Kill Coyote, Will Travel
Bear Bryant's Junction Boys draw Rick Perry (plus one security detail) toHouston
When Herb Wolf heard that the Texas A&M Junction Boys — essentially legendary football coach Bear Bryant's torture center test case team — had been chosen as the honoree for the Texas Children's Cancer Center's annual major fundraiser benefit, he was one skeptical Junction Boy.
"I didn't know if anybody would show up," Wolf said. "I thought whoever came up with the idea might be fired. But look at this. It's amazing."
Wolf gestured toward the crowd that would soon fill the Hilton America- Houston's largest ballroom, a throng more than 100-tables strong that included coyote-terminator Gov. Rick Perry and his plus one: A very large security detail. (Maybe, they were expecting another beast downtown.)
Wolf wasn't the only one pleasantly taken aback by the turnout Tuesday night. After all, past "An Evening With The Texas Legends" events have featured Lance Armstrong,Roger Clemens and Apollo astronauts. There was a natural wonder if a bunch of old college football players in their 70s who are largely famous only as a group could draw the people — and the money — for the cancer center. But more than 1,000 people did show and raise $668,000 for the Texas Children's Cancer Center.
It helps to pick a story from the school where the governor went. This is the first year that Perry has attended the Texas Children's Cancer Center event and he left little doubt what lured him, changing a Bible psalm to, "And the wicked will have their (University of Texas) Orange cut off."
It was a Texas A&M lovefest — and everyone played along, even if Junction Boy Gene Stallings, who later coached the Aggie football team when Perry went to the university, admitted that the governor didn't exactly draw his attention back in those days.
"(Perry) was on the Yell squad," Stallings said of the male cheerleaders at A&M, who are chosen in a student body vote to lead the yells at school events, particularly sports events. "He wasn't really around the football team and our players. But I'm a big believer and admirer of his now."
Perry's security team — which has the Secret Service look down with earpieces and black jackets — is a collective admirer of ensuring the governor has plenty of space. Perry's team declared this a no-interviews night and the Governor Cops took pains to enforce that, with one tagging this innocent CultureMapper as a potential trouble maker.
"Those guys think (Perry's) going to be President some day," Junction Boy Bob Easley said, observing the scene.
Dr. David Poplack — the director of Texas Children's Cancer Center — was more taken with one of the most unconventional dinner entrances ever. The Junction Boys walked through a long line of Texas A&M Ross Volunteers, who raised sabres high to form an arch of swords — while a Texas A&M choir belted out a song.
"That was one of the most impressive dinners we've ever had," Poplack said. "The entrance with all the swords and the choir alone was something else."
When you're trying to cure pediatric cancer (Poplack's stated goal and one that he never shies away from) and nearly 20 percent of your annual funding comes from philanthropy, "impressive" is important at these events. Attendees who paid $300 per person or $3,000-$50,000 per table were amused by the Junction Boys' stories from the stage with former Houston Chronicle and Houston Post sports columnist Mickey Herskowitz trying (often vainly) to keep order as the night's interviewer.
In truth, most of the Junction Boys didn't need a setup man. Most sports fans know the story of Bryant's infamous Junction, Texas summer camp, when the then first-year Aggie coach Bear Bryant brought two busloads of 100 players to a drought-stricken, tiny Texas town and preceded to put them through a death march of a training camp, one that would result in about 100 lawsuits today. More than 60 players quit the team before the end of the 10-day camp.
The 36 who stayed are called Junction Boys — and on this night (with 28 of the living 32 showing), comedians.
"I look over in the locker room one day and Bob (Easley) has on a pair of woman's panties," Billy Huddleston said. "I ask Bob what's going on and all he said was, 'All my underwear was dirty.' "
Dennis Goehring recalled the typical blunt way Bryant reacted when he asked if he could get one of those summer jobs the coach had been handing out. "First of all," Goehring remembered Bryant barking, "we don't have a job for you. Second, you're not a football player."
Stallings focused on his prayers for mechanical intervention. "We went on buses down a hill to the river and I was thinking, 'If the brakes would just fail.' Every time," Stallings said. "That would have been a way out (of the grueling camp) without having to quit."
Long after Perry and his security moved on, the Junction Boys lingered around an emptying ballroom, trading more stories and quips.
"It shocks me that people still care about a bunch of old farts like us," Junction Boy Ray Reed Barrett said. "Who would have pictured that?"