February 21, 2018

Swoosh, there goes a half-century!

     When I arrived at the University of Georgia, I learned “rush” in Jesup and “rush” in Athens were two different things.  If my dad said, “You are moving like dead lice are falling off,” that meant I needed to rush through my chores.  In 1966, I was educated on fraternity rush.  That’s how campus Greek organizations pick new members.
     Two hometown men “rushed” me before I ever got to college.  I just didn’t know that’s what you called it.  In the early 1930s, Joe Thomas and Earl Colvin joined UGA’s Pi Kappa Phi.  They encouraged me to pledge their fraternity, too. 
     In 1968, I was rush chairman.   And there I was, enjoying Sunday lunch at 930 S. Milledge Ave., when I put down a piece of fried chicken.  Fraternity brother Spunky Good could tell something was wrong, and he asked, “What’s the matter?”
     “Uh,” I said, “I don’t have a date for tonight’s new-pledge party.”  In the “rush” of handling fraternity details, I hadn’t remembered to ask someone to go with me.     
     “Oh, I know the perfect person,” he said.  “She’s a freshman from my hometown, Camilla.  You want me to call her for you?”
     “Thanks, but I’ll call,” I said.  I phoned Brumby Hall and asked for Pam Shirah.  The blind date led to a second.  That night, we were joined by 10,000 screaming fans in the UGA basketball coliseum.  The Bulldogs were hosting the LSU Tigers and their lanky, circus-shooting wizard, Pistol Pete Maravich. 
     Other than the Harlem Globetrotters, I had never seen anything like Pete.  Just to prove he could, swoosh, he stripped the net with a half-court hook shot.
     When I mentioned that game to my friend Mark Maxwell, he said, “I’ll send you something.”  A few days later, the UGA athletic archivist emailed the basketball-program cover of that historic match-up—the Bulldogs against Pistol Pete.  As a bonus, Mark sent a grainy, black-and-white video of the game, minus the half-court shot.  He apologized.  The UGA coach had clipped that play from the film, vowing, “I never want to see that again.”
     Georgia did get humiliated, but I won another date and another with the Mitchell County freshman.  On Aug. 23, Pam and I will celebrate our 49th anniversary.     
      Staring at the Jan. 8, 1968, program cover, featuring Georgia’s Bob Lienhard and LSU’s Pete Maravich, my mind rewound to 1970.  Bob, a New Yorker, was the first 7-foot Bulldog.  He was a rebounding machine—pulling down a record 32 in one game. 
     I sat next to him our final quarter in school.  He was as clumsy in Mrs. Phyllis Barrow’s Contemporary Georgia class as I would have been on the basketball court. 
     When Mrs. Barrow rattled off Ludowici, Alapaha, Altamaha, Okefenokee, Willacoochee and Chattahoochee, Bob was as helpless as he was defending The Pistol.  When I’d answer a question, he’d look at me, as if to say: “How’d you know that?”  Growing up in Georgia and just knowing the state was my ticket to an A+.  Years later, Mrs. Barrow said the Yankee big man barely passed, still wondering, “Where’s Hiawassee?”
     From time to time, I think about Bob Lienhard. I’ve lost track of him.  I know about Pistol Pete.  He dropped dead, playing in a pickup basketball game in Pasadena.  I remember the day.  We were both 40 in 1988.  
     Nowadays, I spend more time thinking about the past, wondering: “What’s the rush?”