This morning I awoke to learn that Doug Layton had died last night. He had undergone surgery for stomach cancer a couple of years ago and only recently learned that the outlook was not good. He was 81.
I traveled for many years with Doug when he was a part of the Alabama broadcast team and I was sports information director, and our friendship endured long after we had left those positions. We went to the first Southeastern Conference Media Day event together and I had shared that story with several this week at its renewal. I had hoped to see him this week while I was in Hoover, but it didn’t happen.
For many years at SEC Media Days, Doug would join me in the “Print” room to listen to the expanded presentations of SEC coaches. He always had at least two difficult crossword puzzles to work on if things began to get slow.
Up until a couple of years ago, the SEC included a golf tournament with the event, and Doug and I always played together. We were also part of what we called the Dream Team, the original foursome in Gene Stallings’s annual fund-raising golf tournament. Actually, Tommy Brooker, Ben Shurett, Doug, and I weren’t much of a team, but no group had more fun.I enjoy playing golf, and there has never been a more delightful playing companion than Doug Layton. We once played a round with Cecil Dowdy and Ray Perkins after Perkins had left Alabama to return to the NFL. In the post-round gathering for refreshment, Doug mused, “Ray, if you hadn’t left, we’d be doing this all the time.” Perkins said, “No we wouldn’t, because I’d be dead.” It was a glimpse at the pressure Perkins had felt as the successor to Paul Bryant. Doug was best known to thousands and thousands of Crimson Tide fans as the wise-cracking color man on Bama football broadcasts with John Forney and later with Paul Kennedy (“It’s good, it’s good, it’s good!” after Van Tiffin’s field goal to beat Auburn is iconic) and Eli Gold. He was also Alabama’s play-by-play broadcaster on basketball for many years. And although less known for basketball, Doug paved the way for SEC mid-week television of SEC games, developing a package of showing one game a week when before there had been only one Saturday telecast. One of my favorite Layton lines came while he was broadcasting an Alabama basketball game. “As you know,” he said, “it is my policy never to criticize an official’s call. If ever I were to break that policy, however, it would be right now.” From time-to-time he would crack on me about something. My retort was always, “When I was in high school, you were my second favorite radio personality behind Tommy Charles.” He and Charles were a popular radio team in Birmingham. When Doug and I traveled with Alabama basketball in the late 1970s, we were seatmates so we could continue our never-ending gin game. One year we met up with Doug at a tournament, and would be flying back to Birmingham on commercial aircraft. I had my wife, Lynne, with me. When we realized Doug had a first class ticket and Lynne and I were in coach, he swapped tickets with Lynne. She got to fly first class so that Doug and I could play gin. I never think of the card game that I don’t think of Doug turning over the remaining cards after I had gone down muttering, “There’s got to be another queen in there.” That became the mantra for both of us when we had a big losing hand. When I was publishing ’BAMA Magazine in Birmingham, I would have to spend a few days each month in Birmingham. On those days I would meet with Doug and his longtime partner and friend, John Ed Willoughby, for lunch. Those were long and highly entertaining lunches. A few years ago I wrote a book about the greatest plays in Alabama football history. The publisher told me to find a recognizable person to write the foreward. Doug Layton was the first person I considered, and he provided that section for “Game-Changers: The Greatest Plays in Alabama Football History.” He told me he had been in a bookstore one day and someone recognized him and bought a few copies of the book, asking Doug to autograph them. A Navy veteran, Doug was a well-read expert on World War II naval history. I was fortunate to be friends not only with Doug, but also his family. It was always a treat for Lynne and me to get together with Doug and his wife, Villeta. His son – we called him Dougie – was always friendly and respectful and his daughter, Tyler, earned the moniker from me as “the perfect daughter.” And Doug and Villeta doted on their granddaughter, Savannah. Doug’s brother, Dale, was Lee Roy Jordan’s back-up at center in the early days of the Paul Bryant era, and through Doug I got to know Dale and also one of his sisters, Delores Andrews. There are those who will be remembered fondly and those who will be remembered for a long, long time. Doug Layton will be remembered fondly for a long, long time.