In the spring of 1971 I was covering the IC4A Track Championships, and I needed to file a story early because my wife was pregnant and I'd promised to take her to dinner, her first time out of the house in a month. As I entered the stadium, sprinters were lining up for the 100. One guy caught my eye. He was wearing purple shades and a gray fedora, with a yellow bandanna around his neck. He was gabbing away to the guys in the lanes next to him. I thought I saw my story. "Please, God," I prayed, "make this guy fast."
Fast? He won by 10 yards. After the race I grabbed the kid, and we sat under a tree and talked. I asked him his name and he said, "Box Office Billy." He then filled my notebook with wild and improbable flights of fancy. I had my story, and my wife and I had a jolly dinner. Box Office Billy, the speedy freshman from P.M.C. Colleges was my hero.
Billy went on to have a long, fruitful NFL career—he was named the punt returner for the NFL's 75-year anniversary team. The problem was that his great nickname had been lost along the way. Box Office Billy was, of course. Billy (White Shoes) Johnson—a real stiff of a nickname. (I mean, Joe Namath had worn white shoes almost a decade before Billy did.) To me—and my wife—he was always Box Office Billy.