When I was a kid, I was crazed about Razorback football (gee, some things never change…). My Granny Jones was not. She was not a football fan (or a fan of any sport except wrestling, which she LOVED right up until her kids told her it was fake….). In fact, re: the wrestling: it was hilarious. If you’ve seen the movie “Driving Miss Daisy”, you’ve seen my Granny Jones. A southern “Lady” in every sense of the word, she’d sit in front of the enormous RCA console television (in living black and white) and watch wrestling, cheering her favourite and booing the villain. (My Dad and his sisters kicked themselves a million times for telling her it was fake; they should have just let her enjoy it).
In any event, though I was crazed about the Hogs, my Dad’s job (USAF and then DOD) took him all over everywhere (I had 8 elementary schools in 6 years) and I was pretty much separated from the Program. For those of you under 30: really, there was no cable and NO SPORTSCENTER! (shocking, no?). If you were “out of the area”, you got a box score -at best- in the newspaper.
Knowing all this, Granny (who read the Arkansas Gazette faithfully every day of her life) would helpfully clip Orville Henry’s Monday column and send it to me (with a letter written with her Schaeffer fountain pen on her monogrammed stationery); it would arrive by about Thursday, usually. She did this every week during football season, and I would anxiously check the mailbox until the letter arrived, addressed to “Master Nick-Alan Jones” (if under age 12, a male child is properly addressed as “Master”; only after age 12 does he become “Mister”; female children are “Little Miss”). I blush to admit I’d rip the envelope and read Orville’s column first.
Orville Henry was a great wordsmith, one of the best sportswriters of his generation, not just locally but nationally. He could take you to the game with his words. He painted pictures with them, and added sound. You’d hear Freddie Marshall barking out signals, hear the roar of the crowd as Hatfield streaked down the sideline en route to another touchdown; you could see Coach Broyles’ shirttail flapping in the breeze as he paced the sidelines. All from the battered typewriter of a guy from Little Rock who wrote down what he saw and heard and felt.
I loved his Monday columns. Monday was the day he’d recap Saturday’s game for the Newspaper of Record (but really he was just telling the story for all of us who weren’t lucky enough to be able to be there). He often said one of the greatest parts of his job was that he got to go to all the games.
It’s not often that you not only get to meet someone who was “larger than life”, a “living legend”, but actually count them as a friend. I had that privilege with Orville Henry.
I posted and adminned on Booth's old Pigpen board (ahh, those were the days...less acrimony and more SPORTS) and Clay Henry (publisher of HawgsIllustrated and a great writer in his own right) sent me some encouraging comments about a couple of my posts. When he started up HI.com, he invited me to admin over there and I accepted with pleasure.
Clay knew that I lived in Malvern at the time, and discovered that I literally lived a few blocks away from his dad. OH was still writing columns (and I was still enjoying them!), but like many of his generation he had difficulty with the computer. He had to file his columns electronically and was always getting into trouble. If they'd have let him keep banging away at his typewriter, he'd have been blissful. As it was, he had challenge after challenge (and the paper really did give him a crappy connection to use; it was really cranky). So Clay (somewhat exasperated and unable to rescue his Dad--since Clay was in Fayetteville and Orville was in Malvern--and weary of the phone calls “the damn thing won’t turn on!”) asked me if I would, as a favor, go see if I could get Orville's computer working. So I did. And I became his personal local tech support person.
Bless his heart, one time I went over there to help Orville with the computer. “Damn thing won't turn on!!!!” (Yeah, because the cleaning lady had unplugged it to plug in her vacuum, and of course didn't bother to plug it back in.) OH thought I was a GENIUS for helping him with that one. BRILLIANT! (Guinness commercial). I actually did very little for him, but he was so grateful for whatever I did that it was embarrassing.
I got to have many long conversations with Orville, getting him to tell me Razorback stories; he had a million of them and was always willing to share. If I begged, “Tell me a story!” he would do his best to oblige me. Listening to him tell those stories was one of the happiest things I ever got to do.
And…he NEVER forgot a game, EVER. ANY PART OF IT. All I had to do was say, “Hey, Orville, what was that ‘64 Texas game really like?” and that was it, he was off! “Well, it was a warm day in Austin, Texas. Texas was ranked #1 and it was going to be a tall order to beat them at home. Now, Marshall had been nursing a sore thumb that whole week…” and out would come the whole game. Gold, pure gold.
He still had many of his columns, years and years of them. He autographed my copy of "The Razorbacks" while telling me hilarious stories about himself and the other reporters covering the Hogs and the scrapes they got in. Those guys brought something to sports that has now been lost. They had talent and wit and intelligence and discretion---and they were a lot of fun. Too bad their livers and lungs and other assorted body systems gave out on them.
I think that, in tribute to my friend OH, I’ll write a little blog post every Monday talking about the Razorback game from the week before. I certainly don’t have anything close to OH’s talent for words, nor his encyclopedic (to put it mildly) knowledge of both football and the Razorbacks---but it’s football season, it’s Monday---and I want a column. And if OH isn’t around to give it to me any more, I guess I’ll have to write one.