"Dad, you've always said Joe Louis was the best there ever was."
"Yeah, but he was young when Max fought him and Max could've won."
I didn't know what to say. In the mid-1950s Louis was regarded by many as having been in a class by himself. I mumbled something about telling Max what Dad had said, and Dad rose to the bait with even less diplomacy.
"Go ahead and tell him, I don't care. Hell, I could take him now, he's so old and fat."
I jumped up and as I headed for my bike in the garage I turned back and said, "O.K., we'll see who's the toughest. I'm going to Max's."
I was 50 yards down 17th Street when the startled looks on neighbors' faces caused me to turn around to see my father, still in his undershorts, sprinting after me.
"Stop, Timmy, stop!" came the prayerful bellow. "I didn't mean it!"
Dad caught up with me and said a few words that persuaded me to return home. About halfway back he mentioned something about not wanting to hurt Max. But I knew better. I caught the look of terror in Dad's eyes as he was racing after me. I knew then and there that even my young, athletic father wanted no part of the has-been heavyweight.
We've told the story countless times at Dad's expense in the nearly 30 years since that summer evening. He always laughs at the tale, but a shudder accompanies the laugh as he conjures up the vision of squaring off with Max. Actually I told Max the story a couple of years later and he roared at the thought of my dad running down the street after me in his underwear.
As the years rolled by and I became more mature, my enjoyment of the time spent with Max never waned. I can remember the feelings that came over me when I ventured into the den filled with trophies and framed photos. I can see the pictures of Max with Dempsey, Louis, Camera and all the rest. I can tell you exactly where they were placed on the wall. The most impressive item was a huge trophy awarded to Max when he won the heavyweight title. It stood atop a large TV set that was in a little alcove in the southwest corner of the room. The photos and the trophy, plus the ribbons, gloves and belts, made the room seem like a museum. The relics combined with my reverence for Max made me think that it was a sacred place.