Savage teaches young reporter about humility

By Dick Mason, The Observer August 21, 2013 10:47 am
Some say adversity builds character. Others argue that it exposes character.

Almost 26 years ago I saw adversity reveal the character of one Lorence “Doc” Savage.

The time was about 10 p.m. on a Friday in late October 1987. LHS had just been thumped by Redmond in one of Savage’s few losing seasons.

I was then an Observer sports reporter and was sitting in the coaches office in the LHS locker room waiting to get game statistics and quotes from coaches. 

Outside the office the players were keeping things to a dull roar as many got ready to attend a school dance. Inside the office, Savage and his assistant coaches were saying little.

Savage was a proud man and it was clear that the defeat stung. He had every right to be upset with his players, some of whom had made major errors. But there was nothing in his choice of words or demeanor to suggest it. 

He could have taken me to task — I had picked the Tigers to lose earlier in the week in a preview of the upcoming weekend games. 

Savage would not have any of it. Instead, he graciously did everything possible to help provide me the information I needed to write a story that would meet the demands of my editor. He even engaged me in one of my favorite topics — sports history — explaining the evolution of the offensive formation Redmond used.

All this while not once trying to influence the approach of my story or attempting to put a misleading spin on the game’s outcome. 

The Observer’s sports editor at the time was Dan Keenan and he was a huge fan of Savage. I often heard him refer to Savage as a gentlemen and a scholar or say, “Doc Savage, what a class act.” On that evening, almost 26 years ago, I learned exactly what he meant.

Savage, at the time, was probably a better coach than ever, yet he was far removed from the heady days of 1974, when he guided LHS to the state football title in the division for Oregon’s largest high schools.

I lived in Corvallis at the time, so I have a different perspective on La Grande’s upset. I think the magnitude of it was bigger than many people in La Grande realize. Four seniors from that Corvallis team went on play football in the then-Pacific 8 Conference, now known as the Pac-12. Two played at Oregon State University, one for California and another at Stanford. Three of the players received full-ride scholarships. At least one other player had a successful career at the NAIA level.

La Grande by comparison was a super team without a superstar. None of its players went on to play major college football and few, if any, played small college football. 

This raises the question, what magical step did Doc take to guide LHS past Corvallis in such decisive fashion?

I have no idea and I don’t think anyone really does. But I am not complaining. Unsolved mysteries and people as wonderful as Doc Savage are what make sports and life so fun. 

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