Better late than never. Oh boy, Coach would ream me for being tardy! I'm late to this thread because I just found it. Why, after all these years, did I even come across it? Because I think about my coach, my mentor and my friend often still, and there it was.
Coach was one of the most influential persons in my life, and funny thing is I'm not entirely sure why; I can't pinpoint one thing in particular. But he just was. We lost touch shortly after high school, but then reconnected decades later by a chance meeting at the Buena Vista Bar. So many memories and experiences, we bonded again immediately and became very close for many years; always in touch, often hanging out together, then nothing, he disappeared, no communication at all. I tried to find him, but no one that I spoke with knew where he was, or they weren't saying. I never stopped thinking about him however and kept a look out... But apparently not too well, because I only heard of his passing months after, when I tracked down Phairdra. I am beyond bummed that I was not able to speak with him again. To learn that he was gone was very traumatic for me (still is), and since I couldn't attend his service it was all the more saddening.
OK, one story: One of the most memorable occurrences of my life was actually a sequence of events, the majority culminating over several months creating a memory and a feeling that will live with me forever...
I arrived at GWHS at 15 in S '71. I had played 3 straight seasons of SFPAL, first for the Rebels (2 yrs) then the Seahawks, but then as a 14-year old in Presidio Jr High, I was now too old for Pop Warner and too young for high school, so I sat out an utterly excruciatingly torturous long year of no-football (by this time I was madly in love with football; oh, and Sydney Barsanti, but that's another story). I couldn't wait to play again. GWHS, at that time, had 3 separate football teams... Sophomore, JV, and Varsity. As a sophomore, feeling confident in my abilities (fresh off a recent badass Seahawks Championship team of '69), I knew that JV's was a good fit. A few weeks into early preseason training sessions, apparently Coach didn't share my enthusiasm for me being there. Each week there would be a new roster hung up on the PE Office window with the names of those who were still on the team (Coach was cutting until he got to his maximum roster). What was to be the final cut day, I happened to be in the gym and Coach called me into the PE Office and shut the door. "I think that you're too damn sure of yourself. You're cocky (look who's talking? Lol) and I don't like you. I want you to quit!" What?! No way, I'm not going to quit! "You quit, or I'll cut you." You'll have to cut me, because I'm not quitting! We went back and forth, things got a little heated, and I wasn't backing down (and I was in shock and scared; what would I do without football again?!). Finally, he said he'd give me once last chance to redeem myself. "OK, but you're not going to make it through, I can promise you that." Oh shit, what just happened? I loved football, I was a good teammate, a good guy, worked and played hard; how did it come to this? I was taken completely by surprise by his demeanor toward me, and only after a few weeks too. Couldn't he see how damn good I was and how much I loved it? You see, that's the thing, I WAS good, and of course I knew it, but I NEVER EVER felt cocky, only confident. He saw it differently, initially. If you really knew coach well then you've probably already figured out what was actually going on here... Fact 1: If he had really wanted to cut me, I'd be gone, no discussion (especially like the one we had, with raised voices and defiance). Fact 2: What better way to get one of your best players to maximize their potential and make sure that he knows who's running the show, then to threaten them with expulsion (but not act upon it, yet). At least to him that seemed like a good idea at the time. Needless to say, for the next couple of weeks (it was still before the start of the season btw), pity anyone who was opposite me in tackling drills and scrimmages! Holy crap, I remember hitting our QB Mark Houston so hard in the chest, he almost passed out cold. And, when I got up after the hit, there was Coach smiling. I thought I'd be in big trouble for crushing our QB, but Coach said nothing about it. That's the first leg of the sequence.
Fast forward, first game of the season against Wilson HS, I was WR on offense, and DE on the D. We ended up tied 13 - 13 and Coach was livid. On the bus ride back, I was sitting with my pal Paul Koski right behind Coach, who turns around to me, I lean in. "Starting on Monday you're learning the RB plays." He turns back around, I sit back in my seat. Paul asked me what he said to me. I very nonchalantly respond, "Oh, starting Monday I'm learning the RB plays." Outside I was cool as a cucumber, but inside I was exploding (Holy crap, I'm moving to RB!). I was beside myself with excitement. 2nd leg.
We didn't lose (or tie) another game the rest of the season, in fact, we only gave up 12 points total the rest of the way. I averaged 120 yards and 2 TD's per game. We were a hell of a team! One of his best ever, Coach would later say (and he had coached JV football for about 10 years by then, with several other championships under his belt; he was a hell of a football coach, the best I've ever played for, through Pop Warner, HS, college and semi-pro. Leg #3.
At the awards banquet celebrating our championship, it was at a nice hotel with a stage. During the presentation portion of the evening, Coach was standing centerstage behind a podium. All of the players were off stage left, and he would call our name one at a time, say something spontaneous about the player, who would then walk across the stage, greet Coach, who handed out a trophy, then walk off stage right. Got it? Kind of like walking up and grabbing your HS diploma (minus Moose streaking, lol). Finally my turn (I do remember being last too), he looks at me off stage for what seemed like an eternity (probably only a few short seconds), thinking about what to say, and then he said words that I will never forget as long as I live... "This next player can do it all; he can run, hit, pass, and probably kick too. He is the best sophomore that I have ever coached." My Lord, that still brings a little tear to my eye 52 years later! We had gone from what seemed like mortal enemies in the beginning to such a sentiment that has never been matched (in my heart) to this day. Challenge, redemption, success, and finally respect and love. Wow, this 4th leg made it all super special beyond belief.
And lastly, Leg #5 of this life-changing sequence is probably the best part, because that's when we found each other so much later in life and became such good friends for such a long time. He got to know my wife and kids; I'm so grateful for that. Interesting side note, after hearing some of the most private moments in his life (stories of growing up, etc.) I wanted to write a book about his experiences, or at least based on them. I even had a title, "Billy the Tap Dancer". I asked him to keep a recorder by his bedside and whenever he'd think of another anecdote to record it. He disappeared from my life before I could get ahold of that recorder (he said he was doing as I asked, so...?), but I still think about the lost opportunity to share his story.
Anyway, that whole disappearing act was, and probably will always remain, a mystery (to me anyway, although I know some things that might explain it, but I'm not talking), but the bottomline is that he was very special to me and will always be in my heart and memory. I know that I'm a little late, but RIP Coach, love you, and God willing, we'll meet again.