Friday, October 7, 2011

My Memories of Hank Williams Jr.

We all know that Hank Williams Jr. got the boot this week from ESPN, and we will no longer be introduced to MNF with that great question, "Are you ready for some FOOTBALL!!!??"

Oh, Hank.
I know there's been a lot of heated debate regarding what Hank had to say about the Obama/Boehner golf pairing, and how that made him feel. And, in what was just a major communication disaster, Hank appeared to be comparing Obama to Hitler. I don't know if he actually was, but following it up with "They're the enemy!" probably didn't help his disaster relief/public relations team.

ESPN certainly has their right to hire/contract out whoever they choose. We can - and many are - all debate on whether or not Hank should have been pulled from the show. For now, I'll leave that to the talking heads.

I'm just more concerned about a generation of football fans that will now come along without that tingly-get-you-fired-up opening theme. There's something to this, as I will now explain. I have two Hank Williams Jr. stories, and here they are:

Story #1

September, 2004. I was in the beginning my second year of graduate school in Tuscaloosa, and Hurricane Ivan was making a path for the gulf coast. Ivan was the hurricane that many thought was going to take out New Orleans before making a last-second turn East. My mother was living in Perdido Key (on the coast, right across the state line from Alabama) at the time, and she was one of the smart ones who got out of there. Ivan ended up making landfall in Orange Beach and washed away the historic front room of the Flora-Bama.

Gallette's did not look this nice or clean
when I was in school.
That night, ever the opportunists, my graduate school friends and I decided to have a hurricane party. And so that we wouldn't feel too guilty, everybody chipped in $20 into a jar that we'd send off to some hurricane relief fund. After a good many rounds of flip-cup and full-contact beer pong, it was time to head out to Gallette's (Tuscaloosa's near-campus hole-in-the wall bar for those that don't know) for the night. It was about midnight, and I was one of the first to leave from the party. This is when the excitement happened.

An hour or so earlier, a friend from my fraternity house (I was an undergrad at Alabama as well) caught wind that there was a celebrity amongst us, staying at the Sheraton Five Points on campus. Bocephus himself, Hank Williams Jr.

Hank had apparently been hunting down near Greensboro that day, but was unable to get a flight out because of the storm coming in. So, he saddled up at the hotel in Tuscaloosa for the night. My friend, also an opportunist, took his happy, half-drunk ass over to the Sheraton to go meet Hank.

I'm not sure how, but he meets Hank and they start hanging out together and, well, drinking together. But that's not enough... to the Theta Chi house they go.

Imagine if you are an undergraduate at the University of Alabama, with about $12 cash to your name. There you are, on a Wednesday night, sitting on the couch in the brotherhood room drinking Keystone and watching reruns of South Park. A couple of girls are around, everyone knows there's no classes because of the storm. And then... Hank Williams Jr. walks right in.

They went nuts.

One guy even went upstairs and got his out-of-tune, rarely-played electric guitar and amp for Hank. "A Country Boy Can Survive" was played by the legend in the band room of the fraternity house.

Now, back to me at Gallette's. I was doing my socializing, and the place was slammed. Everyone there also knew classes were cancelled, and - it seemed everyone was an opportunist - the students were taking full advantage. My buddy Lee Yankie was on stage playing guitar. (Lee now plays gigs at the rebuilt Flora-Bama, if you want to check him out.)

I had only been there maybe 20 minutes, and as I was saddling up to the bar for another drink, I heard this roar coming from the front door. A fight? Likely. But not this time.

Hank Williams Jr. was charging through the crowd... and straight for the stage. He was up on stage, and I don't even remember what he sang. What I do remember was Hank flashing his rings and sticking his tongue out repeatedly. He was having a good time, and he knew he was giving a bunch of college kids a thrill.

And, for anyone else that was there, yes - he did lead chant of "Alabama P---y!!" (Fill it in, you'll be right.)

It all happened so fast - I don't think it could have lasted more than 5-7 minutes. After Hank left, my graduate school friends walked in and asked me what was going on. I told them they wouldn't believe it...

Story #2

This is more of a cuter story, which usually aren't my style. And it may not translate over to text. But when I was in high school, I was a pretty good tennis player and spent a lot of time at the tennis courts during the summer.

Our coach had a son who was a bit of a pudgy 7-8 year old. But coach would get John out and try to teach him hand-eye and get him some exercise. John wasn't a very good tennis player, but he was also only 7 years old, so how could we judge?

One of their routines would be to count how many shots in a row John could make. If I recall, John rarely made it past three/four shots. But one day, he gets on a roll.

Four, five, six... and with each shot, his dad (the coach) is getting excited, telling him how great he's doing.

Eight, nine, ten...

Now John is getting excited. He's jumping up and down between shots, smiling, laughing - just really getting pumped up.

twelve, thirteen... Could he make fifteen? He's NEVER done that...

FIFTEEN! (Now it's getting out of hand - neither John nor his dad can contain themselves) Can he get to twenty?

Eighteen... Nineteen... (And all the while, his dad is just feeding him the energy the entire time, with "Look at you go!" and "You can do it, John! Keep going!")

John gets the twentieth shot, makes it, and it is time to celebrate - there's this pudgy 7 year old who is laughing and smiling so much he can't contain it any longer. John jumps up and down, throws up his arms, lets out this huge yell, and screams out... "ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBAAAAAAAALLLL!!!!!!"

On a tennis court, in Anniston, AL. A child was overcome with so much joy and excitement that the only way he could express himself was by screaming out the catchphrase of the opening of Monday Night Football.

Some of my details may be off (number of shots, etc.), but I have never forgotten that.

So I guess the point of why I shared these stories, is that for millions of people going forward, that phrase - sang/said it that way, by that guy - won't be a part of our lives anymore. I remember being a kid - John's age - and that phrase was a big deal. It would give you goose bumps. There you were, probably with your dad, uncle, or grandpa, maybe an older brother, and you were going to get to sit at the TV and watch football with him. The college kids at Gallette's - they probably were introduced to his music in high school or college, but they grew up with Hank Jr. being the Monday Night Football guy. That was a cool thing to grow up with. And Hank Williams Jr. - through all his many, many faults - was a part of that.

Not anymore.

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