How do you say goodbye to a friend?
A generation of Auburn fans, most of whom never met him, knows Jim for his voice and his ability to carry the excitement of a football game or a basketball game to those who aren't there to watch. Much has been said about his legendary calls of some of the great moments in Auburn football and basketball history. But as I remember Jim today, those aren't the things that stand out to me.
I remember a friend.
The first time I remember talking to Jim, I was assistant sports editor at the Birmingham Post-Herald. It was 1976, maybe 1977. He was the sports director at WCOV radio and TV in Montgomery. He hosted a talk show in days before talk shows were all the rage and asked me to go on as his guest.
I have no recollection of what we talked about. What I do remember is that we didn't get a call. Not one. We laughed about that a lot over the years.
When I went to Montgomery as sports editor at The Advertiser in 1980, Jim and I quickly became good friends. I remember the excitement in his voice when he told me he'd been chosen to do play-by-play for Auburn football and basketball.
I was a frequent guest on his talk show. Jim arranged for me to have a show of my own for a time. It was called the "Phillip Marshall Show" and I even got paid a little for doing it. He took the time to be the co-host himself, though he got nothing out of it, because he knew I never could have pulled it off alone. Jim didn't have to do that, didn't need to do that. It was his way of saying "You are my friend."
If Jim and I ever had an unfriendly word, I don't remember it. My memory is cruel as I recall our friendly debates about politics. They always ended with laughter. Jim and I always laughed a lot when we were together.
The last time I saw Jim was a couple of days after Auburn's A-Day game. I went to his house to interview him for a book project I have in the works. It was the most time we'd spent together in years. He, Rose and I spent some time reminiscing about time gone by. He talked about growing up in a community called Keaton, Ky. "It was literally a wide place in the road," Jim said.
I don't believe Jim ever imagined in 1982 that he would become such an icon to Auburn people. I believe he would be shocked at the outpouring of affection that has followed his death.
Oh, he enjoyed the celebrity status, but he really was kind of amazed by it. He had troubles in his life, as we all do, but I never noticed a change in the man. He loved and was immensely proud of his family. He was a loyal friend. He loved Auburn people and they loved him.
His cry of "Touchdown Auburn!" became part of the fabric of Auburn football.
"What is so special about that? I can't figure it out," Fyffe said as we visited in his living room. "You get on a good horse and ride it to the finish line."
Jim said that day that, growing up in Kentucky, he never wanted to be anything else but a sportscaster.
"Since I was a little bitty kid I've dreamed of what I do now for a living," Fyffe said. "To me, that was the ultimate, to get to go to games and make a living out of it. I'd sit in front of the TV and call football and baseball games into a tape recorder."
His voice was silenced far too soon. Jim was 57 years old when he died a little after noon Thursday. Wednesday night, he'd been with Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville at a fundraiser for Prattville High School's athletic department. He'd had a surgical procedure to remove arterial blockage and have stints placed in his heart three weeks earlier. He was feeling better than he had in years.
Now he is gone, but as long as Auburn games are played, his voice will live on and he will be remembered as one who made a difference.