After several years of hearing the various Todt bon mots, of auditioning his Bogey and his Benny—"Now cut that out"—I found it hard to believe that an intelligent man in his 40s could possibly be that serious about Brodie. True, I had received messages from him on JBFCNC stationery, but that seemed simply part of the running gag.
Then one day I was invited to the Todt home to watch a 49er out-of-town game on television. Todt himself answered the door. He was wearing a 49er helmet and a red No. 12 jersey, Brodie's number. The costume was only peripherally intended to amuse It helped Todt get in a proper frame of mind—insane—for the game. Lord, how that man suffered as his hero would first engineer a masterful drive into enemy territory, then toss the interception that terminated it. "John, John, John..." Todt moaned at the television screen. He nearly wept when the game ended unfavorably for the home team—if memory serves, on a Brodie interception. There was no more questioning his devotion. I felt like someone who had debunked Bernadette.
Somewhat later, I attended a game at Kezar Stadium with Todt, his wife Judy and some of their friends. The day began, as every 49er game began for them, in a neighborhood bar, where Todt exchanged japes and wagers with other regulars. The entire party was eventually loaded—and that is the word—aboard a rented bus for the trip to Golden Gate Park and the dilapidated stadium.
Most of the fans in the Todts' section had been season ticket-holders for many years. They had come to know each other well. Still, the Todts were celebrities. "Here comes big No. 12," someone shouted as Todt, mounting the steps, smiled and raised a hand in a V signal. The bench seats in old Kezar were built for a slenderer generation of football watchers so that when the crowd exceeded 50,000 the fans were closely packed. Contiguity can breed contempt, and Todt and his seatmates were soon involved in a surprisingly hostile debate on the relative merits of Brodie and his rookie heir apparent, Steve Spurrier.
Todt nevertheless maintained his composure under fire. Mrs. Todt was experiencing a somewhat stiffer struggle with her own self-restraint. Finally, when the gentleman seated in front of Todt taunted him, in terms Mrs. Todt regarded as unconscionably personal, on a misfired Brodie pass, she shook the bottle of champagne she had been enjoying and directed the contents at the face of her husband's tormentor. The ensuing melee was typical of a Sunday afternoon in Kezar in those years of high passion. There were no arrests and only a few minor injuries.
One question remained: Had Todt ever met his idol, his John, face-to-face? I approached him on this matter one evening at a bar where he was then employed. Todt had just finished informing an astonished woman sitting next to me that "Yes, Angel, I'm gonna send you over," but he answered me in the unfamiliar voice of James S. Todt.
"Yes, I did meet John not long ago. It was in the steam room of the Ambassador Health Club. We were both naked as jaybirds, mind you. A mutual friend told John, "Now here's a guy you just gotta meet.' John knew all about the fan club and about the trouble I usually get into because of it so he didn't say anything at first. He just looked me up and down. Then he said, 'Jim, I thought you'd look much different.' Different? I was afraid he was gonna say something like, 'I thought you'd be a much younger, thinner, better-looking guy.' 'Different in what way?' I asked. 'Well,' he said, 'I thought you'd have bruises all over your body.' "
It was a start, as Rick advised Louis that eventful night at the Casablanca airport, "of a beautiful friendship."
In the 1954-55 season there were eight blacks in the entire National Basketball Association. The league is now more than 60% black and five of the 18 head coaches are black. The average annual salary in the NBA is $90,000 and 25% of the players make more than $100,000.
Very few professional athletes become part of the community where they play. Nate Thurmond, when he was the center for the Warriors, did become part of San Francisco. He was seen everywhere—in the bars and restaurants, at banquets and parties, at baseball and football games. Almost no one saw Willie Mays in public, but Thurmond got around. He was single, and he lived in the city, not in some remote, self-contained suburb. He owned a restaurant in town and he was a fixture there. One day a spurned girlfriend of his deliberately crashed one of his two expensive automobiles directly into the other while it was parked in front of the restaurant. Thurmond watched the disaster from the doorway.