On Father’s Day, let me tell you about my dad

The Bradley family after church

Credit: Mark Bradley

Combined ShapeCaption
Mom, Brian, me, Dad

Credit: Mark Bradley

I’m sure there were times when my dad wished I’d just shut up, but it was his fault, kind of. He could talk about anything – politics, poetry, World War II. He’d make a pun about Euripides. He’d quote from Norman Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead.”

Some of my friends admitted they liked coming over so they could chat with him. I understood. I liked him, too.

After Maysville High School let out, I’d walk over to his office and wait to ride home with him. (When I turned 16, I’d drive home. He’d grit his teeth and let me.) I’d sit in his workroom and read the Louisville Courier-Journal. I’d also listen to him with his patients. They also seemed to enjoy the conversation, even if their gums had been numbed.

Dad had been a left halfback and a shortstop for Paintsville High. He hit a home run that won the regional final against Russell. He had a tryout with the Cubs. He wound up as a bow gunner in a tank in Europe. He came home, married my mom and graduated from dental school. I showed up shortly thereafter.

He watched games on the black-and-white TV. I watched with him. I remember Cincinnati losing a lead to Loyola in the 1963 NCAA title game. My first vivid memory of the NFL is the Cleveland Browns beating the Colts 27-0 for the 1964 championship. Gary Collins caught three touchdown passes. For once, Dad had no issue with Frank Ryan’s passing.

We’d jump in the Oldsmobile and follow the MHS Bulldogs on the road. We went to Ashland, Brooksville, Paris, Winchester and Cynthiana. We made an annual pilgrimage to the state tournament in Louisville. We stayed at the downtown Stouffer’s. We’d see 15 games in four days. It was the highlight of our year.

I subscribed to Sports Illustrated. I read about Bobby Orr. Hockey was something with which my dad wasn’t familiar. I got him to watch the CBS games on Sunday. He read about Lee Trevino and mentioned the story to me. I became a Trevino fan. That’s how it worked. My dad was the smartest man I’ve ever known, and he never made me feel like an idiot son.

We’d watch games. Then we’d discuss the games. He’d say something. I’d remember it. He said: “A wild point guard keeps both teams in the game.” I’ve borrowed that one a lot. He said: “Sometimes it’s hard to look good against a bad team.” That one took me a while, but finally I got it.

We’d go see the Reds. We saw them lose the 1972 World Series to Oakland. We saw the Steelers – we’d become Steelers fans – when they came to play the Bengals. Once it snowed oats. Another time the chill factor was minus-something. We saw Archie Manning’s Mississippi somehow lose to Kentucky. We saw Louisville lose a key basketball game to Drake.

My mom wanted me to go to law school, which sounded OK. I changed my mind at the last minute. I blundered into a job at the Lexington Herald-Leader.

On Sept. 18, 1981, I was in the office, finishing an advance on Kentucky’s game with Alabama the next day. Mom called to say Dad was in Cincinnati’s Christ Hospital. I called his room. He said, “Son, they tell me I’ve got a tumor.”

He died June 10, 1982. There hasn’t been a June 10 since that felt upbeat, but this time – maybe because it was the 40th year after – was especially weighty. Dad lived long enough to see me become a writer, but over the years there’ve been a zillion things I’ve wanted to run by him – I covered the 1984 PGA, which Trevino won – and couldn’t.

Then I realized that all the games and rides home, all our discussions and observations, had teed me up for a career that, miracle of miracle, has entered its 45th year. And surely it wasn’t happenstance that I came to the AJC two months after Dave Kindred – Dad’s all-time favorite sportswriter – joined the staff.

Dave and I met when I was a UK student and he was a big wheel at the Courier. Dad told me to tell him he liked the column Kindred wrote about an old baseball glove and his dad. I complied. Dave said, “That’s one of my favorites, too.”

Kindred’s first rule of sportswriting: The first thing you’d tell your best friend about the game you just saw should be your lead. It was only this week that it hit me: For 40 years, the best friend for whom I’ve been writing has been William A. Bradley, D.M.D.