Tell me the story of you and James Otis and Brother Smitherman.
This goes waaaaay back! When I started working for James Otis’ dad back in 1961, Ottie (his nickname) and I were always ‘prankin’ one another. I won’t go into all the practical jokes that he and I and his brother Billy played over the years. Just suffice it to say there were a bunch of em!
The Smitherman story had its roots in the passion James Otis had seen in me during football season of your brother Ben’s senior year, 1984-85. That group of boys had shown a lot of athletic potential throughout their years in school and had a whole group of dads who were reliving their own childhood dreams through their sons. Their first football game was against Willis, and the score was tied at the end of the game (something like 7 to 7). Several of us dads were watching their practice the following Monday afternoon and very frustrated because the boys were just kinda ho-hum about the whole thing…(well at least we didn’t lose)…but all of us dads had been coached by coaches who taught us that a tie ball game was equivalent to ‘kissing your sister’! There were several of us involved in this discussion, but the three more vocal ones were myself, John Hardy, and Dickie Westmoreland (R.I.P.). As we talked, we all agreed that Coach Harper and his crew were good coaches, but just didn’t know our boys like we did…and what it would take to get them fired up and keep them fired up!
I was chosen to be the one to talk to coach Harper and tell him that we weren’t wanting to coach the boys but, “Would there be any way he would let us dads meet with the boys on ‘game day’ to give them our version of a motivational speech?” With the full assurance that we weren’t wanting to coach (just inspire them), he graciously consented.
On ‘away games’, the team would usually eat at the Corral Cafe before loading up on the team bus and heading out for the game. We were to be allowed about 15 minutes in this ‘dads experiment,’ and the dad chosen to be our first speaker was Jerry Cole. The choice turned out to be perfect, because Jerry had played college football and pro ball with the Houston Oilers. His theme was drawn from something one of his coaches had used to motivate him. Here it is: “If you had two equal teams playing tug-a-war…eleven on each team, equal in strength, everything totally equal…BUT…if ONE man lets go of his part if the rope, the other side would win!
That night, we went to play Cleveland. In the last quarter with the score tied, something was born that carried that group of boys all the way to the state championship playoffs. The crowd began to chant with one voice, “Hold that rope! Hold that rope!” Long story short, every man did his part holding that rope, and with just about 14 seconds left on the clock, Asa Bennett kicked a field goal which WON the ball game! No tie that night! Our boys not only learned a tremendous life lesson that night, they started one of the neatest journeys on which a group of dads and their sons have ever traveled!!
Every week, I had the responsibility of choosing a different one of the dads to be the ” motivator” for that particular week! All the coaches and even the whole town got ‘pumped’ over what was happening with that football team!
James Otis knew how much fun all of us were having that football season, so he took it upon himself to pull the ULTIMATE practical joke on his old friend, Lanier Stevens! We were in about the second or third round of the playoffs and were scheduled to play one of the Lufkin teams on Friday night. On Tuesday evening, the phone rang at our house, and I answered it. I’ll try to give you my best recollection of that conversation:
“Mr Stevens, I’m calling from Abilene, Texas and our daughters have become great friends out here in college. Have you heard Karen speak of my daughter? (You hate to say, fella, I don’t have a clue who you’re talking about, because he spoke of their friendship in such glowing terms!) So, I kinda grunted along with uh-huhs and yeahs, waiting to see what this urgent phone call was all about. He continued, “Brother Stevens, we’re in a real bind. You know, my daughter’s getting married Friday night, and the preacher who’s supposed to perform the ceremony is critically ill in the hospital. My daughter thought since she and Karen are such good friends, that you might come and marry her! Cause she doesn’t want just “anybody” to do it. She wanted it to be someone ‘special’, and since she and Karen are such good friends, she asked me if I would call you!”
My heart goes out to this man! JAMES OTIS HAS ME!
But, wait a minute…I’ve got a playoff game in Lufkin on Friday night! How do I tell this man (whose daughter is such good friends with MY precious daughter) that I can’t marry his daughter because of a football game!
Then, in one of my typical brilliant moves…knowing that Church of Christ preachers are ‘a dime a dozen’ in Abilene, and that I might help them make a substitution, I said, “What’s the preacher’s name?” To which he quickly replied, “His name is Brother Smitherman. Do you know him?” Call it coincidence or whatever, when PawPaw was preaching in Orange, Texas, there was a preacher at a church in Port Arthur named Brother Smitherman. So I said, “Well, I have known some Smithermans!”
Well, James Otis almost lost it when I said that ….and ever since that phone call, my nickname has been, “Brother Smitherman!” ,,,and that was just the beginning!
It’s 4 in the morning….I’ll finish some of the other chapters at a later date! :-)). Pop