Stories from the Rubber Chicken Circuit

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Down through the years I’ve always enjoyed listening to coaches and other personalities from the world of sports spin their yarns and spit out classic one-liners at speaking engagements.  I’ve been lucky enough to hear dozens of these guys talk about stuff that’s happened to them over the course of their careers and these tales make for a hilarious evening.  Of course the name “rubber chicken circuit” comes from the fact that at most of these functions the entertainment is of a much higher quality than is the food that’s served.  However, I’ve found that eating a piece of leathery chicken is a small price to pay for the delightful and often times off-color jokes and stories that are provided.  Off color is a key phrase here – there are a few scattered through this column so beware and stop right here if you are easily offended.

Coach Frank Howard of Clemson football fame was one of the all-time greats on the banquet tour.  He was hilarious with his country twang and extremely colorful tales – you just never knew what he was going to say and there were plenty of occasions when he just blurted out something that might stun the conservative members of a crowd.  He told a tale about a coach who had just taken the job at arch-rival South Carolina.  The new coach had made a deal to have his own TV show which was rare in the early days.  Coach Howard said, “Coach Carlin has hired on two new sponsors for his program, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Schick Razors and they are gonna call it The Chicken Schick Show.”

Howard also tells the story about being sick and hospital bound.  His son ran a bar in town called the Esso Club that was a famous watering hole for sports personalities.  His boy had come to visit him and as he was leaving told his dad that, “The boys down at the Esso Club are praying for you.”  Howard replied, “Son I don’t think them prayers will even get to the ceiling.”  The old Clemson coach was always a hoot.

There are literally hundreds of anecdotes from the world of golf.  One of my favorites was told at a coaching clinic in Augusta.  There was a long time caddie at Augusta National who was nicknamed Cemetery because he had once been cut so bad in a knife fight that he was taken for dead and put in the local mortuary.  He later recovered and continued caddying.  He was also renowned for his shoes which he had cut holes in to keep his feet cool.  The first time he caddied for President Eisenhower, Ike was needling him and said, “Cemetery, you can wash your feet without taking your shoes off can’t you?”  Replied Cemetery, unaware that he was caddying for the President of the United States, “Yep, and if we don’t get us a new President, I’ll soon be able to take a bath without taking off my clothes.”

Some of the stories I’ve heard involve what might loosely be known as minor sports.  I was at an event in which there was a round-table discussion among a group of coaches and one of them told this story on bullfighting.  There was a tourist in Spain who was taking in the bullfights and he was informed that bull testicles were a delicacy.  He decided to enjoy that treat for his meal every morning at breakfast while he was visiting.  One morning he went into the restaurant for his usual feast and in contrast to the heaping helping that was normally served there was a very small ration on his plate.  He asked, “What’s up with this?”  His waiter replied, “Senor, sometimes El Toro, he win.”

Coach Bill Lewis, who once coached at Georgia Tech was a regular on the speaking circuit and he told this one at a clinic in Atlanta.  A teacher brought a kindergarten student to the principal one day and said the boy insisted that he was supposed to be in the first grade.  When the young fella kept insisting the teacher decided to give him a test with the principal as a witness.  The teacher asked the boy, “What does a cow have four of that I only have two of?”  The kid replied, “Legs.”  Then she asked, “What do you have two of in your pants that I have none of?”  The kid replied, “Pockets.”  With that the teacher looked at the principal and said, “What do you think?”  The principal replied, “Send him to the third grade, I missed both of those questions.”

There are always stories about guys who are eternal optimists.  Long-time Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda felt that Cardinals owner August Busch was one of these.  His reason for thinking that was because in his words “At age 80 Busch married his 20-year-old secretary and moved next door to an elementary school.”

Then there was the legendary Erk Russell.  The former defensive coordinator at UGA who went on to fame at Georgia Southern once gave a history lesson on how cheerleaders came to be.  He said, “It all started in old England when Lady Godiva rode down the streets naked.  You know women rode side-saddle in those days and the people on the side she was facing kept yelling ‘Hooray for our side!’ “

You just never know what you’ll run into on the rubber chicken circuit but there’s never a dull moment.

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