LR Touchdown Club Off To Promising Start

LITTLE ROCK -- Twice shunned by the high-tone Birmingham Monday Morning Quarterback Club, former TV personality Tom York said to heck with it and started his own club.

Back in the day when a major college football coach could pick up $75 as a dinner speaker, he kicked the fee to $300. In fact, he gave former Texas coach Darrell Royal $1,000 to address the Birmingham Touchdown Club when it was born in 1965.

Told he wouldn't get 25 people to pay $15 per year to join such a group, York went after the average football fan. In 60 days, he had 300 people at $100 per and didn't know what to do with the 30 grand in the bank. He used the bylaws of the Atlanta Touchdown Club as a guide although he dropped the requirement that a member had to be a former college football player.

Although not what it once was, the Birmingham group still has clout and respect. The fact that LSU wide receiver Wendell Davis was named SEC Senior Player of the Year by the club in 1987 and that former Tennessee tackle Reggie White was named Outstanding Lineman in 1983 is mentioned in the bios of those SEC football legends. The club has speakers, including many SEC coaches and others involved in football, lined up into December. Before the speaker does his thing, members munch mini-weiners and rehash the weekend doings with the appropriate helping of second guessing.

Knowing that background provides some sense of what might happen at the newly formed Little Rock Touchdown Club.

At the moment, the club is a work in progress and David Bazzel, one of the organizers, made that clear at the first meeting on Monday. He and the others that decided the time is now for such a club had no idea how many would show up so they reserved a small conference room at a Little Rock hotel with place settings for 56. Two women were among the almost 50 people who consumed chicken on a bed of noodles before getting to the main course -- football. Many were on their lunch hour and it was a nice mix of casual knit shirts and dress shirts with ties.

On the Web site, LRTouchdown.com, the purpose of the club "is to bring dedicated football fans together for spirited and high energy football talk." Nothing but football, Bazzel said.

He went out of his way to emphasize the motto, "Everyone's Opinion Counts," and it didn't take long for people to get into the swing. The idea was to stand and provide a personal take on anything football within 30 seconds. A former Razorback linebacker who can carry a program with Lou Holtz stories when needed, Bazzel never needed his whistle to enforce the time limit.

Some of it was funny, including the response to a Houston Nutt backer who set up praise for Nutt's 22 straight victories over non-conference opponents by citing progress since the Danny Ford debacle in Shreveport in 1997. When he left himself open for an explanation, somebody suggested the Razorbacks' schedule.

Generally, the topic was the Razorbacks, but that's the nature of things in Arkansas. Rex Nelson, high up on the staff of Gov. Mike Huckabee, and the play-by-play man for Ouachita Baptist University, provided other fodder when he reviewed the weekend scores from the SEC, Arkansas State University, the Gulf South Conference and high schools and took a peek at upcoming games.

The organization is rooted in a summer lunch, when Bazzel and Nelson were discussing one of Huckabee's Healthy Arkansas programs. Nelson mentioned how much he had enjoyed attending the Political Animals Club meetings in Little Rock and that Little Rock was one of the largest cities in the South without a touchdown club. Coincidentally, Bazzel had been talking about the same thing with others. At a planning meeting, the dozen or so founders agreed to pay $300 each up front for lunches and so that there would be some money in the bank.

Coaches and other speakers could be on the program down the road and the club could get involved in a variety of things. For now, some lively and honest give and take will be reason enough to get aboard.

Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media Group's Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is hking@arkansasnews.com.

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