Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Marvin and Sarah

It has become a tradition once a year, one I hold dear, dinner and baseball with Marvin and Sarah West.

I knew all about Marvin long before I met him. Yes, it was partially because he covered UT sports for the Knoxville News Sentinel. But he also coached my stepdad, Mike McConkey, on a legendary Powell little league team that won 50-some games in a row.

I think I sealed the deal when I first talked to Marvin on the phone in 2000. I quoted his lead from his Oct. 17, 1982, column on Tennessee's first win over Alabama in 11 tries.

"What a strange and wonderful yo-yo is Tennessee football."

Maybe he just felt sorry for me.

Anyway, we got together to talk about his book "Tales of the Tennessee Vols" and fostered a friendship. He told me that wife Sarah is "the real story" and said again tonight that everybody likes Sarah more than they like him. I've never seen such a devoted couple.

Memories. Moments. Magic.

I once became so, uh, relaxed while watching a game with Marvin that I drifted off to dream. He woke me up and told me to go home.

I once left a dime and three pennies behind. I told Marvin it was a meager tip for Sarah's delicious dinner, all I could afford on a scribe's salary.

I once gave birth to a kidney stone in their living room. Marvin had to drive me home. Sarah followed in their car.

But mostly, I have listened.

Marvin told me about the time he printed a story about a UT football coaching change before John Majors had told the assistant who was getting axed. He said Majors called him long distance (Marvin was in Lexington, Ky., on a basketball assignment) seven times. Majors would say something, hang up, think of something else to say, and call back.

"To his credit," Marvin said, "John didn't hold a grudge and never mentioned it again."

He told me about the time Bill Battle was certain Marvin had planted a bug in the coach's offices. Battle made his assistants search under the table. They found some gum.

He talked about Big John Tate, about covering several Olympics, about being escorted along the border between North and South Korea. (Yep, the South Koreans liked Sarah best, too.)

He has given me advice, laughed at my bad jokes, even invited me to sing at one of his high school class reunions.

Of course, I'll never forget the day I thought he was dead. Long story made short, the daily paper posted a story on its website saying that Marvin had passed away in Lexington, Ky. It turned out to be another man named Marvin West.

When I called their lake house and Marvin answered the phone, I cried. Marvin told me to go back to work.

"See you on a bounce."

Marvin and Sarah are my friends. No, scratch that. They are family. And I love them very much.

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