“You've been around a lot of Razorbacks in a lot of different eras, who are your favorites?”
It's a dangerous subject. You don't want to offend.
I can recall asking Frank Broyles to list his favorites. He just wouldn't do it. It's understandable that he would avoid an answer. It's like asking someone to name his favorite child.
I asked my father that question in the last few months of his life during a memorable drive to Tuscaloosa for his last Arkansas-Alabama football game. Orville Henry was battling cancer and asked if I would drive him, a plane trip being out of the question.
Somewhere around Greenville, Miss., I asked for his list of favorites. He divided them into two categories. It sounded easy then, and it is for me, too. It's generally about the relationships.
First, there were those he enjoyed watching. At the top of his list: Lance Alworth and Clyde Scott. He spoke of their pure athletic ability. They took your breath away with an ability to hit a different gear. He also mentioned Quinn Grovey. As for linemen, he pointed to Loyd Phillips. He said Phillips played in a rage. Wayne Harris was the first linebacker mentioned.
And, then there was a different category, all of the quarterbacks. He said there were hours spent sitting with them, picking their minds in the detailed preparation to write their stories. Billy Moore, Fred Marshall, Bill Montgomery, Joe Ferguson, Kevin Scanlon and Grovey seemed to be on his special list.
“You get to know the quarterbacks in a little bit different way so they stand out,” my father said. “I lived in Fayetteville during Quinn's time. So I might have spent the most time with him. I saw a lot of his practices and always had a special relationship, but I could say that about the rest of the quarterbacks, too.
“There was always a kind of bond with the quarterbacks. It's those relationships that make my job special. It's what makes all the work fun.”
I get that. I recall the early days of Hawgs Illustrated magazine. As they say, I came in with Barry Lunney, Jr., detailing his signing class in the first issue in the summer of 1992. Lunney's up there on my list. More recently, James McCann is one of those you just feel lucky to have gotten to be around.
Barry was engaging. It was clear he was the son of a coach. As a true freshman, he understood the relationship needed by the media from the quarterback's perspective. Perhaps that came from watching his father handle interviews.
Incidentally, that was also the beginning of a wonderful relationship with Barry's father. I always looked forward to the chance to make the call when the Razorbacks signed a Fort Smith Southside or Bentonville player.
There are a bunch of other quarterbacks that were fun to get to know, like Tyler Wilson and now Brandon Allen. Most have been patient and willing to give their time to a reporter with sometimes silly questions.
There have been neat relationships formed through time spent with quarterbacks, like with Matt Jones' father Steve, and Don Wilson, Tyler's dad. The conversations often ended up about the outdoors. You might talk turkey hunting with Steve, bass fishing with Don.
There are many who turned out to be friends for life. One of the early relationships was with Marvin Delph. I began my career at the Conway Log Cabin Democrat at the same time Delph was starring for Eddie Sutton's basketball team at Arkansas.
The Log Cabin was an afternoon paper in those days. I didn't cover the Razorbacks, spending my time with the UCA Bears, the Hendrix Warrior and the Conway Wampus Cats. I asked Marvin if he minded me calling him at his dorm room the morning after games. I didn't realize that was a no-no.
Marvin said he'd check to see if it was OK. Turns out, all he did was ask my older brother, then the Arkansas sports information director. Butch gave Marvin the thumbs up.
“Call me at 9:30, because I'll be back from my first class,” said Marvin, providing me with his dorm number.
That's what we did for four years. The conversations were always fun.
One of my all-time favorite lines came from one of those morning interviews. There had been a mention by Sutton of Marvin's lack of focus on defense. I asked Marvin what he thought.
“I outscore my man, every time,” Marvin said. “If I score 25 and my guy scores less than 10, I figure we ought to win by 15 and we do.”
I didn't ask Marvin if he thought Sutton ever assigned him to the other team's best scorer, or that job went to Sidney Moncrief or Ron Brewer. No use messing up a good thing.
There are a bunch of basketball players in my list of all-time favorites. Pookie Modica, Corey Beck, Scotty Thurman, Corliss Williamson, Lee Mayberry and Clint McDaniel were joys to be around. I knew Mayberry and McDaniel from their high school days in Tulsa.
I bonded with Modica almost from the day he arrived on campus. I knew one of his mentors from Smackover. Sometimes that's all it takes. I still love visits with Pookie, or Dr. Pookie, as he's known at Walmart corporate.
George Wilson has to be one of my all-time favorite football players. The sharpest dresser among those mentioned here, Wilson might have been the best listener of any that I've interviewed. He was good on the field, good off and great to everyone along the way.
I wouldn't have predicted that Wilson would still be playing in the NFL. He switched from wide receiver to safety and has earned notoriety for his play on special teams. He's preparing for his 11th season and has 525 career tackles.
Wilson wasn't ever among the most talented Razorbacks, but he was one of the most reliable players. He was also outstanding as far as nailing the team's pulse in an interview. George always knew how his team was going to play, the mark of a great captain. He was a wonderful interview.
Another with that knack was Curt Davis, an over achiever if ever there was one. Handed one of the last scholarships in his class, Davis was targeted as a center by Danny Ford. But he came to school with his heart on playing in the defensive line.
Davis started for most of four seasons at nose tackle. Every spring the coaches put a different prospect behind him, predicting they would beat out Davis. No one ever did and there was always production in big situations.
I recall many a Thursday practice getting the word from Davis on how the Hogs would play that Saturday. Players don't do interviews on Thursday, but he'd find me on the way off the field and it might be something as simple as eye contact and a nod to signal the Hogs were ready. He was always on target.
Offensive linemen can be the best interviews. The stereotype is wrong. They are big, but not dumb.
Russ Brown remains on my all-time list. At 6-foot tall, stump-like might have been an understatement. Sorry.
There was the time at Starkville when a celebrating Mississippi State fan made the mistake of getting in Brown's face. Boom. The man with the cow bell went down. Brown didn't even break stride while delivering the low bridge.
When you know the player, those events are priceless. And, most reporters got a chance to know Brown. If you asked for a one-on-one interview, block off some time. Brown would engage. It might be an hour.
Tony Bua was another delight. Ask him about the joy of playing football and Bua might talk for an hour. His eyes danced.
All of this was brought on because of the SEC Network's day of Arkansas replays this week. I smiled as McCann blasted his walk-off homer to beat LSU in 2011.
McCann has an unusual combination of intelligence, athletic ability and personality. He's at the top of my list of UA favorites. He's hit two walk-off homers for the Detroit Tigers this year. My thought on that, there are some lucky reporters getting to know a great person.
I've been told many times that I have a great job. When I think about the relationships covered in today's space, I have to agree.