George Bequette's health hasn't been good the past year. But it's better, in fact, good enough for us to resume some of my favorite phone conversations.
Of course, Bequette is the patriarch of one of the first families of Arkansas Razorback football. He played both ways in the line (it was real football in those days; you never left the field) for the 1954 Hogs, the SWC champs commonly referenced as the 25 Little Pigs. His sons, Jay and Chris, also were star blockers for the Hogs for most of the 1980s. Now it's grandson Jake, Jay's son, who is in his third year as a defensive end starter for the Hogs and one of the leaders of the 2010 defense.
The phone rang last night about dinner time. George was on the other end, sounding the same as always, telling stories and, well, dropping names. He can be telling stories about Sam Walton in one breath, skipping to Barry Switzer or Paul Brown in the next. It is always fascinating.
I've been getting these phone calls for 30 years. They began soon after I started covering bowl games for the Tulsa World. I can remember watching practices with George spinning tales at my side. Well, they were being told to my father, but George always put his arm around my shoulder and pulled me tight so that I would hear them, too.
There was a good one last night about Jake, perhaps the best athlete of all of the Bequettes. No, not perhaps. The best. Neither grandpa, dad or uncle ever ran a 4.55 in the 40-yard dash like Jake did this winter. He's bigger, too. He's 6-5, 270.
"Have you played golf with Jake yet?" George said. "You should. Your dad played about 50 rounds with Jay. You probably won't beat Jake. He's a single digit (handicap) and he doesn't even play much. Don't bet him anything. He hits it about 310 off the tee."
The best new story detailed one of perhaps two dozen trips to NFL training camps that George took when Jay and Chris were young.
"We'd make two or three every summer," George said. "We called them family vacations, but they were really about exposing them to the best level of football. I wanted them to learn everything they could, see the way the NFL players worked.
"I had them doing the same stretches that they did in the Cardinals camp. I wanted them to see that they were doing the best stuff."
They went to Furman University in South Carolina where Marion Campbell trained the Atlanta Falcons. They got to a long early morning workout that was followed by weight lifting.
"It was so hot, so humid," Bequette said. "They hit for well over two hours. It was mid day when they took a break for lunch so we left in our car. We were driving down a street in the middle of town when we came up behind an old, bald guy jogging. It was Tommy Nobis. He was doing a little extra when everyone else was eating.
"We passed him and we slowed down so the boys could watch. He'd been in the league about 10 years and he had zippers (surgical scars) on both knees and he was out there trying to get ahead of the young ones. That made an impression on my boys."
So it's not a surprise that Jake does a little extra. He's told me stories about his own personal training regimen, on top of the UA program. Extra is good.
George Bequette is doing good now. Not great, but better than he's been in the past few months. He's home and looking forward to attending a Razorback game this fall. I'll drop by his sky box to visit in hopes of seeing his smile and to hug his neck, like he did to me 30 years ago at our introduction.
In the meantime, I hope for a few more of his phone visits. You could say he's one of a kind, but that's wrong. There are three more just like him, all engaging, all great Razorbacks. That makes George Bequette proud.
State of the Hogs: George Bequette
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