Obviously both of us are huge Ford fans, as we both grew up in the '80s and can recall the days when we used to dominate people on the field. However, I had never met Coach Ford in person until a few weeks ago when my mother arranged it all as a birthday present to me.
Since I'm at LSU for most of the year, and thankfully this semester will be my last, I always have meetings arranged by family members at home with other prominent (read, rich) Clemson grads to help me find a job somewhere close to home after I finish the Ph.D., when I'm able to come home to visit between semesters. So, when my mother told me she had arranged for me to meet someone who was a Clemson grad in Anderson, who held a position above hers in her company, I wasnt surprised. I tend to find it odd that these people request to meet me sometimes, but thats another issue. (She probably brags too much)
On the 22nd, she said she was getting me up early to go meet this guy in Anderson for breakfast or lunch, and that he knew Coach Ford and that she was taking things along to give him to have Coach Ford sign for me as a gift. So, I picked up my favorite block-C hat and my game-used Clemson helmet.
The next morning when we got to Clemson, we went into Knickerbockers, Variety and Frame, and Tigersports Shop and a couple of the other stores to find something I wanted signed if he got the chance to sign them. I of course went in and looked for another block-C hat, but didnt find one of the style he used to wear (like the pic on the right), and I dont like the blue one that much (link). I have since found a good (close) imitation here.
Anyway, the only thing I picked up for him to sign there was a few tiger rags and a lithograph from Variety and Frame and went back to the car, where I saw her pick up her cell and call someone. When she said the words "Coach Ford" my jaw hit the floor.
He said to meet him over at Dyers Restaurant (a little ways from Mac's) and not a couple miles from his farm. Of course I'm flipping out at this point.
So now the back story:
My mother is a member at a driving range in Boiling Springs where the owner is friends with the director of the Spartanburg Touchdown Club, so he gave his number to her. She then called him and asked if there was any way she could set up a meeting between me and Coach Ford as a birthday gift. She had joked about this to me a couple times in the past, but I never paid her any attention.
He gave her Coach Ford's number, saying "Be sure to tell Danny that you gave me $20 for it."
Well she just called him up one day, and told him about me, and how I gave up playing football the day he was fired by Max Lennon.
When she said she gave $20 for his number, he said "you better not have, I'll kick his ass."
He said that he'd meet her one day and they'd talk about how to set the whole thing up. This was back in October, and although I did get to come home for the GT game, she couldnt arrange it for then.
But she called him again late in November, and asked if they could set it up for my birthday (end of Dec.). He said he was speaking in Union that night at the Armory and that he was on his way to Spartanburg to see his dentist. She called and tried to get a ticket, and couldnt, then called him back and he said to just follow him from the dentist's office down there and he'd get her in. She asked him which dentist, and he said, "Hell I dont know, some foreigner"...she asked him what time and he said, "I dont have an appointment, I just show up" but he did tell her where it was so she met him over there and followed him down to Union, where he pulled up at the front door onto the grass. Danny Ford don't need no damn parking spot.
When he walked in the door, that cocky arrogant attitude we all remember came back, and its a definite change from the approachable man he is otherwise.
So after the meeting she talked to him just a minute (since people hound him) and said she'd call him in a couple weeks to set it up. It turns out that he was going to get his grandkids in after Christmas, so we'd have to do it before my birthday.
Now, we're driving over to Dyers that morning, and I see this old Ford diesel with no bed sitting outside, covered in mud and thought to myself "That's gotta be his."
I walked inside and saw him surrounded, by waitresses and old folks just jabbering in his ear, and shook his hand. He didnt want breakfast at first, but after I ordered mine he piped up. He said he ate lunch there just about every day and it was usually packed. He asked me what my degree was in and figured I was a "pretty smart fella" to be getting the doctorate in this stuff.
We sat there with him for about an hour, where we talked about horses (we used to raise them), his farm, and what he thought about Dabo Swinney and the way things were going. I asked him what he thought of Dabo and he just said, "Well we'll see in a couple weeks. He's got some of my old boys on his staff now." I didnt get the sense that he felt sure about the Dabo hire, but that's just my impression, not words from his own mouth. After meeting him I can tell that he's pretty measured in what he says, since most stuff gets published (and I guess I'm doing that here, but I wouldnt post that he didnt like Dabo even if he'd said it).
She asked him about Arkansas, and he said, "...didn't have no players...but the last year (97) we played alot of freshmen who did well later" (Ford commented back in the day how shabby the program was when he came in 94). Nutt's first team in '98 won 9 games.
Of course all I wanted to ask him was about 1989 and the rumors about 1999, but I didnt muster up the courage. I figured that he didnt want to or wouldnt answer, or is just tired of hearing that stuff again and again. Most of the time with him I was just sitting there listening.
He was going to a funeral of a UGA booster that day, and I asked him "Why would a Georgia fan want you there? I figure he'd hate you," to which Ford chuckled and said, "Well he cain't now, he's dead."
After I had him sign some things, and took the pictures, he commented on my size and I told him that if that sumbitch Lennon hadn't run him off, I'd have played for him. He said, "Yeah, he was a piece of work wasnt he?"
She did ask him if he missed coaching, saying that she could still see it in him, and he just winked and looked at me, "Your mama's pretty smart."
Well I was lucky to get a good one.