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"I think there are still pockets of loyalty here and there," says a man who epitomizes loyalty in sports, Grambling State's football coach, Eddie Robinson, a 72-year-old who has led the Tigers for 51 years. "In sports, a lot of guys are trying to travel roads others have built. But some of us aren't trying to go anyplace. It might seem strange in America today, but some people still think money isn't everything."
Robinson's right: There remain pockets, if only pockets, of loyalty. Meet three loyal sportsmen.
Bobo Brayton, the baseball coach at Washington State, is one of the greatest teachers you've never heard of. His life is lived almost entirely on campus and at his 165-acre ranch in Pullman. He loves the state of Washington so much that he says he'll never reside outside its borders. He's so loyal to the university, where he has coached since 1962, that he put up some of his own money to help build its baseball stadium. He's so dedicated to the baseball program that he has begun a fund to establish a baseball scholarship that will be awarded to Cougar players after he has died. The guy makes Tommy Lasorda look like Judas Iscariot.
A balding 66-year-old who looks like a cross between Don Zimmer and Jerry Tarkanian, Brayton has a grand-fatherly manner. He's a teller of tales, like the one about how he stalked and killed a deer 40 years ago in the Yakima River Canyon, dragged the deer across the river and over to the cold storage room at Virg Wilson's apple warehouse, washed up and still made the Yakima Valley College football game in Wenatchee, two hours away, that afternoon. You listen to him talk, and you wonder where this sweet guy got the competitive gumption to be the NCAA's fifth-winningest major college baseball coach ever, with 1,062 victories.
On the day we visited Brayton, baseball practice was scheduled for 4:00, but now, at 2:45, owls were the subject. Brayton was driving down a long gravel road toward his ranch house when his wife, Eileen, suddenly said, "Wait, Bobo—here's where those owls live." Brayton stopped, backed the car up, craned his head out the window and searched the evergreens for signs of the five great horned owls known to nest there. No luck. Two ladies from the neighborhood, who were happening by, joined the search. No luck.
"I see 'em when I'm walking on the road sometimes," said one of the ladies.
"The adults—wait till you see the horns on those jobbers," said Brayton.
The Braytons pressed on, past their teetering red barn. Brayton said he hoped to have a barn-raising soon. A barn-razing and-raising, he explained—15 or 20 farmer neighbors would come, just as they always have, for a century or more, in these rolling hills of wheat and lentils and peas. They would tear the old barn down and build a new one. When work was done, the Braytons would throw a big feed and dance in the new barn.
The car went forward, for 20 yards. "I see the rooster," Eileen cried, pointing at some pheasants.
"You see the rooster? What great eyes you have!" said Bobo.