matched teams never failed to create an ongoing ebb and flow in the big game.

Today’s game in 2010 seemed to be lacking the deep passion instilled by these elite coaches. The past two years had produced dismal results for Michigan. Michigan’s record was eight and sixteen. The once proud Wolverine defense now appeared slow and plodding. While watching a recent game, I said to a friend, “I feel sorry for Michigan. They are dreadfully slow on defense.”

I found myself pondering what Bo might have done if overhearing my remarks about his football team. I knew the answer immediately. Bo would have glared at me with disgust and then slugged me in the mouth.

And I would have deserved it. I could then hear Bo saying while I was spitting out blood and a few teeth: “Nobody feels sorry for Michigan.”

My running pace slowed when approaching the parking lot of the casino. I noticed a man sitting calmly outside on a bench. My eyes were not deceiving me. It was Junior Johnson outside the casino smoking a cigarette.

I said, “How’s it going this morning, Junior?” Junior responded, “Doing fine, Willie. Why not take a seat and rest those wet feet? It’s time to turn the tide on this roller coast ride.” I sat down next to Junior as he finished smoking his morning cigarette.
Junior turned and stared into my eyes, saying, “Willie, you knows running is overrated. Does you remember the guy who writes the book on running? The fellow runs off the beaten path and suffers a fatal heart attack?”

“Are you referring to the writer Jim Fixx?” I asked.

“That’s the guy, Willie,” answered Junior. “How about some blackjack?”

“Sounds good to me,” I answered. “I’ll meet you in thirty minutes. Let me get a quick shower.”

“See you in thirty,” replied Junior.

Junior was waiting in Starbucks in his trademark coveralls. After finishing his coffee, we strolled into the gaming area searching for the right table for maximizing profits. Junior offered, “We needs a dealer who does not acts like a faith healer. The dealer is the key if we expects to yell whoopee. Does you agree, Willie?”

“Yes,” I answered.   

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