Astronaut Skill Packet 15 DX (Preschool Digital Workbooks)
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Houston Public Library Digital Archives
An overturned cereal bowl or a coffee cup. You said it looked like the end of a stick deodorant. You have a better memory for what I wrote than I do. It is funny the things that people quote back to you and that is one of the lovely things about having had a chance to write about sports because it touches people so deeply. I did not even remember it until somebody told me about George always using this in his class every semester. He would hold it up as an example to his students.
The lead was just this simple: But back to the Astrodome, I was in a very small group the day Judge Hofheinz changed the future of the ball club and the franchise when he fired Paul Richards, who had been the first general manager to put a team on the field. What was the dispute about? What is the real story about the Colt. Was that a trademark thing? It was a trademark thing. I guess it would be nice if people believed there was something more conspiratorial but what actually happened was there was a contest and the Colt. Mavericks was one of the top two choices but there had been a team named the Mavericks that had been kind of a Minor League Basketball franchise in Houston when they had leagues that preceded the American Basketball Association.
And so, as crude and as strange and as distant as that would sound today, that was the reason for moving to the Colt. And that was terrific for the first two years and then the Colt. So, they asked the Judge to sit down and negotiate a rights payment for the Houston licensing of that name. The Judge did not like the name anyway and did not want to be identified with the Wild West.
He wanted to be identified with that big construction that was going on in Clearlake and Webster and that was the Space Program. Tell us something about the founding of the AFC. Are we talking about the Oilers? Yes, the Oilers and the. Because they were intertwined so much. Yes, well, you know, it started with Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams. Both tried to buy the Chicago Cardinals who were the other team in Chicago and, in a very short time, moving to St. Louis because they were simply not able to compete with the Bears for the fans and for the coverage and exposure in the Windy City.
But George Halas owned the Bears and made it very clear to Lamar Hunt and Adams independently of each other — they did not know that they were both negotiating to try to buy the team. And both Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams independently of each other had talked to the Wolfner family -- Walter Wolfner was managing it for the family — and the Bidwells were the next generation. So, neither Lamar or Bud would accept that deal.
And it turned out that in talking to Wolfner, wanting to make the team as marketable as possible, mentioned 3 or 4 other wealthy sports fans and sportsmen who had expressed an interest in the team. So, he and Adams knew each other well, their families knew each other, but they had not met. He called Bud and asked him if he could fly to Houston to meet. They had dinner and talked about everything except football. Bud drove him out to the airport and as he was getting out of the car, he said the reason he wanted to meet with him was talk to him about starting a new football league, knew that he had tried to buy the Chicago Cardinals, and Lamar had and Bud had made the same attempt and had the same result, and asked him if he would be interested in coming in with him.
Bob Howsam in Denver. A famous story about when it became apparent to people in the National Football League that this league. The All-America Football Conference notably had failed but it lasted for about 4 years. But the League began to worry when they saw an interview with H. They may have a little more staying power.
And Adams actually was one of the guys who was really willing to put his money up. It was funny because Adams tried to get him for weeks or months to negotiate after they had their first draft and could not reach him. And finally, he called the LSU strength coach, conditioning coach, and told him that if he could find Billy Cannon, to tell him he understands that he has talked to the Rams but whatever the Rams have offered him, he would double it. Adams went home and he told Nancy, his wife, to stay off the phone, that he was going to get a call from Billy Cannon within the hour.
Adams, will you accept the charges, a collect call from Billy Cannon in Baton Rouge? Adams, how are you? I have been trying to get ahold of you. Do you think that is a problem? They found in favor of Billy Cannon and the Houston Oilers. And so, Cannon became the first really college marquis name and the Oilers got the other one who was George Blanda who had played quarterback for George Halas; who actually had been quarterback for Bear Bryant at Kentucky. Had also played linebacker for Bear Bryant.
Those were the days of the two ways, right? Those were the days when you played both ways, 60 minutes. He played for the Bears. They were losing badly though one game and Blanda actually quit because he was not getting to play. He was the other big name and one of the early stars of the American Football League. What it amounted to, not necessarily I think. Not all of them had money. Billy Sullivan had been a sports publicist and had to borrow every dime he put in that team.
But what it was, was the hunger, the appetite for football fans in developing major cities around the country who wanted professional football, who wanted a piece of that action.
And, you know, there were only like 8 teams in the National Football League and there were a lot more great football cities than that. There was an explosion coming in pro football and the American Football League helped accelerate that. A television contract with NBC. And that is when the NFL realized they had to make a deal, that both leagues, would be bankrupt if they started trying to outbid each other for players. But the stories were so wild, Jim.
Every team had bird dogs and scouts and babysitters — guys who would go to the towns where their college draft choices lived and stayed with them until they got them into camp, not just got their contracts signed — that meant very little in those days — but they had to get them into camp. I remember one guy ended up at the wedding of one of the players and one guy ended up in the funeral of a family member of one of the players.
He helped carry the coffin. And players would get notes from waiters, from a scout sleeping in his car in the parking lot telling him what the other team was going to offer. Kansas City did this one time. And a player like Otis Taylor. And, you know, Tommy Nobis of the University of Texas had been drafted by the Atlanta Falcons and the Houston Oilers and Adams got one of the astronauts, they were orbiting the moon and got one of the astronauts to send a message to Nobis to please sign with the Oilers.
It was very dramatic and theatrical but Nobis signed with the Atlanta Falcons anyway. The problem was that the Oilers had taken an equal role in getting the revenue bonds passed to build the Astrodome. And, in fact, the football vote probably swung it and Adams made a lot of effort and turned out a lot of votes to get the bond issue passed to build the Astrodome with the expectation they would be equal partners. Adams made a strategic error in that he had a chance to get the lease to the Astrodome and did not want the responsibility. Bud had 20 companies he was running then in the oil and gas business and pipeline business.
And so, he let the Houston Sports Association — he was a member of it but Hofheinz controlled it — let them have the lease.
Judge Hofheinz was the emperor of all he surveyed and had plans for an amusement park and hotel complexes, all of which happened, and treated Adams and the Oilers like a tenant. And so, they worked it out. Adams had a contentious relationship with the City of Houston.
He had an unfortunate tendency that when things went well and good news happened and they won a championship or signed somebody important, he would disappear. And when he had to fire somebody or there was a crisis in the administration of the team, Bud would go to the press conference and get hammered by the questions. So, it was a Pavlovian kind of thing where the fans got to associate Bud with bad news and somebody else with the good news that happened and that team over the years had a fairly decent record in Houston, even though they broke a lot of hearts a lot of seasons.
But Bud was not seen as an articulate showman, guy with some showmanship, although, in the early years of the AFL, he was really one of the more visible figures and one of the more fascinating ones, and one of the more aggressive owners in terms of carrying the battles of the National Football League. But that unpopularity, and I will say this. I talked to Adams about it and he said he never really saw signs of it; that the fans who came up to him always thanked him for bringing pro football to town and wished him luck.
And he understood though that there was another side and he had a sense of humor about it. I was stuck in traffic one night and he was on the radio being interviewed by one of the sports talk shows. Adams, I would like to ask you a question about this: Adams, my question is, are you crazy or what? He offered the job to Tom Landry when they started the team. They had the best team in the American Football League. But Bud always said if Landry had taken the job, he might have had the same coach for 25 years. But, as it happened, for one reason or another, the first 3 years, they had 3 different coaches and that sort of set the tone for the turmoil in the franchise.
When did you basically change from being sports editor to a columnist? Even though I had a contract to stay there, I also had an offer — grateful to have it — from Pete Rozelle to work in the National Football League office. The Post had called and Bill Hobby was the editor then. Oveta Culp Hobby told me, to bring me back to Houston as an assistant managing editor if, after 1 year, I wanted to come back to Houston. So, I kind of had that in my back pocket when I went to New York which was sort of a nice insurance policy. So, the day the merger was announced, Bill called and asked me if I wanted to enforce that contract and come back to Houston.
That was really the next development. Briefly, I wrote a features column, Jim, that was on the front page of the Features section. So, I came back from New York, back from the football league and went back to writing a column. In those days, I think we were writing 5 days a week but very shortly, we started going to a 3-day-a-week cycle.
We had, I think, at least 3 columnists, maybe even 4, so we had 1 or 2 columns every day in the paper. I remember Leon Hale telling me that he was having to write 7 days a week there for a while. So, tell me about leaving the Post and going to the Chronicle. Well, I was traveling when the deal closed for the Chronicle to acquire the assets of the Post and I came back home from a trip and it was the night before the announcement. I had about 10 voicemail messages, people wanting me to call them. I had not heard a thing about it.
So, they had to keep it quite to keep from a bidding war breaking out and that was a condition of the sale. The next highest offer was from the Bielo sp family in Dallas. I had another career going, as you know, in writing books and always had at least one and sometimes two contracts that I would be behind a deadline on. I was in a position not to make a move right away and do not know if it would have been a good thing, in any case, that the Chronicle was taking on a lot of debt buying the paper and did not really want to take on a lot of Post employees.
Jack Loftis was the editor and we did talk and I recommended 5 people including one of the most important, Pat Robertson, who was the secretary to the editor. It was a strange situation and I really felt like I had an income that could support me. The newspaper field, of course, was shrinking badly. And so, I did not want to jump to the other paper, the Chronicle , while there were so many people still looking for jobs.
So, I focused on the books for 1 year and after that year, I missed writing the column and the Chronicle talked to me about doing a column a week and I did that for 1 year. When the end of that year came, I did not want to do it just one column a week. It was a Sunday column which meant I had to write it on Friday, so I really could not cover very much in the way of events. Once in a while, I would get sent out on assignment. So, we were going to dissolve it and Jack asked me to come on full-time and be a columnist and Dan Cunningham had the problem of fitting me into the schedule but I did and I had 10 really good years at the Chronicle , enjoyed it and got to continue writing about the people and the teams and the towns that had been a big part of my life.
You always miss that when you leave it. But there was a little bit of a conflict for me with writing books and writing columns, and there always seemed to be kind of a clash when there would be a deadline on the book end and an assignment that I needed to do for the paper. I had an opportunity to go to Sam Houston State in what they called the Warner Endowed Journalism Chair, named after Phil Warner who was, at one time, the editor of the Chronicle and later a judge.
So, I accepted the position of the journalism chair at Sam Houston State and have it, to this day, 5 or 6 chairs later. Are you still writing books? I always have a deadline or two that I am behind on. So, 51, is that a right number? Somebody counted them up and actually it is up to about 59 now. It is almost embarrassing to say that because it makes it sound like it is easy, like they roll out of a machine like gumballs. It is not easy, and you do a lot of bleeding and a lot of looking out the window and a lot of trying to make people happy and a lot of trying to keep editors from knocking at your door and storming the fortress and kicking in your television set.
But I have been so fortunate, Jim, because I have had a chance to work with people who, at what they did, were one of the best that ever were. I did books with Leon Jaworski right after the Watergate story and scandal and resignation of President Nixon. I did books with a couple of astronauts - Walter Cunningham and Bernard Harris. I did a book with Blanda. Some Texas icons — Joe Jamal, one of the great trial lawyers.
It has been a terrific experience and career for me. And you also, as I understand, sort of did a biography of George W. I started it and almost finished it. It was actually a campaign memoir. Without going into too much boring and tedious detail, it was in when he was then Governor Bush and had announced for the presidency for the Republican nomination.
And there were stories of a number of books coming out that would deal with unpleasant periods of his life and episodes. The campaign memoir was going to be kind of a defensive measure. The staff, his gubernatorial and campaign staff, really were against it. They really did not want him doing a book at all because they did not want something people could put a microscope to and pick over it. But, to his credit, Bush thought there was an advantage in it, that if it was handled right, it could be a positive for him. Without getting into confidences I have no right to break or share, there were some disagreements that grew out of things that were in the book.
Our position is, for the book, that he was very successful at starting companies and creating equity for the stockholders. The PR staff took over the book and came out and disappeared into some great dark hole. So, did you have to give the money back? I got some of it, but I will say this — I have no unkind ill feelings at all about George W. Bush and had the greatest warmth and affection in the world for his father and mother, former President George H. Bush and Barbara Bush, and I would visit with former President Bush just casually — an invitation in the mail or by phone — just to talk sports.
He was the captain of the Yale Baseball Team, first baseman. And probably Ruth never read it but he donated it to Yale Library and first baseman and captain George H. Bush accepted it on behalf of the Yale Baseball Team. I wish someone would write a book about him. A publisher came on board immediately.
Prescott Bush was an amazing man, a very modern and moderate Republican which might not be a popular position today but he was the first Republican to oppose Joe McCarthy. I could go on and on but just the kind of person he was and those genes were passed on to that family, especially to his son, George. He turned it down when he was running for reelection for the Senate. And when McCarthy was dying of liver disease, liver failure from his alcoholism and was in the Bethesda Naval Hospital, Prescott Bush may or may not have known he was there but he was there for a routine annual physical checkup and as he was leaving the hospital, a nurse came up to him and asked him if he had a few minutes.
Even though McCarthy was a vindictive man and a man who bore grudges very well and bitterly, he had so much respect for Prescott Bush that in his dying hours or days, welcomed a chance to have a visit and to talk a little bit with him.
And so, that was one of the last memories, I guess, that Joseph McCarthy had, was seeing a guy that had not hesitated to oppose him when it was a very rare and unpopular thing to do. I would say, I guess, that I wrote about sports. It is strange because now, I am actually lecturing at Sam Houston State. My primary class is a sports writing, sports broadcasting class.
The other class is a magazine, an opinion column writing class. So, it fits very nicely into what I like to do. But one of the great compliments I have ever had in my life was the first semester I was there, we had to bring in extra chairs because so many young men and even young women wanted to take that sports writing class.
Only about 4 schools in America ever even offered that. And I was on the second floor waiting for the elevator to go down to the first floor where my office was located and 3 of my students were walking down the hall away from me but I could hear them. How cool is that? Yes, you do hear sportswriters called reporters once in a while but mostly it is just sportswriters. I think it is because for centuries or decades or whatever, sports columnists and sportswriters did not do any investigative journalism.
You really wrote for the home team and you were a cheerleader, in a large degree. Very little negativity, very little in the way of criticism. It began to change about the time I was growing up and writing about the early pro teams. They tore up many a bar. Jack Meyer was the third member of that group. Anyway, Owens was a relief pitcher and I had covered a game in which he had been pounded and had made a reference to Owens coming in from the bullpen and pouring gasoline on the fire.
It had been bat day in Milwaukee and I had two little boys, 6 and 8, and whatever, so I had gotten two of these little miniature bats, one for each kid, and I made up my mind that I would wait for Owens and when he took one step off the bus, I was just going to hit him across the forehead with those two bats and do whatever damage I could do.
And the guy who was sitting with me, Claude Ramon, was trying to convince me to get the hell out of there. I waited and waited and he did not get off the bus. And finally, the back doors of the bus opened up and here came Owens. So, he is hanging out the right front door, the tire is flat and they are bouncing along those potholes with Owens going up and down with that door swinging halfway closed and halfway open all the way across the parking lot.
Well, three weeks went by and I managed to avoid him and I am walking through the locker room going down to the tunnel to the dugout and it is just Owens and Farrell.