When Blinn College gave me my football letter sweater 28 years after I won it, I never thought it was going to cause me so much trouble. If I had, I guarantee you I would have turned it down.
Like all old athletes, I get stronger and faster in memory every year. And I will admit that I might have stretched a point or two in the past when telling about some incidents in my athletic career. Every once in a while I've been a little slippery about just how good I was. Nothing overt, but occasionally I've let fall remarks like, "Yeah, I doubled in the ninth inning and a couple of runners got home, which was all we needed." Or, "I was running the third leg of the mile relay and when I got the baton we weren't but 10 yards down so that wasn't that much distance to make up."
Well, they say all chickens come home to roost and mine finally came home when Blinn College gave me my letter sweater two years ago. I'd been semilying about my athletic prowess all through my middle age, but I did have one truth I was proud of.
And I'll be danged if that wasn't the one I got accused of lying about.
Blinn is a small junior college in Brenham, Texas. It's known for its good-looking girls and the high caliber of education it tries to impart. I'd played there in 1953, as an offensive end and a defensive halfback. We weren't any big deal; we had a following of about nine people, six of whom were related to the players. But anytime you're playing college football and you stick your head in a Riddell and pull up your socks, you better not walk out on that field unless you're ready to have the lunch knocked out of you.
I started all eight games for Blinn that season but left before the year was out to answer my country's call and help out the Air Force. Consequently, I wasn't there for the awards banquet and didn't get my letter sweater.
Well, I guess Blinn could have handled the guilt of having one of its ex-athletes running around without his letter sweater, but it happened that I had occasion to take a couple of high school football players up there for a tryout and I got to talking to the present coach, Ben Boehnke, and I sort of mentioned that I'd done a pretty good job for them and I'd never even seen a thread off a letter sweater.
The reason I wanted that letter sweater so bad was that I'd scored the winning touchdown—the only touchdown of my college career—against Victoria Junior College, and I was proud of it.
And that's the story I got accused of distorting at the letter sweater ceremony, in the office of Blinn President James Atkinson. I got to admit they done it up grand. Lord, they had everybody there—press, photographers, everybody.