(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.”
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, Reggie Jackson, 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.” But Buddy got his autograph anyway.
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 ball. It was a story, with Buddy’s personal touch, that would bring a lump to the most jaded reader’s throat. Buddy’s personal worst, according to consensus opinion, however, 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. He took a lot of ribbing from friend Gene Smith and me for that work of journalistic banality.
That story, though, was the exception. Buddy was a one-man sports department, turning out more stories in a single day than most writers do in a busy week. And just for the record, be assured every writer has a full slate of stories that should never have been written (my personal Hall of Shame entry, among many, involves one about a cousin who duped 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—although Ruston radio station KRUS also got caught up in the hype, thanks to my Times story, and did a lengthy interview with her).
He 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, Michigan, Notre Dame or Texas. Buddy was completely color blind and he was there for every game. He also was an unabashed promoter of Ruston High, Louisiana Tech 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.
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 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.
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 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 (that’s Room 58 for the non-student of sports trivia) of a Ruston nursing home.
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 before. 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, the stroke has had the effect of merely slowing him down but not stopping him. He still gets out from time to time to cover a sporting event from his motorized chair. He accepted an Outstanding Alumnus award from Louisiana Tech from that chair during halftime of a Tech game.
During his confinement in his bed in Room 58, he has received sports Hall of Fame visitors. They include Terry Bradshaw, Bert Jones, former Tech and New Orleans Saints great Willie Roaf, former Grambling and Atlanta Braves great Ralph Garr, former 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 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 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.