I was thinking of
you the other day. I was thinking of the morning a little more than a year ago
when we walked the boardwalk in Atlantic City, winter blowing in off the ocean
and cutting into us like teeth. Remember? You had your hands plunged into the
pockets of a knee-length tweed coat, and a cap tugged low over your head, and
you stopped and stared through a store window at some Italian clothes you knew
you didn't need. But the clothes, they must not have been what you were looking
for, because your eyes moved to my reflection on the glass and your voice
turned soft. "What's it like to be married?" you asked. "To have
it," I said. "But I'm not you."
You thought about
that for a few seconds, then your face hardened and the breath you blew out
fogged over some thousand-dollar suit. "I'll never get married," you
said. "I only need myself. There's no one else I need."
Ever since that
day, it seems, you've gone out to prove that. You didn't need the woman you
married seven weeks after our conversation, or the mother-in-law who came with
her. You didn't need your old manager or trainer. I'd started wondering if you
might make it through a whole life with no one to need.
And then I ran
into someone the other day, an old man with gray hair and bifocals and a book
of Persian poetry in his gnarled, knobby, boxer's hands. It was him, Mike.
Unmistakably. The one man you need.
It's funny. He's
right in front of you, and you don't see him. You're in Las Vegas getting ready
for another fistfight, against Frank Bruno on Saturday night. God knows how
many times you've ridden right by his house. Sure, I understand, it's
difficult. You're hurtling toward the edge of a cliff, and there are a hundred
hands waving at you; how are you supposed to notice some little old man who
doesn't even lift a finger?
It's not just
you, Mike. Seems like the whole world has been looking at this old man for ages
but not quite seeing him. Saw him and didn't see him in the other corner the
first two fights Muhammad Ali lost. Saw him and didn't see him bent over Joe
Frazier, Ken Norton, Larry Holmes, Alexis Arguello, Michael Spinks. Heard him
and didn't hear him utter quiet instructions to 15 champions of the world. Just
before a big fight, he would be the last one in his boxer's entourage to step
through the ropes; after the fight, even his own family couldn't spot him when
the camera swept the ring. Maybe truth is like that, Mike; it doesn't wave or
jump or shout.
You don't need
more noise, Mike. You need someone to make the world stop whirling, the hands
stop waving, the cliff's edge lose its allure. You need someone who doesn't
want your money, your rocket ride, your fame. Someone who climbs down from the
ring, walks past the back-thumpers and handshakers and returns to his room to
read poetry. Him, Mike. Mr. Futch.
I want to be a
legendary figure," you told me. Remember? You were pacing in that dank
dressing room in your training quarters above the police station in Catskill,
talking and gesturing as if in a fever. "I want to be mentioned in the same
breath with Marciano and Louis and Ali, that's what I want."
You want Mr.
Futch, Mike. History keeps washing up like driftwood at this man's feet. He
played ball against the first edition of the Harlem Globetrotters; sparred and
shared a dressing room with Joe Louis; trained Berry Gordy, the founder of
Motown records; yes, trained the first man killed in Detroit's '43 riots, too;
stopped one of the greatest fights in history to save Joe Frazier's brain
tissue; outfoxed the fox, Muhammad Ali.