And Not One Jackass

January28/ 2015

Regular visitors here know I bristle at society’s tendency to too often use the comparative absolute when describing anything; be it barbecue, Bond girls or sunsets.   Rather than “best” or “greatest ever” I favor the qualifiers – “that I can imagine”….. or “as anyone would need to proclaim Very Well Done”.

In that context, I am declaring this past weekend’s gathering of the 1969 Big 8 Champion Missouri Tigers as “as very well done as I can imagine”.   I defy you to gather up over fifty of anything.   Upon sifting thru’em over 36 hours, declare “there was not one jackass among’em”.   They did, we did and there wasn’t.

There is an apocryphal tale of a man driving thru a town he was considering moving to.  He sees a fellow rocking on a porch and asks him “Excuse me sir, I’m curious what sort of folks live around here?” ……. “What sort of folks live where you come from?”  replied the porch rocker.   “For the most part, pretty good ones.” the traveler noted.   “Well, that’s what you will find here too.”  was the answer to the original question. ……. The moral to the story being we tend to self fulfill our own prophecies when it comes to measuring those of our fellow man we encounter.

Six/seven years ago I was invited to spend Thanksgiving in Beaumont, Texas with “a guy I met on the Internet thru this website”.   We would later compare whether my family or his family were the most concerned for our respective sanities and safety.  It was palpable within both camps.   The phrase “ax murderer” was used by both families.

NOTE:  In La Jolla, California; Chuck and Cat just whooped.

My inviter was a very special gentleman known here as “CNR”.   That long weekend in Beaumont (and Baton Rogue) was to be immediately ranked in the pantheon among the best that either of us “could imagine”.   So too will be this past weekend’s gathering in Springfield, MO of over 50 of the members of that group of Missouri Tigers.   Over 50 fellows….. and not one jackass.

In the interest of time and bandwidth, the prologue to all this can be found in An Email From Nip (LINK).   There was really never any doubt I would attend the weekend.   My Life is an endless pursuit of “column fodder and show prep”.  The pickins’ from such an event were too promising to pass up.

Over the 36+ hours we were together from the opening reception Saturday afternoon to the headin’ home breakfasting Monday morning, it was obvious that pretty much everyone had come with positive expectations…. expectations that would be fulfilled in spades.

Society can be subdivided into innumerable subsets.  “Drawn to Reunions” versus “Repelled by Reunions” are two opposing subsets.  I’ve always been among the former.   I’ve attended each of my high school reunions over the years with another scheduled this coming summer.  Last March, as you may recall, our 51-1 back-to-back State Champs Basketball team reunited.   That too was “as very well done as I could imagine”.

OK, I am not “an East German figure skating judge” when it comes to enjoying trips down Memory Lane.   I tend to give out 9’s and 10’s.

Have I led an especially charmed Life or do I simply prefer to put a positively nostalgic spin on my journey thru Life’s “yellow wood” with all its “roads diverging”?   I believe the latter.   There have been potholes, broken axles and dastardly highwaymen encountered in my journey.   Decisions, circumstances and relationships about which I curse my keener than average memory.

As I stride down Life’s 15th fairway (hoping I’m no closer than that to putting out on #18), I prefer to recall the solidly struck drives and the holed putts.  Not the lip-outs, duck hooks and “FORES” of my Round.  There have been those.

That over 50 of the players and staff of that ’69 team chose to gather was remarkable.  Allowing that another 10-15 were UDE “unable due to expiration” that is about 93% of the whole.   Everyone came at their own expense from all points on the compass with nothing to gain but memories and a plaque.

Many of you are “of our generation” having also matriculated back in the 60s or so.  You will appreciate this……  The hotel was of the open atrium variety.  As I left my room for the opening “get reacquainted” reception I could look down from my 3rd floor balcony on the heads of those already gathering.    I would later reflect that in the 46 years from that rainy night in The Orange Bowl, we had all pretty much passed thru, and out of, our “Just For Men” stage.   Those who still have hair were past vanity about its darkness or lack there of.

I probably managed to chat with 75-80% of the group over the 36 hours.  Some to a greater extent than others, of course.  I cannot tell you what 90% of that 80% do/did for a living….. how prosperous they are/were in those pursuits….. or any approximation of the net worth ranking of the team in 2015.   Had this been 15-20 years after the fact rather than the 45; maybe there would have been such posturing and preening.  It wasn’t.  There wasn’t.

We had all received “that email from Nip” no earlier than five weeks ago.   Not enough time for a weight loss of any noticeable degree or to rent a supermodel escort for the weekend.   Standard reunion ploys.

I say “not one jackass”.   No one “tried way too hard” to be the life of the party.  No one felt the need to wear a lampshade or be just a bit too loud.   You know the type.  Had there been “that guy” you know I’d tell you about him.

Back in 1969 a dozen or so of the guys were already married.  I noticed many of those unions still in tact.   That was reassuring.

There were some worthy candidates for the “Dragged To” Award.   “Dragged To” means “didn’t know a soul here but came along because I know it means a lot to him”.   There is a special place in Heaven for such partners.  I nominate the lovely lady with Steve Kenemore for the award but that’s just my vote.

I had joined this team in July before that ’69 season.  “Where I had come from” was not a well-known fact.   When I reminded them it was UNC there were two significant reactions:

(1)  Absolutely No One mentioned TGU (The Great Unpleasantness).   If the Hickory and Fayetteville Rotarians and Kiwanians don’t know / don’t care about Marvin’s tweet, Mary’s whistleblowing or Deborah’s scheme; the inhabitants of Fly-Over Country definitely don’t.   Confirming my memorable answer to Holden Thorp’s question “Why does Everybody care so much…..?”  “Everybody” doesn’t care.

(2)  Several did mention Russell Wilson and how proud “we all” must be with his NFL success.   I, of course, accepted their compliments graciously.   “We certainly are proud of Russell” I noted.  Heck, I AM!

Because of his Kansas connection (Mizzou’s former most hated rival), several did ask if Roy was as nutty as ever.  “….. gotten even nuttier” I assured them.

We lost that Orange Bowl game 10-3 to Paterno’s Penn State.   That fact did not dim the festivities one iota.   The overall memories among that Band of Tiger Brothers were so positive in retrospection.   Of course there was a “tad bit” of inflation about a few incidents and a few hits given out and received.   Speaking of “hits” I noticed more than a few hitchs-in-getalongs from arthritic knees and hips.  Grim reminders that a youth spent on the gridiron does exact a price over time.

I noted in that earlier column, when I first saw “Nip’s List” I had a mental picture of each name and some aspect of his personality from over 45 years earlier.   As I perused the group I applied a time-morphing “app” that added age lines and wear&tear.   By golly, I could ID every one of’em before I confirmed via their name tags.   OK, every one but Sam Adams and John Staggers.   I’m still not sure those two weren’t “ringers”.

As the weekend progressed and any concerns of a tedious occasion were dispelled, several proposed “we oughta do this again”.   That might well happen among groups of 3-4 for golf or mini-vacations.   But not for the group as a whole….. nor, as Nip and I concurred, should it.

The circumstance of the Hall Of Fame induction was the perfect “reason”.    As those 50+ of us 1969 Missouri Tigers go forth to play out our round of Life, we are fortunate to have this one special look-back to a special time and circumstance.   As I look at my Big 8 Champions ring on my dresser and on the future occasions I will wear it, I now have not only “that special season” to recall but now this special weekend too.

A weekend of smiles and handshakes and hugs….. and not one jackass.

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