We had little in common, me and a prissy, “know everything” 16-year-old girl whose desk was beside mine in English class.
Sometimes, we “pre-graded” each other’s themes. One was a review of homecoming.
“Miss Priss” wrote an ugly marginal note: “Don, you can’t even review a parade!”…
Spurred on by her tacky words, I entered Howard Payne University. I learned there that I had something in common with Blackie Sherrod, who became a lifelong hero and perhaps the world’s best sports columnist ever.
Albeit separated by a couple of decades, we both sat at the feet of a revered professor of English, Dr. Cleo McChristy, who taught there for 50 years.
But she “learnt” him a heap more than she did me. One of us forged on to win virtually every writing award in the English-speaking world, and it wasn’t I (me?)….
So, that I should attempt to review ANYTHING is foolish from the “git-go.”
Sherrod wrote once of a pesky question posed by many readers until he idled his quill five years ago. They badgered him for “picks” in big football games so they’d know how to place bets.
The scribe, who entered his 90th year earlier this month, “pooh-poohed” his “picking” ability with something like this: I couldn’t pick my own daddy from a parade of Dutch drummers if the old man were marching in the front row, blowing a tuba, wearing wood-free shoes and waving an American flag….
Thus warned that this treatise is NOT a review, you still may gnaw on this literary bone if you’d like.
The “true blue” Texas A&M Aggies will view it as a “prime cut.” (My Uncle Mort says “true-blue’ers” enjoy listenin’ to Aggie jokes as much as others do tellin’ ‘em.)
Memories are tweaked to the year 1922, when student E. King Gill was summoned from the stands to suit out for the football game with Centre College. Injured Aggies were falling left and right in the bloody battle. A&M won it, 22-14, and Gill never actually entered the fray. He remained on the sidelines in case the team needed him….
Thenceforth, Aggie students have chosen to remain standing during football games—”just in case.”
Fast-forward to 1983-89, the era of Coach Jackie Sherrill. Beloved or “behated,” he brought the 12th man tradition to full flower. At the risk of having “certifiable” stamped across his noggin, he invited the student body to try out for the kickoff team that would handle these chores at all home games.
A host of football authorities, including some of his own coaches, rolled their eyes, figuring he’d played too many games without a helmet or spent too many days in the sun….
“No experience required” was splashed on signs posted around campus, enticing 252 students—including two women—to try out. Numbers fell in the heat, grueling practices and “first sergeant” directives, but at the end of Sherrill’s tenure, some 70 youngsters had participated. And their kickoff coverage stats were better than the scholarship players at games away from Kyle Field. Not ONCE did opponents run kickoffs back for six points.
Sherrill, who had played for former A&M Coach Paul (Bear) Bryant at Alabama, knew the legendary story of Bryant’s 1954 “Junction Boys.”
They’re the 100+ aspirants who went to torturous 10-day training there in the summer of ’54, with less than a third of them “surviving” to play. A year later, they won the Southwest Conference championship, restoring the image of Texas A&M football….
Now, to the present. Realizing that Sherrill’s bold initiative was a smashing success, the 12th Man Kickoff Team Foundation wanted it to be chronicled.
They called on Caleb Pirtle III, a recognized author, to tackle the project.
Pirtle traveled throughout the state, interviewing 69 players who still reside in Texas. There were conferences with numerous others, including Coach Sherrill….
The Foundation expected a 96-page book; instead, they got a 252-pager. No Experience Required—Jackie Sherrill and Texas A&M’s 12th Man Kickoff Team is off the press. (All proceeds will be used to fund A&M scholarships for children of veterans of the Gulf War, Iraq or Afghanistan.)
For 10 months, Pirtle spent most waking hours working on it.
It is his 51st book, and was celebrated a while back during a three-hour dinner attended by former athletes and friends of the program….
As expected, laughter and stories abounded. One gaffe was verbally corrected. It was the book’s opening tribute to three “deceased” players. One of them, Ashley Eddington, begged to differ. He’s still very much alive.
A few of the book covers were printed upside down. Colorful Aggie Claytie Williams snapped them up, claiming to “finally own some real Aggie books.” And the 12th man kickoff honorees signed them in like manner….
Sherrill spoke, recalling experiences begun 25 years ago. Tears fell when team members presented him with a ring.
He remembered hearing of the dinner thrown in ’79, when “survivors” of the Junction camp marked another 25th anniversary.
The team gave Bryant a ring—the one he chose to be buried with….
Thus endeth an overview of the book now on sale at HEB stores and soon in bookstores. It may be ordered online at bestkickoffteam.com.
Pirtle calls the book “a fairy tale on crutches.”
I wish Sherrod would come out of retirement to review it. A classic book deserves a classic review. Such would result in many smiley faces, showing us that football, at its core, is less about “X’s,” “O’s,” “W’s” and “L’s,” and more about the full alphabet of life….
Dr. Newbury is a speaker and writer in the Metroplex. He welcomes inquiries and comments. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Call: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.