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Sports figures are master storytellers

POSTED: March 12, 2013 4:00 p.m.
 

My parents told great stories. I’ve told you that. How they would both weave long, intriguing tales from not much of a story or one that was so good to begin with that it took little embellishment.

The good-to-begin-with story needed only a dusting of well-placed words while the not-so-good-but-still-worth-telling, were spruced up and shined to a fare thee well. My parents only introduced me to the art of storytelling, so once I graduated, I moved on to a master’s program: Sports reporting.

Now no one, I don’t care who it is, tells a story better than an athlete, coach, racer or car owner. They’ve all got a repertoire of stories that just won’t quit.

As a young sports reporter, I would spend hours sitting in a high school coach’s office while seven or eight coaches spun tales of every game they had ever seen.

Here’s the funny thing about all that: I have never met a coach or a race car driver who could not recite every moment of his career. They can tell you what the player weighed who was carrying the ball for an 80-yard touchdown, when the player had his last tetanus shot and every play called for that entire game.

Same for race car drivers. Ask them about any win or loss and, in great detail, they will tell you which shocks or springs were used, which driver bumped him and how many seconds each pit stop lasted.

But don’t — I’m just warning you — ask them the date of their wife’s birthday or their anniversary. Don’t even ask them the year they got married because they’ll probably say something like, “Well, let me see. It was the year Alabama won the national championship with Namath. The last one they won with him. What year would that have been? ’64 or ’65? Wait a minute. It was ’64 all right because Namath was Rookie of the Year in ’65.”

None of that had anything to do with the bride.

Once I asked a friend, a famous coach, if he knew when Valentine’s Day was. He thought for a minute. “Isn’t it during basketball season?”

Another friend, a stock car racer, didn’t hesitate. “I don’t know for sure what the date is but it’s during the time we’re always in Daytona for the 500.” He was real proud of himself. “I always call the florist before I leave and arrange for the flowers.”

Once a pro baseball player told me, “Ask me any stat on any player in the league and I can give it to you, but I can’t even remember my own birthday. I never can remember if it’s the 28th or 29th. I have to call my mama and ask.

“My wife won’t tell me because I don’t remember hers. I don’t know what I’ll do when Mama dies.”

Listen, I’m just saying that I find it interesting how their minds work. But boy, they can all tell a great story. It usually starts with, “I remember that time when …” Or “Let me tell about the day that ….”

A few years ago, I was in the drivers’ paddock at the NASCAR races where they park their coaches. All afternoon, I had watched these little runts not much bigger than I am at 5’2” hurrying back and forth across the garage. For many years, drivers had been big and most were 6 feet or taller.

Richard Petty was standing next to me. “Richard,” I asked, “What’s the deal with all these little guys? Drivers used to be much bigger.”

He swigged some water then answered. “Pow’r steerin’.”

“Huh?”

“Back when I come along, you didn’t have pow’r steerin’ and it took a lot of strength and muscle to wrassle those cars. Not any more.”

Then the stories began. And, boy, can Richard Petty tell a story.

I wonder, though, if he knows when his birthday is.


 

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