December 5, 2018
As I sat watching the numerous memorials and tributes to President George H. W. Bush over the past days, and the memorial service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. today, I realized how lucky I am.
TCU Chancellor William E. Tucker with Vice President George H. W. Bush and TCU Chair of the Board of Trustees Bayard Friedman on campus in 1983. Courtesy of TCU Archives
Lucky because I was at fall convocation at TCU’s Daniel-Meyer Coliseum on Oct. 27, 1983, to hear then-Vice President George Bush deliver a speech in front of a packed house. My teammates and I were all there — Coach Jim Wacker made us go. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” Wacker said. “And I better see all of you there. It’s the vice president, for cryin’ out loud.”
I was lucky to have a coach who “coached” us to be there.
It was a critical time. The U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, had just been destroyed by suicide bombers four days prior to convocation, killing 307. So soon after the terrorist attack, international tensions were high and Bush didn’t mince words. He spoke of the tragedy and the loss. He also spent a long time talking about what the U.S. response should be and not just militarily. He spoke of America’s place of leadership in the world and how we must change our approach to meet these “new challenges.” He rattled off deep knowledge of the international scene at the time and he quoted details and names with aplomb. He was strong in tone, but gentle in the message. Bush was reassuring in his address. He also spoke of how happy we was to be back in Texas. It was impressive. I remember leaving the Coliseum thinking “that’s our next president when Reagan finishes up.”
My other memory of that day came around 2:45 p.m. when it was time to go out to practice in the stadium. It was a Thursday, so we had a light day ahead. The Houston Cougars were coming to visit on Saturday. Final tune-ups and special teams work. I went out early to get a few kicks in. Stopped by the equipment window and got a bag of footballs from our equipment manager Mark Valdez ’75 and headed down the tunnel. To my surprise when I got out of the tunnel, I heard a voice from above yell, “Hey!”
I looked up and it was a sniper (Secret Service, I assume) in the southwest corner of the upper deck — he was looking toward the TCU Tennis Center when he spotted me on the field.
It was then I remembered Bush was over at the Tennis Center getting in a few sets with a group that included TCU’s Chair of the Board of Trustees Bayard Friedman (for whom the Tennis Center is now named). I immediately put my hands up and emptied out the bag of balls so he could see I was no threat. “OK!” he yelled and I went about my business working on kickoffs. With a raised heart beat.
I thought, “How cool is that — the Vice President is getting in some tennis.”
What a cool day. And a vivid memory.
John Denton has been the color analyst for the TCU Sports Network from IMG since 1988. A former standout for the Horned Frog football team, Denton went from walk-on to a four-year lettermen as a kicker and punter for the Purple and White from 1981-84 and completed his career at the 1984 Bluebonnet Bowl. Shown here with his former coach, the late Jim Wacker, Denton currently serves as the Director of Major Gifts for TCU Athletics.
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Good thing you weren’t on the Rifle Team.
Good memories. Thanks for sharing. Uncle Jim
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