“Fame and fortune I've left my mark
Playing loud, playing hard
In Town after town…”
Dateline: A Dining Room Story
I had never heard of him, and he of me.
In fact, it was his two younger children, Sage and River who came over to me as I sat on a picnic bench outside the db/bb/rv.
“Mr. db…do you want to see something neat.”
As I looked up over their young heads I saw their mother, Melissa looking out the door of their RV, looking at her children talking to what looked like David Crosby on a 12 Margarita ride.
Melissa’s eyes moved a little left and saw my wife, Barb, a beautiful safe looking woman, sitting next to me with her Shih Tzu, Riley, and went back inside.
I’m used to that, no offense.
“Mr. db look…”
And when I looked down, held in tiny little hands, were a couple of fossils the boys had just found, “Cool dude…I love dinosaurs and fossils.”
“We found them…”
“…I see you met my boys, hope they are not bothering you…”
And when I looked up, I was staring into the face of,
And all I knew was, he was an angler.
One of the older ones, “…no man, kids are no problem, love the fossil stuff,” and then I went back to playing with the angler’s kids.
To me, he was one of 100 fishing guys, I was actually more impressed his kids had found fossils, he pulled up a folding chair, Melissa came out, the kids found more fossils, we sat around a fire pit for a while and just talked of kids, of dogs, of RV’s, of Buffalo (where the tournament was), just normal folk talk.
I look back on that night often, it is that moment in time when I know Rick and mine friendship started, that very night, as we sat and talked, and this is why,
when Barb and I said goodnight and went back into our RV, Barb asked me, “Now who was that again,”
and this is exactly what I said, “That…that was Rick…Rick Klein.”
“…don't call me legend…”
The best thing that ever happened to me, much to the anxiety of others around me, the best thing was that after 20 some years covering sports…all the big ones you know and love…after all that I was allowed, given a gift actually, of coming to a sport, blind.
The day before I came to cover this sport, I had never heard of it. Boards all over the place lit up, what was this moron who doesn’t even fish doing here, what right does he have…blah…blah…blah.
And they may still say that, who cares.
I came here, not to catch fish, but to catch the life of those who catch fish. Trust me, if me and The Mick, Mickey Mantle, ever shared a bar stool, the last question I would ever ask him is what kind of bat he used.
As far as I knew, EVERYONE here was named Rick Klein.
I knew much more about Rick Clunn, the man before I ever knew a thing about Rick Clunn the legendary angler.
I knew he was working in computers before I knew there were computers. He told me. Told me about growing up with his dad, told me about raising young boys while being on the road so much, we spoke of family, we spoke of road loneliness, music and writing.
Here’s an almost exact version of a conversation we once had that I have forgotten most of the facts, “…db, there was this real tough tournament up on the St. Lawrence, the night before the end I watched the movie, Last Of The Mohicans, very inspirational, and I won the tournament.”
We were in his RV, I just looked at him, I was well aware of the movie….the old version...and this is what I said back to him, “Dude you won one of these things.”
Another quip between the two of us….I’m sitting around a campfire with a bunch of anglers…Rick is sitting next to me…I’m the only reporter for miles…they are talking about all sort of fishing secrets, I look over to Rick and say, “Should I be here for this?”
Rick, “You listening or paying any attention.”
“…I came here to play…”
I have in my house a tall, glass trophy case. It sits off by itself in one corner of the living room, and in it sits a few memorabilia of sports from my past 20 years. Nothing earthshaking…a long bolt that Richard Petty handed me that had fallen off his car…game used gloves from a couple NFL wide receivers…a baseball Reggie Jackson signed and handed to me…and a hand written note from Rick Clunn.
I had asked him a question following the Bassmaster Classic in New Orleans, I asked this, “Rick why did everyone fish so far away from the launch, were all the fish dead between where they fished and where they started from.”
He wrote his answer on the paper I left in his door that paraphrased my original verbal remark.
Almost both sides of the paper were taken up with his answer…and it began, simply like this:
“A: The main consideration when fishing the Classic is winning. Points don’t matter, 2nd place etc. Don’t matter!”
And then he wrote this…something every athlete on the planet should read…something every father or mother should read to the child in their house: “A limit might salvage a little ego, but the ego must be set aside when taking a chance.”
It is that sentence that I will never forget.
I may be blind to the sport, but I’m not blind to the sportsmanship within it.
It is NOT for the ego that we should play the game, it is for the game, that we should play.
It is for the grace inherent in athleticism, that we watch.
It is for the grace inherent in experience, that we learn from.
For not of ego.
“…don't call me legend…”
Then came Falcon.
And I started reading things like this, “Rick is back…blah…blah…blah"
Tell you this dudes,
Rick never left.
I see in Rick’s eyes, the soul of the outside. I see a human being blessed to be doing exactly what this universe meant him to be doing.
I have sat with him, not as he read something about the weather, but as he felt the weather, saw the wind, I would knock on the back of his pickup truck to see if he was awake, having spent the night sleeping in the truck bed shell so he could be fully attuned to the outside.
I once at a Michael Jordan interview watched as he stopped the interview flat, went out onto the court, picked up a basketball, and then with the ball turning in his hands, came back to talk, and twirl.
Saw him come alive, have comfort, with his hands on the roundball.
Rick Clunn, has never left this game.
And trust me when I say this, years after Rick leaves this game,
he will still be a force in it.
“…that's all I have to say…”
Dude..I was beside myself that I couldn’t be there at the bottom of the stairs when you came off the other day at Falcon.
I may have hugged you, which of course may have ruined the whole thing for you.
You sir, are the one who showed me that the outside, is in fact, inside of all of us.
You have showed me, how quiet speaks loudly for an athlete.
You have showed the world, and your fans, that it is talent, it is never giving up, that is the beauty of sport.
I cherish our past times.
I cherish our future times.
Read the wind my friend.
Listen to the current.
Honor the sunrise, and sunset.
There are those who came before you.
There are those who will come after you.
But decades from now, when all of us are long gone, and talk comes up of your sport, be that here or gone, when they talk about who played the game, the list will be a short one, but it will begin with this name,
“…cause I came here to play.”
PS: Hey River, Sage, dudes I still have those fossils you gave me, keep them in the car with me all the time…6 years now…thank you guys…love ‘em.