100% Cotten

Feb. 12, 2007

I ran into an old friend the other day at the Wake Forest-North Carolina basketball game in Chapel Hill.  It wasn't the Deacons who, under Skip Prosser, had never lost in the Dean E. Smith Center.  That old friend is still out there somewhere, and I'm confident I'll see him again soon. 


This was a friend I hadn't seen in six years.  It took me by surprise when I learned he was there, and when I saw him I felt shoved back in time.  Jim Caldwell's hair, what little was showing because of a close haircut, was grayer now.  So is mine.  Better turning colors, I guess, than turning loose.  But his smile hasn't changed.  He's one of the most pleasant persons I've ever met.


When I got up to greet him and shouted his name over the noise of the Tar Heel pre-game activities he stood and extended his hand.  We shook hands and gave it each other one of those man half hugs that have somehow become the greeting of the day.  I'm not sure how we guys all started doing it or what it's called.  I'm betting most of you, though, know what I'm talking about.


Coach Caldwell and I exchanged hellos and asked each other about family.  He then congratulated me for a recent broadcasting award.  He's congratulating me, and he had just won the Super Bowl.  Coach Caldwell and Coach Grobe are a lot alike in that way.  They think of others first.  I wish I were better at it.


Coach Caldwell and son Jimmy, a former Deacon who scored the first touchdown for Wake Forest in the Aloha Bowl a few years back, were seated in the first row behind the Demon Deacon bench.  In a way it was odd seeing them there, mostly because several years had passed since they had been on the front lines for the Deacs.  Giving their all for the Old Gold and Black. 


And yet it was perfectly fine.  And right.  The way I look at it, Jim Caldwell is family.  Once a Deacon, always a Deacon in my book.  He gave Wake Forest all he had during his time as head coach and brought us some great times and great players.  In the end, of course, a change was made.  But it's hard to argue his impact.  He helped lay part of the foundation on which the Deacons, ACC Champions (I love writing that!), currently sit.


We talked a bit about the Super Bowl and his visit with the Dallas Cowboys about their vacant head coaching job.  Caldwell didn't get the job, and it would have been easy for him to take a shot at Cowboy owner Jerry Jones.  He did not.  In fact he was very positive and said Jones was much different than portrayed by the media - something I found myself to be true after meeting Jones in the mid-90's. 


Jim Caldwell seemed to me to be the same Jim Caldwell that once patrolled the Deacon sidelines.  A classy guy.  One who has moved on to be one of the more respected assistants in the NFL.  It was good to find an old friend who hadn't let the past or the present change who he really is inside. 


We all then sat through a tough loss at North Carolina.  It was a magical day for the Tar Heels who honored their 1957 and 1982 national championship teams at halftime.  Michael Jordan was there.  So was the man for whom the building was named.  It was Carolina's day, and I'm not sure the San Antonio Spurs would have beaten Carolina that day in that place.


As the Dinger and I chatted with Deacon freshman Jamie Skeen following Wake's win over Winston-Salem State and asked him about going to Chapel Hill, reminding him that the Deacs had had recent success there he said, "...but we aren't that team."  Some felt Skeen was paving the way for a loss.  I think, rather, that Jamie meant this team still had to prove itself and could not rely on what the 2003 team did.


I think Jamie and the Deacons are looking for that old friend, like Jim Caldwell, whom we know is still out there.  We just haven't seen him in a while.  But I'm confident we'll see him soon.

Spring Game