A Perfect Day, Almost
Several days ago, I had an opportunity to do something I have wanted to do for quite some time. A relatively new friend of mine, Kurt Hickman, is the son of Bill Hickman who was an Asst. Football coach at UNC from 1967 to 1972. Mr. Hickman is now retired and living in Leesburg, Virginia and Kurt had told him about some of the conversations he and I had about our days in Chapel Hill. We would send messages back and forth through Kurt consisting of "do you remembers?" and anecdotes about players and coaches of the past. I remember once I sent the question "Who was the bashful bachelor from Barlow Bend? Mr. Hickman fired back the correct answer (Frank Howard) and a fact about him with which I was unaware. Frank Howard was Phi Beta Kappa at the University of Alabama. With no disrespect intended, I don't think you would have assumed that Frank Howard was PBK if you were ever around him for any period of time.
At any rate, Kurt and I made plans to visit Mr. Hickman the Friday before Easter to talk over "old times." After a country breakfast that would have made any construction worker or farm hand proud, we set out in the "Heelmobile" for Leesburg which is about two and a half hours from Richmond through what has to be one of the most beautiful areas in the entire country. We had planned to take Mr. Hickman out for lunch but he insisted on preparing lunch for us. We probably didn't need any lunch after the breakfast we put away.
Mr. Hickman ( sorry, but my southern upbringing dictates that I address elders as Mr., Mrs. or Miss, whichever is appropriate and Mr. Hickman is my senior by a few years ) and I started right out talking sports as though we had known each other all our lives. I would drop a name and he would tell me something about the person that I never knew. Some of the names which came up were Charlie Justice, Pride Ratteree, Peahead Walker, Carl Snavely, Wallace Wade, Alex Webster, "Footsie" Palmer, "Doc" Newton, Everette Case and Eddie Cameron. He would tell me about experiences he had with the names I mentioned and I would do the same. Keep in mind that a lot of the people I was mentioning were college stars when I was much younger so I didn't really know a lot about them other than what I had read in the newspaper. Mr. Hickman had coached at N.C. State, Duke, and UNC but had spent most of his collegiate coaching career at Vanderbilt. Ironically, he and his family moved to Chapel Hill at about the same time I left Nashville and came to Duke and we both left the Triangle area at approximately the same time. I felt we had more in common than just an interest in old time sports. Mr. Hickman left the staff of Bill Dooley and joined George Allen's staff with the Washington Redskins in 1972 where he remained until he left with Coach Allen to join the Los Angeles Rams. One story Mr. Hickman related about Jeff Hayes is worth repeating. When BH asked JH where he was from in North Carolina, JH was so sure the town wouldn't be recognized that he was reluctant t give the name ( Elkin). When JH finally divulged where he was from, BH asked him a couple of questions about people he knew in Elkin which both surprised JH and immediately put him at ease. The Elkin area was BH's recruiting area when he was at UNC and he was very familiar with both Elkin and the surrounding area.
Probably the funniest story BH told was about when Carolina was recruiting "Bud" Grissom, an outstanding lineman who was also from Elkin, I believe. He said when it became obvious that Grissom was going to attend Carolina, he and the Asst. Coach from South Carolina were in the presence of each other and the SC coach began uncontrollably crying. BH was taken back by his sobbing and asked what the problem was. The SC aide said that Coach Dietzel wasn't going to like the fact that Grissom had decided to attend UNC instead of the other Carolina, USC. I got the feeling that BH really felt sorry for the coach but advised him that if he took every defeat in the recruiting wars as hard as he was taking this one, then much pain lay ahead for him.
We talked for about three hours, in fact, we talked with such interest and intensity that we almost forgot to eat the lunch BH had prepared. It was no ordinary meal. We had German potato salad, ham sandwiches, cole slaw and other things I can't remember.
About 4:00, Kurt and I decided we had better set out on the return trip to Richmond. The drive back was just as enjoyable as the drive up until we got about 5 miles out of Fredericksburg, Va. At first, we thought a massive back up was due to an accident but the more we thought about it, the more we suspected the worst. We correctly deduced that the back up was being caused by the merging of two lanes into one where you exit Highway #17 to enter the Interstate and a second merge onto the interstate itself. I must admit this is the first time I have been on the road on a holiday weekend in quite some time. We decided to take a chance by staying in the left lane and crossing over I-95 in hopes of finding a better situation on US #1. Fortunately, we deduced correctly and the traffic was considerably lighter once we reached US #1 in Fredericksburg.
The traffic backup was not so bad as to spoil what up to that point had been a perfect day. Let's just say that no one will ever have to explain to me what traffic is like on a holiday weekend. One thing I have not been able to figure out, however. It appeared to Kurt and me that well over 50% of the cars on Highway 17 had New York license plates. I haven't had a chance to check the map but #17 must run up into upstate New York. I can think of no other possible explanation.
Sure hope BH and I can have some more sessions talking over old times. You see, given the right circumstances, a Wahoo and a Tar Heel can get along. Of course, it wasn't game day.