The following is a commentary blog from FOX6 Sports Director Rick Karle:
What do you get when you cross Thanksgiving weekend with the Iron Bowl? You probably get indigestion on several fronts. Me? The holiday always usually finds me a bit softer, less sarcastic. While like you, I get excited about the big game, I thought I'd offer up ten of my favorite Alabama and Auburn people I've had the chance to meet over my 26 years here in Birmingham.
These folks have made my life richer, and regardless of which team is your favorite, I don't think you will argue that these are class people. Why only ten when there are dozens? I can't answer that except to say that ten is nice number (I could go into the hundreds if I had the patience). So here we go, in no particular order. And if you are a Tide or Tiger person who's not on the list? Don't worry, you know I love ya!
They don't come more classy than this. The 1971 Heisman winner from Auburn was born and raised in Birmingham, and to this day has not forgotten his roots as he remains the coach at Samford University. Pat has stared back cancer and other setbacks, and like when he played for the Tigers, continues to show his strength. Thank you, Pat, for being a good friend and a good man.
When John Croyle approached Coach Bryant back in the early 70's to tell him he was thinking of creating a home for boys, the coach encouraged Croyle to do so. Perhaps that was Bryant's message to Croyle that the NFL may not be a good fit. To this day it was the best advice Croyle has received, as John, his wife Tee, along with kids Brodie and Reagan oversee the Big Oak Boys and Girls Ranches.
A superb speaker, how inspirational is John? Spend 2 minutes with him and you will be ready to run through a brick wall at his request. I've known John for 25 years (the first time I visited the ranch Brodie was 6- yep, time flies), and my life is richer because of it.
When Terry Henley speaks, I tend to listen, and I do so for a few reasons: First, I can quickly get the feel of the Auburn nation by hearing what he has to say, and second, I usually wind up taking with me a funny line or a quick joke. The brother of comedian Vic Henley is a born entertainer (witness his wardrobe), but Terry can also be sincere and honest. As part of The Amazins' of the early 70's, the former Tiger tailback is one of the most powerful people in the Auburn family. You'd never know it by his down home, "aw shucks" personality. Good man, that Terry Henley.
What's a woman from upstate New York doing retired in Tuscaloosa surrounded by six national championship trophies? I suppose what Sarah is doing is looking for a way to give back. While her family has been touched by cancer, Patterson has held her head high and pushed through. And while she reigned over one of the nation's top collegiate gymnastics programs, it's how she molded her athletes into superb students that what separates her from the rest. No coach from the university has ever worked the media like Sarah, and sellout crowds were her trademark. A few of the current Bama coaches can take a lesson from how Patterson hawked her product through shear pride, focus and determination. Yes, Sarah Patterson knew how to finish.
Go ahead and call him "sappy", but the pride of Gordo is a walking encyclopedia of Auburn knowledge. Has David worn his love of AU on his sleeve for decades? Of course, but when you're David Housel it matters not. A former Sports Information Director, Athletic Director, author, you name it, Housel is my go-to source when I need an answer on Auburn sports history. As I turn to Ron Ingram of the AHSAA to answer my high school questions, I turn to Housel to answer those questions about Auburn. A master story-teller with the panache of a Howard Cosell, this is one entertaining man.
Go ahead and look up the word "class" in the dictionary- it will have a picture of Bart Starr next to it. How can a man who was the MVP of the first two Super Bowls, a Pro Football Hall Of Famer, an inspirational speaker and a brave man who has fought through a stroke not be loved? Well, he can't.
Bart reminds me a bit of my father, who recently passed: Funny and witty yet polite and humble.
How much should you strive to be like Bart? Here's a man who writes a poem every night and places it under the pillow of his wife Cherry before bed. C'mon, Bart, you're making us mere mortals look like losers!
While he's a relative newcomer to my list, he's already cracked my Top Ten. Unless he's a superb actor, Pearl is what he appears to be: Articulate, witty, emotional, and almost too honest.
Yes, Pearl is a born showman, and like Sarah Patterson, he knows how to get the buzz going about his team. Over the Top? Not a bit. I had the pleasure of hosting Pearl at my house a few months back on "Good Day Alabama". Any man who picks me up on live TV to help me jam a basketball is OK in my book. Within a few days after his retirement (whenever that may be), Pearl will head straight to the network broadcast booth and continue to breath in life.
THE LATE MAL MOORE:
Like Pat Sullivan and Bart Starr, the late Mr Moore was a true gentleman who loved his university and his family. The pride of Dozier, Al spent some 50 years being associated with the University of Alabama, over 30 years as a coach. Will I remember Mr Moore as being the back-up QB to a man named Joe Namath? Being a part of 10 national football championships? Hiring Nick Saban? Leaving his legacy behind with facility upgrades? No. I'll remember Mr Moore as a class man who never walked by without stopping to chat. A fine man is missed.
Hold on now, before you write me to tell me about Charles Barkley's shortcomings, and yes, he has a few, allow me to remind you about his good side. I've known Charles for 26 years, and while he can be on the golf course next to the POTUS or a big-name athlete of actor, he will always pick up his phone to talk. This is one man who will never forget his roots. I remember him telling me years ago how excited he was that Leeds was soon to get a Publix supermarket. Today he's perhaps the most influential former jock in all of America and a media superstar. And if you remain one who doubts, remember this: Charles Barkley is the best public relations machine Auburn University has ever had (with all due respect to Bo).
Hands down one of my all-time favorites. A cross between Paul Bryant and John Wayne, it's the softer side of Stallings that has always impressed me. Always quick to answer his phone and volunteer for any cause, he's a man of great wisdom and passion. Years ago, while still in pain, the coach invited me to his Texas ranch only months after the passing of his son John Mark. His first order of business upon by arrival? To walk me to John Mark's grave, just yards from his front porch. Just like at that time, to this day, Stallings speaks of the joy and strength his son gave him down through the years. These days Stallings is involved in a massive project: Helping his daughter Laurie, son-in-law David, along with Brad Paisley and his wife Kimberly in building a hospital in Haiti. If there is anyone who can finish the job, it's Gene Stallings.
I've had the pleasure of getting to know these folks over the years, and the above group is proof positive than when you look past the crimson and white or the orange and blue, what you find are some special people. Now let's get back to the Iron Bowl, and may your favorite team win big!