"Armored personnel carriers?" someone said.
"Yeah, yeah. Well, [the troops] didn't come out of doors. They came out of holes in the roof of the carriers, and they climbed down on the side. And they go into the 7-Eleven for coffee. I was worried. I thought some gray-haired guy should be sitting at the controls, but these were just kids eating nachos in the morning in Pine Bluffs, Wyoming." Off to the right were the silos, built into the ground, with a lot offence around them.
After another hour or so, we hit the cornfields of Nebraska. "We had to stop in Beaver Crossing, Nebraska [pop. 480] once, to use the phone for the radio show," Madden said. "It's near Lincoln. Some guy comes across the street from a gas station and introduces himself. Roger Hannon. He was the mayor, and it was his gas station. The next thing I know, we're in front of city hall, and the people start coming out, and they want to see the bus. One woman brought me a rhubarb pie. I didn't even know what rhubarb pie was, but it was great. The whole town came out. There were only about 10 of them, but they were the whole town. I remember asking them, 'What do houses sell for here?' They said the last house that sold was right down on the corner-three bedrooms, three baths, a picket fence, for $8,000."
Two days after Madden's visit to Beaver Crossing, the
ran a story on page 3 with the headline: MADDEN STOPS TO USE THE PHONE.
"Sometimes I just like to break up the trip, and Omaha's kind of halfway [across the country]," Madden said. "So I stayed in Omaha one night, and we went to see the minor league baseball team play. Anyway, they have a raffle for a case of pork and beans. It's the seventh inning, and everybody's excited. They pick the winner, and the guy's sitting right behind home plate. His name is Elmer something, and he's jumping up and down. To him it was like a trip to Hawaii or a new car or something. It was just a case of pork and beans. That was great."
He read all the press clips and new releases sent to him by the Cowboys, and then he looked out the window some more. When we saw some red wildflowers by the side of the road, Joe fetched a coffee-table book, Wildflowers Across America
, to identify them. The book had been a gift from Joe to his father. How many former NFL coaches would be caught with a copy of Wildflowers Across America
in the drawer next to the Giants media guide? Joe found the wildflower in the book: spotted knapweed.
In Brady, Neb., we saw the strangest sight of the trip. We pulled off the highway, emptied out of the bus and looked with the same fascination we would have if we had seen a UFO. It was an animal farm, with a long ranch-style house and a grazing pen that was home to one gray burro, two dozen deer, five dwarf ponies, five llamas, one crossbred deer-llama and several crossbred animals that resembled llamas with very thick necks.
"He looks like he's on steroids," Madden said of one thick-necked llama-lookalike. There were no signs, no explanation of what this farm was for. A man staring at us from the picture window of the house wouldn't come out to answer our questions.
Madden still hadn't gotten over the weird animals when we stopped for dinner at Grandpa's Steakhouse in Kearney, Neb. He asked a woman who had come to our table for his autograph if she knew why the animal farm was there. "I just think he has them for personal pleasure," she said.
While we were eating, the Kerry Kimple clan of Kearney collected near the bus, waiting for Madden. " Nebraska loves John Madden," said Kerry, whose son, Travis, 10, got Madden's autograph. "He's a common-sense, say-what-he-thinks guy."