CLEVELAND: After nearly 50 years, some stories are still surprisingBy RICK CLEVELAND,
So many things I never expected to see, hear or write when I started writing about sports more than half a century ago. Here is just a sampling:
• Never expected to hear a golf announcer say this: “Dustin Johnson has 245 yards left to the hole, ever so slightly down wind. And it looks like he's going to use his 5-iron. Dustin might have to take a little off this...”
A 5-iron? 245 yards? Are you kidding me? I remember when Jack Nicklaus, a notoriously long hitter would hit his 1-iron 215 yards.
• Never thought I'd write this: “Kermit Davis Jr., has received an extension and raise after one year as Ole Miss basketball coach. Davis's new contract calls for $12 million over four years, or an average of $3 million per year.”
$12 million over four years for a basketball coach? I remember when Ole Miss would not have spent that much on a basketball arena, much less a coach.
• Never expected to write this: “The 2019 Sanderson Farms Championship, Mississippi's only stop on the PGA Tour, will be played Sept. 16-22 and the total purse zooms from $4.4 million to $6.6 million.”
The Sanderson Farms Championship began as the Magnolia State Classic 51 years ago. The original purse was $20,000, which if you multiply that times 330 is what it will be this fall. I know there's been inflation, but...
• Never expected to do this: Cover a nationally-televised women's basketball game at Mississippi State with a sellout crowd and ticket scalpers doing their business two blocks away from The Hump.
Of course, I never expected to be sent to Columbus, Ohio, or Dallas to cover a Mississippi State's women's basketball team playing for the national championship.
• Never expected to write this: “Mississippi State has spent $68 million on a new baseball field. The Carnegie Hall of college baseball has become the Taj Mahal of college baseball.”
They tore down a ballpark that would have been the Taj Mahal of college baseball in 1970 in order to build the new one.
• That an insanely bad officiating call, one that favored the Los Angeles Rams, would keep the New Orleans Saints out of the Super Bowl and that four officials, all from southern California would be the guys involved in making the call.
I cannot believe the NFL in the 21st century would put itself in a position where that could even possibly occur. Those four zebras might be the most honest, fair-minded people in the world, but it just doesn't look right. Might as well let the Olympic basketball or gymnastics officials all be from Moscow. Just imagine if the NFL situation had been reversed and the guys making the call were from New Orleans.
• That assistant coaches are routinely being paid seven-figure salaries in college football.
John Vaught once told me that the most money he ever made as head coach at Ole Miss was $27,000 a year. His assistants probably made half that and many coached other sports, too.
• That Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat, measuring 6 feet, 6 inches and 260 pounds, ran a 4.41 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.
Fifty years ago, none of the players were that big and precious few, if any, ran that fast. Sweat will be drafted in the first round and sign a contract for more money than entire teams made 50 years ago.
• That former Ole Miss and Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, born and raised in Arkansas, would in 2019 announce his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, running in Alabama.
Granted, 50 years ago, I didn't know who Tommy Tuberville was. That was long before he looked us in the eyes and told us that the only way he would leave Oxford was in a pine box (and then a few days later left for Auburn in a private jet).
Rick Cleveland is a Hattiesburg native and an award-winning sports columnist in Mississippi. Email Rick Cleveland at firstname.lastname@example.org.