They arrived at my front door at a little past eight o’clock on a Saturday night. I’d been expecting them for a couple of hours. The Stallion had called me nearly three weeks earlier to tell me he was coming up from Sarasota to visit Sherman and wanted to see the old teammates.
Having been out of town on the day of his arrival, I was last on the list. There are several of us who played at Auburn together and who live within a few miles of each other; Ken Bernich, an All-American Linebacker; David Williams a standout linebacker; Chris Wilson, a kicker; and Carl” Hollywood” Hubbard, another linebacker. Being last meant we could have more time to catch up.
When the doorbell rang, I limped over to the door and there they were. Their grins were as big and wide as mine. “TG” they both called out.
“Sherman and The Stallion,” I returned. They could barely get through the door before we were all over each other hugging, grinning and laughing.
As teammates we had played football together at Auburn University in the 1970s. Those had been good football years at Auburn. During my four years on the team, we finished #5, #8, and #9 in the country; never had a losing season and three of the four years we never lost a home game. It was good times.
The guys ushered themselves in and exchanged pleasantries with my wife, joyce, and then it was our time.
The last time we’d been together had been a couple of years ago in the restaurant at the Auburn Hotel and Conference Center one Saturday night after an Auburn football game. That night we exhausted all our stories and begin to delve into the “do you remember game.” Names like Pete Retzlaff, Warren Wells, Willie Galimore, Sonny Jerguson, Homer Jones, and other old professional standouts brought back fond memories from our youth. Tonight, I was sure, would be just as much fun.
The Stallion, Ken Calleja, a running back was originally from Detroit, Michigan before moving to Sarasota, Florida. He was one of maybe less than a half dozen northerners on the team. Yankees, the other guys called them. Of Italian descent he was nicknamed the Stallion because of his sleek physique and his long flowing jet black hair. He was a handsome stud and he knew it… so did all the girls on campus.
The other half of the duo, Sherman Moon has health issues but other than being a bit thin you’d never know it. He is still Sherman, one of the best guys you will ever know. “Good as gold” is the description I use. If someone says they don’t like Sherman, get away from that person as fast as you can. Something is wrong with him.
Sherman, Ken and I were all ball handlers, the glamour positions on the football team. Ken was a runner. He’d run the hurdles in high school track and ran with a prance.
Sherman and I were receivers and occasional runners. With those positions comes a cockiness that is needed to run headlong into a defense of eleven angry men and think that you can out maneuver and out run them all. Yes, we liked ourselves.
Oftentimes after practice we’d brag over how good we’d been that day in practice. My favorite was “I was so quick out there today, I scared myself.”
Sherman and the Stallion were both “Florida Boys.” Florida Boys in that day and time was code for being soft. We were still playing football in the dark ages of less than ten passes a game, and “no pain, no gain,” “suck it up like a man” and “get your game face on.” With many small town Alabama roughneck boys on the team, the Florida Boys received undue criticism. The coaches were tough on them. But if you wanted to play, you paid the price.
It wasn’t long before the stories began to flow.
Ken was up first doing his Coach Claude Saia impression. Coach Saia was the Auburn running back coach. Stallion has him down pat. He not only sounds like Coach Saia, he can stand like him, walk like him, and mimic his facial expressions. One of our favorite lines from Coach Saia as he directed his running backs was to tell them, “You got to stay on Avenue One.” He never explained where in the hell Avenue One was, but all the running backs were expected to know. Ken could arch his hips like Coach and deliver that line better than Coach himself. I almost slid off the couch I was laughing so hard.
Sherman and Ken had come to Auburn at the same time, a year behind me. They were close throughout college and had many of their misadventures together. When Ken started to tell the story of the ballplayer who entered Auburn on what Ken called
“Double Secret Probation,” Sherman had to help him get the facts straight.
I interrupted, “What is double secret probation?” Apparently this young man’s grades were so bad in high school, that he’d been admitted into the University on Double Secret Probation meaning no one would admit to knowing how he got in but he only had one semester to prove he was college material and that did not include the football field.
The young man did not fare well during his one quarter on campus and decided to assist himself with his grades. His plan was to enlist some of his teammates, steal a professor’s test and secure for himself a great test score. He stole the test and scored 98 out of 100. It was however followed up by the F he was given for cheating. His double secret probation did not last the entire quarter and his teammates in the meantime received F’s as well for cheating. I had known the guy before he left, but didn’t know about the double secret probation or his misadventure in breaking into the professor’s office and stealing his test. I never knew what happened to him. I just knew that one day he was gone, never to be seen again.
We took turns talking about our offensive coordinator. Big Gene Lorendo, stood about 6’4” and was north of 250 lbs. His deep baritone voice struck fear in freshmen and sophomores. He was hard nosed and could boom out your name in such a threatening manner that you would check your football pants to see if they were wet. Since we were all on offense we all played for him. If Sherman went out for a pass, missed it and came back limping, we knew what was next. “MOOONNN ” he would bellow. “Don’t give me that hurt ankle shit, Moon.”
I often tell people as a sophomore, he changed my name from Thomas Gossom, to “Got Damnit Gossom.” You could hear him all over the practice field, screaming, “GOT DAMNIT GOSSOM.”
The stories flowed until well past midnight. I’m still laughing now several weeks later.
That night whatever issues we had with health, family, finances, or just life were forgotten as we fondly traveled back into a time that had shaped the rest of our lives. The memories in some cases were actually better than the actual time spent on the field.
After midnight the guys finally took their leave. I tried to get them to spend the night. They declined. They needed to get to Sherman’s. I thanked them for coming, for the memories, for the times, for the friendship. At the door, in between handshakes and hugs, we proudly spoke words we never would have as young, cocky, virile athletes. “I love you man, ” flowed from our mouths. “Love you too,” we all repeated.
What a special night!