Bob Ford, a prototype country lawyer from Wynne, has a briefcase full of sports stories.
Anyone who has coached under Bear Bryant, Frank Broyles and Tom Landry should.
At age 78, Ford, one of the newest members of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, has the gift of gab and boldness to tell boldness to tell stories about legends.
He was the guest speaker at last weekend Arkansas Sports Club luncheon and his tales left those in a packed meeting room at the Golden Corral wanting more.
After his playing career at Memphis State, Ford came into contact with Bryant, then a new coach at Alabama, through his college coach, Eugene Lambert.
“Don’t know what you look like; how about getting your butt in a car and coming down here,” Ford said Bryant told him from his office in Tuscaloosa.
Ford borrowed a car, met with the Bryant, who told him, “You look like a coach. As fast as you can, get back down here.”
That began a special relationship with Bryant that fermented a rich pool of stories.
Ford said Bryant once was visiting in the home of a top recruit in eastern Kentucky and the family asked him to spend the night, but Bryant would have to sleep in the same bed with the prospect’s little brother.
Eager to make an impression, Bryant agreed. The boy kneeled at the bedside and appeared to be saying his prayers. Known rarely to miss a moment to relate in recruiting, Bryant knelt on the other side of the bed.
When he got up, the young boy told him that “Mama is gonna be mad.” Why? asked the coach. “The slop jar (or bedpan) is on my side,” said the boy.
Once, Ford was relentlessly working out Lee Roy Jordan, an Alabama All-American and one of the Crimson Tide’s greatest players. Ford said Bryant saw the activity from his tower on the practice field and sent a manager over to Ford. Ford said the manager told him, “Coach wanted me to tell you to let Lee Roy Jordan go over there and take a knee and rest. You are about to run off the best football player we’ve got.”
He noted that “half the coaches who coached for Bear Bryant were scared of him; the other half were borderline scared of him.”
Ford recalled after one practice, Bryant was first into the dressing room.
“Hey, coach, what’s your hurry?” asked Ford, the second to enter.
He said Bryant turned and stared, “What did you say?”
“What’s your hurry?”
Two more times, building in intensity, Bryant asked, “What did you say?”
“Now, the other coaches were heading into the locker room, heard this and scattered — two ran into the toilets and three headed for the shower,” Ford said.
Bryant cinched his tie and left, slamming a metal door shut with reverberations throughout the locker room.
“OK, coaches, you can come out of hiding now,” Ford said. He said every since that scene, he was often greeted by fellow coaches, “Hey Bob, what’s your hurry?”
After serving on staffs at Georgia, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Arkansas (during the Great Shootout of 1969), Ford became a scout for Gil Brandt and Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys. He went to Austria and helped sign soccer star Toni Fritsch as a place-kicker, a move toward side-winding kickers that revolutionized football.
Ford noted that Fritsch, later in his career, called him and said Landry had traded him.
“Coach no like beer,” Ford said the place-kicker told him. He said he had had a sip or two of beer in the morning and Landry later smelled it on his breath in the huddle during a practice.
“Austrians drink beer around the clock and I understood that,” Ford said, “but Tom was straight as an arrow. He told his players he wouldn’t tolerate it and he meant it.”
But Ford said his happiest moment concerning Fritsch was early in the place-kicker’s career when he hit a long field goal to win Dallas’ first Super Bowl title.
Ford said he wrote Landry a letter saying, “All the best. My ring size is 11. Bob Ford, your European staff.”
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)