How did that work?
Simmons puts up his dukes in a slightly askew boxing pose.
"It just worked!"
He has been at Syracuse ever since. He became known as the Hobo Quarterback and is famous for leading the 1923 squad that beat Nebraska the year the Cornhuskers were the only team to lower the boom on Notre Dame and their Four Horsemen. He was coach of Syracuse's lacrosse team for nearly four decades and backfield coach of the university's national championship football team in '59. He's so revered in Syracuse that in 1958 he was elected president of the Common Council, the legislative body of the city, and served 12 years.
Simmons also coached boxing at Syracuse, and as an outgrowth of that, he came to call his son Slugger. A boxer himself, he started the team as an undergraduate, molded it and guided it to an NCAA championship in 1936. Understandably, the son has reservations about the nickname. "It's pretty tough when you go to a bar and someone you know says, 'Hi, Slugger,' and then some tough guy shouts, 'What'd he call you?' I just say, 'Oh, I was a baseball player.' "
Slugger is as much suffering artist as demanding athletic coach. He's a sculptor whose works have been exhibited in galleries from New York City to Los Angeles. "My goal was to be represented in the Museum of Modern Art and win a national title," he says. "To be honest, I thought I'd get in the Museum of Modern Art first."
When Slugger takes his players on a road trip, he sometimes pulls them off the bus to spend an hour in an art gallery or museum. Both father and son have a reputation for being sensitive to their players. And the son can be downright sentimental. He keeps a 67-year-old Oneida stickmaker named Eli Cornelius on the bench mostly because Cornelius likes to watch the games. Roy Jr. learned to play box lacrosse on the Onondaga reservation five miles south of Syracuse, although he isn't too sentimental about that. He remembers the Indian women spitting at him through the chicken wire enclosing the lacrosse box.
"One day an Indian sage pulled me aside," he recalls. "He explained that the Indians spit on you only if you're a good player and feared by the other team. The time to get upset is when they don't spit on you. After that, I used to lean by the side of the boards and hope they'd spit on me."
Roy Jr. grew up in the shadow of the gym and absorbed lacrosse as the mascot of his dad's teams. He picked up sculpture early, too. "Slugger and I would be out hunting, and he'd find a piece of wire or get out his jackknife and start carving wood and creating things," says Roy Sr. "Little did I think he'd become an artist."
Apparently, Roy Jr. didn't see himself as an artist, either. He wanted to become a veterinarian but wound up majoring in fine arts. Today, his studio is a converted chicken coop in back of his house in the Syracuse suburb of Fayetteville. There he makes collages, assemblages and constructions, tiny attics bundled up with discarded objects and serendipitous materials: canceled stamps, old marbles, strips of fabric, dolls' heads, fragments of toys, shooting gallery figures. He doesn't entitle his works. He says he doesn't want to "intellectualize" them.