Ready! Set! Hut!
Jonathan Studebaker’s unending passion for football
There is a big part of me that wishes I were back in coaching. I get a lump in my throat every time I think about it.
The game of football represents who I am. I’ve taken a few vicious shots over the middle. Just look at my head. But that’s life. Success on the gridiron demands a magical mix of intense energy, assessment, and quick wit. When living to the fullest I do it with zeal and enthusiasm. At times I roll the dice. Sometimes you have to go for it on fourth and goal.
If I need to go to the store in a driving rainstorm, I strap on a garbage bag and do it. Parallels between football and my life match. Don’t infer that I view life as one big Super Bowl. Hardly. It’s just that the game of football taught me so much. It taught me to be tough. No other life experience has come close to it. Football is me.
—from the manuscript of Jonathan Studebaker’s book No Ordinary Bag Of Bones.
It was the proverbial ominous late-night phone call, ringing in well past midnight. I didn’t want to answer, but I figured it wasn’t a bill collector. “Yeah?” was the best I could muster.
“Hey Krekel, what are you doing?” It was Jonathan calling from Enloe Medical Center.
“I’m trying to mix in a couple hours of unconsciousness. What’s up?”
I never faulted Jon for failing to refer to the clock before dropping a dime. In the hospital, as in jail, there is no day or night. Just time.
“I got something serious to run by you,” he said. “Really serious.”
In the 15 years I’d run with Jonathan—we met at a fantasy football draft back in 1985 through our mutual friendship with former News & Review Editor George Thurlow—he’d never sounded so somber. I braced for the worst.
“What’s up?” I asked, trying to sound cheery. “Did nurse Ratshit pull the plug on the happy-juice box? Are you in pain?
“No Steve. I can’t sleep. I’m really worried.”
“Jonny, what’s going on? What’s the story?”
Twenty seconds of nothing—probably a Studebaker record.
“OK, I’m going to ask you something serious. I trust your judgment. Don’t lie to me.”
“What is it?”
“Is the XFL gonna make it?” he asked. “Have you seen the ratings? Is the league going to survive? From what I’ve heard it may be circling the drain. What have you heard?”
I’m not stopped stone cold in my tracks with any regularity, but this one hit the top 10.
“Jonathan, how much medication are you on?” I asked. “Did you call in the middle of the night to seek insight about a crap football league that only you and Vince McMahon give a shit about?”
“This is serious, Krekel. I like the league. They have to give it more time and get better announcers. Jesse Venture is an idiot. Does he know any other adjective than puke?”
I found myself resigned to the reality that Jon was going to play Bob Costas and analyze this thing till the Valium put him down.
“I take it the cheerleaders have held up their ends of the deal.”
“Oh yeah. Did you see that one dame from …?”
I knew where this was headed. “Jon, you’re on morphine. I have a headache.”
It took all my energy not to roll over and put that phone back on the hook, but this was one issue on which I allowed Jon to rant on and on and on. We spent the next hour playing commissioner of the XFL. It was that style of madness that made Jon. He’s lying in the hospital with four busted ribs, a broken heart and an unquenched libido, and his main concern is football. Lousy football, no less.
During his many years in Shriners hospitals, Jon crossed paths with some of football’s greatest legends. The week before the annual Shrine East-West All-Star game in the Bay Area, colleges’ elite football players gather. The prestigious event is unique in that the stars of the game spend more time visiting the kids parked in the Shriners hospitals than they do on the practice field.
Jon met everyone. He was honorary coach for a few years. He developed a sincere relationship and correspondence with University of Alabama Coach Paul “The Bear” Bryant, who was to collegiate football what Vince Lombardi was to the pros.
“Krekel. Here’s the four letters I wrote him, and here’s the four he returned.”
The letters from this legend weren’t the familiar trite afterthoughts Jon had received from the hundreds of cup-of-coffee members of the football establishment. These letters exuded a true compassion.
He spent two summers coaching in Kansas City for his favorite team, the Chiefs, having met then-coach Paul Wiggins when he was running the Stanford football team. He worked under owner Lamar Hunt, a fairly legitimate oil billionaire. Jon claimed he slept with Hunt’s gorgeous wife, but I suspect that was the Demerol speaking. Jon also interned with the Oakland Invaders of the defunct USFL.
Jon was kicking coach for the Chico State Wildcats in 1983-84. Former coach Dick Trimmer gave Jon his first shot. The next year, it was Coach Mike Bellotti, now coach at the University of Oregon. But it was Trimmer who molded him into “The General.” One time I asked Jon who was his biggest hero, The Bear, Bellotti or Trimmer. Before I could finish he answered, “Trimmer.”
Trimmer and his wife were also Studebaker’s adopted parents here in Chico. Though his winning percentage as a football coach hung around .500, Trimmer’s humanity rating pushed .950.