100% Cotten: Grobie's Army

Jan. 5, 2007

How big was Wake Forest's appearance in the 2007 Orange Bowl? Just ask Arnold Palmer. He knows big. The King was reduced to tears when addressing the Deacons at their team meal in Hollywood, Florida, prior to the January 2nd showdown with Louisville. When Arnie got choked up during his remarks and had to take a moment, the Deacs responded with a standing ovation for the man who has blessed the sportsworld for decades with class, dignity and a flare that comes around only once in a while. This was big, and Palmer knew it.

Arnie is used to ovations. For years he was the best golfer on earth. With a hitch of his britches and a follow-through that resembled a sword-bearing swashbuckler more than a golfer, Palmer, the son of a golf superintendent, brought the game to the masses - endearing himself to millions with his bravado on the course and humble demeanor off. Arnie was golf in the 1960's. And his loyal fans, literally millions of them - Arnie's Army - remain so to this day.

Palmer and legendary boxer Muhammad Ali were honorary captains at the Orange Bowl, and both were escorted out to midfield for the tossing of the coin prior to kickoff to Tina Turner's Simply the Best. I asked Wake game captain Steve Vallos about being on the field with the two immortals and he said it was "...easily the coolest thing I've ever done in my career." I would think so.

But a different army is beginning to swell. It was evident looking down from atop Dolphin Stadium to the thousands and thousands and thousands gathering to cheer for Wake Forest football. No camouflage for this group. Old Gold and Black were the colors of the night, easily set apart from the Cardinal fans whose red gear tended to blend into the already orange seats in which they sat. Almost never did this group sit, and rarely was it without a collective voice.

This is Grobie's Army.

It's a collection of Deacon fans caught up with a man and his team like Wake Forest has never seen. It gobbled up skybox commitments and bought club seats in the Deacon Tower project faster than the Deacon Club could make requests. It descended upon South Florida in numbers only dreamt about by the Orange Bowl Committee. It made me a prophet. Just after the Deacs won the ACC title I was asked by a skeptical Orange Bowl Committee member during a radio show interview how many tickets Wake Forest fans would buy. I told him not to worry, that Deacon fans would step up and do their part. I hoped I wouldn't look like too much of a homer. No worries anymore on that front.

Like Arnold Palmer, without even trying, Jim Grobe almost forces you to follow him. Palmer's combination of gamble and guts on the course and extreme likeability on the street has made him a legend with both presidents and paupers. Grobe's consistent calm in the heat of battle and disarming humility to his neighbor is drawing fans of all strata to Wake's corner in droves.

And now one has become the follower of the other. Palmer is one of Grobie's Army.

Now that's big.

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