“Sometimes you're the windshield…”
Dateline: The Dining Room Table
Hmmm, I think I may need,
Back in 1982/83… “RPGs” (Rocket Propelled Grenades) had not quite entered the lexicon of America. You know probably, but I do know for sure they hadn’t entered into the lexicon of the Fresno, Calif., parking lot I was standing in.
Carl White, my good friend and sometime partner in un-planned comedy, also the sports anchor at the TV station we both worked for in Fresno, KFSN-TV, and Barb’s and my neighbor, was standing leaning up against a lamp pole in the apartment parking lot.
Between you and me, he was big time “duding” me.
“Dude yourself, man … you try and do it. But I’m telling you, you better have a catapult in the trunk of that Mazda thing you drive.”
I knew he didn’t.
I up-duded him.
Behind him, standing three lampposts down … at exactly the lamppost designated as the End Zone Goal line stood another friend of ours
“…you gotta know happy…”
Let me catch you up to speed here.
It was a Sunday in Fresno. For the most part, Carl and I were both off, lived in the same building, which the landlord NEVER told me beforehand. Some Sundays, Carl would knock on the door as Carl; some days he would knock on the front door, and Barb and I would open it only to find Carl as Michael Jackson moonwalking our balcony.
Open. Carl as Carl. Dude, come on down and watch some football for a while, looking at Barb. She would only smile, and I’d be off for a quarter of watching some West Coast NFL team I didn’t care much about.
Halfway into the 1st quarter, a glass of red wine happens to come into contact with Carl’s landlord-provided, white drapes.
“Dude, call Barb, she’ll know what to do about it.”
“Blah, blah, blah, white drapes, blah, blah, blah, red wine, uh huh, uh huh, okay I’ll tell him.”
“Dude, what did she say to do?”
At which time, I got a noogie on my exposed head from Carl White, who I have been blaming for decades as the person who caused my baldness through excessive noogie-ing.
“Come on, let’s toss the football around during the break,” said the sneak noogie maker.
So, as we go around the corner, we find another one of our friends coming to see if we were home and wanted to come out and play.
And he’s the dude standing on the goal line of the third lamppost down, twirling the football on his finger and
Carl and me.
“…you gotta know glad…”
Here’s why he is laughing, this is the play as drawn out on the palm of his hand, Carl could hear none of it. “Don, I’m going to go right up the middle here (he’s following the line in his palm that will eventually turn into an M), and right here (the V of the M) I will turn left and shoot across to here (the sliver at the base of his thumb), stop, then just fly right up here (to the top of his index finger where the third lamppost TD in the parking lot stood).
“No problem,” I say as he gets ready to side hike me the football…up the outside of the M to the V, turn right to the sliver, shoot up the index finger…got it.
By the time I twisted the football around so I could find the laces he was already at the “sliver.”
Carl was still at the M.
So I drop back a few inches and heave the football as far as I can, which pretty much goes straight up in the air as he is already at the index finger knuckle at which time he does some mid-air button hook thing, comes back and grabs the football right before it smashes into Carl’s Mazda’s front windshield then high steps down to the third lamppost…and stands there spinning the football on his post-route index finger.
Why do I tell you all this…because now a whole bunch of folks, with not much more than hooks and dreams, are heading to the 2014 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open #1 presented by AllState… and all the Opens that follow, with visions of glory. With their fishing playlists on repeat, with a little bit of cash and a lot bit of credit.
One angler, Jacopo Gallelli, from Italy even made this 4-minute video telling the world he is coming: #BornOnTheWrongSide.
I’m not sure what Jacopo was born on the wrong side of, but I welcome Jacopo to B.A.S.S. tournament fishing, welcome Jacopo, and all the others… but let me please just ask this,
don’t be born on the wrong side,
That’s what the story of my friend, Carl White, and me is all about. At the time, both of us were in our late 20s, semi-talented, semi-in-good-shape, but born on the wrong side of being a PRO ATHLETE.
The guy leaning up against the TD lamppost,
He of soon to have a famous, long NFL career, landing on several Pro Football Hall of Fame ballots,
who could clock 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash,
and who made three NFL Pro Bowls,
10th right now on the NFL All-Time Reception list with,
841 receptions, 13,777 yards, a few catches back from Cris Carter,
and the dude I threw/heaved/wished I had a catapult/so I could have thrown the football at LEAST a quarter of where he was standing and not have to make him spin in the air and come halfway back to me to catch it was a very young Fresno State football player,
“…because you're gonna know lonely…”
In a quarter of a century covering sports, sports played at a level way above me, and probably above you as well, I have met all types of players, all almost superhuman in what they can get their bodies to do,
no matter how good you think you are, you ain’t near this good,
you can wear the jersey,
but you can’t be the man whose name is on the back.
And here’s one thing about those athletes you need to know, not how good they are, or how good they think they are, because most,
never made it.
Only 3% of high school football players ever play college football, probably when you count at least D-1 & D-2 football programs every year you have around 3,500 players available for the NFL draft…about 250 get drafted, not MAKE the team, just get drafted…that’s about 7% of the best of the almost the best.
Drill down backwards and of the approximately 100,000 high school seniors graduating from their football teams…about…about 215 will one day make an NFL rooster.
“…and you're gonna know sad…”
“Good afternoon, Mr. President, my name is Don Barone from…”
I’m somewhere in Central California between Bakersfield to the south or Sacramento to the north, the 287-mile Produce Aisle of America. I can’t remember where for sure; I’m tired, I’m hungry, and I have about two hours before the 5 o’clock Action News section I have to be in, and I’m at least 90 miles from the station…maybe more.
And I’m about to interview the president of the whole free world, President Ronald Reagan.
Sitting on my lap scribbled on blue-lined, yellow paper are the other four stories I’ve done that day – two car accidents, one murder and a minute thirty scribble on Miss California Natural Raisin Dessert maker (or something like that).
“…well, good afternoon to you, too, Bob…”
Argh, I just said “Huh..” to the President of The United States and California.
“Don, Mr. President…Don Barone….”
To be fair to President Reagan, I was just one of TWO DOZEN reporters standing in line for our own Exclusive Interview…
…most wanted to be in the line, one did not.
So I scramble through my notes looking for what the assignment editor asked/TOLD me to get from the President, find it, turn to my right just as my camera lady finished putting the tiny microphone on the Presidential Seal Tie, and do a double take, because sitting there just waiting for me, smiling at me IS THE FREAKIN’ PRESIDENT OF THE PLANET.
“So, John, what’s on your mind…”
“….Don, Mr. President…I’m not much into politics but my assignment editor wants me to ask you this…”
“…ask me anything, John, go ahead…”
“Mr. President, I can’t find the question, got to be honest with you, but it was something like, how do you plan to win a second term…something like that…”
And just sort of slumped my shoulders as if saying, “Dude, I give up…I’ve got two car wrecks and a domestic shooting I have to get on air….”
Suddenly, the President of everything I’ve ever seen in my life, leans over, puts one hand on my BAD knee and says exactly, this, “My plan to win a second term is to get more votes than the guy running against me.”
And he smiles.
And I smile, too.
I lean in and say this, “Mr. President, can I use that?”
“Yes, you can, and I hope it helps you with your assignment editor, Mr. Barone.”
And once again President Reagan looked at me and smiled,
“…when you're rippin' and you're ridin'…”
Fast forward almost exactly 20 years…Joe Horrigan, the VP of Communication/Exhibits of the Pro Football Hall of Fame…
…and a dude from Buffalo, N.Y., just like me (shout out to Buffalo working stiffs everywhere who have made it), has just taken me back into the bowels of the Hall Of Fame to show me some of the things that haven’t made exhibit yet, when I suddenly hear booming through the back, “Barone, where are you, Barone….”
And as I turn the corner and go into the Pittsburgh Steelers ROOM in the Hall of Fame, I hear, “Here’s your Coca Cola.”
And former Steelers Coach, and about to be tomorrow Hall Of Fame Inductee, Chuck Noll hands me the plastic cup of soda he bought for me. “Barone, where did you go…”
“Dude…they have some Buffalo Bills stuff in here…”
Coach Noll just looks at me. We are maybe 24 hours from his induction; I’m working at WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh, my second year there. The folks at Three Rivers know me, so in between Coach’s interviews with the networks and all the other local TV folks, I slip back in the room and sit on the chair next to him and we talk,
we talk of how he bought the first house in Pittsburgh he ever looked at and stayed in it for 33 years until he retired last year as head coach,
we talk of his boats, sailboats and others,
he quotes Emerson a lot,
tells me how much he likes to cook,
how it is so “very nice now” to be able to visit for longer periods with his kids and his grandkids,
we never, for a moment, talk
It’s not what he wanted to talk about. He was doing dozens of interviews a day about it, but everything he was telling me was that he was much more off the gridiron than on it.
I was fine with whatever he wanted to talk about. We were just two dudes drinking cokes and swapping stories/lies…he did ask me once why I never asked too much about the Steel Curtain, “Born and raised in Buffalo…”
“But I can quote Emerson, too.”
Then one time he gets back from an interview and just collapses in the chair, I look over and say, “Dude, you alright?”
Coach just looks at me, “Must be the 100th time I’ve been asked, ‘What is the secret to my coaching success?’”
“The Buffalo Bills…”
Coach smiles: “I give them the same answer, preparation and execution…”
I look at him, give him the universal sign of slumped shoulders and raised eyebrows that means, “Sounds good to me.”
Then coach looks to his left, to his right, and looks straight at me and says, “The secret to success is to score more points than the other guy.”
“…and you're coming on strong…”
And 17 years later, in 2010, now writing stuff for Bassmaster.com I get like really freaked out when, completely unexpectedly, I get transported into what I call a Double Dog Deja Vu.
A rookie on the Elite Series tour comes up to me and asks me this: “db, man, you are great friends with Skeet Reese. Would you just do one thing for me… would you ask him what the secret to success is, what I can do to become as good as he is.”
That means I have to go find Skeet, I have to talk to him some, then I have to talk to him more some so that I can get him to focus, then I have to watch his eyes and whenever his eyes move I have to follow his eyes with my eyes, and then when starts to look above my head I have to get up on my tippy-toes, and then when he starts that big smile of him I actually have to reach out and grab both of his arms and shake them so he regains db focus…
Argh…and Skeet and I are great friends…co-founders of Tackle The Storm…Christmas cards back and forth stuff.
“What’s the question, db, again?”
“What can the rookie do to be a better angler, what can he do to one day be just like you?”
Skeet looks down at me, lifts his sunglasses up and says exactly this:
“Tell him to catch more fish!”
“…you start slippin' and slidin'…”
A couple of paragraphs for Jacopo Gallelli and all the other rookies and Bassmaster Opens anglers who dream to take that Elite stage.
Dear #BornOnTheWrongSide, I hope we get to meet someday. I hope for you nothing but the best, welcome to America, welcome to our sport.
But know this, if the Wrong Side is Italy, you’re talking homeland to me. I would not be here, not have anything like I do if not for the working stiff soul my grandfather, who immigrated here from Italy, gave to me…if you were born and raised there and now you are coming here to “Don’t dream it, Be It…” you were born on the right side that lets that happen.
If the Wrong Side is the other side of the ocean…dude…you love to fish, and from your video you seem to be pretty good at it...BUT MAN you live on a WATER PLANET…that my friend is being BORN ON EXACTLY THE RIGHT DAMN SIDE of this solar system.
“…and it all goes wrong because…”
Out there somewhere, is the next greatest tournament angler, he may be playing right now with plastic boats in his bathtub,
or he may already be in a Bass boat at the Southern Open,
and of the next greatest tournament angler I ask of this, I speak of this,
let what you learn go not to your head, but to your rod and reel,
know that while you may have a jersey on, it does not make the man, the man inside it does,
be humble, if you are not, you will be humbled,
you are not the greatest angler ever, you are not the worst angler, you are just an angler one step closer to the top,
you will find what it takes to get to the top in your heart, not tacklebox,
No Bucks, No Buck Rogers,
who have come before,
who are waiting in line to get here,
who are standing in line to watch you,
and those hooked on the bottom of your line.
Realize that no matter how good you think you may be, pretty much any of these Elites can clean your clock…steady yourself for the pace of greatness you are about to see around you.
Get more votes, score more points, catch more fish…that’s the bottom line…but underneath that is a work ethic you have never seen, or even prepared for, trust me.
Focus, leave everything not dealing with winning behind, then stop thinking about winning,
be in the moment,
be in the fundamentals,
and when all that fails,
“…sometimes you're the bug.”