When my old friend Boston Bob sent me a Facebook message about a Barton Springs lifeguard reunion, the dream job image shot through my mind. Bob, a true New Englander, left Austin after his lifeguard stint in the early ’80s. We had played on the same softball team back then. I hadn’t seen him since, but Facebook reconnected us. He resides in Atlanta, but he’s still a Red Sox fan. No surprise there.
The problem for me with the reunion: I was never a lifeguard. Maybe I should’ve been. I certainly wanted to sit up on that tall white platform above Austin’s favorite watering hole. And since the lifeguard reunion would include the fine folks who actually did sit way up high from 1976-82, I might recognize some faces besides Bob’s. I was at Barton Springs all the time, swimming, snorkeling, checking out the scene. It was the place to be.
So on a sunny afternoon in early May, I showed up at Scholz Garten, another Austin treasure, to meet up with Bob and his fellow lifeguards. I got to Scholz’s just as the Kentucky Derby was announcing post-time. Bob wasn’t there yet, so I sipped a Real Ale Fireman’s Four and watched as the greatest two minutes in sports flew by on the big screen just above the bar.
The race was over and still no Bob, so I wandered out to the beer garden area. I sat at a table across from a guy who was there because his brother had been the pool manager back in the day. So here the two of us sat, neither of us lifeguards. From our vantage point at a worn out picnic table in an old Austin icon, we watched the joy of a reunion: hugging, laughing, and people maybe not recognizing each other.
I didn’t know a soul. One or two faces seemed familiar. Even lifeguards get old.
Bob did show up. As we talked, I realized the tough road he’d had. He was sober for one thing, and had been for nine years. I was glad for him. He was divorced for another, but remarried. And he had a twenty-something son he was very proud of. Showed me pictures on his smart phone. I was happy for him. About the divorce, he joked, “I didn’t get along with my wife’s boyfriend.” He grinned, and I saw the same confident look in his eyes from back in the old days when he was sitting up on the lifeguard stand.
As darkness descended and the twinkle lights in the trees came on to provide some outdoor lighting, a lifeguard (well, a retired lifeguard) with her smart phone camera asked everyone at our table for a group photo. I stood and moved to the side, but she insisted I get in the photo. Click! We all laughed and for one evening, I was a Barton Springs lifeguard. What a cool job.
He was the Texas Longhorns coach from 1957 to 1976. His influence on college football, on the University of Texas and on players and students alike is impossible to measure. I would love to have known him better, or gotten up the courage to say something when our paths crossed, which happened several times.
Take 1978 for example. Cisco’s on East Sixth Street was, at that time, the gathering spot for power brokers, legislators, sports notables and local celebrities. On a Saturday morning in October, especially with the Longhorns out of town for a game, there were maybe six people there. And one of those was Coach Darrell Royal. I was sitting a table or two away, but didn’t have the nerve to speak to him. He would be doing the color commentary on television later that day, flying up to Lubbock after breakfast to cover the Texas Tech-Texas game; it would be one of the first times for him to do a broadcast since he left coaching two years earlier.
Then in 1990, I again crossed paths with Coach Royal. In my job at UT, I had the great assignment of writing and producing a video on the life of Professor J. Neils Thompson, a professor of engineering. The college would be honoring him with a dinner that featured the video. Neils was the president for several years of the NCAA, the governing authority of intercollegiate athletics. He served as NCAA president back in the heyday of Coach Royal and the Texas Longhorns, the wishbone offense, national championships and a 30-game winning streak. Together, these two men made great strides for college sports. At the dinner, the video was played. The coach attended and was asked to offer some comments from the podium. It was one of the proudest moments of my life when he said—in that Southwestern twang of his—“Well, that’s one of the best videos of its kind I’ve ever seen.” Wow!
In the late ‘90s, I took our youngest son, Adam, to a Longhorns basketball game. I nudged Adam and said, “Let’s move down there.” Great seats. But about five minutes before tip-off, I glanced around to see Coach Mack Brown and Coach Darrell Royal coming down the aisle toward our row. “Please, Lord, don’t let us be sitting in their seats.” They breezed past us and sat across the aisle a few rows closer to the court. Whew! Kids came up to Coach Royal the whole game, asking him to sign their shirt or their cap. He never refused a single one.
Six or seven years ago, a friend of mine was in a band that played country and western music. I went to the airport-area hotel where the band was playing at a gathering for the Texas High School Coaches Association, and took a seat. Who should be at the next table but Coach Darrell Royal. People asked for autographs or stopped to chat with him, and it looked like he was enjoying every minute.
Finally, in 2007 I was honored by the university with a service award. Seated on the second row, I soon realized I was sitting directly behind Coach Royal, who also was being honored that day. I was called to the front by the university president, who briefly described my accomplishments. On the front row, Coach Royal was looking at me, listening and smiling, as if he knew all along that I would one day make him proud. I’m so glad our paths crossed. I will miss him.
Literally over. Their farewell tour around the National League will be bittersweet. Forced (some say extorted) into moving to the American League West in 2013 by Commissioner Bud Selig is just another punch to the gut before they hit the canvas (read: last place in the AL West) for a long, long time. No way they’ll keep up with the Rangers, the Angels, or even the A’s and Mariners. And not just in 2013. Try the next seven to ten years.
So it’s good-bye rivals from over the years. Cubs – we were just about always better than they were. Braves – they brought a lot of misery over the years. Dodgers – think back to the rivalry we had with them in the early 80s. Gone. Mets? Anybody remember 1986? St. Louis – don’t get me started. Frustration everywhere you look.
The 2012 Astros? Maybe three proven major leaguers in the whole line-up. Lee ($100 million), Wandy (gone by August) and Brett Meyers (relegated to the bullpen – our ace?) – and then there’s the rest of the starters, all youngsters. Good luck. Play hard. And get ready for Late Night from the West Coast, it’s Houston vs zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Did Abner Doubleday know he created the perfect game when he drew up the baseball diamond? We’ll never know. What we do know is that baseball is somehow perfect in its dimensions, in its ability to create a competitive contest. But most of all in its ability to create drama.
And when that drama unfolds in the World Series, no other sport can match it. Baseball, once the American pastime, has been surpassed—by pro football, college football, the Super Bowl, and the Bowl Championship Series according to TV viewer statistics. But if you watch the World Series, the thrill and the drama instantly come alive.
I saw my first World Series at the age of eight, the 1957 classic that had the Milwaukee Braves up against the mighty New York Yankees. I wasn’t at County Stadium in Milwaukee or at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, but I watched the late afternoon shadows creep across the infield on a small black and white television. The Yankees were loaded—players like Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Gil McDougal, Whitey Ford and others had made them famous. The Braves had a young player named Hank Aaron, veterans like Warren Spahn and Red Schoendienst and a young slugger named Eddie Mathews. The Series ended in classic style when my favorite player, Mathews, snagged a hot grounder in the ninth inning of Game 7 and stepped on third base to deliver the championship to Milwaukee.
Lew Burdette, a right-handed pitcher for the Braves, won an amazing three times in the 1957 Series. It’s unheard of now. A few weeks after the Series was over, my cousin called and told me Lew Burdette was going to be at a furniture store close to where I lived—probably to make some extra money in the off-season. And so on a mild November afternoon, I peddled my bicycle to the furniture store with a calendar tucked under my shirt—a monthly calendar my dad had printed up for his boat-building business to distribute to customers the next year.
I walked in and saw a tall man in a business suit standing in the center of the store. “Are you Lew Burdette?” I asked. He looked down at me, smiled and nodded. We shook hands. “Will you autograph my calendar?” I asked. “Sure,” he said, “I’ll sign every page.”
Check out the World Series. The drama is there. And get a 2012 calendar ready. Someone may be coming to a furniture store near you.
Austin, TX – With the announcement today by the Texas Longhorns that Garrett Gilbert will start at quarterback against Rice in Texas’ season opener, the fate of the Longhorns for the 2011 season is sealed. Make that doomed. In other words, the drought will continue. Hot days will not translate into hot streaks for the 2011 edition of one of college’s premier football programs.
To be fair, it’s not all about Garrett Gilbert. It’s just that the starting quarterback is such an important, visible position. And the junior from Lake Travis hasn’t lived up to the expectations, the hype, or the hope. Back in the sparkling days before the 2009 National Championship Game against Alabama, Gilbert was an understudy for Colt McCoy, one of the best college quarterbacks of all time. Thrust into action when McCoy went down with an injury early in that historic game, Gilbert showed flashes of why he was so highly recruited. Then along came the 2010 season and with it Gilbert’s shaky, lackluster year. Ten TD passes, 17 interceptions. Bad decisions, errant throws, and a decided lack of “take charge” leadership. His reward: a nod to be at the most visible position in the State of Texas.
Other question marks loom for the Horns. The offensive line, the running game, the receivers, and the new offensive scheme brought in from Boise State are untested. There’s hope. On the defensive side, yet another new head coordinator, a lack of depth at defensive end and tackle, young linebackers, and cornerbacks and safeties with little playing time, or little playing time that resulted in wins.
The Longhorns, one of the most followed sports team in the nation, are shrouded in mystery, in large part due to head coach Mack Brown’s reluctance to share with anyone the answer to a simple question: What’s up? No media access, no player interviews, no open-to-the-public practices. Everyone understands he’s hurting from the shoddy 5-7 campaign from 2010. But to simply lock everyone out, particularly the fans, puts even more pressure on Brown and his young Horns (and the new coaching staff) to put up points, yardage, TDs, wins and more. It’s been a strange ride in Austin since that unfortunate loss to Alabama way back when.
On the positive side, the Longhorns have a fairly favorable schedule. They open with Rice and BYU at home, giving them a chance to quell the unrest, provided they win both games. Then a road trip to UCLA, which should have warning lights flashing, and not just on the runway at LAX. If they can win there, things start to look up, way up. A week off after the West Coast game should (if they have won all three) provide huge momentum leading up to the Oct 1 game against Iowa State. This could start a string of payback games for the Horns.
Boom: it’s on to Dallas for OU, which is only Number One in the Nation. Oklahoma State visits the next Saturday, a top 10 team in its own right. Realistically by this point, Texas could be 1-4 or 5-0.
Another off week is next, thanks to the demise of the Big 12’s twelve-team league. Kansas visits, followed the next week by Texas Tech; three home games in a row with an off week thrown in. Are the Horns 1-7 by now or 8-0?
A trip to Missouri won’t be easy. And then it’s back home against Kansas State, which always seems to have Texas’ number. And that’s it for Austin appearances. With only a five-day rest, it’s off to Aggie Land for perhaps the last UT-A&M game for the foreseeable future, should the Ags bolt to the SEC. And then to end the quirky schedule, it’s December in Waco and another payback game, this one against the Baylor Bears, another victor in Austin in the disastrous 2010 season.
The logical conclusion: the Horns go 5-7 once again. There will be blood. And it ain’t going to be orange. The caveat: Gilbert continues his errant ways, Texas endures two losses to start the season and a QB replacement takes over in LA. The season turns around too, with wins against the Bruins, OU, OK State, Kansas, Texas Tech, Missouri, A&M and Baylor. The Horns end up 9-3 and the drought ends with a bowl game in January. Here’s hoping against logic. And good luck to Garrett Gilbert and all of the Longhorns.
He has been a friend of mine since I was 19. An important friend, there at key moments in my life. I was a groomsman in his wedding.
The other day he called, but the news he had wasn’t good. He had lung cancer. Five rounds of chemo treatments, completed. “It’s under control, but I’ll never get rid of it,” he said.
We traveled together with three other guys on the craziest Spring Break trip ever: 1969 to Mazatlan, Mexico, in an old 1955 Ford sedan with four surfboards strapped across the top. He was a great football player on the intramural fields at the university, playing for our “A” team.
He went on to have a great career in engineering. Traveled the world: China, Venezuela, Iraq. Infrequent phone calls kept us sort-of up to date on where we were in our lives. I flew out to San Diego to visit him and his family back in the late 1980s. They later moved to Houston, their home town.
Life goes by too fast. All too fast. One day you’re 19, 20, 21. Then you’re 35, then 45. And you just hope that it doesn’t end with what my friend told me he has.
All the laughs and the good times dissolve as he gives me the news over the phone the other day. I appreciated him telling me. I just wish we could push “rewind” and go back – way back. To Mexico, the beach, the surf. It’s still there. Thanks, friend, my thoughts and prayers are with you.
Allen Mathew Rickman
August 15, 1956 – March 12, 2011
Fighting the disease of Alzheimer’s just like he fought as a Texas Longhorn defensive tackle, the man we knew and loved has finally walked off the field of life. A roar from the crowd can almost be heard for this valiant warrior. We wish he could be here one more day, for one more standing ovation for his efforts. Now gone from this life is Allen Rickman.
Allen Mathew Rickman was born in Brady, Texas, on August 15, 1956, the second son of Dorothy and Bobby Rickman. To Allen, Brady was the perfect playground for him, his brother Robert, and their cousins – a place to run and play, get in and stay out of trouble (including falling through the ceiling into the kitchen floor) and truly enjoy the wonders of nature. Later in life, his parents returned to live in Brady. Allen came to visit often, bringing friends and family to hunt, to fish, and to enjoy the wide open spaces.
Moving to San Antonio at the age of three, Allen grew up in the Alamo City. Many said his calling was baseball. At age 11, he was almost six feet tall. From the pitcher’s mound, he had a sidearm delivery that made his pitches seem to come in from somewhere around third base. Football was to be his sport, however, and he did not disappoint. Graduating from Churchill High in 1974, the 6’4”, 240 pounder was known to everyone as “Big Al.” He earned first team All State honors in football—the first Churchill Charger to earn All State in any sport. Heavily recruited by every major college in the U.S. and selected as one of the “Top 30” high school players in Texas and Arkansas by wire services, he chose to play for the University of Texas, breaking the heart of the Notre Dame recruiter who relentlessly pursued him right up to National Signing Day. True to his nature, Allen immediately went hunting after signing on the dotted line with Texas.
As a Longhorn, he not only joined his brother, who was already on the team. He also followed in his father’s footsteps. Bobby played for Texas in the late 1940s. Allen started as a sophomore, an incredible feat. Slowed by an injury early in the 1975 season, Allen overcame that and later played in the Gator Bowl, the Bluebonnet Bowl, and finally, after the Longhorns’ undefeated 1977 season, the Cotton Bowl. He rejoined his teammates at a reunion at Texas Royal-Memorial Stadium in the fall of 2007.
At UT, Allen lived in Jester, the athletic dormitory, and was said to be connected with one of the wildest things to ever take place there. It seems that a few of the players managed to get a gigantic rattlesnake into Jester (having removed the snake’s fangs beforehand), tied the varmint to a door handle and knocked. Some opened their doors, getting the scare of their lives not knowing that the rattler was without fangs. Others were on top of furniture. The following day, UT Coach Bill Ellington personally directed Allen off the practice field to “go take care of that rattlesnake problem at Jester and don’t come back until it’s taken care of.”
In 1978, Allen married his high school sweetheart, Lee Chetter. He devoted himself to her and would for the rest of their wonderful 33 years together. They were blessed with three children: Kelly, a beautiful red-head with a winning smile; Chris, a natural athlete with a laid-back nature; and Cole, who would grow in stature to match his father’s size. All that Allen did was for Lee and the kids. He was devoted to his family and they looked to him for love and guidance. The children were raised to be hard-working, responsible, and at the same time to put family first, to be fun-loving, to love team sports and, of course, to enjoy the great outdoors.
Family vacations were spent at places Allen loved. Rocky Mountain National Park was a favorite, as was Ruidoso, New Mexico, where the family had a summer home for a time. Durango, Colorado, and the Grand Canyon also were beloved retreats. Allen and Lee were involved in all the children’s school activities: football, basketball (boys and girls), baseball, soccer (again, boys and girls), band, theatre and more. Allen coached Little League baseball, went to countless UIL band competitions, and traveled as a band parent to Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Hawaii, always to support the kids’ activities.
In addition to raising the family with Lee, Allen returned to UT to pursue a degree in geology. He also worked in the stone and tile business. Quickly promoted to sales after his boss noticed his potential, his territory at one time or another covered practically the entire Lone Star State, including the Hill Country, West Texas, Dallas-Ft. Worth and Houston. With his size and a smile as big as Texas, Allen could ramble into any sales office and quickly get the attention of everyone. People realized that he was honest, hard-working, and a family man. He later helped his friends, Steve Hitzfeld and J. D. McDonald, begin Stone Solutions, where he worked until he could no longer participate in the day-to-day activities that he enjoyed so much.
In 2005, with the early onset of Alzheimer’s, Allen was up against an opponent as tough as any he had ever faced. Battling until the end, Allen died at the family home in Kyle, Texas, on Saturday, March 12, 2011.
Left to cherish his memory are his wife, Lee, daughter Kelly, son Chris and his fiancé, Amanda Simon, and son Cole. Also surviving Allen are his father, Bobby Rickman, of Brady; brother, Robert Rickman; sister-in-law, Karen Rickman; nieces Megan and Kaitlin Rickman and nephew Todd Rickman, of San Antonio; father- and mother-in-law Dick and Fran Chetter, of Canyon Lake; brother-in-law Ric Chetter, of Memphis, Tennessee; aunts Melba Hemphill and Patty Rickman, of San Antonio; and cousins Derinda Mundell, of San Antonio, and Dee Rickman, of Austin. His mother, Dorothy (Dot) Rickman, and nephew, Brady Rickman, passed away before him.
The family would like to thank, first and foremost, his mother-in-law, Fran, who spent years as caregiver and companion on a daily basis as he battled the disease. Also, Steve Hitzfeld and J. D. McDonald of Stone Solutions, who contributed so unselfishly as Alzheimer’s eroded opportunities for Allen to contribute to the job he loved. Also, good friends Cherie and Rusty Haggard, for their love, support, and friendship, especially in the final trying months, weeks, and days. Also, John Diaz, Allen’s caregiver in his final days. Finally, to the wonderful staff of Harbor Hospice for their loving care as his life ebbed away. Those interested are encouraged to make a donation to Harbor Hospice or the charity of their choice.