Carl Stephens passed away last night.
Carl had been my friend since I was a little boy. My parents' seats in Jordan-Hare Stadium were near the edge of the press box where Carl, the public address announcer for nearly 30 years, had his post. In the days before the internet (and for that matter, before ESPN), I would run him score updates from my dad's portable radio.
If you've never been about eight years old and had 72,000 people cheer wildly over a couple of names and numbers you just passed on to a PA man, you really missed out on something.
As Phillip Marshall wrote yesterday, Carl was one of the kindest people you could ever hope to meet. He was always happy to chat in between calling out the game in that magisterial voice. For most of my life, stopping in to speak with him before or after or during a game was one of the highlights of any trip to Auburn. He never failed to ask what I'd been up to, or to tell me about how his own children were making their way through grade school and college and life.
It got harder to check in with Carl after I moved over to the student section, and then out to Texas for graduate school, but we still managed to stay in touch. Email eventually made that much easier; Carl kept up with my work on- and off-line, and went out of his way to encourage me as a writer. When I stopped in to WSFA (where Carl was the program manager for a large portion of its history) to promote "The Uncivil War" in the mid-90's, he showed me around the station like a proud parent.
Everyone has a favorite Carl Stephens moment. For many people of a certain age, it's the famous 1983 announcement at Legion Field, in the third quarter of the Auburn-Alabama game, that a tornado had touched down in Jefferson County (as Pat Dye later wrote in his autobiography, "I don't think three people left"). I remember a basketball game against Alabama when I was a student. After the presentation of the Governor's Trophy for Auburn's 1987 shutout win, Carl noted for the benefit of the crowd, "To remind everyone, the score of that game was... Auburn, 10."
And of course, there was the ridiculous scene after the 1997 Alabama game when a group of players handed the goalposts up to a crowd of students in the end zone. I was standing next to Carl, watching those kids carry it up to the top of the bowl, and if I live to be a hundred, I'll never forget the look on his face when he picked up the microphone and sternly advised them to not throw it over the side.
After retiring from WSFA and his announcer duties, Carl joined the rest of us in the stands for a few years. He sat with his old friend David Housel, by then both fans emeritus (what we all would have given to be able to listen in on those in-game conversations). But eventually, poor health stopped him from attending games altogether. I don't think I'll ever get over Carl not being able to be there in person two seasons ago. How he must have loved seeing it anyway, from afar.
There's more to say, and I wish I could say it, but I am overdrawn at the grief bank these days.
Right now, I just miss my friend.