(Editor’s note: Occasionally, I take a point of personal privilege and depart from politics to cover a story that has deeper meaning to me. The following is one of those):
Several decades ago, his father took him to see the Harlem Globetrotters at Hirsch Memorial Coliseum in Shreveport (where the phrase “Elvis has left the building” was born). As they sat in the stands, his dad turned to him and pointed to a tall, thin, elderly black man dressed in a dark suit and sitting courtside. “You should go down there and get that man’s autograph.”
The boy looked at the man and asked, “Why should I get his autograph?”
“That’s Satchel Paige, one of the greatest pitchers of all time,” his dad said.
O.K. “Buddy” Davis followed the advice of his father Howard Davis and obtained Paige’s autograph. “If it hadn’t been for my dad telling me, I never would’ve gotten that autograph,” Davis said last Saturday (Oct. 22).
Perhaps encouraged by that exposure to the Globetrotters, by the Paige autograph—or both—Davis would go on to one of the most rewarding careers as a sportswriter that a young boy sitting in the stands in Hirsch back in the 1960s could ever have imagined.
And while others in his journalism classes at Louisiana Tech would move on to large metropolitan newspapers, he chose to eschew a bigger paycheck to stay home. He would spend his entire career as Sports Editor (he would later promote himself to Executive Sports Editor) of his small hometown newspaper, the Ruston Daily Leader, the same paper that launched the careers of numerous other writers, including yours truly. Along the way he would accumulate a roomful of reporting awards that would make any big-time writer envious.
And while covering north Louisiana sports that was—and is—a hotbed of football talent, he would never stop adding to that autograph list initiated by Paige’s signature.
A partial list of autographs owned by Davis: Bobby Thompson (of the 1951 shot heard around the world off Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca), Willie Mays, Joe Adcock, Jimmy Connors, Arnold Palmer, Johnny Unitas (which was the only autograph that I had—until it was lost in last August’s floods), Bart Starr, Dizzy Dean, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Red Grange, former Saints kicker Morten Andersen, Jim Mora, Archie Manning, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Bobby Knight, Brett Favre, Jim Brown, Gayle Sayers, former LSU football greats Billy Cannon, Jim Taylor and Y.A. Tittle, former Grambling greats Willie Davis, Alan Ladd and Buck Buchanan, Bob Cousy, Yogi Berra, the “ol’ perfesser,” Casey Stengel, Nolan Ryan, Stan Musial, Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly, Joe Torre and Ron Guidry, to name only a few.
Once, after the New York Yankees played an exhibition game at Grambling, Davis was interviewing a Yankee player in the dressing room when Reggie Jackson came in. Davis was apparently in the space reserved for Jackson who looked at Davis and said, “Move your ass.” Despite that less than auspicious meeting, Buddy got Jackson’s autograph.
Davis has penned some wonderful stories. One of those was about a Ruston kid named Kendall Flournoy who had lost a leg to cancer but still played Little League baseball. It was a story, poignant-laden with Buddy’s personal touch, that would bring a lump to the most jaded reader’s throat. Conversely, Buddy’s personal worst, according to consensus opinion, was his coverage of the day Bert Jones was drafted by the then-Baltimore Colts. Buddy staked out the Jones household in the early morning hours and provided a minute-by-minute account of the Jones family’s activities–starting when Bert first woke up. He took a lot of ribbing from friend Gene Smith and me for that work of less than journalistic excellence.
That story, though, was the exception. Buddy was a one-man sports department, churning out more stories in a single day than most writers do in a busy week, covering everything from T-ball to Tech-ball. And just for the record, be assured every writer has a full collection of stories that should never have been written (one of my personal Hall of Shame entries, among many, is the one in which a cousin conned me into doing a story for The Shreveport Times about her writing a number-one hit song when in fact, she never wrote it—or any other song, for that matter. Ruston radio station KRUS also got caught up in the hype, thanks to my Times story, and did a lengthy interview with her, further perpetuating the hoax).
Buddy was one of the few writers who would give Eddie Robinson and the Grambling Tigers their due. Grambling, after all, at one time had more former players in the NFL than any other university in America—including Alabama, Ohio State, USC, Oklahoma, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame or Texas. Buddy was completely color blind and he was there for every game—from Los Angeles to New York to Hawaii to Tokyo. He even covered the Munich Olympic Games but, never forsaking his roots, was still an unabashed promoter of Ruston High, Louisiana Tech, Grambling and later, Cedar Creek High School. He was there when Terry Bradshaw threw a touchdown pass in the Grantland Rice Bowl with defensive players hanging all over him. He was there when Denny Duron threw a touchdown pass to Roger Carr to clinch the national championship in the 1973 playoffs. He was there for each of Ruston High School’s state football championships in the ’80s and ’90s. He was there when Tommy Durrett hit the winning basket to win a state championship for Simsboro High School and Coach Barry Canterbury.
Yes, he was a “homer,” perhaps having learned that from his mentor, the late Maj. L.J. Fox, a fellow Daily Leader sports columnist who never saw a Ruston High School Bearcat team or a Ruston Contractor American Legion baseball team that he didn’t think would take State.
He was also slightly mischievous. Once, while talking to Buddy in the Ruston Walmart, I detected an especially offensive—and unmistakable—odor. A passing shopper also picked up on the smell from nearly 30 feet away and, looking around for the source, promptly walked right into a column that nearly knocked the poor man unconscious. I turned to Buddy and he was grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat—a guilty Cheshire Cat, to be sure.
Buddy never married. Or perhaps he did, choosing a desk in the back section of the Daily Leader as his bride. It was a marriage that lasted more than 40 years. To say that desk was piled high with stories and photos and stats and records and back issues of the Daily Leader would be like saying Donald Trump is a rich egoist. How he could ever find anything on that desk remains one of the great mysteries of our time.
Today, Buddy resides in the Jack Lambert room of a Ruston nursing home (that’s Room 58 for the non-student of sports trivia; Jack Lambert played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and wore jersey number 58).
You see, a couple of years back Buddy failed to show up for work. When Daily Leader Publisher Rick Holt sent someone to check on him, he was found face down on his kitchen floor, having suffered a disabling stroke some 18 hours earlier. That’s right, he lay helpless and alone, unable to summon help, for 18 hours. And still he somehow survived.
And while he is unable to walk today, the stroke has had the effect of merely slowing him down but not stopping him. His mind is still razor-sharp (don’t ever try to beat him at sports trivia) and he still gets out from time to time to cover an occasional sporting event from his motorized chair. He accepted an Outstanding Alumnus award from Louisiana Tech from that chair during halftime of a Tech football game.
During his confinement in his Room 58 bed (a room adorned with signed sports posters and photos), he has received visitors representative of a veritable sports hall of fame. They include Terry Bradshaw, Bert Jones, former Tech and New Orleans Saints great Willie Roaf, former Grambling and Atlanta Braves baseball star Ralph Garr, former outstanding Ruston High, Tech, and Braves pitcher George Stone, former Tech and Canadian Football League great Tommy Hinton, former Houston Astros pitcher J.R. Richard, Tech and Chicago Bear fullback Roland Harper, former Ruston High, Tech and San Francisco 49er player Fred Dean, Baylor women’s basketball coach and former Tech All-American Kim Mulkey, former Grambling and New York Knicks basketball star Willis Reed, former Tech All-American and Utah Jazz NBA All-Star Karl Malone, and former Tech player and Tech women’s basketball coach Leon Barmore.
And that’s just a partial list.
Despite his having covered all those athletes and despite his having formulated close friendships with each of them, he still relishes visits from his everyday friends like Nico Van Thyn, Jack Thigpen, John Sachs, Gene Smith and others.
As Gene Smith and I left his room on Saturday, he said, “Thanks so much for coming by. I appreciate it.” And he meant it.
No, Buddy, thank you for all those years you gave to your hometown and your schools.
And thanks for being a friend and promoter to athletes—the wannabes and the real deals, the little kids and the not-so-little kids.
You are truly an MVP.