Tucker legend 'Bud' King Tigers' top fan

Wherever Tucker High's football team has gone the past 20 years, James Jefferson King has witnessed every tackle, every pass and, most important, every blown call by an official. He'll keep an eye on things once again Friday night from the pressbox for Tucker's playoff opener at Dalton High's Harmon Field.

King, as almost everyone points out, is synonymous with Tucker sports, particularly, though not exclusively, football. Tucker’s nickname is the Tigers, but as longtime friend Trae Hurst said, “The Tiger is just a mascot. Bud’s an icon.”

Which brings up a second point: Nobody calls him by, or is likely even aware of, his birth name. He is always and everywhere known as “Bud.” There are variations such as Bud of Tucker, or Better Deal Bud, or Buzzer-Beater Bud (a basketball-exclusive nickname) and probably a few others.

No matter the designation, Bud is known, and in a wide contextual variety. A couple of weeks ago, while boarding the team bus to Chamblee, the driver said, “How you doing, Bud?” Bud spun around, nodded and said, “How you doing, Mr. School Bus Driver?”

Chuck Lewis, a former Tucker player from the late 1970s, now owns Copy Atlanta, which has employed Bud for the past 11 years. “If you take Bud to a Braves game,” Lewis said, “it takes 45 minutes to get to your seat. Almost every section has somebody saying, ‘Hey, Bud,’ which means he has to stop, like the king acknowledging his court.”

Hurst, who’s known Bud for nearly 30 years, adds, “If you go down to Cairo, Georgia, on a Friday night and, let’s say, Cairo’s playing Bainbridge. If you get there about an hour before the game, I guarantee you both head coaches would leave their pregame warm-ups and come over and speak to Bud.”

There are a number of reasons for this broad-ranging intimacy. One is Bud’s natural and sincere gregariousness. “I have never, in my life, known a stranger,” he said. Another is his guttural, instantly recognizable voice, capable of cutting through crowd noise and marching bands in a single stroke.

He’s described on Tucker’s football Web site as “Stat Man,” but this is about as ill-fitting and confining as the shirt and tie he’s wearing in the accompanying photograph (he normally wears a Tucker T-shirt, Tucker cap, Tucker sweat shirt and either jeans or the optional Tucker sweat pants).

He is not really a team manager, or an equipment manager, although he’s acted in both capacities. He does laundry every Sunday morning after a Friday game. He helps grade film on game nights, meaning he’s usually up till 1:30 a.m., then back in with the offensive staff at 10 the next morning.

He drives players of all sports to and from practice. He keeps the book during basketball season, he travels with the football team to the various out-of-town summer camps, and he never misses a baseball game. His various duties tumble endlessly over one another, sprawling from one season to the next.

“I think Bud represents a certain innocence that, thankfully, we still have in high school sports,” said Franklin Stephens, now in his third year as Tucker’s head football coach. “He loves football, and in fact loves all sports. More than that, he loves these players. For me, sports have always provided an instant family, and it definitely does that for Bud. The team is family, and it’s something you can always turn to in time of need.”

By now that family, considering Bud’s been at Tucker High since 1989, numbers in the thousands, counting players and coaches that have come and gone. Out of these come a handful – a dozen, perhaps, maybe more – known as “Bud’s inner circle.” These are usually ex-Tucker players, or coaches, or ex-coaches in Tucker’s celebrated youth football program where Bud worked before coming to the high school.

In fact, one of the most famous Bud anecdotes involves a trip to Daytona Beach a few years back with a travel squad from the youth football league. One afternoon, Hurst and several other coaches took Bud to the dog track. When he bet on a trifecta, Hurst shook his head.

“Bud,” he said, “this dog you picked is so bad they didn’t even put his odds in the program.”

“I’ve been studying this dog,” Bud said. “He just took an unbelievable bowel movement. If you took one like that, you’d run fast too.”

The dog ran very fast and won Bud $700. The unfortunate epilogue is that the next day Bud locked his keys in a rental car and paid $200 of his winnings to a locksmith to extricate them.

The second most famous story is when Bud was called for a technical foul during the 1996 state championship basketball game between Tucker and Westover. “David Boyd was our coach,” he said. “Thank the Lord we won or I might not be talking to you today.

“Fact is,” said Bud, who’s now 43, “I’ve gotten more mature, or whatever you want to call it. I don’t hardly cuss anymore, and I certainly wouldn’t cuss a referee. A lot of them are my friends. However, I keep a close eye on them. If I have to, I will call them clueless.”

The same certainly can’t be said of Bud himself. Hurst points out that “Bud is doing exactly what he wants to do. Very few of us can say that. I truly believe that if Bud won the lottery, he wouldn’t change anything, except maybe buy a new car.”

When asked this very question, Bud didn’t hesitate.

“Nobody really knows what they’d do if they won the lottery,” he said. “I’d like to think I wouldn’t change one bit. But I know one thing I’d do. I’d give a whole lot of what I won to this school, to build a training facility, locker rooms, weight rooms, and a good office for the coaches. Now that sure would be something, don’t you think?”