, Port Arthur, Texas

Bob West

May 24, 2014

West column: Hammond, Lillejadhl speak eloquently about Hill


    Elsewhere on this page you will see a guest column from former Thomas Jefferson High School great Gary Hammond on Smitty Hill that’s one of the most heartfelt, stirring and uplifting tributes from someone about his high school coach that I’ve been privileged to publish. It is a must read. I didn’t know Smitty as well as a lot of you because he left for San Angelo the year I became sports editor of the PA News, but it’s obvious he inspired the same passion in his players that Bum Phillips did. I was also taken by these words from another of Hill’s players, Teddy Lilljedahl, who went from TJ to the University of Texas and then on to become VP of sales for a Wall Street financial and insurance company in New York. “If it wasn’t for Smitty, I don’t know where I would have ended up in life. He took a 14-year-old boy who had no direction in his life and taught him what being not only a man, but being a successful person in life was about. He gave me both spiritual and moral guidance and made me an All-State football player. I used what Coach Hill taught me about life on a daily basis. Coach Smitty Hill influenced my life more than any other man I’ve ever known and I am forever blessed. To a great man I say, ‘God had a purpose in your life.’ ”   Jimmy Johnson, who played at TJ when Smitty was one of Buckshot Underwood’s assistants, reflected more from the coaching side with his observation on Hill. “Buckshot was the leader, loud, emotional, a great motivater but Smitty was always calm and the voice of reason. It was a great combination. Kids coming through TJ in that era were fortunate to have such great mentors.”

    While on the subject of inspirational people, filming is about to start on “My All American,” a movie detailing the relationship between Texas coaching legend Darrell Royal and his courageous little safety Freddie Steinmark. For those who don’t know the story, Steinmark was diagnosed with a cancerous bone tumor in December of 1969, six days after helping UT beat Arkansas, 15-14, to wrap up the national championship. Less than two weeks after the diagnosis, Steinmark’s left leg was amputated. That didn’t stop him from being on the sidelines with crutches to root his beloved Longhorns on to victory over Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. Eighteen months later the cancer claimed Steinmark’s life. Little known actors Aaron Eckhart and Finn Witrock are playing Royal and Steinmark in what should be a terrific movie . . . Keeping it upbeat, kudos to the U.S. House of Representatives for passing a referendum to award golfer Jack Nicklaus the Congressional Gold Medal. If the referendum passes the Senate, Nicklaus would join Byron Nelson (2006) and Arnold Palmer (2012) as the only golfers honored with what is considered “the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions.” Other sports figures receiving the prestigious award include baseball players Roberto Clemente (1973) and Jackie Robinson (2003), boxer Joe Louis (1982) and Olympian Jesse Owens (1988). As one who grew up idolizing Nicklaus, later as a sports/golf writer, developed a keen appreciation of what a classy, generous humanitarian he was/is and actually got to play a few holes and have lunch with him in Florida in 1995, it’s gratifying to see him in line for such well-deserved recognition.  

    If Chris Stroud wins his first tournament today at Colonial, he’s going to do it the hard way. With 24 players sitting within three shots of the lead, there will be no backing in or coasting. He’ll need 66 or 67 to be the last man standing. Meanwhile, one thing Chris’ fans had to like Saturday was the amount of TV time devoted to his shots and his swing. It’s by far the most exposure he’s ever had, with over 20 of his shots aired. What didn’t get mentioned — at least I didn’t hear it — was the shaky Thursday start he had to overcome. Stroud was four over after the tournament’s first six holes, then proceed to rip off an amazing 13 birdies in his next 28 holes. Chris’ gallery, by the way, will swell by two today. Jimmy Stroud and wife Rita will be pulling out early this morning for Fort Worth. Normally they would have been there all week, but they have been in the middle of moving. No way, though, they could take a chance on missing what could be the greatest moment of their son’s golf career . . . New LU coach basketball coach Tic Price is still working on his schedule but one game he signed up for jumps out as dripping with irony. The Cardinals, as part of the four-game Indiana Classic, are playing at Indiana. That of course is Bob and Pat Knight territory. I’m guessing neither one of them will be there pulling for the Cardinals. Two of the other games in the tourney have LU at TSU and at SMU. They get the fourth game in Beaumont but the opponent hasn’t been determined . . .  Lamar, as it turns out,  was not the only Southland Conference team to get hit with APR sanctions in basketball. Central Arkansas and Houston Baptist are also being punished and won’t be able to participate in the SLC tourney next year. With new members Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word still not full fledged D1 members, that means only eight teams are eligible for the eight-team field. That’s great news for coaches with a contract bonus for getting into the tournament. As it stands now, a team could go 0-18 in league play and its coach would qualify for the tournament bonus . . .

    Who was the most valuable college QB in terms of added dollar value to his school over the past decade? No, it wasn’t Johnny Manziel, although he’s high on the list. Extensive research done by the 538 website made famous by Nate Silver’s amazingly accurate political projections found Stanford’s Andrew Luck in 2010 to have had the highest extra dollar value to his school — $3.46 million. Manziel was tops in 2012 and third overall at $3.02 million. Most valuable in 2013 was Florida State’s Jameis Winston, who was deemed to be worth $3.07 million in extra revenue for Florida State. Manziel was third in 2013 at $2.44 million, making his added value to Texas A&M $5.46 million over whomever would have been his replacement . . . Two of the greatest running backs to come out of Texas continued to be glaring omissions when the latest College Football Hall of Fame class was announced last week. Still on the outside looking in are SMU’s Eric Dickerson and UT’s Ricky Williams, who became the college game’s all-time leading rusher while playing for the Longhorns. Apparently Dickerson is still being punished for being part of the SMU program when it was given the NCAA death penalty. Williams’ omission is much more puzzling. Yes, he was flaky and known to have a  serious relationship with marijuana, but I’d be willing to bet there are multiple HOF inductees who did their share of weed. Also still on the outside looking in is one of the all-time great college linebackers — Oklahoma’s Brian Bosworth. The Boz, of course, also tended to color outside the lines.

    Don’t see how anybody could fault Texans receiver Andre Johnson for wanting out. A lock for the NFL Hall of Fame, after a spectacular 11-year-career, he deserves better than being stuck in a miserable rebuilding situation under a new coach and with a quarterback — no matter who he is — that will be ranked in the bottom third of the NFL. Still highly productive, Johnson wants a chance to go out a winner and that won’t happen any time soon in Houston. Unfortunately, the salary cap hit they’d have to take will likely prevent the Texans from trading him. Johnson is exhibit A of the price players pay for getting drafted into organizations that make too many mistakes at the upper levels. Port Arthur’s Jamaal Charles is exhibit B . . . Las Vegas came out this week with the highly anticipated over/under numbers on NFL team wins that annually generate millions in betting. Houston’s number is 7.5 wins while Dallas’ is just what you would expect — 8. Kansas City is also 8. Denver and Seattle have the highest win total at 11. Last year, I wagered a tidy sum on the Chiefs winning more than 8 games and didn’t have to sweat when KC started 9-0. This year, I’ll be getting down on KC under 8 and Houston under 7.5. I’m shocked the Texans number was set so high . . . Nobody hated it worse than Jerry Jones when the NFL deferred on adding two more playoff  teams . Maybe, however, Jethro should be careful what he wishes for. Even if the NFL had been taking 14 teams to the playoffs instead of 12 the past four seasons, Dallas still wouldn’t have made it. To not be one of 14 underscores futility in leadership more than not being one of 12.

    Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at



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