Tag: college football

Gary Laney died without warning Friday, two days before Christmas. He was 47. The news was crushing. The shock hasn’t worn off, and I am flailing about in search of words.

His funeral is happening now in Baton Rouge. I wish he were here to talk about it with me. Gary’s presence here two years ago, the day before the funeral of our first editor in the daily newspaper business, was a gift to me from the cosmos. Now, he’s gone, and we are not having lunch together, not having beers, not telling Lake Charles stories, laughing and crying.

In a year of so much loss, Gary’s death is one of the hardest losses to bear.

We first met in the mid-1980s, when my journalism career was just getting started and he was a high school student with an interest in sports writing and newspaper work. He came up one day to the makeshift press box at Legion Field in Lake Charles where I was covering American Legion games, and on some level, he never left. Gary was like a friendly puppy, tagging along as I did my job. He was likable, smart, curious, full of questions, and eager to discuss sports, music, writing and many other subjects.

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the abbey (2)

The photo I took of the church at St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary College in August 2010 speaks to me of more than one time of transition in my life. I pulled it from the archives this month upon learning of the death of longtime Louisiana sportswriter Marty Mulé.

Six summers ago, I accepted a job in Oregon and left Louisiana, which had been my home state since birth. On Aug. 9, 2010, I loaded my car with essentials and set off on a weeklong drive to the West Coast to visit family in California, taking a right turn before reaching the Pacific Ocean and headline up the coastline to my new home. On Aug. 7, I spent some quiet time at St. Joseph — or, as current and former students call it, St. Ben’s. This was a multipurpose visit: fresh air, reflections (the visual and the introspective kind), a reconnecting with a place that had a profound impact on me long ago, and other reasons too complex to revisit here. It was my good fortune that I could end the day having dinner with Marty.

He’d heard I was moving, and he’d wondered if we could get together before I left the state. He reached out to me less than a week before my scheduled departure. No, he wouldn’t be in Baton Rouge before I left, which presented a logistical problem. When I realized he lived close to St. Ben’s, we finalized our plans. I’d spend some time on the grounds at St. Joseph, and we’d meet for dinner at Acme Oyster House on the Northshore. My last Cajun seafood meal would be with Marty.

It was an unexpected last Louisiana supper. Marty and I weren’t especially close. We never worked for the same newspaper, although he wrote columns for Tiger Rag, where I was working when I accepted the job in Oregon. He was not a mentor in the formal sense, but for whatever reason he took an interest in me and in my writing, and we became friendly. He had a way of making people with far less experience than he — and far less talent — feel special.

“I know this is a big deal if Carl Dubois is here,” he’d say if we bumped into each other at an event. It was one of those things you could pretty much count on Marty saying, and it would make you smile and put you at ease every time. You were always glad to see Marty.

Marty had made it onto my radar long before he knew anything about me. At my first job, in Lake Charles, I heard about feature stories he’d written that had impressed my boss and co-workers. His was a name I quickly grew to respect before I’d ever put a face to the name. To me, he was a big-time sportswriter, but upon meeting him, I could not imagine him ever trying to big-time anyone. He was a common man with uncommon storytelling ability, someone who could make magic out of plain language and the facts. He was a genuine guy, good company no matter the place, a man with a passion for reporting and writing.

One day at work, I heard about a story he’d written that referenced the 1958 national championship team at LSU, with a specific mention of the squad known as the “Chinese Bandits.” The nickname came from a comic strip called Terry and the Pirates, which later became a television adventure series. There’s virtually no chance a team would adopt a nickname like that today. Even in the 1980s, when the story came up, there was an uncomfortable edge because of the nickname. Indeed, I listen as my boss and co-workers said the term had been stricken from Marty’s story because it was politically incorrect. That news brought a different kind of discomfort, but it wouldn’t be the last time I’d hear a story like it. Since then, I’ve seen plenty of writers and publications struggle with reporting the details about a point in history and, rather than acknowledge the language of that particular time, completely scrub it, as if it never existed. In the case of Marty’s story, I remember thinking that omitting that piece of history would rob the story of one of its essential pieces, and thus, the richness of full reporting. The discussion in the office made an impression on me, and it resonated as I got to know Marty. The more familiar I became with his work and work ethic, the stronger my realization of his commitment to historical accuracy — the good, the bad, and the ugly. I never asked Marty about it. Now, I wish I had. I’m sure his response would have been more thoughtful and layered than my perspective.

MartybookcoverAt dinner that August night in 2010, we shared stories from our past, and we shared some laughs. Marty paid for dinner, and he gave me a copy of one of his books. It accompanied me on my drive to Oregon the following week.

When I heard about his death on March 12, I remembered that day of walking around on the grounds at St. Joseph. I recalled the peaceful feeling and the calm place it put me in for my meal with Marty. It sent me to the Internet to look up details, and I discovered that the day before he died, flooding hit the grounds at St. Joseph hard. Looking at its website, I saw that familiar, postcard-like view of the abbey church, the one everyone captures with their camera or phone when they are there. The view I wanted to take with me on that August day.

MartysignsitformeI dug into my archives and found the photo I took. It took me back to that afternoon, and to the feeling I had retracing long-ago steps on the grounds there. It took me back to the warm feeling I had before having dinner with Marty, and after. I pulled out Marty’s book. I opened it and found the inscription he penned for me before handing the book to me as we parted ways: To Carl, some memories of your roots!

— Marty

I found our last email exchanges, and our references to my “last supper” in Louisiana. In his email, Marty’s words were in Marty’s voice: “Listen,” he began as he wrote about the meal, starting a sentence in an email the way he often did in speech. I could hear him, and it made me wish I could listen to him again.

Thanks, Marty. For the meal, for the friendship, for everything.

Listen, rest in peace, my friend. If I should bump into you again, I’ll know it’s a big deal, because you will be there.

 

 

LSUFlorida2010

LSU plays Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Oct. 9, 2010. Despite being among the worst teams in the country for committing penalties, LSU (2007) and Florida (2006, 2008) won national championships. Other champions have been among the most penalty-prone teams in the country (Arkorn / Shutterstock.com).

The one where I forget I don’t cover LSU and college football anymore …

So, by my rough calculations (and I’m not a scientist), with zero penalties this season, the LSU football team would be 7-0 right now, Leonard Fournette would have 1,593 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns, and the Very Important Committee that decides the four teams that will compete for the national championship would have to find something else to do this fall. The trophy would be awarded by acclamation. At least that’s what I heard someone with a thick Cajun accent say inside my head this morning as I sipped Community Coffee and remembered the anything-is-still-possible optimism of September in college football.

But OK, maybe there’s some exaggeration in that conclusion. Reigning champion Ohio State is No. 1, one of four teams in the top five of the AP Top 25 from a Big conference. The one that isn’t, “Mississippi” (as it’s known here in the Pacific Northwest), was recently called the nation’s best team in a piece by Business Insider. In the Midwest, people are waking up echoes talking about Notre Dame. Also in the top 10 is Georgia; is it too much to ask for a rematch of the first national championship game I saw in person, the 1981 Sugar Bowl? Then there’s the matter of LSU’s defense, which does not feature a Leonard Fournette.

Conventional wisdom says LSU needs to cut down on its penalties. The Tigers had 14 against Syracuse in a 34-24 victory Saturday, and through four weeks of the regular season, they are one of the worst offenders in the country in littering green fields with yellow flags. Coach Les Miles and his players said a penalty-free game is the goal after that performance. But being penalty-prone does not commit a college football team to a dystopian world in which championships are mere rumor, like maybe clean drinking water or safe city streets.

Now, don’t misunderstand: I’m not telling you LSU can win the national championship (I’m also not telling you it can’t). But after hearing and reading about how much better the Tigers would be with fewer penalties, I remembered something I discovered as an LSU beat writer preparing for the second BCS national championship game I covered (in the same venue where I watched Herschel Walker and Georgia soar over Notre Dame). Research the day before LSU’s 38-24 victory against Ohio State for the BCS title on Jan. 7, 2008, revealed an often-overlooked truth: You can have a lot of penalties and win a national championship.

Don’t believe me? Take a look:

Let’s put aside the anomaly that is Alabama coached by Nick Saban. We’ll get to that later. Note that LSU was 117th in the country in the 2007 season in fewest penalties per game at 8.36, an average of more than four flags per game worse than national-best Army (4.00). That’s 117th out of 119 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, so only two teams (South Florida and Cincinnati) were penalized more. In fewest penalty yards per game, LSU was 97th.

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