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Uncle Andy's Blog

The Magic of the Trotters


 

 

Bill Cosby once said, “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.”  “No Fear” should be this guy’s middle name.  He is the kind of guy who would play basketball with you in your backyard if you asked him.  A good-looking guy; when you see him, you like him immediately.  He is a born entertainer.  At 6’ 4” tall, with a 45-inch vertical leap, he can jump out of your area code and light up a scoreboard like an old-fashioned pinball machine.  He can stuff a basketball faster then you can say “Sweet Georgia Brown” and is worth the price of admission all by him self.  Some around here say he is the medical definition of “goose bumps,” and you can’t fake goose bumps.  He loves nothing more than posterizing the competition.  He plays the game for keeps, as if behind enemy lines, and is more versatile than a Swiss Army knife.  “I love it,” he said to me.  

He’s #33 in your program, Harlem Globetrotter Will “Bull” Bullard from Detroit, Michigan.  One of nine siblings, Bull’s first experience with basketball was when he witnessed a pick-up game in the Motor City.  “I was amazed at how tall and athletic these guys were,” said Bull.  “I only played basketball in high school and then signed a scholarship to play at Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi, for former Coach Ronnie Arrow.”  Bull was part of Arrow’s team that won the 2007 Southland Conference Championship and a spot in the NCAA Tournament.  In 2008, Bull was selected to participate in the NCAA Slam Dunk Contest held in San Antonio, Texas.  Bullard finished second but was the only competitor to receive a perfect score on an amazing slam dunk.  Bullard jumped over two of his 6’ 8” teammates and then dunked the basketball with both hands.  When he completed that dunk, the look on people’s faces in the crowd reminded me of the folks who witnessed the attempted docking of the Hindenburg.  The closest I will ever get to a dunk is a donut.  In the stands sat representatives of the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters.  “I was just being myself,” said Bullard. “The Globetrotters called the next day, and I’ve been a Globetrotter ever since.”  Bull Bullard was poised for greatness.  With the Globetrotters, Bullard is now connected to thousands of yesterdays.  Greatness, no matter how brief, stays with a man.

The Harlem Globetrotters were created in 1926 by Abe Saperstein in the city of Chicago, Illinois, not New York City as most people think.  Their first game was played on January 7, 1927, 48 miles west of Chicago in Hinckley, Illinois.  Of course they won.  The Globetrotters over the years have played and won more than 22,000 exhibition games in over 120 different countries and before 120 million fans.  They continue to spread hope and smiles to all those they come in contact with.  Their coach is former Globetrotter, Jimmy Blacklock.  “Globie” has been their mascot since 1993, and they continue to perform to Brother Bones’ version of “Sweet Georgia Brown.”  In 2002, the Harlem Globetrotters were inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a team.     

“I’ve played in 47 different countries,” said Bullard.  “We practice every day, sometimes play nine games a week, and have entertained millions of fans.  From December to May, we have our USA Tour followed by a European Tour and then a Military Tour.  We won 200 games last year and they were all on the road.”  When I asked what his favorite moment had been so far in his Globetrotter career, he answered, “My first trip oversees to Germany; on that plane, I realized this was all for real.”  Who in their right mind would want to be a Washington General?  I asked while laughing.  “I don’t know, man,” laughed Bull.  “They are all professional athletes and they work hard.”  The most dangerous city he has ever played in with the Globetrotters was Mexico City and the country he liked best was the United Kingdom.  “The city was beautiful,” said Bull.  I asked him to share with me the stats of his best game as a Globetrotter.  His answer was, “Millions of smiles and lots of autographs.”  Globetrotter you wished you could have played with?  Fred “Curly” Neal, Marques Haynes, Reece “Goose” Tatum, Meadowlark Lemon, Herbert “Geese” Ausbie,” then he stopped himself and said, “All of them.”  Bull’s favorite food is salmon and sautéed spinach.  His restaurant of choice is Famous Dave’s.  Best advice anyone has ever given to you:  “Always stay humble and never give up,” he answered.  That reminded me of the Jimmy Valvano speech on ESPN.  “Magic” Johnson is the athlete he would most like to meet.  I tried to get him to change his nickname to “Windmill” Will Bullard because I’ve seen Bull throw down.  He reminds me of Dr. J., but no deal. 

Bull Bullard’s favorite charity is the (MTMF) Marvin Thomas Memorial Fund in Seattle, Washington.  This fund helps needy children of all walks of life have the opportunity to play their favorite sport.  “Every time I’m at home, I hang out there and help the kids,” exclaimed Bullard.

I fell in love with the game of basketball because my father introduced me to the Harlem Globetrotters.  As a young kid, we were there watching the Globetrotters and my father started laughing out loud.  He worked all the time, as most fathers did, and I had never seen him laugh so hard and now we were laughing together.  That is the “Magic” of the Harlem Globetrotters and you didn’t even have to like basketball.  When I told Bull that story he responded, “Man that’s a great story.  That’s what the Globetrotters are about, giving back to the community.  That’s why I’m a part of this team.  I love playing basketball and making people laugh.”  Bull is a part of that magic.  I am reminded of a quotation from writer Joseph Campbell that went like this:  “There is nothing more important than being fulfilled.”  I think Bull has this all figured out. 

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.

 


How to Bite Through a Helmet


 

The sight of this man breaking the huddle would quicken your heartbeat.  With their adrenaline flowing, opposing linemen called him “Sir.”  They asked about his family, his dog, and how things were going at home.  Most of these giants stood several stories higher than the rest of us, and they hated the sound of a whistle.  Whistles meant you had most-likely been caught doing something illegal, and the play was being called back.  Wasted effort ticked these guys off.  They owned faces that looked like they had blocked a punt, and no one could out-cuss them.  Even Keith Jackson called them “The Big Uglies.”  To be a good offensive lineman, you have to have been born with a football name.  Names like “Chuck” Bednarik, Mike Munchak, Jim Otto and Art Shell come to mind.  If Munchak had been named Robby Phillips, he would have run track or played in the band.  As an offensive lineman, you learned to live with a high jersey number and the screaming sounds of pain and horror in a pile of human flesh.  You can’t imagine what grown men will do to each other in the “pit.”  It’s not uncommon to see linemen come stumbling out of a game like drunks being thrown out of a bar.   

These guys loved nothing more than getting the back of a defensive lineman’s jersey dirty.  They understood the power of intimidation.  He led the offensive linemen down the field like Sherman marching through Georgia.  They wanted to hit you and the words “trap play” and “sweep” made them smile.  The key to being a good offensive lineman is that you have to make your guy look at you, fight with you and focus on you and not the ball carrier or quarterback.  “Their eyes can tell you when a stunt is on.  I focus on their jersey number, never their head or hips.  Those areas can be used to fake you out.  When I make them look at me, eye to eye, I’ve got a chance,” said Fuzzy. “That’s when they usually start yelling, ‘He’s holding me.’”  If Fuzzy Thurston could have learned how to bite through a helmet he would have.

Frederick Charles “Fuzzy” Thurston was born in Altoona, Wisconsin, on December 29, 1933.  His father, Charles, was a common laborer who passed away when Fuzzy was two years old.  His mom, Marie, found it tough to raise a family of eight by her self so Fuzzy spent some time growing up with an aunt who lived in Florida.  He got his nickname for his curly hair as a baby.  Fuzzy graduated from Altoona High School and received a scholarship to play basketball at Valparaiso University in Indiana.  Remarkably, Altoona High School did not have a football program.   Fuzzy was such a fine athlete that he was finally persuaded by the football coach to try out for the football team, before his junior year of college.  In 1954, Fuzzy led the Crusaders of Valparaiso to the Indiana Collegiate Conference title and was selected All-American twice.  Fuzzy was also named All-Conference for the 1954 and 1955 seasons, while being named the Conference’s Top Lineman, in 1955.

Thurston was drafted in 1956 by the Philadelphia Eagles, but he did not make the team.  He then joined the Army for a couple of years and later tried out and made the Baltimore Colts’ team as a backup, in 1958.  He would wear #64 for the Colts.  That was the year that Baltimore beat the New York Giants in sudden death overtime, in what many referred to as the greatest game ever played.  The offensive coordinator for the Giants was none other than Vince Lombardi, who liked what he saw in the film of Thurston’s play.  In 1959, before the season began, Lombardi became the head coach of the Packers and worked a trade with the Colts for Thurston.  Fuzzy wore #63 for the rest of his career and played for Lombardi for nine seasons in Green Bay.  He was the bedrock of the 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966 and 1967 championship teams, which included the first two Super Bowls.

The NFL locker room before game time is quieter than a Church on Monday morning.  Guys are sitting in front of their lockers looking like they have lost their mothers.  The defensive guys try to read or remember what they had watched on film all week.  Offensive linemen apply Vaseline on their jerseys; clear for white jerseys and dark for the colored jerseys.  Yes, it’s illegal but done anyway.  The intensity fills the room.   

Offensive linemen would rather run block than pass block.  They are aggressive by nature.  “Take the game to the enemy” was their mindset.  Paul Hornung once wrote in his book, Golden Boy, that Fuzzy, an otherwise excellent pass blocker, had a tough time pass-blocking the behemoth defensive tackle, Roger Brown, of the Detroit Lions.  “So Fuzzy invented the Lookout Block,” said Hornung.  “In one game, Bart Starr had been sacked about six times.  It got to be a joke,” said Hornung.  “So when the next pass play was called, just as Starr was getting ready to take the snap from center Jim Ringo, Fuzzy yelled out, ‘Look Out, Bart.’  That cracked everybody up,” said Hornung.

Thurston was also well known for an answer he gave to a sportswriter’s question after the “Ice Bowl.”  The temperature of that game in Green Bay against the Dallas Cowboys was played at 13 degrees below zero.  The referees claimed that it was so cold that their whistles stuck to their lips.  The sportswriter asked Fuzzy how he prepared to play in such cold weather.  Thurston responded that he drank “about ten vodkas” in order to stay warm.  The fact is Fuzzy would have never had the guts to drink before a game for fear that Lombardi would find out. 

Offensive linemen are the worst golfers in the world.   Maybe it’s because they spend so much time in a three-point stance.  They have bad breath on purpose and most of them take out their false teeth before the game.  Offensive linemen never want to hear their opposing guys’ names mentioned on the public address system.  That means they made the tackle.  Offensive lineman is really a misnomer.  The offensive guy is really trying to defend his quarterback.  Offensive lineman hate quick defensive linemen like Deacon Jones.  “The offensive lineman’s best friend is most times a good running back.  They can fake the defensive player right into your block,” smiled Fuzzy.  “Offensive guards have three different pulling plays; short pull, long pull and the deep pull,” said Thurston.  “Defensive players come at you in different ways, that’s why we watch film.  I may have to hook a linebacker in or kick a cornerback out of the play.”  Defensive linemen have three options to attack.  They can meet you head on, dodge you or undercut you.  At 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighing 245, Fuzzy was one of the brooms in Green Bay’s famous sweep.

Forever the optimist, Thurston was once hit so hard by defensive tackle Buck Buchanan of the Kansas City Chiefs that his steel face mask was bent.  “As he came to the sideline,” said Jerry Kramer, “I asked him how things were going with Buchanan?  Fuzzy answered, ‘I’m kicking his butt.’” 

Fuzzy Thurston was adored by people everywhere.  I think it was because he was both a player and a fan.  His motto to future Green Bay Packer players was simple:  avoid the distractions, enjoy the game and respect the team.  Teammate Dave Robinson referred to Thurston as “the heart and soul of the Packers.  He was the thing that made us a team.”  Fuzzy played in 116 games and is one of only three in NFL history to participate on six NFL championship teams.  The other two were teammates Forrest Gregg and Herb Adderley.  Thurston retired in 1967 and was inducted into the Green Bay Packers’ Hall of Fame in 1975.

After football, Fuzzy built and owned a chain of taverns around Wisconsin known as Fuzzy’s #63 Left Guard Bar & Grill.  Even the phone number to the bars ended in 6363.  Fuzzy would have turned 81 years old on December 29, 2014.  Cancer made it difficult for him to speak and Alzheimer’s disease stole away his memories.  Cancer had claimed Thurston’s larynx in the early eighties and three years ago he was diagnosed with colon and liver cancer.  Thurston died on Sunday December 14, 2014.  He has been staying in an assisted living facility in Howard, Wisconsin.  His #63 will never be worn again in Green Bay, as it has been retired.  Over three hundred gathered at Lambeau Field on Friday December 19 to say good-bye to one of the architects of the “Green Bay Sweep,” at that time one of the most unstoppable plays in professional football.  Most interior offensive linemen remain obscure, but with a name like Fuzzy, you had to be a guard.  This was not the case with Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston.  Their names will be linked together for all time.  They were like peas and carrots; it’s impossible to say one name without the other.  Eleven players from the 1964 through 1967 Packer’s teams have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  That’s half the starting team.  Why not Jerry Kramer or Fuzzy Thurston?  These two will always remain frozen in time.

As a junior in high school, I once spent a week at the Johnny Unitas sports camp during the summer.  During camp we watched game film at night.  One of those films was about the “Green Bay sweep.”  The message:  the sight of Kramer and Thurston leading either Paul Hornung or Jim Taylor around the line of scrimmage made defensive backs faint.  Stopping these guys was like trying to halt a rockslide.

Fuzzy was named to the 1961 and 1962 All-Pro teams.  Thurston was elected to the Indiana Football Hall of Fame in 1982 and the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003.  Fuzzy lost his wife after 55 years of marriage.  Sue passed away in 2012.  Fuzzy also left behind a daughter Tori, two sons Mark and Griff, and three grandchildren.  

Oklahoma quarterback and now in the House of Representatives, J.C. Watts once said, “It doesn’t take a lot of strength to hang on.  It takes a lot of strength to let go.”  When the end comes for our heroes we find ourselves asking how could this be true.  The answer sometimes:  It just is.  Fuzzy realized at the end that he had influenced a lot of people along the way, guys like me.  He knew he had done the best he could and lived a clean life.  He was a great player but also a nice guy.  “It’s such an honor to be a Green Bay Packer, and I cherish that every day of my life,” said Thurston. 

Of the 43 men who played on Lombardi’s last team in 1967, 15 are now deceased.  The average age of those alive is 72.2.  The Glory Years are becoming the Golden Years.  We have already lost Henry Jordon, Lew Carpenter, Lionel Aldridge, Max McGee, Ron Kostelnik, Elijah Pitts, Gale Gillingham and Ray Nitschke.  Teammates Paul Hornung and Jerry Kramer are both 79.   Bart Starr turned 80 and Forest Gregg is now 81.  Father time moves on.  I can still close my eyes and see Fuzzy and Jerry in perfect step, running at a 45 degree angle, a search-and-destroy mission if there ever was one.  

 

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.


Lucky No. 7


 

He’s a “good old boy,” with a wide smile and football stamped in his DNA.  Back then he owned a gravelly voice, a tanned face, and he couldn’t say a word without using his hands.  Content and now retired, he whispers more when he speaks.  Back in the day, the smell of fresh-cut grass and a sweaty locker room made him feel alive, and he’d rather watch game film than sleep.  He had spent almost 41 years drawing up plays and dusting the chalk off his hands, and he answered to the name of “coach.”  Some said he could spot talent from a moving car and his playbook may have had only two words on the cover, “Option Football.”  He felt naked without headphones, a whistle around his neck and a stop watch in his pocket.  As head man he could be calm inside of a hurricane, never raised his voice, and as positive as Phil Mickleson with a three-foot putt, uphill.  No one knew “veer” football like he did and he could turn an offense around faster than a Popsicle melts in August.  He was a teacher first and a master communicator second; you just trusted what he told you.  The old saying goes “There is no ‘I’ in team,” but there is one in WIN; and winning was what his teams did best.  So in July, he became lucky number seven, the seventh former Texas A&M Javelina to be inducted into the 2012 College Football Hall of Fame, and I can promise you there was no luck involved.  If someone gave you the ingredients to make a football coach, you would create Ron Harms.

Someone once said, “If you’re going to learn to cross-country ski, start with a small country.”  Head Coach Ron Harms was born on September 10, 1936.  If anyone was born a football coach, it was he.  After he had graduated from Valparaiso University in Indiana, Ron Harms began his teaching and coaching career at Lutheran East High School in Detroit, Michigan, as an assistant football coach.  He also coached the track and cross-country teams.  In 1962, after three years, he left to become the head football coach at Concordia College, located in Seward, Nebraska.  At 27 years of age, it was his first head-coaching job.  After six years, Harms left Concordia and headed to Alamosa, Colorado, to coach the Adams State Grizzlies.  In the spring of 1974, after four seasons there, Harms resigned as Adams State head football coach and went to Kingsville, Texas, to hopefully land a job on Gil Steinke’s staff.  Ron became the offensive coordinator during the 1974-75 seasons.  Then he was offered and accepted an assistant coach’s job with Head Coach Grant Teaff of the Baylor Bears.  Harms would spend the next three years in Waco, Texas, before heading back to Kingsville in 1979, to become their head football coach.

Harms’ induction into the 2012 College Football Hall of Fame allowed him to join legendary coach Gil Steinke, for whom Harms had worked in 1974-75, and five of his former players.  They are as follows:  Darrell Green, John Randle, Johnny Bailey, Dwayne Nix, and Richard Ritchie.  Both Randle and Green are also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “It’s an honor to be part of that group,” said Harms.  The enshrinement ceremony occurred on July 20-21, 2012, in South Bend, Indiana.

Coach Ron Harms spent 23 seasons at Texas A&I Kingsville (later to be called Texas A&M Kingsville), two as an offensive coordinator and 21 as the head coach and athletic director.  During his two seasons as offensive coordinator, A&I won 25 straight games and two NAIA Division I National Titles.  Beginning in 1979, as a head coach of the Javelinas, Ron Harms’ teams won 14 conference trophies including 11 Lone Star Conference titles.  Six of those championships came in a bunch from 1992-1997.  His overall record at Kingsville was 172-72.  Harms received five different “Coach of the Year” Awards during his tenure, including the NAIA National Coach of the Year.  He has also been inducted into the Lone Star Conference Hall of Honor and the Javelina Hall of Fame.  You have to respect excellence. 

I am proud to call Coach Harms a friend and I have made the 35-mile trip to Kingsville from Corpus Christi many Saturdays to watch his teams win.  It was like being in a pro locker room because many of his players would wind up in the NFL.  Some guys collect cars; this man collected football players.  Jorge Diaz, Kevin Dogins, Earl Dotson, Roberto Garza, Jermane Mayberry, Heath Sherman, Anthony Phillips, Johnny Bailey, Al Harris, John Randle, and Darrell Green are among the players I saw.  But there are more.  Names like Gene Upshaw, Randy Johnson, James Hill, Eldridge Smalls, Dwight Harrison, Ernest Price, and Don Hardeman made their way into the NFL ranks. 

What is it about the game of football that’s so consuming?  A game where the end results often lead to quarterbacks who can no longer raise their arm, linebackers who can’t bend over to tie their own shoes, and tackles who can’t get out of bed in the morning without the help of their wife.  Maybe it’s a reflection of America; man on man, brute strength against force, confidence against fear.  The game is played out on the biggest stages, televised nationally, in front of millions each week.  Maybe part of the attraction is that we have to wait a week in most cases, to experience the excitement of the game again.  “I enjoyed the sport itself, it was very intriguing to me,” said Harms.  It appeared that they grew NFL players down in Kingsville, Texas, as 46 athletes from this Division II School have played on Sundays.

Harms, at 77 years old, now spends his time with his wife, Marlene, three daughters, one son, and chasing around a slew of grandchildren.  He enjoys a swim now and again between rounds of golf and finds strength in his faith.  They live in Aransas Pass, Texas, a quiet community located on the Gulf of Mexico.

Harms served a year on the NCAA Football Rules Committee with my friend, Dotson Lewis.  “Harms always appeared logical and rarely spoke without thinking things through,” said Dotson. “He did a great job.” 

Ron Harms and Davis Flores co-wrote a book entitled The Whole Enchilada, a history lesson of forty-one years of walking the sidelines.  “I wrote it particularly for the fans of football, the Texas A&I Javelina fans,” said Harms. 

Gil Steinke always claimed that Ron Harms was a “breath of fresh air.”  I’ll say.  You can’t find another Ron Harms; you just have to be happy with the time he gave us.  Thanks Coach. 

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.