Who the hell was Lindsey Nelson?

Resident experts, at an unofficial lunch at Aubrey’s, complained about the price of gasoline and the exorbitant cost of living.

It abruptly turned into a heated discussion about Neyland Stadium renovations, 100-year-old propaganda, improved wi-fi and, believe it or not, the party bridge.

“What would the general think of that?” ” make laugh.

Lindsey Nelson in her trademark jacket was a UT torchbearer.

Talking about the generosity of Tennessee sports fans and how to spend it, the next item on the agenda was “Where can they hide $56 million worth of upgrades to Lindsey Nelson Stadium?”

Before a former shortstop could speculate, a young relative, 45 or maybe 50, said he wanted to ask who the hell was or was Lindsey Nelson?

I almost dropped my bite of chocolate turtle cake.

Oh my god, I say, the things we take for granted. Yes, yes, I understand that the generational gaps are real, but….

Before John Majors and John Ward and Peyton and Ernie and Bernie, Lindsey Nelson was the University of Tennessee’s most famous alumnus. Howard Baker could have been No. 2.

But for the grace of God, Lindsey could have been a Vanderbilt man. Think about it, that radio and TV sports superstar in old gold and black instead of those beautifully showy high voltage sports coats in a crazy mix of colors.

Money saved him and us.

In early 1937, at Columbia Central High, in his alumni scholarship application, Lindsey listed the elite Nashville institution as his intended academic destination if he received support funds.

God is good. Lindsey finished second in the free money race.

For your information, I tell you that Lindsey’s father sold tombstones and drank too much, his mother sewed and if the garden was productive, there was something to eat, but the 1930s were difficult and there there was no surplus.

Instead of announcing that he didn’t have enough money to go to movies, let alone college, Lindsey said he might not waste time on graduate school. He couldn’t wait to get his life back.

He got a job at the Columbia Daily Herald, $9 a week, as a broadcast manager, sportswriter, reader, and driver for the publisher who owned a car but couldn’t drive.

Lindsey, already a sports enthusiast, increased his income by officiating softball games, $1 each, including reporting the results in the newspaper.

A young friend, Frank Thomas, was considering going to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Lindsey had heard of it but didn’t know exactly where it was. An elder said he went east, in the general direction of Kingsport or Bristol. Another said that compared to Vanderbilt, the cost of going to Tennessee was not that high.

Without admitting it, Lindsey considered the possibility. He found he could afford some college. In September, he and a cardboard suitcase hitchhiked with Frank Thomas’ father. He camped at the Sigma Nu house with a friend from high school the year before. He discovered a pharmacy breakfast, a large sweet bread and coffee for a penny.

He signed up and just followed the stream to the Tennessee-Wake Forest football game, meaningless milestones for mankind, but for Lindsey, the first moon jump.

This bright, industrious and engaging young man went to college on the cheap. He listened to everything sports on the radio and read every line in the discarded newspapers. When tackle Bob Fulton played piano at the Varsity Inn, Lindsey sometimes sang with him. He was good.

Nelson invited himself to hang around Operation Football. This led to informal work, passing information to a new Journal sports editor, Tom Anderson. It also led to a lifelong friendship and a spot on the mat when Anderson covered games on the road.

Because Volunteers coach Robert R. Neyland was completely paranoid about Alabama and because Anderson was from Alabama and had played for the Crimson Tide, Tom did not have easy access to inside information. of Tennessee.

He once suggested that Lindsey call Neyland at home with a question about Alabama.

Bad idea.

The next morning, everyone related to football was looking for “that guy Nelson” because the coach wanted to see him. The search warrant sounded like a death sentence.

“That’s how I met Coach Neyland. When I walked into his office he said ‘Nelson, I’m going to hang you by the testicles’ only he used a different word.

Neyland eventually calms down enough to explain the risk of leaking secrets to the enemy. Lindsey, trying to put a positive spin on the experience, left with the tentative confidence that, if not an admirer, Neyland was at least an acquaintance.

Lindsey Nelson was a very quick study. He learned that spring training had started on January 9, the beginning of spring according to Neyland. He learned that no young Volunteer could be considered a man until he played against Alabama. Long before his sophomore year, he learned that students should eat more than sweet rolls.

Lindsey got a part-time job at the News-Sentinel as a library assistant, paying $3.20 a week at a time when beer was 10 cents a bottle. Roscoe Parker, an English teacher at UT, needed a student assistant to read and grade freshman essays and proctor quizzes. Lindsey signed.

It brought him closer to football. Coach John Barnhill, responsible for player eligibility, was looking for a tutor, $1 an hour, to help Bob Suffridge and others. Lindsey offered a different arrangement, a room in the new dormitory under the east side of the stadium and meals at the team practice table instead of cash.

All of a sudden, he was eating and sleeping Tennessee football.

Tomorrow: Never let it be said that Robert R. Neyland didn’t know a winner when he saw one.

About Harold Shirley

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