Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The 3 Times I Met Pat Dye

I've known the legend all my life. I didn't know the man personally, but, with Coach Dye, you felt like you did. It seemed like the man in the arena was the same as you would find him anywhere else. I always hoped that was true. They say not to meet your heroes, but in the times I met Pat Dye, he never disappointed that hope.

The Dinner Party

It was either my second or third year in school. Matt and Sam and I went out to eat at some restaurant on College Street, out past the interstate. Why we went to this place, I have no clue. We may have been the only ones in there when they seated us. We were already eating before anyone else came in. I was facing the door. Matt and Sam sat across from me.

I told them Coach Dye just walked in. They didn't flinch. They thought I was joking. [They knew me well enough to know I don't joke about Pat Dye. But, sometimes you know someone too well.] The host seated Coach and his family at the table next to us.

He must have seen that I wanted to shake his hand, but I had wing-sauce all over them. [That must've been why we were there. Matt was into getting wings for a while.] Instead, he put his hands on my shoulders just like he knew me. It was so cool. He must have seen the way I looked at him. He had seen it a hundred thousand times. He knew I had watched games sitting in the floor. He knew what my first Iron Bowl meant to me.

He could see that I hadn't played football, but that I played more years for him—in my mind—than any letterman.

After they sat down, Sam immediately started recalling all manner of Auburn football games and events from the 80's. Was he saying all this loudly enough for the next table to hear? Maybe.

Whatever you think of that move, know this: Sam just as likely would have done that any other time we went out to eat, or got pizza, or went to a movie, or church.

He wasn't acting differently. He was just being himself for a different reason.

I don't remember whether we said anything to them when we left. I hope not. They probably chose an unpopular restaurant for a reason.

Game Day

The next encounter must have been the following football season. We had just entered the stadium at the student-section gate when Matt exclaimed, "Hey, Coach Dye!" I looked over, and there he was, coming right at us.

This time there was no wing-sauce, and he shook my hand. I think he said something like, "I gotta find where I'm supposed to be." He was looking up, trying to read the signs that tell you which way to which section. One of his teams was being recognized on the field before the game. It was funny. You'd think he would have an entourage, or a handler, a bodyguard, something. Nope. He was on his own, looking as lost as any freshman (or senior) trying to find a class in Haley Center. The next time I spoke with him was at Haley Center.

War Eagle

I wish I could date this one precisely. I think it was the 2006 Washington State game. Sarah and I were milling around the University Bookstore when we saw people in line in the courtyard. What's this for? Coach Dye was signing copies of his new children's book, War Eagle. What! All I have to do is stand in line for a little while, and buy a book [surely I can think of somebody with a kid who would like to have this book—oh, yeah—Matt!] and I can speak to Pat Dye? Show me to the end of the line!

I was a little nervous. They had us fill out slips for how we wanted Coach to autograph the book. I wrote something very original, like "War Eagle, Sam!," and asked the student managing the line if that was appropriate. He said it was perfect.

What do I remember from the front of the line? Not much. He said something to me that I thought was quintessentially Coach Dye, and I told everyone, but now I can't remember what it was. Mostly, I just remember it making me happy.

Coach made a lot of folks happy over his 80 years. Of course, the man I "knew" wasn't the only side of Coach Dye. That's reality for everyone. We are sinners. We await the full revelation of Christ's work to make all things new. Thankfully, in the here and now we already see some fruit of the redemption.

I think we see a redemptive arc in Coach's life—something of a move from work to grace. That idea exceeds the scope of both this post and my insight. Nonetheless, it is something I hope. In 1986, Alabama led Auburn by 10 at the start of the fourth quarter. It was an era when points were harder to come by—especially in the Iron Bowl. It didn't look good, but with Pat Dye on the sideline, you never lost hope.

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