It’s the signature rallying cry of the Dallas Cowboys football team. And during this past weekend, I heard it too many times to count – a 100 percent mock redneck declaration from the lips of my longtime Texas friend, Mike Granberry.
He was kidding, of course. But every time he blurted out the phrase, context-free and with no warning whatsoever, it made me smile. How could I not, hearing the words delivered with faux passion by a Dallas native and lifelong Cowboys fan channeling his inner good ol’ boy.
During an all-too-short visit to Big D, I heard it again and again. And again.
And I didn’t mind at all.
A friendship blooms
Mike and I met in June 1973 as summer interns at The Washington Post, a year after the reporters Woodwood and Bernstein had traced a burglary at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex to the Nixon White House. By the summer of ’73, Watergate was a full-blown national scandal and additional reporting the following year would ultimately bring down the President of the United States. It was a heady time to be a collegiate journalist in a newsroom that was making history.
Mike was a sports intern, a red-haired, lightly freckled guy out of Southern Methodist University. A guy I took an instant liking to, with a down-home manner, a great sense of humor and a bottomless well of stories.
I was a copy editing intern in the Sunday Outlook section, a long-haired Californian with John Lennon glasses and the mistaken notion that lemon yellow bellbottoms and blue platform shoes were meant to be worn in a professional newsroom.
We hit it off so well that when I married Lori the following year, I asked him to be an usher. We stayed in touch for several years until time, distance, and life’s twists and turns caused us to lose contact – though the mutual respect and friendship never went away.
Through social media, we reconnected again this year and I found myself on a plane last weekend to visit my long-time buddy and meet his family.
It was great.
A friendship rekindled
Mike picked me up at the airport and for the next (not quite) 48 hours, we talked, laughed, ate, drank, reminisced, brought each other up to speed on our families, and every so often took time to blurt out: “How ‘bout them Cowboys!”
He could pass for Elton John these days, with his black jacket over a black shirt, black -ramed glasses and full head of silvery hair.
He also would make a great ambassador for his hometown. It’s hard to imagine anyone with his depth and range of knowledge and wealth of contacts in the realms of arts, sports and journalism. Everywhere we went, everyone knew Mike as that talented arts reporter and columnist for The Dallas Morning News.
Were I to go into detail, this post would be twice as long, so let me just hit the highlights.
He arranged a private tour of AT&T Stadium, the $1.3 billion colossus where the Cowboys play their home games. We were led around by a friendly former security guard who’s now the “stadium art ambassador” and recently was the subject of a profile by Mike. (Read it here.)
He took me to an acoustic folk concert at a church fellowship hall that turns into a volunteer-run, alcohol-free coffeehouse for touring musicians on Friday nights. We not only sat directly in front of the stage, we also met the performers before the show. (Read Mike’s guest blog post “This Song’s For You.”)
He shared his encyclopedic knowledge of JFK’s assassination. We retraced the presidential motorcade’s route through Dealey Plaza; saw the rooming house where Lee Harvey Oswald lived, the street corner where he gunned down a police officer, the movie theater where he was arrested; and the street ramp to the police station where he was shot by Jack Ruby.
He took me to Deep Ellum, the gentrifying hipster business district near downtown, for a Tex-Mex lunch of migas and a Negra Modelo, and from there to two quick visits to the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Dallas Museum of Art, where I saw works by Picasso, Rodin and Jackson Pollock, among others.
He took me to a sports bar with more and bigger TV screens than I’ve ever seen to watch the UCLA-Texas football game (at the very stadium we had toured a day earlier) and chow down on some barbecued brisket.
Nearing midnight, he drove us through the SMU campus where he got his start as a student journalist and where he returned last year as a professional to help cover the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
Last but not least, he showed me the restaurant and theater district that new money has brought in suburban Plano, where he and his wife, Nancy Churnin, a fellow journalist and theater critic for The Dallas Morning News, live.
But, wait there’s more
Tucked in between these mini-tours and countless stories, I met three of their four boys; took a run in a nature preserve near their home; and saw the homes of various sports celebrities and other notables (including the home where Luke and Owen Wilson’s parents still live).
Through it all, we engaged in a non-stop conversation that careened from our days as wide-eyed interns at the Post to today’s reality of pared-back newspapers and digital journalism; from discussions of marriage, parenthood and the deaths of our mothers to rants on politics and state tax structures. And, of course, the differences between the places we call home, reflected in the TV shows “Portlandia” and “Dallas.”
It was a short but satisfying visit. I can see Mike is, as he used to say with a big ol’ Texas twang, “happy as a tick on a dog’s belly.” He’s married to a wonderful woman, proud of his four sons, and every bit the talented writer I knew he would become.
And he’s still a goofball, tossing out that redneck rallying cry: “How ‘bout them Cowboys!”
Jersey photograph: https://spelltexas.wordpress.com/2012/09/