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CHANGE, PORTENT, PROMISE
John Underwood
September 01, 1980
A new season begins with programs tainted by academic scandal, many of the old, authoritarian coaches gone and their successors obliged to bellow, "Please run through that wall." Ahh, but all is not lost: consider the walk-ons
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September 01, 1980

Change, Portent, Promise

A new season begins with programs tainted by academic scandal, many of the old, authoritarian coaches gone and their successors obliged to bellow, "Please run through that wall." Ahh, but all is not lost: consider the walk-ons

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The Coach did not look his best. For one thing, his concession to what he calls "jogging togs" consisted mainly of a faded brown sweat suit and a tattered pair of Keds tennis shoes, reflecting his distaste for that particular athletic endeavor. ("Joggers bore me," he said, "and I resent being one.") For another, his handsome face, forever tanned and yet only modestly creased, was stubbled with gray whiskers and still moist from his run. He had made it in the predawn so nobody would see him. His face was also a little lopsided from a root-canal performed the day before.

He said one of his former players, now an oral surgeon, had given him a bargain rate of $400 for the work, and it was an offer he couldn't refuse. "A simple extraction of the grieving tooth would have been much cheaper," he said. "But when you get older, you tend to cling to things. That tooth and I go back to some very exciting times."

"Is there a message here someplace?" I asked, knowing that The Coach would not otherwise have ordered a meeting at such an ungodly hour.

"Of course," said The Coach. "The 'sobering impermanence of verities.' "

"Uh?" I said.

"We are into the '80s, Scribe. It is an exciting but terribly disquieting time, full of change and portent and promise. And new teeth."

The emerging sun reflected off his monogrammed coffee mug. Except for the driver of a doughnut truck, we were alone in the off-campus café where the mug (which also bears the dates of his championship seasons) has been kept clean and ready for him every morning since his coaching days at M——. His presence at the café still inspires awe and helps get his companions civil treatment from the plump, sullen waitresses.

I poured cream into my own cup—a standard model, stained with use—and waited for him to get to the point.

"I attended the wedding of the daughter of one of my former assistants last weekend," he said. "A lovely girl with ginger-colored hair who used to sell me Girl Scout cookies. Instead of Oh Promise Me, the vocalist sang a Billy Joel original, to the accompaniment of dueling trombones. I couldn't identify it, but it wasn't really so bad. The job got done—the couple got married. You don't always have to agree with the form if the content is correct."

"Coach," I said, yawning discreetly through my nostrils, "your gift for nostalgia is always entertaining, but at 6 a.m. I am slow to recognize what this has to do with the changing '80s and 'new teeth' and...."

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