Where Haywood Harris is concerned, everybody has favorite recollections, their set of special memories.
I have more than one such recollection, memories of a man of uncomplicated virtue, who, given a pad and pencil, a typewriter, or, in later years, a personal computer, could create magic with the King’s English.
You didn’t know Haywood Shelton Harris very long until you realized this was a one-of-a-kind man who found great delight in the simpler things of life, a seat in the Neyland Stadium Tom Elam Press Box, an office with a telephone, a leadership role in the local Republican Party, dedication to not one, but three, area churches, and Christmas afternoons at the Waffle House on Papermill Drive at Interstate 40.
His church affiliations included Cedar Springs Presbyterian, where he was an usher, Walland United Methodist, when he was at the “gosh-dang” cabin, and Second United Methodist Church with wife, Carolyn Jo, on holidays or other special Sundays where grandchildren were involved in the service.
Haywood came on board as sports information director in 1961, about the time that great transition started taking place in Vol athletics, and the Vol program again started reaching for the stars. The trek back to national prominence that began after a rough patch in the late 1950s and early 1960s had Haywood’s fingerprints all over it.
The full story of Haywood Harris lay in his unswerving loyalty to his family, his friends, his colleagues and the University of Tennessee. He was a “team player” in the best sense of that word.
When Haywood wrote or spoke, thoughtful people paid attention.
He was a man of impeccable integrity, with a good name and solid reputation in the community, even among the denizens of Long’s Drug Store and Rankin Restaurant, two of his favorite watering holes.
He and longtime friend Gus Manning wrote two books, “Six Seasons Remembered: The National Championship Years of Tennessee Football” and “Once a Vol, Always a Vol,” chronicling Tennessee’s national championships and reviewing the after-football lives of former Tennessee players.
Their civic club speeches were always memorable, even if you had heard them before, with Haywood adroitly playing “straight man” to Gus.
Several years ago, Haywood Harris was head of a committee to identify the “Legends” of Tennessee athletics. The usual suspects were on the list, but, with Haywood as chair of the committee, there was one name left out that should have been there.
He would not have countenanced being selected as a “Legend,” but he was one, perhaps even an “icon.”
Haywood Harris was old-fashioned to a fault, particularly toward the game of football.
He was short-tempered where the coaches’ “chart” was concerned, one giving every situation where the team that was trailing should go for two. He once termed them “dopey” two-point plays.
His solution: “Don’t go for two until you need to.”
He also thought the team winning the toss should elect to kick off, defend a goal, or receive. None of that deferring the option to the second half stuff, he said. The coin toss was a way to open the game. Nothing more.
The day in June 1998 that John Ward signaled the end of a distinguished broadcasting career, I was responsible for the transcript of his media conference.
Ward made his statement.
Haywood looked in my general direction and said, “Make sure you transcribe that correctly, boy.” (That’s what he lovingly called most of his more youthful colleagues.)
He never said anything stronger than “gosh-dang,” that choice phrase generally being reserved for wayward journalists or politicians, generally Democrats.
There was, however, one time he said something so totally surprising that it made everyone in the press coop break into laughter.
Tennessee was playing LSU at Neyland Stadium in 1993 and had the game in hand late in the fourth quarter. An LSU running back hit the open field without an orange shirt in sight and rambled far down the field before being tackled. At the moment he cleared the line, here came Haywood’s comment echoing across the expanse of the normally quiet press box.
“Good God in heaven!”
As a perfectionist in the rudiments of English grammar, Haywood hated the use of the pronoun “I” as a direct object, as in, “It was very important to my wife and I …” He cringed every time he heard someone say that.
He was doggedly creative, coming up with something new for every brochure published under his watch.
Here’s a sample of player bios from the 1969 media guide, referencing some of the senior members of the team. No one knows how it happened, still don’t, but somehow the words came through the fingers.
“Ring The Bell, Beat The Gong
For Our End, Ken DeLong”
“Season Starts, Another Hike
For Our Star, Traveling Mike” (Jones)
“A Word of Advice, A Friendly Yip
Clear The Way For Thundering Chip” (Kell)
“Opponents Inclined To Grieve
When Stung By Linebacker Steve” (Kiner)
“He Won’t Wait, He Won’t Tarry
Catches Pass, There Goes Gary” (Kreis)
Where Went McClain?” (Lester)
“Rickety, Rickety, Rickety, Rack
Lift A Cheer For Mighty Jack” (“Hacksaw” Reynolds)
“Strong As A Mule, Built Like A Tank
That’s Our Boy — Yanossy, Frank”
“He’ll Keep The Team
Right On The Beam (Bill Young)”
There is the memory of Haywood, long after the game was over, dressed in blue blazer with University of Tennessee emblazoned on the breast pocket, wearing orange and white rep tie, white shirt, gray pants, orange socks, and wing tip shoes, working on a priceless item called the “Majors Memo” or the “Fulmer File” for an athletic department publication once called Smokey’s Tale. You could barely read his left-handed scrawl, but it always made sense once it hit the typed page.
When the three assistant coaches were killed in a car-train wreck in West Knox County two days after the 1965 Alabama game, Haywood defined the moment in his column for the next week’s game with Houston.
“Strong men wept unashamedly when the news came, unbelieving at first, then unwilling to accept the realization that the unthinkable had actually happened, finally reconciling themselves to the stark truth of the tragedy and searching for ways to help those whose grief was infinitely greater.
“Thus did Tennessee’s coaches and other athletic officials react this week to the grim accident that took place at a remote railroad crossing on the city’s outskirts, adjacent to a pleasant suburban neighborhood in which normal, happy family activities seemed a thousand light years away from the awful events of that gray morning.”
Strong men probably did weep unashamedly when the news broke that Haywood Harris now belongs to the ages.
All of us who worked with him remember that Haywood was a “professional’s professional,” blessed with the innate ability to say and do exactly the right thing at exactly the right time.
All of us who worked with him through the years learned a great many valuable lessons, the greatest of which are the value of personal loyalty and the ability to communicate whatever stories we were writing or telling in a way that made complete sense to those who read or heard it.
We’ll remember that there were no wasted words for Haywood, either orally or on the printed page.
They say a man needs six friends, so his wife won’t have to hire pallbearers. In Haywood’s case, that shouldn’t be a problem. The line stretches out the door, down the street, and as far as the eye can see.
Haywood Harris’ friends were everybody he ever knew.
Tom Mattingly is a freelance contributor.