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McCollum's Column: A stadium that formed the foundation of so much of who I am

Posted: December 9, 2013 - 5:48pm

It was like watching the funeral of a grandfather who taught you how to fish.

The last day was coming — everyone knew it for more than a year — but it still hurt a bit. But in that happy-sad type of way, it exhilarated.

Floyd Casey Stadium went out Saturday in the most appropriate type of way — with thrills, chills and a blaze of glory as Baylor’s football team defeated the University of Texas to claim its first Big XII title.

Folks once said hell would freeze over the day Baylor won a Big XII football title and it pretty much on a cold, icy, foggy afternoon and evening. Several of my friends described it as the coldest they have ever been on the outside with the warmest feeling on the inside.

As I watched from afar, it got emotional.

That’s not because of a stadium that was not eye-popping or spectacular to begin with and was overdue to make way for cozy, on-campus, alongside-a-river, modern edifice.

It wasn’t entirely about a ballgame against a longtime rival with a championship on the line.

Remember a place where you fell in love? Remember walking into a place that had such an atmosphere that the epiphany came that this is what you were supposed to do?

It was like that for me at Floyd Casey Stadium, or Baylor Stadium as it was known when I was a student.

I covered my first football game in Baylor Stadium.

One of my first jobs in college was sitting in the press box during Baylor games, then rushing to the locker rooms after the game to get some initial quotes from key participants. I would then quickly transcribe those quotes on an old-school portable typewriter from hastily scribbled scratchings on a notepad. Those quotes were then copied and distributed to sports writers, who did not have time to journey to the locker room, to add to their game stories.

For me, the stadium and that press box was a laboratory. The results of the gestation was life-changing.

The wonderful byproduct was being able to watch some of the legends of sports writing at the time — Dave Campbell, Blackie Sherrod, Jack Gallagher, Mickey Herschowitz, Sam Blair, Orville Henry — go about their craft. I was the kid who watched from the sideline as great reporters and wordsmiths put history into perspective.

With the view from above in the press box, the chatter of iconic scribes, the clatter of typewriters, the clanging of ancient Western Union machines were magical.

Floyd Casey Stadium, a.k.a Baylor Stadium, was where I fell in love with a profession I’ve been married to for more than four decades.

And it wasn’t because I watched a whole lot of great football. During three years of covering Baylor football for The Lariat, the student newspaper that is still one of the best of its kind around, the Bears were 0-10, 2-9, 1-9. I wrote three winning football stories in three years.

But in watching a lot of gosh-awful football games, I learned to be creative in how you tell a story, to observe things other than the dominant stuff that most people were watching (or trying not to watch).

And the things I witnessed, from the ridiculous, the sublime and the horrible:

* I saw many a live bear mascot drink many a Dr Pepper (the most entertaining thing at many games).

* I witnessed in one season the precision of the Texas A&M band and the push-the-envelope zaniness of the MOB (Rice’s Marching Owl Band).

* I saw former TCU coach Jim Pittman collapse along the sideline with a heart attack during a game and covered my first real breaking-news story (he died that night).

* In that press box, I ate my first link sandwich of smoked sausage — and had my first memorable case of indigestion.

* I remember homecoming games, when things on the field got dull and disgusting, scanning the student section of the stands with binoculars to identify the companion of the coed who might have been my fantasy date.

* I watched the foundation of that great Texas team that won a national championship while the players were Shorthorns (when teams had lenient scholarship limits and there were freshmen teams). I also saw Street, Bertelsen, Koy and Wooster and Co. when they were upperclassmen.

* I saw Arkansas’ Dickey Morton rip apart a Baylor defense with one of the great rushing efforts in Razorback history.

* I watched (and got quotes from) such coaching legends as Frank Broyles, Darrell Royal, Gene Stallings, Hayden Fry and Bill Yoeman.

* I watched individuals who influenced my life and worked alongside fellow reporters who are friends to this day.

* I saw Baylor almost beat a great Texas team when the Bears shouldn’t have been in the game.

* I remember Baylor officials leaving the scoreboard on at the stadium and Baylor President Herbert Reynolds and other admnistrators sleeping in the stadium in 1974 after Baylor upset Texas for the first time in seemingly a million years.

* Later during my professional career, I saw Mike Singletary pretty much take apart a good Arkansas offense and attended one of my first college reunions in a suite in the renovated stadium.

* During another reunion weekend, I watched Baylor pull an incredible upset over Texas and watched the students tear down the goal posts and transport them in front of the student center.

* Another time, my wife and I endured numbing cold and driving rain as I experienced (on a rare occasion) life in the stands during an ugly homecoming game against Kansas State on a truly yucky day.

* And there was the time as a young reporter, I gave Skip Bayless a ride back to Dallas when we were some of the stagglers in the press box.

It’s a little embarrassing to feel a connection, a strange love, a sense of remorse for the final functional hours of a finite structure.

But, as impressionable human beings, we do. Those tangible structures foster intangible and unforgettable experiences that rest in the deep roots of the soul.

Although the lights went out for the final time Saturday at Floyd Casey Stadium, there remains for me a glow — a light from the tangle of emotions and experiences of where you have been and who you are.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)


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