SMSU

College Football

SMSUbearsI went to college at Southwest Missouri State (SMS) which changed it’s name to SMSU and then later changed it’s name to MSU. While my college was NUMBER ONE in changing school names, the same could not be said about it’s football program. I attended one football game in the four years I was at SMSU and left it in the third quarter to find something more interesting to do… AND I’M A FOOTBALL FAN. This could be the reason that I never really understood the passion that many people have for college football. I never really saw very much passion for football at SMS… SMSU… er, MSU… that school I went to.

Several years ago I sat in a hotel lobby in Michigan and listened to my nephew passionately tell me about his beloved Arkansas Razorbacks and how they were about to get some high school coach named Gus Malzahn as their new offensive coordinator and he was bringing a bunch of his really good high school players with him to the university and it was all going to be REALLY GREAT! Years have passed since that conversation and I have only barely followed college football during that time, but I never forgot the interesting story about that high school coach.

I was in Arkansas at the first of this summer, saw my nephew again and asked him how things turned out for that high school coach guy. He said Gus Malzahn had gone from Arkansas to Tulsa to Auburn as an offensive coordinator and then went to a little Arkansas college to be a first time head coach. He apparently experienced success every step of the way. It was all capped off with Auburn rehiring him as their new HEAD coach this season. The story just kept getting better and better, so this college football season I kept an eye on Malzahn and Auburn.

On Saturday I watched the Auburn-Missouri SEC Championship Game and couldn’t take my eyes off of it… any of it. It was one of the most compelling football games I’ve ever watched… well, except maybe for the Auburn-Alabama game I watched the week before when the Auburn kid ran a last second failed field goal attempt back for the win… or the week before when a last minute pass fluttered off a defenders hands and into an Auburn receivers hands for a win over Georgia. This year, Malzahn took an Auburn football team that won three games last season and turned it into a 12 and 1 winner that is going to play in the National Championship Game against Florida in a few weeks. What a story.

Over the past several years I have had a very casual dating relationship with college football, but I’m thinking it’s just about time for me to make a very serious, passionate commitment to it.

My Humble Beginning As A “Professional” Artist

OpLanArtists

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

…I had completed my freshman year of college and needed a summer job. My brother-in-law, Larry, (a plumber in Kansas City) said I could come dig ditches for him. I had seen construction workers using ditch digging machinery called Ditch Witches and thought it would be fun to run a heavy piece of equipment like that. When I showed up for work, I asked Larry if he had a Ditch Witch. He laughed and said “I do now!” He handed me a shovel and I proceeded to dig ditches for him by hand.

After a week or so, my brother Doug called from Nashville and said, “Hey, you can get a job drawing caricatures at Opryland Amusement Park”. I told him I didn’t know how to draw caricatures, and he said “Don’t worry about it, they’ll hire anybody”… so I packed all my worldly possessions into my yellow Opel Kadett and headed for Music City.

The fellow who interviewed me was named Crockett Bernall (Doug later named a comic strip after him). Crockett looked at my calloused, blistered hands and said, “I can tell by your hands that you are a gymnast, you obviously do the rings.” I said, “No man, I’ve been diggin’ ditches.” Crockett laughed, gave me a caricature artist job and we became the best of friends that summer.

The Opryland caricature job was a straight commission gig. A caricature cost $3.50 and I got to keep twenty percent. If I did thirty caricatures, I made about twenty bucks, fifty caricatures, about thirty five dollars. Not bad money back in the day and a WHOLE lot easier than digging ditches. After a really fun summer in Nashville, I headed back to Missouri for my sophomore year of college.

I am from a large family, and the weekend before school was to start, the family decided to go to Silver Dollar City (another amusement park) and spend one last weekend together. While wandering around the park I noticed they had no caricature artists. Knowing how the management structure of an amusement park worked, I found the administrative building, marched in and asked to see the head of merchandising. The secretary’s eyes got wide, she called her boss, he walked out of his office, his eyes got wide, and off I marched into his office. I was thinking these people were apprehensive about me because I had long hair, was wearing a skin tight yellow Adidas t-shirt, a pair of really short, blue jean cut-off shorts, striped tube socks and red suede tennis shoes… but what they actually feared was that I was an irate park customer, which is why they had agreed to meet with me.

The executive sat down behind his large desk and asked how he could help me. I said, “I noticed you don’t have any caricature artists. I would like to draw caricatures in your park.” He sat and looked at me for a long time, then pushed a yellow legal pad across the desk and said, “draw me.” I took the legal pad, drew him and pushed it back across the desk. He looked at it for awhile and said, “how much would we get?” I hadn’t thought that far in advance, so I quickly flipped the numbers around that I had been working with all summer and said, “I’ll give you twenty percent of my take.” He laughed and said “Let’s give it a try next weekend.”

I drew over 100 caricatures my first afternoon on the job. Silver Dollar City was thrilled. I was a popular new attraction, they had absolutely nothing invested in me and I was generating a new revenue stream for them. Now¬†instead of driving home at night with twenty dollars in my pocket (as I had done all summer at Opryland), I was keeping eighty percent of my earnings and driving home every night with a couple of hundred dollars in my pocket. I drew caricatures every summer for the rest of my college years…

…and that was my start into the “professional” world of commercial art.

And as the old song goes,¬†…lately it occurs to me, what a long, strange trip it’s been.