I first met Coach Graves in the spring of my 8th grade year as a 14 year old knuckle-headed, arrogant, egotistical boy from Archer City with the opinion that I pretty much knew everything about all things.  In the next few months I came to know a man with a unique teaching technique that my parents, who by the way, were pretty adept at teaching attitude adjusting lessons, had failed to accomplish.  It involved a piece of equipment that I was to learn had more than one use when used properly and with vigor.

We were told that all 8th graders interested in playing high school football were to gather after school in front of the gym to meet the new football coach.  We were given a clipboard holding a sign-up sheet with a space for your name and position you wished to play.  I diligently filled in my part, which by the way given my vast knowledge of everything, thought it was a tad redundant as surely the new coach knew me.  After all, I had played quarterback for the AC kittens for 2 years so in my mind, had to be widely known. Anyway, to humor the new guy I complied and filled in the sheet as quarterback. I can remember little of what was said other than by the end of August he’d know everyone who wanted to play on his team.  I asked one of my buddies if he had filled out that sheet he said he had and as far he knew everyone had. Here again my all-knowing thought being he should know who’s playing on his team from that sheet of paper.        

By the end of August I realized he had another technique for determining who wanted to play and it had little to do with any sheet of paper. My uncle Bully kept asking me how the team was coming along and I told him my main goal right now was to be 15. One thing I did walk away with after those 4 years of 2-a-day practices was a true sense of how nice it was to get a drink of water.

The first Friday night rolled around I had learned that previous week I was to be the starting quarterback.   I wish in parenthesis on that sheet of paper I had written “Quarterback, but not right now.”  At the Coach’s meeting prior to that first game he iterated to me the importance of leadership and all the attributes a quarterback had to have to be efficient.  To be truthful most of that went flying over my head. I did have some thoughts in that regard, but thank heavens I kept those to my self because I don’t think he was too interested in what had to say.

On my way to the sidelines after that first series of downs I took my head gear off and was standing as far away from coach as I could possibly get when here he came in a fast trot.  

He said, “Son put that head gear on and I never want to see you with it off again ever! Do you understand?”

I said, “Yes sir,” and put it back on.

He grabbed the face mask. Here is where I was introduced to that piece of equipment that had more than one use. Using that face mask to gain more leverage, he jerked my head to a place it had never been before and explained to me that most of what had just happened was my fault.   

Now I wasn’t crystal clear on his reasoning about what no blocking had to do with me but didn’t dare respond with other than, “Yes sir! I’ll do better next time.”

Those explanations were very limited because of that truly remarkable technique for gaining my complete attention.  I can’t speak for everyone, but I know my attention span was increased a hundred fold. In today’s politically correct environment it might not be a good idea, but in 1961 it was a remarkable tool for all-knowing 14 year old boys.

Over the next 4 years there were many peaks and valleys, but on one particular Friday night in Austin, Texas everything fell into place and by lots of hard work, determination and just a smidgen of luck, we won the State 1-A championship.  After the game of course the locker room was in a state of elation and a sort of disbelief. I was sitting in a locker, trying to get a grasp on what had just happened and Coach and a newspaper guy were standing within earshot. I really was eager to hear what was said.  

I heard just 4 words and a sudden chill went up my spine and changed forever the degree of respect I had for my coach.

To anyone else, including that reporter, they were just 4 words of little meaning, but to me they endeared me to that man forever. The reporter asked, “How does it feel to be a state championship coach?”

His smile left and these 4 words quivered from his mouth, “It was my boys.”

You see it never crossed my mind how he felt about us because that simply wasn’t his nature and his demeanor changed so I knew they were heartfelt.  He never knew I heard what he said or the impact that it had on me. But in retrospect, I wish he had known.

I’ve been an accountant for 50 plus years and for many of those years did tax work and financial advising for Gaye and Grady. Now fast forward many years, and here sits 2 different guys - both friends with tons of mutual respect. Grady gave me credit, whether deserved or not, for offering a decent amount of accurate advise and he pretty much went along with what I had to say.

One particular day I was having trouble explaining to Grady just what my thoughts were and right in the middle of our discussion I smiled at him. He didn’t see any possible humor in anything we were saying. He asked why the smile. I didn’t dare reveal that smile inducing thought, but it was this, I just wish you had head gear on.

RIP Coach. 

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