Jimmy Johnson On Janis Joplin and Her (Apparent) Lack of Underwear

After a recent induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones can now expect to see his bust shown at that hall of fame’s headquarters in Akron, Ohio. Not so for Jimmy Johnson, the former head coach who with Jones led the Cowboys to two NFL championships in the mid 1990s.

While Johnson hasn’t yet been inducted into that particular hall of fame, he still has a bust on display — in the library of his hometown of Port Arthur, Texas. For more than 25 years now, that bust has stood near a bust of famed rock and roller Janis Joplin, who attended Port Arthur High School with Johnson. Joplin died in 1970 and didn’t leave anything regarding Johnson in her interviews. But Johnson has spoken about Joplin a few times.

“She wasn’t real fond of the jocks because we kind of teased her,” Johnson said in the 2016 SEC Network documentary “Before They Were Cowboys.”  I actually gave her a nickname, “Beat Weeds.” This was the late 1950s, and the “hippie movement” with which Joplin would become linked had not yet started.

Locally, the teenage Joplin was known as a talented painter and folk singer. Johnson, meanwhile, “could solve algebra problems at a glance and write term papers worthy of A’s the night before they were due,” Sports Illustrated’s Ed Hinton wrote in 1992. “He was a football lineman with the scars of childhood street ball showing through his burr haircut and was called Scar Head.”

“By a quirk in scheduling, Janis [class of 1960] and Jimmy [c/o 1961] once had to put up with each other in a history class for an entire school year, she seated behind him. He would tease the weirdo, “give her a hard time, irritate her,” he remembers; she would scoff at the jock and ignore him as best she could.”

“It was like oil and water mixing,” recalled Jim Maxfield, Johnson’s childhood friend, in “Before They Were Cowboys.” (Maxfield recalls the two actually sat side by side.) “Both of ’em knew that the other one was bright, and neither one of ’em could really get the upper hand. She would not invite him over for a glass of tea, I don’t think,” he added.

Was there any flirtatious edge to all this teasing? Johnson stiff-armed the notion with smile in the Sports Illustrated interview when his girlfriend brought up the fact that the Port Arthur library had a display case with Joplin’s panties in it. “Beat Weeds’ panties,” Jimmy scoffed. “She never wore any panties.*” And to raised eyebrows all around, he adds, “From what I understand.”

The two talented teenagers both left Texas to make their marks on the national stage. Johnson left for Arkansas, where he helped lead the Razorbacks to a national championship in 1964 and then embarked on a college coaching career  culminating in a national championship at Miami.

Joplin lingered in the Port Arthur area and Austin until early 1963, and then again in the mid 1960s, before breaking through in California.

 

* The chances that Janis Joplin never wore panties at all are pretty slim. Far slimmer, it’s safe to say, than the 500-to-1 odds of the Razorbacks winning the 2016 national college championship according to the latest betting lines

Nolan Richardson Isn’t the Only Arkansan Entering the Basketball Hall of Fame: Part 1

Chicago.

Is it in the least surprising that a city known for its wind should have so many interesting people floating in and out of it, seemingly carried aloft by the currents of fate?

When I heard Nolan Richardson was being inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this August, one of my first thoughts drifted northward to that great city on a lake. Ten years ago, Richardson’s reputation in Arkansas was marred after an ugly firing from, and lawsuit of, the university with whom he’ll always be linked. The idea of enshrining Richardson seemed far-fetched in that period.

In the last five years, though, we’ve seen a whole-scale rehabilitation of Richardson’s image in the state and nationwide. Much of this, of course, has to do with the passage of time. It also helps Richardson that none of his successors have achieved anything near the same level of success he did in Fayetteville.  An ESPN documentary, released in 2012, also helped Richardson by essentially canonizing his “40 Minutes of Hell” style among the great strategies in basketball history.

But I think one of the most important reasons for Richardson’s resurgence into the public’s goodwill has been his biography, written by Chicagoan Rus Bradburd. Bradburd’s “Forty Minutes of Hell” published in 2010, is a must-read for all fans of college basketball and students of the race relations in the South. It goes back to Richardson’s west Texas background to explain the complicated roots of his anger, and it lays bare the knarled relationship between he and former Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles. It shows, in a way no mere article or documentary could, the extent to which the passion that led to the 1994 championship and the frustration that led to the 2002 meltdown were two sides of the coin.

I’ve talked to Bradburd in person and over the phone a few times about Richardson, Arkansas sports, the craft of writing and more. He’s a fascinating person in his own right, a creative writing professor who’s also spent a year coaching professional basketball in Ireland while learning how to play the fiddle. Oh, and this: He was also a Division I assistant coach who “discovered” a largely unknown point guard named Tim Hardaway in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood.

In the early 1980s, while a teenage Hardaway walked to courts to hone his craft, there would have been at some point a large, 6-7 heavyset older man driving a cab by those same courts. Perhaps, they knew of each other. Likely they didn’t.  The man’s name was Nat Clifton. He is one of the most significant figures in NBA history, a man who will posthumously be inducted into the Hall of Fame alongside Richardson.

And he grew up in Arkansas…

 

Click here for Part 2 of this series.