A Majors Triumph
How a ‘favorite coach’ returned the favor
by Tony Basilio
One of the great things about my job is the opportunity to see how sports fans relate to their favorite teams and personalities. Every once in a while, if we’re fortunate, we may have a chance to meet a past hero. Abbey Hoffman once said that nostalgia is “a mild form of depression.” Abbey Hoffman never met David.
A longtime listener and supporter of my show, David, e-mailed me a couple of weeks ago with a request. He wrote that he wanted to see if he could get Johnny Majors’ phone number from me. He wanted to track Majors down with an autograph request. He knew I would have the number since I have Majors on my program from time to time. Thinking it over for a day or so, I decided to relent and hand over the info. I gave my trusty producer Brian Hartman the OK to share King Johnny’s number with David.
Upon releasing the number, I wondered in the back of my mind if I was doing the right thing. How would Majors react to some stranger calling his cell phone? Would he snap back, “Who gave you this number? It was that troll Basilio, wasn’t it?”
Imagine my sense of relief/surprise when I received a jubilant follow-up e-mail from David telling me that not only had Majors welcomed the call, but that the deposed former UT head football coach also welcomed David and his family to the 20-year reunion gala honoring Tennessee’s legendary ’85 Sugar Bowl Champion Volunteers. It seems appropriate to let the star-struck Vol fan who came soul to soul with his “all-time favorite coach” take it from there.
“I called him, and I said, ‘Coach, I’m one of your biggest fans ever.’ The reason I called and the only reason I called is that I wanted to hook up with him somewhere on Friday because I wanted him to sign a special picture.
“I had a picture of me and Johnny from a couple of years back that was taken at Michael’s Restaurant when he came in for a legends night there.
“So I call him, and we end up talking for over 40 minutes. At one point, his cell phone died and much to my surprise, he even called me back a few minutes later. It’s like he’s known me all my life. So, somewhere in our conversation, he says, ‘David, are you going to be at the Tennessee Theatre Friday night?’ I said, ‘Coach, I really can’t afford to go but was just hoping we could hook up somewhere for you to sign my picture.’
“He was silent for about 20 seconds. It was really awkward. And then he said, ‘David, I’ll tell you what. You bring your wife and your son, and I’ll be coming in the side entrance of the Tennessee Theatre on Clinch Avenue at 5:15. I want you to be my personal guests for the evening. You won’t have to pay a thing! How would you like to do that?’
“Sure enough, Friday at 5:15 came, and he was there with his wife. My wife, child and myself had our picture made with Johnny and John Ward right on the spot. Johnny made sure that we were well taken care of.
“The first thing we encountered when we got into the theater was a swarm of television cameras and media people around trying to get interviews with Coach Majors. Then he was understandably bombarded by former players and other VIPs who were there for the festivities. And there we were, my family just glad to be in the middle of it all.
“Even with everything that was going on the room, he still came over to us time and time again during the night to make sure we were taken care of. He kept asking me, “Are you taken care of, David? Does your family have everything they need?”
“The ’85 team meant everything to me. I see that team as the rebirth of Tennessee football. So Friday night, Oct. 7, there I was, face to face with Jeff Powell, Jeff Smith, Chris White, Mark Hovanic and so many other heroes of mine. I can’t believe how skinny some of those guys are, but that’s another story. The whole time, I just couldn’t get over how or why Coach Majors decided to do this for me.
“When Tennessee fired Johnny Majors back in November of ’92, I cried like a baby. Now I see after all of these years that my tears were well worth it.”
Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM.