Yes, there is a serious side to Gerald Swindle. Few people see the humble side of one of the sport’s most respected anglers. Anyone in attendance at the Night of Champions witnessed that side of Swindle during an evening of appreciation for the 2016 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year and all the other champions of the season.
Swindle honored his “coach” LeAnn and athletic coaches from his days of playing youth sports. He recognized peers and paid respects to B.A.S.S. and sponsors. From his wife to those coaches and others who influenced his life came moments of inspiration, reverence and laughter.
Read on for some of the best quotes of the evening.
On paying respect to his peers
“When you run the trolling motor against the guys in this room it’s hard to explain to anyone else the respect you feel for each other. You admire that guy so much you can’t stand it and you want to beat him. You so respect how he can catch them. You are in a mindset that those guys are the best in the world. So to stand here tonight is remarkable.”
Showing appreciation for sponsors
“I want to do something real different tonight. If you sponsor B.A.S.S. at any level I want you to stand up, whether you sponsor me or not. You sponsor the sport that I love.
Recalling when he met close friend Skeet Reese
“Skeet Reese and I first met in a parking lot. Skeet was sleeping in a van. I wasn’t sleeping with him in it, but I was in the truck next to him. We had nothing going for us. But we had a passion that was unstoppable by no matter what anybody told us. We wanted to make a living bass fishing and we wanted to succeed.”
“Skeet and myself were so broke that we couldn’t pay attention. We put our money together to split a number one Happy Meal at McDonald’s. We were poor.”
On what drives him to succeed
“We were driven by passion. Passion is what drives everyone in this room, whether they be sponsors, anglers, anyone. You are driven by passion for the love of bass fishing. It’s why I do this.”
Calling out Charlie Hartley
“If you took away all of my sponsors I would do the same thing. Go fishing. I love it. I love it like Charlie Hartley loves it. There is nobody in this room, ever, who can say that Charlie Hartley does not put the most effort into each tournament. The guy fishes so hard and fishes so fast that he cuts himself off three times in every tournament. I have so much respect for Charlie Hartley.”
Playing small ball
“If I summed up last year it was like playing small ball. If you’ve played baseball on a team that’s not that great, the coach says, ‘We’re going to beat them playing small ball.’ That’s doing the fundamentals right. Bunting, hitting, catching, throwing. It’s about doing the small things right and knowing great things will come.”
Motivational moment from high school
“What I learned (playing high school baseball) was that no matter how bad you seemed to be outclassed, or outsized, or out-coached was this lesson. If you have the heart of a champion, then you will perform at the highest level you can that day. You may not beat the best on paper, as in the other team, but when the smoke clears you have played them a decent game.”
Playing small ball
“Last year I played small ball. I wasn’t on any winning stringers at any tournament. I just did the little things right. I was blessed from above. And I looked back and remember what my high school baseball coach taught me. Just play small ball, the fundamentals will win.”
The most touching moment of the evening came when Swindle recalled playing Pee Wee football.
“I wore the number 1. I was so small most of the number went down inside my britches and the number looked like a little comma. I was a little bitty fellow. I was the punt returner. But I was fast.”
Swindle went on to recall a game when he’d dropped two consecutive punts. The coach walked up, kneeled down and said words that he would never forget.
“He said, ‘I believe in you Swindle. I believe you are the best punt returner in Blount County. And when they punt that ball to you I believe you are going to catch it.’”
Swindle did and scored a touchdown. Then he told this story.
“That coach was one man who believed in me as a little kid. Do y’all know who that coach is to me right now? LeAnn. My wife believes in me unconditionally. Every day. She’s my coach. She knew last year that my leg was hurting. She knew the mountain of stuff we carried with us. But every day she stood up and said I believe.”
“I’m telling you people today that if you believe in yourself and surround yourself with great people, and have faith in God, that you will achieve the dreams you wish for. I’m living proof of that. Thank you.”
Watch Swindle’s full speech here.