Then a third flight. Then a fourth. Thirteen minutes have passed. On the way back to his office he passes one of the six players who've been giving everyone so much trouble. "Hey, Sneaky," Patterson says and keeps going, but the hook has been set. The player turns, mouth agape, staring at Patterson's back with an expression that can be summed up as a little bit of What does that mean? and a whole lot of How the hell did he know?
Near the end of his run at Davis, Patterson hit a bleak patch. The '86 season was over; the students and coaches had scattered home for Christmas break. Deke was gone, I was covering Kings games, Jim was off with his fiancée. Gary didn't have the money to get back to Kansas, so he grabbed every available bar shift and holed up in the Eighth Street house. Then he got sick.
He huddled under blankets, cranking the space heater and worrying that he'd burn the house down. He couldn't shake the fever and couldn't afford a doctor. "One of the lowest points of my life," Patterson says. Then a surprise box arrived from Rozel. His mom, Gail, was a nurse, and she had sent—along with a year's supply of medicine—shirts, pants, sneakers and penny loafers, all spanking new. The box might as well have been filled with diamonds. It saved him.
I know about that when, in July, Gail tells me that Gary might be coming home to Kansas soon. I know, too, that even as his career soared, Gary kept seeing the man's face telling him to quit chasin'. "Going back to Rozel for good meant I failed," Patterson had just told me. "And still that sticks with me. Still, that's my driving point."
Yet Rozel, population 156, is also where Gary's oldest friends are. Rozel is the place to which he entrusted his son Josh when the boy began courting trouble in California in the fifth grade, the place where his mom and his dad, Keith, live in the house where he grew up. Rozel is the backbone of the guy I lived with once, the grit you hear in his voice.
I arrive the day Rozel celebrates its 125th anniversary. When I pull up to the one building open on Main Street, beneath a 114º sun and rainless clouds, volunteer firemen are slicing up bull testicles for the next day's traditional "nutfeed." Patterson, I'm told, spent many a morning when young breading up "mountain oysters" for his dad's special batch. I'm sent 300 yards down to Gary's alma mater, Pawnee Heights, which educates students from kindergarten on up. The bank, the bar, the grocery store and the tractor dealer that Patterson recalls are long gone, the old buildings shuttered.
The gym is filling with alumni for tonight's potluck banquet. Gail hurries over to say hello; for someone trying to recover from a second assault by cancer, she looks remarkable. When TCU got the invite to Pasadena, the doctors warned Gail not to travel. Gary tried to persuade her to stay home. "Can you promise me you'll be in the Rose Bowl next year?" she asked.
With Keith, their daughter Amy and son-in-law Harlan, Gail made the 1,300-mile drive. "We could all yell together and give high fives: It was fun, you know?" she says. "Nothing could've made me well faster than going to that game."
Gary arrives just before 7. It was touch-and-go whether he'd make it—he's got a Nike event in Fort Worth the next day—but at the last minute Lowe lent him the Four Sevens jet. It's been a good week: Gary's foundation dinner raised $128,000 for at-risk kids, and Josh came along on the trip.
Patterson gives a fine speech. "If it wasn't for Rozel and the people of this town, I wouldn't be where I'm at," he says. "The work ethic, giving back to those who need it. I learned how to treat people, how to shake somebody's hand and live up to your promise."