“BFF”s Before the World Called ‘Em “BFF”s

Dick and Laura Kirtley Cougar Hearts Forever at the late 2015 funeral of Former UH Basketball Icon Coach Guy V. Lewis

Dick and Laura Kirtley
Cougar Hearts Forever
at the late 2015 funeral of
Former UH Basketball Icon
Coach Guy V. Lewis

The most unforgettable people we meet in life often turn out to be the same people who never forget us over our shared lifetimes, no matter how much, or how little, we remain in constant physical contact. These are the folks who, once they do reappear, for whatever reason, never lose a step on who we each are – and what we mean to each other. When we were very young, we often called these people “pals.”

As teenagers, we may naturally as daylight even have updated our relationship status to “buddies” before finally settling on the grown up call that we are friends, in the true sense of the word, “best friends forever” – no matter where we separately go down the roads of life – and no matter how closely, or loosely, we stay in touch.

Richard “Dick” Kirtley is such a “BFF” person in my life, as is his wife Laura, whom I met a few years later, when all of us were young adults, just out of college, when she and Dick paired off as partners in life as a married couple. I even served as a groomsman in their wedding back in the summer of 1967. – How long ago and near at hand that little church ceremony down in Friendswood now seems to be. Like the old Sinatra song says, it happened “Last Night, When We Were Young.”

The demographic ties of our friendship were pretty darn strong. Dick and I both graduated from St. Thomas High School a year apart, with yours truly finishing first in 1956. I enrolled at UH – and Dick transferred to UH from Texas A&M in 1958 and soon pledged to Phi Kappa Theta, the same fraternity I had joined earlier. Dick also played offensive and defensive line for the 1959-1961 Cougar football team. Laura completed the Cougar thread. She attended UH after both Dick and I, and served as a cheerleader for the great 1966-1967 Cougar football teams of Coach Bill Yeoman and the UH basketball teams of Coach Guy Lewis and the Cougars’ first great national star, Elvin “The Big E” Hayes.

Laura has built a beautifully successful real estate business over the years and Dick is now retired from a distinguished career as a teacher, a mathematician, and corporate economist. Their two kids, Ryan and Kristen, are now grown and married, with children of their own, but all of the Kirtleys are very family-close, as is their family tail gate support for home Cougar football games. Ryan Kirtley, by the way, served as my invaluable assistant during the 1980 Mad Dog mascot performance campaign for UH football at the Astrodome.

Today is just a “BFF” look at the amazing Mr. Kirtley – and a few of the life facts that both developed him and show him today as one of the most rabid UH Cougar athletes and boosters of all time.

(1) The Bryant/Father’s Health Factors. Dick Kirtley committed to playing football for Texas A&M in 1957 because he had a burning desire to play for then Aggie Coach Bear Bryant. Dick was an Aggie long enough to get his foot through the door on that experience for a single season, but Bryant’s decision to “go home to mama” (Alabama) after the 1957 season tilted the table. That being said, no one can ever take that experience from him. The guy once played for the great Paul “Bear” Bryant.

The departure of Bryant and the decline in his father’s health led Kirtley to transfer nearer to home at UH. A general consolation for us all? Kirtley’s transfer from A&M to UH probably spared the world the presence today of an obnoxiously loyal Aggie alum and replaced him with a fiercely loyal Cougar alum.

UH 28 - Florida State 8. 1st Meeting in Houston November 25, 1961 Game Ball: Dick Kirtley

UH 28 – Florida State 8.
1st Meeting in Houston
November 25, 1961
Game Ball: Dick Kirtley, UH

(2) Kirtley Grabs Game Ball in first UH home football game with Florida State. At the end of a a resounding 28-8 victory for the Houston Cougars over the Florida State Seminoles on November 25, 1961, Cougar lineman Dick Kirtley was jogging to the Cougars’ Rice Stadium home team clubhouse, when a referee clutching the final-whistle game ball came trudging past him.

“Want this, kid?” the ref asked? Kirtley smiled and gladly accepted the short range lateral and tucked the game ball under his own arm. When he finally reached the clubhouse, he asked UH Head Coach Hal Lahar if he wanted the ball. – Lahar, who was deep in conversation with someone else at the time, turned distractedly to Kirtley before staring briefly at the ball and then abruptly uttering, “You keep it!”

Keep the game ball, Kirtley did. And he still has it. Marked as shown in the featured photo. But it’s still Dick Kirtley’s significant Florida State first Houston home game ball, even if he did receive it sort of unceremoniously.

Ask Dick what he did on the field to merit the ’61 FSU game ball and he will tell you the honest truth: “If it was intended for me, it was because I played my butt off – on both offense and defense!” Take my word for it. – Kirtley would have been telling the truth. He only had one playing gear – and that was something akin to the cartoon motions of the Tasmanian Devil.

Errol_Linden

UH-FSU-Friends Footnote: The Cougars also won the very first meeting the previous year in Tallahassee by 7-6. Normally a tackle, Erroll “Moose” Linden, another friend, lined up as a tight end and scored the UH winning touchdown on a pass play. Moose was a giant for his era at about 6’6″ and 260 pounds and he would go on from UH in the 10th round as the 135th pick in the 1962 NFL draft to an NFL career of several years with several teams. Moose and I competed together in the 1959 UH intramural tennis doubles championship tournament. We made it all the way to the finals before losing a match we “could have, should have” won. Those were the days, my friends.

Alex Cooper, UH Lineman 2012-2015 Offensive Guard 290 Lbs. Dick Kirtley, UH Lineman 1959-1961 Offensive/Defensive Guard 205 Lbs.

Alex Cooper, UH Lineman
2012-2015
Offensive Guard
290 Lbs.
Dick Kirtley, UH Lineman
1959-1961
Offensive/Defensive Guard
205 Lbs.

(3) Big Hurts Used to Come in Smaller Bites. The photo of current Cougar offensive lineman Alex Cooper and yesteryear Cougar all purpose lineman Dick Kirtley speaks loudly for how both the game and the players have changed in the past fifty years. Today’s players are bigger, faster, and more specialized than they ever were through the first six decades of the 2oth century. The things that haven’t changed are the fact that in sports, or life itself, the sweetest success still goes to those with the wisdom, discipline, commitment, and heart to go after what’s really essential to any success that matters in all the right ways.

Dick and Laura Kirtley are both such people. They are successes in marriage, successes in family, and successes in commitment to good causes, loyalty to friends, and with a virtually spiritual grasp of the fact that good health and “La Dolce Vita” also are important to our reasons for drawing the next deep breath. – I shall love and value them individually and together through eternity for being whom they shall always be to me – “Best Friends Forever!”

Thank you, guys, – and Go Coogs too!

____________________

eagle-red

EPSON MFP imageNAVY-UH-112715-14

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