Condredge and Me: 2 Great No. 7′s

barry currin, beaverdamusa.comIf you grew up loving football, you undoubtedly remember the player who was your first hero.

Condredge Holloway was mine.

Condredge started at quarterback for Tennessee from 1972-74. I was 8 when he took his first snap. I would listen to the games on Saturday with Daddy, then watch the replay on the Bill Battle Show on Sunday. Of course, the video didn’t paint the picture any better than John Ward’s radio call of the games, but that is a story for another day.

My most vivid memories of Condredge would be seeing him emerge from a scrum of players, breaking tackles as only he could with his tear-away jersey flopping in the breeze.

I loved to watch him play football, even before I was old enough to know what was really going on. But that didn’t make any difference at the time. I was a fan. For Christmas one year, I got a football uniform from Sears & Roebuck. It was a Cleveland Browns uniform because orange is the Browns’ primary color. That was back in the day before you could buy college-branded uniforms, so the Browns were as close as my parents could get to a Tennessee uniform. (I wonder if Jimmy Haslam bought the Browns because they wear orange? If he did, I can relate.) My jersey didn’t have a number, so Mama sewed a big white No. 7 on the front and the back.

Condredge dazzled Tennessee fans every Saturday, either in Neyland Stadium or on the road, while I dazzled passing cars in my front yard. Two No. 7′s with the same wildly-successful result. Condredge could run, scramble and throw. So could I. And incidentally, I could punt and kickoff as well.

I’m only joking about the punting. I never had to punt.

The grandmother of one of my friends at the time worked with Condredge’s mother in his hometown of Huntsville, Ala., which is a half-hour away from Ardmore, Tenn., where I grew up. I thought that was the coolest thing. Knowing someone who knew Condredge’s family gave me a connection that made me want to put on that homemade No. 7 jersey even more.

I probably didn’t realize – or didn’t notice — at the time Condredge was the first African-American quarterback to start in the Southeastern Conference. To this day I admire Tennessee for giving him that chance –even more than I did then when I was 8 and didn’t understand the historical significance of it. Times were different then, hopefully a lot different. Any time Condredge’s name was mentioned in the early ’70s, kids on the playground who weren’t UT fans would always bring up the subject of race. I don’t remember specifics, but it was never flattering. I would become livid. I wanted to punch them, but I knew Condredge wouldn’t want me punching them, so I didn’t.

I met Condredge a few years back during a UT meet-and-greet at the Cleveland, Tenn., Country Club. I tried to tell him the Cleveland Browns uniform story, but I don’t think I got much of it out of my mouth. I pretty much pulled the same stunt more recently when I met another UT quarterback, which I explained here in a previous column.

This weekend, countless numbers of children all across America will fall in love with a player in a uniform who is still a kid himself. They will emulate him on and off the field. Hopefully, there a few Condredge Holloways out there.

QB Dobbs helps me Remember Apollo 11

dam thoughts, barry currin, beaverdamusa.comA couple of nights ago, University of Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs reminded his twitter followers that July 16 marked the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch which landed the first man on the moon.

I follow a few athletes on twitter, and they usually tweet about sports, food or girls. They never tweet about historic scientific milestones.

If you are a Tennessee fan, however — or if you follow college football in general — you already know this not out of character for Joshua, who is majoring in aerospace engineering.

The media has made a big deal out of UT’s rocket scientist quarterback. People enjoy a story like this; and, it makes them appreciate Joshua for more than just a football player.

For me, though, it goes a bit deeper.

I have always been a great fan of the US space program. My father worked at NASA for 25 years. He was not a rocket scientist, but his involvement influenced my appreciation for space exploration from an early age.

And the most important milestone in that appreciation was the Apollo 11 launch. That’s because I saw it in person. I was 5, and I remember it like it was yesterday.

Outfitted with a brand new little Panama hat and a new pair of green plastic sunglasses, I jumped in the cavernous backseat of the ’69 Catalina, and we headed toward Cocoa Beach. (I still think whoever named Cocoa Beach must have had a 5-year-old, because to me it still sounds like the happiest place on earth.)

The morning of the launch, we got up way before dawn and boarded a school bus shuttle from the hotel that would take us to Cape Canaveral. It was already hot that morning, and the bus was packed, making it even hotter.

The trip seemed infinite, but we finally joined a throng of people at a NASA employee area to watch the liftoff. The big countdown clock said we were still two hours away from launch to the best of my recollection.

About a mile away, across a big body of water, we could see the Saturn V rocket as it sat on the launch pad. It looked like a toothpick. The heat rising rising off the water made it seem to quiver.

After an eternity, the countdown got to single digits. Smoke erupted from the launch pad and engulfed the rocket for a few seconds before it rose slowly and majestically, taking three brave men on what is still the most famous journey of all journeys.

And then that rocket — so distant a few seconds before – seemed to fly directly over our heads. I could plainly see the American flag and USA painted vertically on the fuselage as a giant fireball pushed it into the blue sky.

The noise from the engines sounded like someone lit the fuse on the world’s largest firecracker pack, threw it in a metal bucket then stuck my head in there with it.

It was big stuff for a 5-year-old. Heck, it was big stuff for everybody.

A few days later, we watched the landing on my grandmother’s black and white TV. Even the stoic, seasoned Walter Cronkite was overcome with emotion when he heard, “The Eagle has landed.”

So on this 45th anniversary, my hat is off to everyone who made that day a reality — from President Kennedy’s challenge 8 years prior all the way down to every NASA employee who helped.

And my hat is off also to Joshua Dobbs for that tweet reminding me to remember.

(Here is a compilation of the mission from CBS News. You must watch it:)

Meeting Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning is one of my idols. I realize that puts me on the bandwagon with about a million people. But over the summer, I had the opportunity to meet him.

No sweat. Or so I thought.

Peyton Manning
“It’s a please-ure to meet you.” Caught on film.

We were invited for an informal scholarship award ceremony inside the Peyton Manning Locker Complex in Neyland Stadium . (And after you finish this, you can read about that at here if you want to.) About 5 minutes before the event started, I realized I had left my camera back in the car. At UT every street is a hill, and parking is always sparse and far away. So I walked — well, trotted — 79 blocks back to the car and got the camera. On my way back, I had worked myself into a tizzy thinking the thing was probably already over, and His Manning-ness was back on a plane to Denver. So I turned that trot into a full-on sprint.

I had on an orange shirt; this is pertinent because orange is the color that hates moisture the most. Sweat sends orange into a fiery rage. When I got back, I was afraid to look down for fear that I was dripping orange sweat like a giant melting Creamsicle. Thank God I only bleed orange.

Peyton entered the room like any normal person would — shaking hands and making small talk from person to person. When he got to me, I wanted so desperately to be cool. But instead, I stood this awkward distance of probably 42 inches away from him. To reach his hand I had to contort into this awkward bow, like I was welcoming him to a traditional tea ceremony, or something.

It gets worse.

When he said, “Hi, I’m Peyton Manning,” I responded:

“It’s a please-ure to meet you.”

“Please-ure” rhymes with seizure, which is what I thought I was going to have in that one nano-second when the language that I have been speaking pretty dang effortlessly for nearly 50 years completely left my brain. Goo-goo, gah-gah, blah-blah, blah. Each of my teeth was suddenly wearing  a little sock.

Please-ure.

I’m a little surprised I didn’t tack on “wouldn’t want to be ya” just for good measure.

Thank God he didn’t ask me my name.

Instead I think he gave me a look like he does when he misses on 3rd and 8. You know: smirking, ripping the chin strap, slightly shaking his head, looking disgustedly at the Jumbo-tron replay, devising how to keep it from happening again.

Shortly, though, I was able to string together a few short sentences. Call it adjusting to the speed of the game, as rookie football players say. And after a few minutes, he escorted our group out onto Shields-Watkins field, and I saw him look up at the 100,000 seats. I watched him take it all in. I truly think he was back in orange for a moment, with Rocky Top blaring and the beaten-down opponent slumping back to the visitors’ locker room.

He truly seemed glad to be there — humbled, and maybe even a little awestruck at the whole spectacle.

Maybe it was a please-ure for him to be back. I hope so.

What we Learned in Week 1

What we learned from Week 1 in the 2013 college football season.

  1. Georgia lost their biggest playmaker for the season in Malcolm Mitchell when he reinjured his knee air bumping with Todd Gurley after a Bulldog touchdown. That’s incredible bad luck for Mark Richt’s team who put themselves precariously behind the 8-ball already after losing to Clemson. At least for a while, we don’t have to worry about the Bulldogs doing much celebrating on defense after giving up 38 to Clemson. Which leads us to…
  2. Steve Spurrier surely cannot wait for Saturday to invade Athens to turn up the heat on Mark Richt’s seat. Odds makers are calling this one a virtual toss-up. And for sure it’s the marquee game of the week if not the year. Listen to SEC Pigskin Picks this week to get our prediction for the winner. Of course, it’ll be a slam dunk. Which leads us to…
  3. Basketball is right around the corner, which is a good thing if you’re a Kentucky fan. Last year the Cats could only muster 2 wins. Their 2013 campaign opener proved they probably won’t outpace that this year with a loss to Wild Man Bobby Petrino’s Western Kentucky team. Which leads us to…
  4. Give Butch Jones’ Tennessee Vols an A for effort in their shutout of outmanned Austin Peay. But the playmakers in Knoxville are few. True, games are won up front, and the Vols have that covered on both sides, but big names at the skilled positions are yet to emerge. You won’t hear it publically, but anything less than a 3-touchdown win over WKU Saturday will be a sad statement on the 2013 Vols. Which leads us to…
  5. Johnny Football. ‘Nuff said, right? He has drawn the ire of every college football talking head on TV as well as fans across the nation. And he’s even alienated some of his own faithful after a horribly childish and ill-conceived performance on Saturday. Besides his “show me the money” and “air autographing” gestures after Aggie TDs, he snubbed Kevin Sumlin after  the coach benched him for unsportsmanlike conduct. Sumlin later called the penalty “foolish.” We say Sumlin is foolish if he doesn’t take care of the Manziel Problem immediately. On Saturday, we’ll either see two fools or zero.

The SEC East in 2 minutes…

  1. Georgia will not be denied another shot at ‘Bama in the SEC Championship game, and they know they have to pretty much run the table to get the opportunity. And that’s exactly what they will do. With Aaron Murray pulling the trigger and sophomore Todd Gurley steamrolling the ball downhill, look for Uga to be smiling until December.
  2. A Steve Spurrier team always has more answers than questions. They’re ranked #6 pre-season, but I’m concerned about Connor Shaw behind center. He’s talented, but Steve can push a QB a bit hard sometimes. And coming from me, that’s a statement! On the other side of the ball, though, Jadeveon Clowney & Co., are going to cause misery every Saturday. Not much is going to get past the Gamecock defense.
  3. The Florida Gators took everybody by surprise last year posting a 7-1 conference record. This year, though they will begin the season with QB Jeff Driskel as their most accomplished rusher. That’s a scary thought – especially without a proven backup. Tailback Matt Jones continues to recover from a viral infection, and Mike Gillislee is gone. The other backs are unproven. On defense, the early NFL departure of 3 Gator starters didn’t help things either.
  4. Question: Who’s the most popular coach never to win a game? Answer: New Tennessee coach Butch Jones. The folks on Rocky Top are ecstatic about having someone to make them forget the Kiffin-Dooley one-two punch. The talent simply isn’t there for the Vols yet, but look for them to win the ones they should, plus one they shouldn’t.
  5. The biggest question to Vanderbilt’s season right now is how their horrific off-season problems will affect their performance on the field. Just this past week, receiver Chris Boyd was charged as an accessory after the fact in the alleged rape of an unconscious female Vandy student. It will be interesting to see how James Franklin handles the situation, especially as long as police say the investigation is continuing. And let’s make sure and remember the alleged victim here, as her life was changed forever.
  6. Missouri isn’t ready to compete yet.
  7. Kentucky made a great hire in Mark Stoops, but the talent isn’t there. But it’s coming. Guaranteed.
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