You know someone pretty well if you know their sons. You know about the father by how the sons conduct their business. Houston Nutt, Sr., who passed away Wednesday, raised four sons that are as fine as any people I've ever known. I was just ahead of them at Little Rock Central and knew of them pretty much all of my life. I've never heard anything but good about any of them, or their parents, in my 50 years.
To me, that says volumes about the man, and of course, his wife, Emogene Nutt. They raised sons Houston, Danny, Dickey and Dennis into fine men.
Over the last few football seasons, I'd run across Houston Nutt, Sr., on the sidelines in the closing seconds of Arkansas football games. He'd make eye contact with me and then give me a big bear hug. Most of those times were amidst victory celebrations. He'd soon be hugging his two sons, Houston and Danny, after those games and I'm sure he was in a hugging mood because of the score.
But, maybe not. He just seemed like someone who wanted to hug everyone. He wanted to lift you up and tell you something to make you feel better about everything.
I can remember one of the biggest hugs. It came four years ago when both Houston Sr. and my father were inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
After the induction ceremony, Houston Sr. spotted me at a table with my wife and brothers. He made eye contact and then zeroed in for a big hug.
"This is such an honor, to go in to the Hall of Fame in the same year with your father," Houston Sr. told me.
Funny, but my father said the same thing. He held Houston Sr. in the highest esteem. My father repeated those same words told to him by Houston Sr. later that night when our family was alone.
"One of the great coaches in the history of our state," my father described Houston Sr. "He was tough, classy, genuine, personable and always fair. He could give you the benefit of the doubt and be tough at the same time. What an honor for him to tell me that he was proud to be in the same class with me this year. What a fine thing to say."
If you talked to any of his boys about their father, they would first express their love. Not everyone does that in public about their father. They might think it, but they seldom express it. The Nutt boys always expressed it.
Right after that, they always talked about the respect they held for their father. That respect might also translate to quite a bit of fear.
I went back to a story in Hawgs Illustrated on Danny Nutt where he was quoted about his father. There was no secret about the way Houston Sr. raised his boys.
"My father didn't allow us to date in high school, or hang out at McDonald's with the rest of our teammates," Danny said. "Daddy said if you wanted something to eat after the game, he had baloney and milk at the house. Daddy said ball players didn't date, except for me. I started dating Carla (now his wife) when I was 16."
Carla and Danny got around the no-date policy because Carla came to the Nutt home.
"Carla spent a lot of time around my parents, so they had their eyes on us," Danny said. "I think that made it OK."
There was no crossing Houston Sr.
"I'll give you an example," Danny said. "When we were little, he told us not to spill our milk. If you did it at the dinner table, you caught a hand across the face. He'd say, 'You weren't thinking about what you were doing.'"
If they weren't at a meal, the Nutt boys were playing ball. They shot baskets at a goal nailed to a tree in the yard.
"We'd play for about 15 minutes and then a fight would break out," Danny said. "And someone would say, 'I'm gonna tell daddy.' We'd get back to playing."
And, they played games all over the state.
"My dad and his brothers would travel the state playing basketball," Danny said. "And, there would always be a preliminary game with the boys against boys from the town. It was my brothers and my cousins in the first game, then my dad and my uncles in the second. We didn't lose either game."
Of course, Houston Sr. didn't hear well. That didn't keep him from communicating. He'd hug you and then grab your shoulders and put your face right in front of his face and he'd read your lips. Often, he'd teach you sign language, something he could tell you from across a football field if he made eye contact.
I remember one he taught me after this year's victory over Mississippi State. He grabbed me as we were walking up the ramp in the south end zone at Starkville toward the Hogs' winning locker room. The sign he taught me meant, "You are the best." It's simple, an open hand swiped across your chin.
Today at a huge church in Little Rock, there will be plenty said about Houston Nutt, Sr. The church will be packed. Most of those there probably know that sign. They probably have been taught that sign by Houston Sr. I learned last November. It would be appropriate if everyone stands and makes that sign.
Houston Nutt, Sr., you were the best.
CLAY HENRY IS THE PUBLISHER OF HAWGS ILLUSTRATED, A STEPHENS MEDIA GROUP PUBLICATION. HIS COLUMN APPEARS EACH FRIDAY. E-MAIL: CLAY@NWAONLINE.NET
State Of The Hogs: Houston Nutt, Sr.
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