Head Bowed, he sits in a Casino coffee shop in Las Vegas, oblivious of a keno game going on across the way, struggling to get through his lunch, when the fifth autograph seeker in the past two minutes approaches, a florid-faced, white-haired man with an accent that announces he is Boston Irish. "So how're they hanging, Floyd?" the man asks. "Any luck at the tables? What've you been doing with yourself?"
One waits for Floyd Patterson to bolt. The old Patterson, a moody, suspicious and withdrawn man, saw slights nearly everywhere. But this Patterson, seemingly dazed, is a slouching 57-year-old who, to his garrulous questioner, may or may not be—you can see the wheels of the ruddy man spinning in search of the truth—one more hard-luck Vegas story, one more ex-fighter turned melancholy player, struggling to stay solvent for another 24 hours.
"What're you doing with yourself, Floyd?" the white-haired man repeats. "How are ya?"
"Great," Patterson finally says, signing an autograph. Then, in a surprising torrent of speech, he brings the man up to date on his life. Patterson reports that all is well on his 17-acre spread in New Paltz, N.Y.; that he enjoys the dual challenges of being a fight trainer and a part-time Eucharistic minister for his Catholic parish; that his adopted son, Tracy, has a WBC junior featherweight title fight approaching on June 23; and that he is currently in Las Vegas to train heavyweight Razor Ruddock for a bout with journeyman Greg Page.
"Ah. Doing all that, huh?" Palpable relief shines in the fan's blue eyes. "Ruddock gonna get any better, Floyd?"
"He's got a lot to learn...but, hey, he's strong. That jab is as powerful as Lis...."
The voice trails off. Lis....
"Liston?" the fan gently prods.
"Uh-huh, yes." While Patterson utters "Sonny Liston" easily in private, a public setting can leave the conqueror's name twitching thickly on his tongue. The name resurrects memories of Patterson's two ignominious one-round defeats by Liston, the sneering faces on press row, the fake beard and mustache that Patterson wore while fleeing in shame from Comiskey Park and Chicago.
"A lot of people don't understand my father," Tracy Patterson, 27, says. "They think that because he goes quiet on them, he's staying a distance away from people, but it's the opposite. He's sensitive. I mean, real sensitive. He gets afraid before my fights. When things don't go good for people he knows, he gets upset. I think it reminds him of when things didn't go good for him. The first thing he thinks of is, I gotta talk to that guy."