- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Don's brother George says, "Winning that gold medal has done him damage. He just keeps going around saying, 'Hey, I'm a gold-medal winner.' There are more important things in life." Clearly, Bragg wants to be a celebrity, but he is widely ignored; he wants to be remembered as a star, but many have forgotten. He continually introduces himself as "Don Bragg Olympic Champion." There is no comma. Most people have two names; Bragg has four.
In 1960, Bragg was a household name, the incredible hulk from Villanova. Before that, he was somebody from the other side of the tracks in Penns Grove, N.J. The family lot was adjacent to the Cabbage Patch, an area of Penns Grove inhabited by transitory indigents. Don's father had ulcers and could drink no alcohol. Finally, the ulcers got so bad he had to have an operation. It was a success. He could drink. At which time the old man became an alcoholic.
Bragg's life is full of excesses, too, outrageous excesses. "We are taught that you need to be constant, not hypocritical," he muses. "Who says? And we are taught that there is one God. Who says? Maybe there's a Board of Trustees."
Two decades ago, Bragg—he of the phenomenal physique—was certain he was going to get to play Tarzan in the movies. So was everybody else. He and his wife, Terry, lived the legend, going to bed at night wearing leopard-skin nightshirts. But Tarzan he never was. Richards calls the slight "a crying shame. He could swing from trees and had such a great Tarzan yell." Muhammad Ali, another gold medalist in Rome, says, "Don had real talent. He was a little heavy but a good athlete. I thought he would have made such a good Tarzan." To this day Bragg persists in signing autographs "(Tarzan) Don Bragg."
"I hate to say it, but everything since 1960 has been downhill," Bragg declares. "That's a fact that exists. To be obsessed by a goal, then go get it, what can top that?" When he asked Terry to marry him after the Olympics, he said, "I've accomplished what I wanted to in life. We might as well get married."
Past accomplishments but brought the cheer
Oddly, Bragg is now having the biggest success—since Rome, of course—as athletic director at tiny Stockton State College in Pomona, N.J., eight miles west of Atlantic City. What has happened is that because of Bragg the school has developed an enormously successful intramural sports program. Of the 3,800 students, more than 1,000 are engaged in intramurals. There are 26 flag-football teams in the fall, with 25 players each, and this spring more than 50 softball teams, with 12 players each. At many schools, intramurals mean throwing a ball out, blowing a whistle and hoping some students are around and interested enough to take it from there.
Not so at Stockton, which is situated in the scrub pine forests of South Jersey. It is the area treated by John McPhee in his book The Pine Barrens, in which he says that most other Jersey people think of the Pineys as people who live in caves and intermarry. McPhee writes of a Piney couple "who took a wheelbarrow with them when they went out drinking, so that one could wheel the other home." In other words, Bragg's kind of place.
A report written by Chuck Tantillo, a Stockton vice-president, confesses that there is "not much for students to do with their nonclassroom/leisure-time hours in Pomona. In reality, there is almost next to nothing available within 10 miles of the campus to occupy students' leisure-time energies."
Predictably, Bragg says the intramural program, which he started in 1972 when he became Stockton's athletic director, is "the best in the nation." However, a few minutes later, he allows that "if all the students lived on campus instead of us having so many commuters, we would have the best intramural program in the nation."