Monday, June 01, 2020

The Tiger In Winter

In November of 1993, maybe 90 minutes after Auburn beat Alabama 22-14 to finish that season undefeated, a small crowd had gathered in the old Plainsman Park parking lot, surrounding a single animated figure.

It was an ebullient Pat Dye, holding forth among the tailgaters.  I had just finished my education, and had just started writing my first book.  In both, Dye was a pivotal figure.

One guy in the crowd (at the time I thought of him as "an old dude," but I am very likely older today than he was then), who obviously knew Dye, remarked that he’d been scared to death at the half, when Auburn had gone into the locker room trailing by a touchdown.

Dye fixed him with a baleful glare. “That’s cause you ain’t a coach.” He paused for a bare moment and went on: “Any coach would’a looked at that first half, saw we had the ball for damn near 20 minutes, and knew we was gonna win.”

For some unknowable reason, Dye’s gaze shifted, and he looked me straight in the eye. Pat Dye did not then (and never did) know me from a mud-encrusted pair of plaid pants, but he fixed me with that coach stare and demanded, “What did we beat them by, six, seven?”

I managed to stammer, “Uh, I think it was eight, coach.”

Immediately:  “Well that ain’t no indication of how bad we whipped their ass!”

The rest was lost in the whoops of the surrounding crowd, and the mile-wide grin of Patrick Fain Dye, living in the moment and entirely in his element, one last time.

Dye wasn't able to coach that game for a multitude of reasons, most of which are not worth recalling today.  But the most important was one that only he and a handful of his family members knew: in late 1992 his doctors had told Dye that if he didn't get out of coaching, he'd be dead in a year.

And so he got out, and lived for another 27, along the way becoming an elder statesman of the game and the college that he was forever bound to in love and glory and (yes) loss. 

Pat Dye was a man who knew more than a little about how to beat long odds.

Patrick Fain Dye, 1939-2020

Now on the day that John Wayne died
I found myself on the continental divide
Tell me where do we go from here?
Think I'll ride into Leadville and have a few beers
Think of "Red River", "Liberty Valence" 
Can't believe the old man's gone 

But now he's incommunicado
Leaving such a hole in a world that believed
That a life with such bravado
Was taking the right way home

--Jimmy Buffett