David Bazzel got a text late Thursday afternoon. A perplexed friend inquired about social media posts he’d seen about Lou Holtz, who coached Bazzel at Arkansas, allegedly being spotted walking on Chenal Parkway in Little Rock. Other reports had the Hall of Fame coach spotted at the Walmart store at the corner of Bowman and Chenal Parkway.
Holtz, who was the keynote speaker at Thursday’s Little Rock Touchdown Club awards banquet, realized he hadn’t packed a dress shirt. Instead of asking his limo driver to take him to the nearest men’s store, the 77-year-old former Arkansas coach hiked up the hill and bought a shirt a shirt a white shirt and walked back to the Embassy Suites hotel.
“My dad always told me, don’t ask someone to do something you can do yourself,” he told the crowd Thursday night. “There are a lot of things in life I can’t do, butI can walk to a store and buy a shirt.”
That anecdote got the night off to a comedic start and it just got better from there.
Also before he took the mic,
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette promotions director Tabitha Cunningham related the story of attending an Arkansas/Texas A&M game in Little Rock in 1982 when she was 5 years old. She said she didn’t care about he game until she was given a Lou Holtz doll, which she produced from under the podium. “He was my first crush,” she said.
The story made Holtz blush and he leaned over to Bazzel and said, “Girls 12 and under and women over 60 have always loved me.”
Those funny moments were just an appetizer to the main course, which was the keynote address.
Bazzel explained that he wasn’t going to give each of the college and high school award winners time for an acceptance speech because he wanted to ensure Holtz plenty of mic time.
Great decision, and it took less than a minute for the overflow crowd to realize what they were in for. The quick-witted Holtz had the crowd in stitches with zinger after zinger.
Here’s a sampling.
• Holtz said he couldn’t understand why any prep prospect from Arkansas wouldn’t commit to the Razorbacks. “I don’t know why you’d go to Tulsa when you can go to Arkansas,” he said. Springdale Har-Ber senior defensive lineman Isaac Johnson, a Tusla commit who was honored as the state’s top prep defensive lineman with the inaugural Dan Hampton Award, got a good chuckle from the remark.
• Holtz related a story from the 1978 Orange Bowl, where a short-handed Arkansas team soundly beat a heavily favored Oklahoma squad. Holtz said a few minutes before the scheduled 8 p.m. kickoff, he was alerted the Rose Bowl was running long, and for the sake of the NBC television audience, the Orange Bowl was postponed by 20 minutes. Holtz said the players told jokes in the locker room during the delay and were loose when they took the field. After the game someone asked Holtz about how fast his team took the field after the delay. “I said, ‘I told the team Oklahoma is big, strong and angry. The last 11 guys out of the locker room are going to have to start.’”
• A new generation recognizes Holtz from his appearances on ESPN on its college football scoreboard show. Holtz says when the light comes on, “He has fun” and he and fellow analyst Mark May don’t use a teleprompter. However, Holtz admits to mistakes and says he received letters from angry Auburn fans for calling the school the University of Auburn. He says he apologized a week later and urged the fans to quit writing him, then he turned to studio host Rece Davis, Alabama alum, and said, “I didn’t know they knew how to write at Auburn.”
• May and Holtz are friends away from the camera but agree about little on it. “[May] was a player, I was a coach. I took a shower before work, he took one after. He signed the front of the check, I signed the back. He made suggestions, I made decisions.”
• One of the biggest laughs came from what is allegedly written on a bumper sticker on the back of Holtz’s golf cart. “It says, ‘Jesus loves you, but everyone else thinks you’re an asshole.’
There was rarely a moment the crowd wasn’t laughing. Holtz was sincere, engaging and hilarious. He did make some serious points and discussed how important decision making is in life. He also asked the audience, “Are you growing, or are you dying?” His point was to continue to pursue happiness every day and not get complacent. And he discussed his wife of 53 years Beth’s battle with Stage 4 cancer. “She did an interview and said her family’s love got her through it. We didn’t love her any more, we just showed it. It’s important to show how much you love somebody.”
The mixture of 85 percent humor and 15 percent inspiration made for an outstanding speech and a great way to cap off a memorable night for the coaches and athletes honored as well as those in attendance.