LEBANON, Ohio - There may be a recession out there, but Marvin Lewis has more pull in Cincinnati than the Federal Reserve and so on Sunday par for the course was again cigars, wine, Hall of Famers, steak sandwiches on the tee, and $120,000 worth of college scholarships in the bank.
The former may be what makes the weekend one of Cincinnati's social events of the season, but it is the latter that drives the Marvin Lewis Golf Classic Presented by Cincinnati Bell. The big checks that the kids get after the shotgun start and the buffet finish is the deal.
It is their stories that dominate the weekend. The hardships they overcame to play sports, give back to the community, achieve in the classroom and continue the pursuit in college.
But everybody has a story out here. If you put a tape recorder in your pocket with your tees and ball marker, you hear some pretty good ones:
JOHN COOPER, one of the winningest college coaches in football history, suffers a rare loss Sunday. The tape recorder ends up in his cart and it's a good thing because Cooper has more good stories than Lewis has auction items.
When Cooper was the defensive coordinator at Kansas, there was a young GA on the staff named Terry Donahue that wanted to give it all up and go back home to California after the first week. He stopped by the Coopers on the way home to say goodbye and the only one at the house was Cooper's wife. She convinced him to stay until John came home, fixed him something to eat, and he ended up staying with them for three more weeks while he continued coaching.
Donahue hung with it, followed Kansas head coach Pepper Rodgers to UCLA, and when lightning struck taking Rodgers to Georgia Tech and Dick Vermeil to the Eagles, Donahue took over the Bruins at age 32 and became the winningest coach in Pac-10 history.
"True story," Cooper says.
DAVE PARKER has been called to the tee to participate in the celebrity closest-to-the-pin challenge that starts the tournament, an event that is kept alive by The Voice himself, Cris Collinsworth. Lewis can't help himself as he watches Parker walk to the tee "shedding clubs," dropping them one-by-one until a wedge is the only one left in his meaty hands.
A back-to-back National League batting champion, Parker rips what he calls a single up the middle as he begins play in a tourney he's only missed once. He's franchised a bunch of Popeye's restaurants in the area but with his wife looking to move to the warmth of Florida there may be a new batting order soon.
Here's a guy who won the 1978 MVP with the Pirates, came in second in the '85 voting while playing for the hometown Reds, once literally hit the cover off a ball, and in the '79 All-Star game in right field gunned down Jim Rice at third and later Brian Downing at the plate. But none of those are his biggest thrills in the game.
"The things you remember are what you do collectively. My biggest thrill is winning that World Series with Willie Stargell," Parker says of '79 when the Pirates came back from 3-1 down to beat the Orioles. "And Stargell was a big inspiration for me."
As for the game now, Parker observes, "The biggest thing is the dilution of talent. There weren't as many teams when we played. That's the biggest difference."
But even if he makes it to Florida, it sounds like he'll come back for this.
"Marvin isn't only a great coach, but a great asset to the city," Parker says. "He's done so much for the kids. It starts with our youth and he's been doing such a great job with programs that benefit youth."
Mr. X, BYRON LARKIN, Xavier's all-time leading basketball scorer, thought about playing football after his college career. But not much. He had already made that decision in 1984, coming out of Moeller High School as a Parade All-American safety. He was recruited more for football than basketball, he says.
"The Bengals called me down to run a 40 and gave me a physical and invited me to training camp," says Larkin, who in 1988 finished as one of the NCAA's all-time top 20 scorers. "But I had a tryout with the New Jersey Nets the same day and I was going to follow my heart."
Larkin, a financial planner, has solidified himself as Mr. X during the last 12 seasons as the team's colorful color analyst on radio. It has become the family business because brother Barry has emerged as a force on the Major League Baseball Network.
"He does a good job because he's so comfortable; he's himself," Byron says. "Marty Brennaman gave me some advice when I got the job: 'Byron, whatever you do, be yourself,' and that's what Barry does."
They both call it straight. Asked if he ever wonders what would have happened if he played football he says, "Of course. But I followed my heart and I have no regrets."
The mercury hits about 90 degrees around noon and you know you have to say something to Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end KELLEN WINSLOW. Winslow played in the second coldest pro football game ever in the 1981 AFC title game at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. Try minus-59 with the wind chill.
"I try to forget about it," Winslow says. "But every time it gets cold my big right toe begins to hurt and I remember."
Winslow believes, like all good Chargers, that if the weather had been normal they would have beat the Bengals instead of Cincinnati winning, 27-7.
"But you have to give them credit," he says. "They played in the same conditions."
Winslow's quarterback that day, Dan Fouts, is in the Hall of Fame. He thinks the Bengals' Ken Anderson should be.
"He's legit," says Winslow, the new athletic director up the road at Dayton's Central State. "Kenny was a great leader. I found him to be very intelligent, very knowledgeable. Good arm strength. I enjoyed playing with him in the Pro Bowl. It's such a tough thing with so many great people with great numbers. Especially if you look at our era. It was the transition from when people were running the ball and throwing on third down to throwing more on first down. I'm not sure why he's not in. I'm surprised I'm in there myself."
That trivia answer named KEVIN WALKER is his usual friendly, personable self and so it is good to hear that his kids are well and in demand. The twins, Kyle and Kendall, are getting recruited by the Big Ten as they head into their senior years at Moeller and his daughter Khara is running track at Ursuline. Kyle, a cornerback, and Kendall, a linebacker, weren't quite here when their dad was a starting linebacker for the '90 AFC Central champ Bengals.
We've called it "The Curse of Bo." The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since Jan. 13, 1991, when Walker tackled the great Raiders running back Bo Jackson during their AFC semifinal loss in Los Angeles. It was an innocuous play, but Jackson left the game. Walker spoke to him after and Jackson told him "It's sore, but I'll be back next week."
Jackson never played in the NFL again with a frightening hip injury that cut the blood supply to the femur. It also pretty much ended the baseball career of the first man to be named an All-Star in two major sports.
"I don't know what happened," Walker said. "It was between the sidelines and between the whistles."
Walker says there is no question that Jackson is one of the best runners he ever played. He's never seen Jackson since, but heard he has been in Cincinnati a couple of times. He'd like to see him to catch up.
"With that speed and that size, he was amazing," Walker said.
Less than a month before, the Bengals had seen Jackson in full force in the Raiders' 24-7 regular-season victory in The Coliseum. Walker agrees. He's not sure what was more amazing: Jackson's 88-yard run or Bengals cornerback Rod Jones catching him from behind.
"All I saw was (butt) and elbows," Walker said. "That was a great play by Rod."
The greatest touchdown combination in Bengals history is catching up. KEN ANDERSON and ISAAC CURTISare both retired now, Anderson, 61, from NFL coaching and Curtis, 59, from the full-time business world. Curtis is now a consultant. Anderson is now a golfer and gardener in Hilton Head, S.C. From 1973 until 1984, Curtis' entire NFL career, they hooked up 51 times for scores in a sport teams didn't start throwing until about 1981.
Consider that Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco have combined on 39 touchdowns in six seasons of the fire-and-fallback era.
Anderson and Curtis talk about their families until they are asked to talk about each other and Anderson immediately gets the needle out with Curtis standing in earshot.
"Training camp. It's Paul Brown and we're going through two-a-days," Anderson says. "And its aches and pains and get out back there. But Isaac is new, the big guy, and he says, 'I think I may have a tight hamstring,' and Paul would say, 'We don't want you to get hurt Isaac. Take the day off.' Not, 'I pulled it.' But, 'I THINK it MIGHT be tight.' "
"What's he's saying? He's always dogging me," says a smiling Curtis. "I had to work for it. I had to work for it."
Then Anderson goes off to see someone he knows and Curtis gets serious.
"Kenny threw a great ball; easy to catch," Curtis says. "I mean, just very accurate. He was certainly the best quarterback I ever played with and one of the greatest I ever saw. I don't know why he's not in the Hall of Fame."
Then Anderson comes back and Curtis sees someone he knows and Anderson gets serious.
"We were lacking speed, so we knew we had something special with that guy," Anderson says. "There were few guys who have ever done what Isaac did. He was a world-class sprinter that was a great football player. He could get in and out of cuts better than any quick guy I ever saw. He could change direction. Go back to a guy like Darnay Scott. Fast. But he couldn't stop. Isaac was a great route runner for a fast guy. He must have averaged two touchdowns per game against Cleveland for the first several years of his career. He killed Cleveland."
Curtis comes back and says, "They only wanted to play man-to-man."
"They always ran the same coverage in the red zone," Anderson says. "We'd go double tight ends, we'd move you tight to flanker, and they would put the safeties (in the middle) and you'd be wide open. We did it every time."
They are reminded that radio analyst Dave Lapham has said he remembers one Browns game in which Curtis caught a long TD bomb one-handed down one sideline and then in the same game did it going the other way with the opposite hand.
"You know Lapham likes to exaggerate," Anderson kids his old roommate, now in the discussion. "But I do remember him catching a post one-handed."
"That was on the sideline," he says.
MIKE ZIMMER, the Bengals defensive coordinator, was telling a baseball story the other day. How many knew that he kept on catching for Illinois State after he had to give up playing football because of a neck injury?
Zimmer likes all sports, of course. He admires defense, but is in awe of offense. So after playing Sunday he finds himself in a bidding war for an autographed Oscar Robertson basketball.
"Great player," Zimmer says.
This is a tough and touching weekend for Zimmer, a tough man hard to touch. When his wife Vikki died suddenly last season, Zimmer requested that the donations in her name be made to Lewis' community fund. When Lewis saw them pile up, he felt the thing to do was to create the Vikki Zimmer Memorial Scholarship.
So it was rather fitting that the first Vikki Zimmer Memorial Scholarship went to a baseball player, LaSalle second baseman T.J. Delaet. The Lancers are still in the run for the state title and over the weekend Delaet talked about what the honor meant.
"My parents and I were talking about that," Delaet said. "It's something special that it's the first one. I remembered when it happened. But I didn't realize what it all meant."
Zimmer cracked up Lewis when he handed Delaet the check and said, "I'm going to be checking up on you."
"Typical Mike Zimmer," Lewis says.
Zimmer then quickly left.
But not before he put in another bid for the Big O ball.