Call Your Mama Saturday, May 13 2017 

Mother’s Day and what better way to celebrate it than by making this blog post a T—–free zone, filling in with a memorable Mother’s Day story starring legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. You may have heard it before but it’s worth hearing again….

Bryant was famous for telling his young players to stay in touch with their mothers, a sincere note since the coach, as noted in his autobiography, “Bear,” had been especially close to his own mother back in rural Fordyce, Arkansas.

That in mind, Luckie & Forney, the Birmingham advertising agency that represented South Central Bell, came up with the idea of featuring the coach in a TV commercial urging viewers to phone their mothers on the holiday. Frank Lee, the agency executive in charge of the production, handed Bryant the script, the coach looked it over, a quick rehearsal and the camera rolled.

All went well — Bryant was a natural-born performer — right up to the concluding script line, “Have you called your mama today?” Then, camera still rolling, the coach, on his own, added, “I sure wish I could call mine.”

Check it out on YouTube. It’s why those of us who were around in those years say there may be other coaches with winning records but there’ll never be another “Bear.”

Oh, one more thing. Have you called your mama today? I sure wish I could call mine.

Sound Bite to Remember

“We have our fun on Saturdays.”

–Bear Bryant’s response to a rival coach’s comment that, unlike Alabama’s hard-driven players, his “have fun” during practice.

Have You Called Your Mama? Monday, May 11 2015 

No Mother’s Day passes without anyone connected with the University of Alabama remembering Coach Bear Bryant’s indelible holiday commercial for Bell South Central in the mid-’70s. In it the Bear, on script, looked into the camera and allowed he always told his players to stay in touch with home, asking, “Have you called your Mama today?”

Then, off-script and to the utter surprise of Frank Lee, the ad agency executive in charge of the taping, Bryant added, “I wish I could call mine.”

Like the Coach, I am many years beyond being able to call mine. But this Mother’s Day, the Bear’s prompting in mind, I did the next possible thing. I paid homage to the best mother I know, the one who brought our three children into the world and gave them the love and guidance needed during those formative years when their narrow-focused father was on the political road intent on saving the country from the ravages of . . . I forget what.

A straight-A Phi Beta Kappa in physics, with a minor in biology, there is no telling how far Dale Solomon might have gone working for Sloan Kettering in cancer research had she not opted to partner with a middling law student of uncertain future. She had come of age as an apolitical Southern girl whose worldview was influenced by a Mississippi-born Birmingham lawyer, an Atticus Finch-type who, though hardly a civil-rights activist, expressed his opinion of local segregation laws by routinely passing the elevators set aside for whites each morning to take the one marked COLORED. David Solomon did not live to see those laws changed, but his daughter, up to the challenge of being a quiet contrarian, did.

So it was that when, years later, integration was ordered for the public schools of Virginia, our children’s elementary school principal called on Dale to help keep the peace and offset any incipient blowback from segregationist parents given to the state legislature’s philosophy of “massive resistance.”

And so it was that when change came across the broad political spectrum, she passed on to our children the quiet contrarian ability to think beyond the obvious to a larger truth: When Max Robinson became the first African American to anchor a news show, it was Dale who looked at the screen and asked, “Where have they been?” Seeing and thinking, while less perceptive viewers were wrapped up in the idea of progress, of the scores of qualified African American newsmen who had been ignored over the years by the self-congratulating “progressive” network suits.

And so it was that even in fields where her interest and experience are, to put it mildly, less than avid, Dale’s fresh, perceptive eyes take note of things that escape the experts (like her husband); as when, looking at a news photo of one of Bryant’s starting defensive lines – consisting of six African American players and one white – she could point to the white lineman and say, “He must be very good.”

And so it was on this particular Mother’s Day, going over a list of possible gifts I might ­­offer (a call, in this texting age being as our grandchildren say, so yesterday), I pulled out of memory a debt long owed her: Ten dollars received from Reader’s Digest, payment for a line credited to me but which was actually hers.

The context of our conversation I forget, but whatever it was, after I’d spouted off, my quiet contrarian life partner set me straight with the observation, “The squeaking wheel doesn’t always get the grease. Sometimes it gets replaced.”

A line so good I included it in my next article for Washingtonian magazine, without attribution. Readers Digest picked it up and the rest is plagiaristic history.

Debt paid yesterday morning, we had a happy Mother’s Day brunch. Our children approved, as I’m sure, did the Bear.


Sound bite to remember

I respect faith, but it’s doubt that gets you an education.
–Wilson Mizner (though often wrongly attributed to Mark Twain)


The Forrest Gump Principle Wednesday, Jan 1 2014 

My resolution for the new year – the same resolve I’ve made over the past three decades – is to forgo arguments with those who hold a different point of view on matters cosmic or mundane. Discussions, yes, but not arguments that come under the rubric of the Forrest Gump Principle. Why Forrest Gump? That in a minute. First, the incident that led to my initial resolve on New Year’s Day 1982: At a holiday party I got into a heated argument with a Democratic activist over the state of the economy, in recession during Reagan’s first year as president.

Though not much when it comes to economic analysis, I did know enough to argue that bad as things seemed to be, there was reason for optimism. Christmas sales were up, I pointed out, at an all-time high; to which my verbal antagonist replied, with no hint of irony, “That’s only because people are afraid this might be the last Christmas.”

That settled it. No more arguments trying to change other people’s opinion; though that idiot response did come to mind some years later, when Charlie Thornton, Alabama’s sports information director under Coach Bear Bryant, told me of a communications problem he had following release of the Tom Hanks movie “Forrest Gump.”

Among Gump’s exploits, you’ll recall, was a four-year stint as an All-American halfback playing for Alabama. Not long after the film’s release, Thornton started getting calls and letters from fans asking what years Gump played for Bryant: “I kept telling them it was only a movie, not real life, but they didn’t believe me. So I finally made up a year – 1967 – and they’d go away happy.”

My Forrest Gump Principle, for 2014 and beyond: People are going to believe what they want to believe. Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate is a fake; JFK was killed by a mafia hit man hiding on the grassy knoll; the Chicago Cubs are going to win the National League pennant next year.

Happy New Year — let’s hope, not the last one.

Sound Bite to Remember

Every man has his price. If they didn’t, people like me couldn’t exist.

— Howard Hughes