The show goes on

Marvin Westwestwords

Maybe you have heard this: The show must go on.

Tennessee will almost certainly play Indiana State Saturday at Neyland Stadium – as scheduled, 4 p.m. start. From the stands and skyboxes and TV screens, everything will probably look the same.

It won’t be.

Gus Manning will be honored as the legend for the game – complete with video presentation – but he won’t be there.

I suppose home openers are possible without Gus. Can’t say for sure. He’s been there for 71 in a row.

Gus was around before helmets had face guards and before Neyland Stadium was Neyland Stadium. He was there when the south horseshoe opened, expanding arena capacity from 31,390 to 46,390. Gus never was sure that precisely 15,000 seats were added but he depended on that number when he was ticket manager.

I remember when, before computers, managing tickets was a tricky business. Gus had tricks to spare. He felt it was to his and the university’s advantage to hold back a few choice seats just in case the governor and his entourage or a senator or a president, Heaven forbid, might decide at the last minute to attend a big game.

Each time the witching hour passed, Gus had tickets in his shirt pocket that he needed to unload – quickly and quietly. If you knew the correct motel owner, you could get 50-yard-line seats at face value at the last minute. Regular customers waited and were regularly rewarded.

When Gus made arrangements for team travel and lodging and meals and meeting rooms, they were almost always flawless. It wasn’t his fault that a train and a team bus almost collided on the way to one game. The train was off schedule.

Gus knew almost everybody even remotely linked to Tennessee athletics. Of course, he knew Lindsey Nelson. He knew Johnny Butler before his famous run against Alabama. When Gus was a freshman at Rule High School, Butler helped him sneak into UT games.

Gus knew George Cafego and Hank Lauricella and Doug Atkins and Reggie White and Steve Kiner and Bob Johnson and Chip Kell.

Gus knew the little guys, too, and pretty much treated them and the greats all the same – with respect because of mutual commitment to all things orange and an occasional tease to keep egos in line.

Gus certainly knows and appreciates that other Manning fellow, Peyton, no relation. The great quarterback holds Mr. Manning in high regard. He made a generous donation to the university and asked that a stadium gate be named in honor of Gus. It is Gate 16, on the west side. Perhaps you recall Peyton wore that number as a Volunteer.

The Manning men posed for a photo. A more memorable picture of Gus is his celebration of a Larry Seivers touchdown reception. He had his signature cigar firmly in place and was waving a briefcase filled with cash – for players’ postgame meals.

Gus won’t be at the game Saturday but he’ll be very interested. He will follow the Vols from the comfort of rehab quarters, room 8, Little Creek, 1811 Little Creek Lane, Knoxville 37922. He is wrestling an affliction or three but his big fight is with age. He is 94.

Meanwhile, the show must go on.

Gus asked not-nearly-as-old friend Bud Ford, his co-host of The Locker Room since the 2010 death of Haywood Harris, to keep the longest-running pregame radio show alive.

Gus knew he could count on Bud. They have a connection. As a youth, Bud was Gus’ newspaper delivery boy. For a couple of years, they intersected at the grocery. When a job came open in the sports information department in 1964, Gus had a ready recommendation. Haywood said OK.

UT student Harrison “Bud” Ford reported for duty. As was the custom, he stayed – until Dave Hart unceremoniously swept him out.

This Saturday, you can hear Bud’s radio segment on WIVK – for old times’ sake.

“It certainly won’t be the same without Gus,” said Ford.

Gus and UT go back to 1946. After military adventures, he was a student. Robert R. Neyland hired him as a security specialist (practice field guard) and general handyman in 1951. The scene changed and changed again. More and more duties were added. Gus could prevent problems.

Ten coaches followed Neyland – Harvey Robinson, Bowden Wyatt, Jim McDonald, Doug Dickey, Bill Battle, John Majors, Phillip Fulmer, Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley and Butch Jones. In different ways, they all counted on Gus.

Athletic directors paraded past. They realized Gus could do more things better than most.

Campus presidents and other administrators came and went. Gus stayed. He eventually became an untouchable, $1 a year and an occasional free meal, a living legend.

Charles Augustine Manning will be so acclaimed on Saturday – in absentia.

Marvin West invites reader reactions. His address is [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.