"Most coaches have an archetypal image of what an athlete should be," says Jim Ridlon, a fellow artist and former lacrosse teammate of Roy Jr.'s who went on to play safety for the Dallas Cowboys. "They want intelligence, sacrifice and commitment. But instead of trying to force a player into a stereotype, Roy tries to understand them and form a partnership. His father was the same way."
These days Roy Sr. frequently comes down at halftime to dispense patriarchal wisdom. "Win or lose," says his son, "he always has a little criticism."
Roy Jr. was eating dinner with his dad last Easter when he got the word that his team had been ranked No. 1 in the country—the first time ever. "Dad, we're Number One," he exulted.
The old man didn't even look up. "Uneasy rests the head that wears a crown," he said.
But Roy Sr. no longer wears his Syracuse baseball cap to games. He cost the lacrosse team a technical a few years ago for berating a ref. "I'm just a spectator!" he bellowed. The official pointed to the insignia on his cap. Simmons now comes to games in an unmarked hat.
He still has a reputation for irascibility. "He gets awfully excited," corrects his wife, Thelma, "but he's not really irascible. I've lived with him for 56 years, so I know."
Roy Sr. is remarkably full of energy and packed with an endless supply of stories, which he tells more or less nonstop for hours, pausing in his Naugahyde La-Z-Boy only long enough to fill his pipe with Blend Eleven Aromatic tobacco. He spices his anecdotes with a gentle profanity.
He'll tell you about the time his football coach at Syracuse slightly deflated some of the balls so that Maryland's punter would have a bad day; how he used to enforce curfew as assistant football coach by prowling the dorm halls with Candy, his German shepherd; and about his rousing gridiron speech at the half of Syracuse's game with West Virginia in 1955. Syracuse was behind 13-7. Before the players had time to take off their helmets, Simmons jumped up on a table and became so animated he leaped for a pipe and pulled down the sprinkler system. "It was just an act to get them excited," he says. "By the time I finished, they were so fired up, a brick wall couldn't stop them."
When Syracuse left the locker room, the West Virginia band was still on the field. "We've got to beat this team," he told his squad, "and let's start with the band." So the players plowed through the horn section and over West Virginia by a 20-13 score.
Simmons remembers loaning Jim Brown to the track coach before a crucial lacrosse game with unbeaten Army in '57. Brown was only supposed to compete in the high jump, but by the time Simmons caught up with him, Brown had won the high jump, broad jump and 100-yard dash, and finished second in the javelin. "They would've put him in the damn pole vault if I hadn't interceded," he huffs.