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John Ed Bradley
September 20, 1993
Is he one of America's greatest football coaches or is there something funny going on here?
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September 20, 1993

Who Is This Clown?

Is he one of America's greatest football coaches or is there something funny going on here?

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"First of all," Peggy says in her husband's defense, "how many bulls go through life with their balls intact? I'm sorry, but not a lot of them make it."

Jackie is adept at writing letters, although he sometimes has trouble articulating exactly how he feels. Over a period of several weeks he dictated to his secretary, Anita Griffin, a response to every last person who had written and complained about what a beast he was. "There was no inhumane or cruel treatment inflicted," Jackie wrote to a college professor in New York City. "I am enclosing a picture of the calf [after the procedure] so you will see that he is alive and well, and an article from the paper that will give you more insight into the kind of person I am."

The kind of person he was! How could anyone possibly find words to explain that? Sherrill himself still had a hard time doing it, and he was nearly 50 years of age.

Late one night he was at home watching TV when a commercial came on advertising a set of reference books. The pitchman said that there was a book in the deal called Roget's Thesaurus, which provided lists of synonyms. Heck, this was exactly what Jackie needed. Here was a miracle book, a weapon against his inability to converse with the world. A little study and it just might turn him into an oracular dragon, a real fire-breather.

Next morning he said to Peggy, "It's called Rogget's, or Rocket's. You see a word, and it gives you all the other words like it you might want to use." It was a revelation to him to discover something "everybody else has known about for a hundred years," as Peggy puts it. She looked at him for a while and tried not to laugh. Poor man, he really did want to be understood.

"Jackie," she said at last, "that's easy. I'll get you one of those." And that same day she did.

It's a sweltering summer day in Starkville, Miss., and the air-conditioning system in Jackie Sherrill's office is out of whack. All he has to cool him is an oscillating fan set on the floor by his desk, and it does little more than stir the soupy heat. All day the questions about his reputation and personal life have been coming hard and fast, and he appears finally to have grown tired of them. He leans back in his chair and uncorks a petulant snort.

"Nobody knows who I am," he declares, stopping his visitor in mid-sentence.

But don't his friends know him? Sherrill is asked.

"No," he answers.

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