Howard Bayne, legendary tough guy of Tennessee basketball, died today In Dayton, Ohio, at age 75.
Howard, an original Ray Mears recruit in 1962, was a rare non-conformist. He was 6-6 and 230, a splendid athlete, tight end physique, totally fearless, naturally combative, borderline belligerent and sometimes mistaken for an intimidator.
He was a high school dropout who came from Dayton on what appeared an impossible mission. He double-dipped in academics in the summer, enrolled at UT in the fall, flunked out, recovered and matured into a captain.
Howard never forgot how it happened.
“I didn’t have much of anything. I came to Knoxville with two pair of Levis, a few T-shirts and a pair of Converses. I went to Young High during the day and to Knox High at night. When I qualified as a graduate, Coach Mears offered me a scholarship.”
Player and coach had a sharp difference of opinion about how to win basketball games. Bayne wanted to shoot that rock. Mears wanted him to defend and rebound.
Howard, eventually dubbed “chairman of the boards,” didn’t get nearly as many as the original Bumper, Gene Tormohlen, or even Bernard King, but he scattered more bodies, hurt more feelings and probably caused more bruises and contusions. The team that included A.W. Davis and Ron Widby outrebounded opponents by an amazing average of 16.7 per game.
The Dallas Cowboys recognized Howard’s football mentality and made an offer. It did not include sufficient cash. Bayne had a brief NFL fling with the Cleveland Browns. He played 69 games of professional basketball with the Kentucky Colonels.
He married well (Susan Stalcup of Gatlinburg), became a businessman, divorced, developed real estate and tried his hand at antiques and music publishing. His great loves turned out to be his grandchildren, horses and the Great Smoky Mountains.
Bayne grudgingly lost the fight with illness. Daughter Jordan Bayne said diabetes was the primary villain.
“He thought he was indestructible but he had several afflictions, including cardiac troubles.”
A second attack was fatal.
Long, long ago I decided March 5, 1966, was Howard’s best day. The day before wasn’t bad. Bayne stood at the door of Stokely Center, waiting for coach Adolph Rupp and his 23-0 Kentucky team to arrive for a shoot-around before the season finale.
“Coach Rupp, I’m Howard Bayne.”
Howard invited the hall-of-fame coach to take a little walk. Rupp was stunned. He wondered if the pressure was too great, if the Tennessee captain had gone mad. He wondered if Mears was using Bayne in some weird mind game.
“We walked to Coach Mears’ office,” recalled Bayne.
There was a dartboard with Rupp’s picture as the bulls-eye.
“He was speechless. I told him we all had Kentucky in our sights.”
The next day, there was a magic moment (well, several) for Bayne. Tennessee seniors were introduced before the tipoff.
“I remember going out to stand in the center circle. The spotlight was on me. The ovation was overwhelming. It seemed to go on forever and got louder as it went.”
The applause was thunderous. I thought it might be a record for longevity. The thank-you from fans to the rugged rebounder went on and on. Believe it or not, tears rolled down the cheeks of this really tough guy.
Tennessee spoiled Kentucky perfection. The Vols defeated Pat Riley and Louie Dampier and Larry Conley and those wonderful Wildcats, 69-62. Bayne had 12 points and 12 rebounds. His tip-in broke a 53-53 tie and gave UT the lead for good.
“I went to the Kentucky dressing room after the game,” said Bayne. “I told the players we had enjoyed competing against them and I wished them well in the NCAA tournament.”
Upon reflection, Bayne realized he had changed during his time at Tennessee. He eventually rethought his relationship with Mears. He put away resentment about being denied the God-given right to shoot the basketball. He concluded the coach had done a lot for him.
Howard Bayne took the first steps and went more than halfway to establish a sincere friendship with Ray Mears. It was beautiful.
Bayne is survived by daughter Jordan, a filmmaker in New York City, son Cody, a Los Angeles artist, and son Matt, a businessman.
There will be a private ceremony in Ohio. A public celebration of life is a maybe, for later, in Knoxville. Howard asked that if anyone wanted to do anything in his memory, to make a donation to The Pat Summit Foundation Fund. Howard admired Pat.
Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org