Danny Talbott lost his war with cancer. Many thought he’d win. He won every thing else. Danny was a baptist preacher’s kid. In the 1960’s in North Carolina he was legendary. His pre-integration time called for every able bodied, red blooded male to play football. Most added basketball and baseball, as did Danny. Tennis and golf were for sissies. No one had heard of soccer. Maybe Pele. No girls allowed.
Coach Henry Trevathan coached Danny in Rocky Mount, NC. He said Danny was like another coach on the field. And not just in football. Rocky Mount won state titles in football, then basketball, then baseball, then football again the next year.
I was a “Peacock” in 1963/64. Danny’s freshman year at UNC-Chapel Hill. Peacocks were so called as our graduate school advisor was the beloved Dr. Bill Peacock. There were thirty college grads who taught the UNC freshman classes. I was teaching a basketball class on the Woolin Gym floor when Jack Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
Having lived in Wilson,NC, 18 miles from Talbott and Rocky Mt., I knew of his career. And told my fellow Peacocks who were mostly unaware of his feats. Freshman were ineligible then, and my colleagues hardly believed my hype. As basketball arrived Danny changed uniforms like a superhero. Shoulder pads for sneakers even after basketball and the remarkable Bobby Lewis show had started. All my buddies were there to watch Lewis. When they inserted Danny into the lineup, I loudly alerted them to his entry. Sure enough he was shortly on the foul line with two free throws. Nothing but foul lane, 1 and 2. howls and chagrin. Exit Danny until the game’s end, when fouled out Tar Heels dictated his reentry.
Sure enough, with one point down and seconds on the clock, there is Talbott on the line, with game on the line. Swish goes #1, swish #2, Game Talbott.
Come spring time there he is on the diamond, first year of an outstanding college baseball career. He later told me, “…I probably should have pursued pro baseball.”
Danny was easy to like. Big smile, rosy/rusty cheeks that glowed. Made you feel great. Bobby Dunn and I are friends and he and Danny were very close. When Danny went into sales after pro football, Bobby said he missed competition and was considering tennis. Send him over, I suggested.
Low and behold here he came to our college courts. Coat and tie abandoned for shorts and racket, on the run.
Danny was ambidextrous. He was hitting groundstrokes left handed forehand and backhand. His beginning shots looked good to me. “Why are you so discouraged?” I asked him.
“Watch this serve” he whimpered. He was correct. I never thought I’d see Danny Talbott look awkward at anything, but this was pretty awful to watch. He tried a couple of more serves. Then the duh? moment. Left-handed serve?
“Danny, aren’t you the quarterback that holds the NCAA record for 28 out o32 pass completions in the EAST/WEST All-Star game?” A puzzled “yes”. Did you throw them left handed ? Well, no of course.
Below is the quickest, most productive lesson I taught in my career:
1. The serve is a throw. Put the racket in your right hand. Turn your grip a little this way (“first knuckle, first bevel”). Now serve it like a throw.
2. Your wrist action at hit moment is much like a fast ball or slider is thrown.
I’m not sure if it was the first serve he tried, but I know it was before the fourth, that repeated ace like rockets zoomed over the net. I know he wanted to stop and thank me but he was having too much fun, I was too. So, I’d toss him a ball and a big “thump” would echo. I only asked about the grip, as that action is hard to see? “Yeah, fastball, slider, I got it!”
He would show up with questions and conversations. Eventually he played right handed while serving, left-handed on both ground strokes. On overheads he hit ones on the right, right-handed. The ones on the left, left handed.
It wasn’t long before I was getting reports that he was right in the middle of NC senior tennis tournaments. And, later, he did a similar thing with golf, becoming an accomplished player there too.
The last time I saw him was a year ago in Wilson’s DICK’S HOT DOG STAND. He was with a man I didn’t know, but later Danny said was his “cancer doctor”. “We go out to eat once a month”.
Rocky Mount named their hospital’s new cancer center after Danny Talbott.
Danny was so gracious with me. He always said “…that’s my tennis coach, he made my game.” But I always knew the “Big Coach” made Danny. He made a masterpiece.
PS–you guys who play sports up there. He’s coming. But you better be ready. He’s competitive.