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I love Jim Phillips and I wish he could be in Omaha this year. I miss Jim and think about my golf rounds with him or some of his great old stories. But there is someone else who I would give anything to see him in Omaha this year also.
I met Bob Bradley in the summer of 1986. I was on my freshman orientation and could only stay the first day because of American Legion baseball but I knew I had to see Mr. B. It was an actual introduction/interview. Mr. Bradley told me that he never hired freshmen but I guess I begged enough or he just felt sorry for me.
There have been some great Clemson Tigers, such as Captain Jervey and Coach Howard, whom I have fond personal memories of. I know they loved Clemson and thousands of others have as well. But please allow me to tell you some memories of the "The Greatest Tiger," Bob Bradley.
Mr. B was born in the same hometown as Richard Petty, Randleman, NC. He was the editor of “The Tiger”, the school’s newspaper. He spent four years in the Air Force and I am embarrassed to say that I never asked him enough about his military time because I wanted to know so much more about his Clemson time. He enrolled as a freshman in 1941 but the war interrupted his school. He would joke, “I entered Clemson in 41 and graduated in 51.”
He was hired as Clemson Sports Information Director in October of 1955 and stayed in that role for 34 years until 1989. I never knew what the word “emeritus” meant but for Mr. B it wasn’t close to what I thought it meant. He worked as hard after retiring as he did when he wasn’t retired. He came to the office everyday until he became too sick.
Mr. B was a tireless worker. Just 16 days before he died of bone cancer he worked his 502 consecutive Clemson football game. He worked 313 consecutive ACC basketball tournament games between 1955 and 2000. Mr. B created the baseball scorebook that became the industry’s leader. I can remember schools from across the country ordering his scorebooks in January and February. Speaking of books, he authored or co-authored three Clemson books.
I think his wife, Louise, might have to build another room onto their house to store all of his awards. He won the Arch Ward Award as the College Sports Information Directors of America Man of the Year in 1976, the same year he also served as the organization's national president. He was inducted into the organization's Hall of Fame in 1975, the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame in 1985, the Gator Bowl Hall of Fame in 2000, and the South Carolina Hall of Fame in 2001. He was also presented the first Skeeter Francis Award by the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1990 for his contributions to the league. On September 17, 2005, Mr. B was inducted in the Ring of Honor at Memorial Stadium.
The press box at Memorial Stadium was named in his honor in 1988. I was there that weekend and he was proud but he was more humble. That was the thing about Mr. B. He was decorated as much as any man in Clemson’s history but you would never know it. He was the common man. He was a great man but more importantly he was a great Clemson man.
He was presented with "The Order of the Palmetto", the highest honor accorded a civilian of the state of South Carolina just two days before he died.
Those awards say a lot about Mr. B but they don’t tell his story. His story is not about the records or consecutive games. His story is about the way he treated people. It is about his interaction everyday with all walks of life. My fondest memories of the real Mr. B deal with relationships.
Mr. B and Coach Howard had a great relationship. The two could entertain a room all night with their stories of Peahead Walker or Bear Bryant.
Mr. B had a great relationship with his family. I remember everyday around 12:15 pm he would say, “Going to grab a ‘mater sandwich and see momma.” I had never had a tomato sandwich until I met Mr. B. His mom was in a nursing home in Seneca but he went to see her everyday.
There was no off-season for Mr. B and he had little time away from his Jervey office but when he did he loved to fish. He and Don Wade and his crowd would head to the lake. Mr. B lived on Lake Hartwell and loved his time pulling in “the big one.” He loved telling about it the next day even more. That was the thing about him. Mr. B could tell the kind of stories where you were waiting on his every word. He was also courteous and would ask you for input instead of domination a conversation. He knew I never fished but my dad loved it. “Your dad catch anything this weekend?’ he would often ask me. One of my biggest regrets is that he wanted to go behind Lake Murray dam and catch stripers with my dad but they never made the time before Mr. B passed.
Speaking of fish, Mr. B loved to take people out to eat at the old 93 Fish Camp. I have been in meetings and at events with former Presidents of the University, board members or high-powered people in which they embarrassed Clemson with their arrogance. Mr. B had nothing in common with those types of egos. He would take Brent Musburger and Ara Parseghian to the 93 Fish Camp and they loved it. When opposing coaches came through town on recruiting trips or on their way to the beach or mountains, they would sometime stay at Mr. B’s house. Lefty Driesell and many other great ones would love to head to the fish camp and have a great time with him. The enemy would never do such things like that today.
I learned how to treat all people from Mr. B. I can remember a day when a small local newspaper hired a young black female as a writer and sent her to Clemson to cover an event. She had never been to Clemson before and looked intimidated heading into Mr. B’s office. She looked right out of college and scared to death. A few minutes later some big wig national hot shot entered. My memory fails me about who it was. For some reason I remember it being Pat O’Brien of CBS Sports or a writer from Sports Illustrated but at any rate it was a huge national name. In typical Mr. B fashion he told the hot shot that he was busy showing the newbie around and would be helpful to them after she was comfortable and got everything she needed. It did not matter if you were black or white, male or female, Yankee or redneck. That was Mr. B.
I look back very fondly on my college days but especially the ones in March each year. Those were the really cold ones where we had afternoon baseball games. In those days there was a pretty nice press box at the baseball stadium but nothing like we have today. We did not need one because often the only people there were Mr. B, who was the official scorer, former Clemson president R.C. Edwards and I. Dr. Edwards would score the game for himself. He said he enjoyed it and it keep his mind sharp. I ran the scoreboard during many of those games and learned so much about the game from Mr. B. I thought I knew how to score a baseball game until he taught me the little things like catchers indifference.
Mr. B loved Clemson baseball. He told the best Bill Wilhelm stories. Today the most outstanding Clemson player in the Clemson–USC baseball series wins the Bob Bradley Award. It was his favorite Clemson sport. His briefcase had his scorebook, a press guide, some pencils and white out. It also had his Clemson baseball cap inside and a snicker bar that a fan named Raymond brought him every game.
After the game, he would crank out the game story on his old typewriter and he would send it by telecopier to the newspapers. Mr. B did not have a computer and did not see the need for one. No, it was a simple old style typewriter along side his messy desk. I could never find anything on his desk but he knew where everything was.
I remember some of the great one-liners about other sports. He was not a big fan of track and would joke, “The only thing worse than track is field.” I only saw him at one soccer game ever and that was the Final Four.
Mr. B had a great smile and an even better laugh. He brought cheer around the halls of Jervey Athletic Center. About Wednesday of every week he would pass a co-worker in the hallways and ask, “Have you got your 40 hours in yet?” He would ask if anybody needed anything as he headed to pick up the mail. I can still hear him say, “I off to the P.O.”
I remember he had the best Clemson ring ever. It was so old and had been worn down to the point where it was so smooth that you could not read most of it.
He died October 30, 2000. His funeral was something like I have never seen. Governors and former governors, Congressmen and Senators, college presidents, athletic directors, and conference officials were there. Legendary coaches from all sports were there. Pro scouts, newspaper people, radio people, TV people all crammed the inside and outside of the church. The church could not hold everyone so some of us stood outside. The flowers were from almost every school you could think of. They played Tiger Rag at his gravesite on cemetery hill, the same gravesite that I visit at least twice every year.
They have rearranged Jervey so I don’t think about him there quite as much there. The baseball press box does not look the same either so I have problems there. But often when in the tunnel at Littlejohn or the press box at Death Valley I still expect to hear him or see him come around the corner. I know he isn’t but I can still see it. I know he is not going to be in Omaha but whenever Clemson plays in any sporting event his spirit is there.
After learning of his passing ACC commissioner John Swofford said, "For me personally, it will be difficult to imagine a Clemson sporting event without Bob.”
Because of his kindness, generosity, humility, energy, charm, presence, grace and wisdom, I think I can sum up Mr. B in a simple phrase that is as folksy as Mr. B himself. If you ever had a next-door neighbor like Bob Bradley, you would never even consider selling your house.
I think those that knew him might read this and reflect upon their special time with him. For those that did not know Mr. B before, well now I hope you know “The Greatest Tiger.”
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