Any Southern sportswriter on the north side of 60 years of age will attest the greatest of all annual events didn’t have a scoreboard and didn’t have fans. It was the Southeastern Conference Basketball Media Days.
We’d have all bought a ticket to attend, maybe paid our own way, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, such was the rich gathering of coaches. When it came to finding material for a column, it just seemed to pour from the heavens. And the entertainment was relentless.
There was Sonny Smith from Auburn, bemoaning that one of his Tigers “couldn’t play dead in a cowboy movie.” There was Alabama’s Wimp Sanderson, happily grousing about something or other.
There was Ed Murphy from Ole Miss, a massive human being who informed us that “I’ve got to drive to the state line and stand on the truck scales to weigh myself.” There was Hugh Durham from Georgia, with a sharp needle looking for inflated egos to burst. C.M. Newton at Vanderbilt had a dry wit. It was C.M., after all, who once said he flew in the rear of the team plane “because whoever heard of a plane going tail-first into a mountain.”
And there was Dale Brown from LSU. After Brown finished speaking at SEC Media Days, you weren’t sure if you should write a column praising him, write a column questioning his sanity or just pass around an offering plate and greet your neighbor. He was combination John Wooden and tent preacher and Dale Carnegie and late-night talk-show host. He was LSU’s coach in a great basketball heyday, especially in the days of Shaquille O’Neal. (A mind-boggler for you: One could make the case that Shaq was only the fourth best player in LSU history, behind Pete Maravich, Bob Pettit and the otherworldly Chris Jackson.)
To see Dale on TV the other night as LSU finally got around to naming its court in his honor, and to read my friend Ron Higgins’ story on Brown, brought back one particular meeting.
I was sports editor of The Anniston Star when Dale flew in to speak to the Anniston Quarterback Club. It was a typical Dale night. Full of inspiration, great stories, hilarity and outspokenness.
A little before midnight, my home phone rang. It was Dale. He had just landed in Baton Rouge. “I need a favor,” he asked.
During the speech, he was critical of the arrangement at Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym, where the team benches were in the end zone.
“I promised Roy Kramer (SEC Commissioner and a former Vandy AD) that I wouldn’t say anything else about it in public, and he was going to make sure it got changed. So I’d appreciate it if you didn’t print anything about that,” Brown said. “Then when Coach Kramer gets it straightened out, I’m going to call you before anybody else and you’ll get the national scoop.”
I told him that he had provided so much other material that the Vandy comment didn’t make it into the story, and I wished him luck and looked forward to seeing him again soon.
That was 1991.
The benches at Vanderbilt are still in the end zones. I’m still waiting for the news to break.
But Dale Brown’s name is finally on the court at LSU. And that’s good news.