(Note: This eulogy was delivered on Dec. 20 in Jesup First Baptist Church.)
I can close my eyes and see the Yellow Jackets’ fullback, no. 41, piledriving Jesup to a 1959 state football championship.
I can imagine hearing the shoulder pads pop as he blocked for the Georgia Bulldogs.
And I’ll never forget the days when NFL players introduced themselves before televised games.
Len Hauss put his hometown on the map.
No. 56, the All-Pro center of the Washington Redskins, would say, with a grin, “I’m Len Hauss from Jesup, Georgia. I catch more redbreasts than anyone in the NFL.”
Fifteen years ago, Gov. Sonny Perdue asked to go fishing in one of our lakes. I couldn’t go that day, but I arranged for the best fisherman I knew to be the governor’s guide, the retired captain of the ’Skins. Len and Sonny filled the boat.
Len filled thousands of lives with inspiration, too.
I am one of the many inspired by Len.
Len and I met right here in First Baptist Church.
On a Sunday morning in May 1957, the Rev. Floyd Jenkins baptized us both.
As I stood on the baptism pool’s steps, I watched Brother Jenkins lift Len from the water.
Then it was my turn.
And during those years, my mother was First Baptist Church’s youth department director.
Two of her favorite teenagers were Janis Johnson and Len Hauss.
For as long as Mother lived, she’d reminisce about those days and smile.
Mother and Len’s sister, Lenelle, team-taught an adult Sunday school class for years.
The Hauss, Johnson and NeSmith families have loved each for more than 70 years.
Thank you, Janis, for giving me this honor to remember Len.
There are so many memories, like the time Len came to Athens for Charley Trippi Day. The event was organized by Loran Smith, who traveled with me today. Charley Trippi is arguably the most gifted athlete to ever play for the Georgia Bulldogs. On Dec. 14, Charley blew out every one of his 100 birthday candles. Charley was on Wally Butts’ 1960’s coaching staff when Len went to Georgia as a combination fullback and linebacker.
During Charley’s special day, I listened to Charley and Len banter back and forth. Charley teased, “Lenny, you had a great NFL career. And that nice pension check you are drawing, well, I think you ought to share some of it with me.”
Len stepped back and asked, “Coach, why would you say?”
“Well, Lenny,” Charley said, “I was the one who convinced Coach Butts to switch you to center. You wouldn’t have made it in the pros as a fullback, but you were a great All-Pro center.”
I can still hear Charley and Lenny laughing.
Len Hauss and I shared two beloved mentors—Jimmy Sullivan and Dr. Lanier Harrell. For as long as Jimmy Sullivan lived, Len and I knew that Mr. Sullivan was always cheering for us. And there’s Dr. Lanier Harrell, a loyal listener and an irreplaceable source of wisdom. If Wayne County were to compile a list of legends, I’m sure Mr. Sullivan and Doc would agree. Let’s put Len at the top. And, Janis, I know Len would have agreed with me. Jimmy Sullivan and Doc would have to be on that list of legends, too.
I never told Len this, but he was one of my boyhood heroes.
Len and that championship team are why, as a skinny 122-pound freshman, I just had to be a Yellow Jacket.
I wanted to play on the same field where Len Hauss earned All-America honors.
There was no future for me in football, but I carried the value of teamwork into my future. Football is where a skinny teenager gained self-confidence. Football is where I would get knocked down and then find the mental and physical courage to get back up. That experience is where I also learned the importance of having a backbone and the guts to stand up against all odds. For whatever success I have had or will have, I can thank Len for helping to inspire me to strap on a football helmet. In my generation, I know that am not alone in saying that.
People die twice.
First, the heart stops.
Len Hauss’ heart stopped on Dec. 15.
The second time a person dies is when the stories and the memories stop.
Len Hauss, in his 79 years, left enough memories that his legend will never stop.
What an inspiration.
What a blessing.
What a friend.
Thank you, Len Hauss.