Sports banquets, however, may be his strong suit. His interest in sports and recreation goes way back, after all, to his boyhood in East Fork (Route 4, Liberty), Amite County, Miss, during the Depression.
"The main thing we done to entertain ourselves in those days," he recalls, "was work. We was so poor that when Mama would make up some flour gravy, whatever was extra she'd can it. Every seventh jar she'd put some black pepper in, and that was for Sunday.
"But we had lots of sports and social functions: candy pullings, log rollings, coon hunts and rat killings. You ain't lived till you been to a rat killing. All of us would get sticks and go down to the barn. We'd move the corn and then we'd whop the rats. Even now, I advocate everybody killing their own rats. I think they'd enjoy it.
"We'd hunt rabbits. Have peanut boilings. Corncob wars—our friend Marcell Ledbetter'd say he was Hitler, and me and my brother Sonny'd invade him. We didn't sit there and talk about being poor, we didn't send for any Federal Government recreational director to teach us dumb games and pour a Pepsi-Cola for us. We'd make us a flying jenny, or make us a cart—hook up a goat to a wagon. We rid bull yearlings one evening and climbed pine trees the next. We'd go down to the swimming hole and play gator—gator was tag."
But they couldn't do what Jerry and his brother Sonny wanted to do most—play football. East Fork Consolidated High School was too small to afford a team. So the Clower boys had to content themselves with "kicking a Pet milk can at recess in the middle of the gravel road" and listening to some games on the radio.
"We'd have to put that old battery radio down in front of the fire till it got hot, then snatch it away and run plug it in the wall, and it would play till it cooled off. One time we listened to Notre Dame and Army playing, and I said 'God Almighty, listen to all that yelling. Must be a thousand people there.' Well, little did we know it was a hundred and three thousand." And little did he know that one day he would be yelled at in major-college stadiums himself.
He might never have been if it had not been for Pearl Harbor. Clower says that his sentiments when the nation was attacked were as follows: "I hear tell, if Hitler and Tojo win the war they're gonna make us quit having dinner on the ground at East Fork church. And we like that. And you know when we gonna quit having dinner there? When somebody is physically strong enough to come down here and whip us and make us quit." The Clower brothers joined the Navy and did such a good job of helping to straighten out Hitler and Tojo that Sonny made the Navy his career, and Jerry felt up to taking on whatever good-sized college man might be placed in front of him in a game of football. "I didn't know a three-point stance from a swan dive," he says, "but when I came back to East Fork with a duffel bag over one shoulder and a Japanese rifle over the other I said, 'Mama, I'm goin' to pursue my life's ambition!' "
The gridiron career that ensued did not strike many observers as an intensely dramatic one. It struck Clower himself that way, however, and it grows more and more vivid the longer he tells about it—on his records, from touchdown-club rostrums and from behind the wheel of his black Buick as he drives between engagements and fills the whole story out for an interviewer.
"When I walked onto the campus of Southwest Mississippi Junior College in Summit, Miss. I was six feet tall and weighed 214 pounds. And in them days that was big. And as soon as I saw some people, I said, 'I'M LOOKIN' FOR THE FOOTBALL COACH!' They took me to his office and the coach jumped up and said, 'Son, I'll give you a half scholarship just looking at you. Tell me quick, what position is it that you play?'
"Well all I knew to say was, 'I am the man what runs with the football.'