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My friends ask me why I write. I don’t have a really good answer except that I feel drawn to these athletes I write about. I guess it’s my way of thanking them for all the glorious moments they have allowed me to be a part of. This book isn’t just about their stories. This book is about all our memories. These inspirational short stories are about respect for those athletes that made us so happy. All the folks I write about have been a part of the sports world in some way or another, and I have seen and or met most of them in person. I enjoy sharing their unknown stories from the world of sports. I have lived my sports dreams through them. No one really ever dies if you look at it the right way. I want you to notice the goodness and beauty that made them who they were. We don’t need permission to be who we are, and tomorrow is never promised. The truth is, when we experience their performance, we too become a part of their story. 

So, Why me? Why have I lived such a charmed life? Writer Robert Ingersoll once wrote “He rises by lifting others.” I hope I have done the same in their eyes. I’ve accomplished pretty much whatever I wanted to do, been to more places and sporting events than most, and always found myself surrounded by wonderful, caring people. Besides having a loving family and God’s grace and mercy, good luck was about all I ever had. I never thought I was good looking, overweight most of my life, but I always tried to be kind, giving, genuine and thoughtful.

As a sports historian, I don’t feel as comfortable talking about the present as I do the past. If we lose our history, we lose our future. In today’s fast-paced world, we are at great risk of losing touch with yesterday’s memories. That makes the role of these folks I write about more important than ever before. You see, a legend is a person that connects with those they have never met. One way to remember who you are is to remember who your heroes were. My goal in Legends of Greatness is to take you back to the front porch, a place where your dad and uncle told stories of the great sports stars of yesteryear; to share with you their back story. Their back story is about how and why it happened. It’s about telling the stuff others do not want you to know. These players and games always come back around. The game reminds itself of who it is, and the old ghosts are always rising up as they refuse to be cast aside. I enjoy connecting you to things from the past, things bigger than we are. I just want to be the voice of the facts. The hardest thing for most to learn is to keep our priorities in order. You have to realize that all you have could be gone tomorrow. I’m so blessed to be doing what I love, but I don’t love it as much as I love being a husband, a father, a granddad or a Christian. So, writing the eighth book of what I call the “Greatness Series” and talking sports on the radio are about fifth or sixth most important things on my list.

The great beating heart of sports tells you everything you need to know; it’s emotional, it is a way of communicating to people and how it affects the athletes who play the game. Sports are not about the actual play, they are about the interval between the plays. Storytelling is like that. It’s not the words used; it’s how the words are arranged, and how they are put together or organized into a sentence. The words themselves are not new. They don’t change. The hardest challenge for most is to go from a life that is structured, like sports or the military, to a more normal life. You can’t replace the adrenaline rush. It’s hard work to move past all the memories, thoughts, highlights and emotions, to see and feel what’s left after all the noise is gone. We don’t get to choose our moments, but you can create new focus. Just know that the hole left behind is sometimes hard to fill. That’s where I come in. I want my stories about these athletes to help fill that hole. You may get the feeling you are supposed to be doing something else. Don’t miss your moments.

While I was researching these athletes, I sometimes got overwhelmed by things I didn’t expect. There were so many moments during my research where I found myself emotional. I do believe in rewriting and it’s true, I do love the research. If my arrangement of words does not move me, how can I expect them to move others? We learn about their lives and sometimes their early death. All of the athletes you will read about in this book have passed away in the last two years. Loss is a part of life, but a loved one or sports hero never leaves you. You get over the loss of a wallet or your watch, but you never get over losing someone special, you only get through it.

So, when does an athlete become a legend? When do they come to symbolize something much greater than themselves? These athletes paid their dues. For years they worked hard and practiced their craft. And even after they became a star they had to fight off a new generation of players to stay on top. The public grew to love them and so did their peers. The true measure of a legend is not just when his friends, family, and teammates respect and love him, but when his adversaries do, too. There have been other athletes who have had the same qualities, but they have fallen short of becoming living legends. The truth is simple. There’s only one thing that can turn a star into a legend, “You,” the public. They become an icon because you are reading their story right now. You saw their name in the table of contents of this book and you wanted to know more. That is what makes these athletes legends.

So, give me a moment of your time and pick out a story of one of your favorite sports heroes. Let me take you to a game. I have a feeling you might just learn something new.

Andy Purvis

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Texana Reads -- Dr. Manuel Flores Guest columnist

Latest in Purvis’ sports series reaches greatness

The master of the sports metaphor and simile is back in the saddle. And, this time, he has a hit a dinger over the center field fence and the ball is still going.

Andy Purvis, author of the “Greatness Series” of sports memorabilia books, has surely acquired legendary status with his new book “Shadows of Greatness: Keeping our Sports Heroes Alive.” This sports fanatic is wellknown in coastal and South Texas, but his prolific writing and talent surely transcend the regional aspects of his success.

“Shadows of Greatness” is the seventh book in his “Greatness Series” of documenting sports legends of days gone by and helping the reader re-live memories that were crystallized over a lifetime of following sports and their heroes.

But this was no desperation “Hail Mary” pass in the waning seconds of game.

The well-researched and well-written book may be his best. Purvis chronicles the lives of 54 former sports legends in crystal-clear vignettes of three to six pages each. Similes and metaphors are sprinkled throughout the book to make the reading as interesting as watching a comet fly through the clear Texas night sky. But, more importantly, each description is unique to the character he is writing about, giving the reader a true understanding of the life of a former great athlete.

Among the athletes covered in this book are Roger Bannister, “Master of the Mile”; Rusty Staub, “The Big Orange”; Billy Cannon, “Always a Tiger”; Willie McCovey, “Gentle Giant”; King Kong Bundy, “The Walking Condominium”; and George H.W. Bush, “Glove Man until the end.”

You get the idea.

Even the titles of the vignettes are interesting and full of mystery as to just what Purvis uncovered about these heroes. It’s like listening in on family secrets.

My favorites include the essay on sports announcer Keith Jackson, he of the voice as mellow as a field of Texas Bluebonnets on a spring morning. He titled this one “Pert-Near Perfect.” “Whoa Nellie!” as Jackson used to say, that’s a good one.

My other favorite was on Texas high school phenom Cedric Benson, who went on to star at the University of Texas and as a pro.

Benson may be the best high school running back ever in the Lone Star State, snagging “headlines like he did touchdowns and always drawing more coverage than the Oscars” at Midland Lee High School.

Benson “moved faster than bad news,” Purvis said. But it was not all rah-rah for the Lone Star legend. His tragic death at the age of 37 is part of the story.

Purvis is more than just a good sports writer; he is a master of nostalgia. With his “Greatness Series” he has become the sports storyteller for the Baby Boomer generation, who now lives for the memories.

Writes Purvis in his Preface to “Shadows of Greatness, “Nostalgia is the art of remembering the things we want to remember.”

Indeed, we see our sports heroes in our dreams and Purvis’ writing helps jog the memory enough to rekindle thoughts and experiences that may have been veiled behind a fog bank coming in from the Gulf of Mexico.

“Keeping Our Heroes Alive”

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