On Tuesday, Paul James will be laid to rest.
In the media realm I’ve known, and it’s been since dinosaurs roamed the state, he was the most uniquely gifted person I’ve come across.
He was funny and articulate, an intellectual and an artist. He was a historian, storyteller, piano player and painter. He played bridge, was approachable, friendly to all. Despite his worldwide fame as the Voice of the Cougars, he wasn’t so pretentious that he forgot to pay homage to the regular guy.
There are a handful of guys who saw this first-hand, on road trips from Hawaii to Miami, from South Bend, Indiana, to Los Angeles. These were moments of late night pizza after games, layovers in airports and waiting for rooms in lobbies of hotels. Some were part of his KSL broadcast team. Guys like Marc Lyons, statistician Ralph Sokolowsky, spotter Doug Martin and his World War II buddy, Roy Soltz.
James was obsessed with minute date, trivia, information and angles. I’ll never forget sitting down with him to eat at “Quarters” in Albuquerque, New Mexico, or a steakhouse in Fort Collins, Colorado. When the food was served, he’d look over at my plate and say, “That looks good,” and take his fork and poach something.
Because of his many late nights as a TV sportscaster and play-by-play man, it was hard for Paul to get to sleep and he was never an early riser. He thawed out slowly and early flights were a curse.
We both loved to golf and he always found a way to fit me in. One of the greatest trips ever was LaVell Edwards’ final season, 2000. The trip kicked off against Florida State in Jacksonville, Florida. A few of us got permission to stay on the coast for a week until the game in Virginia.
After the Florida game, we began a journey up the coast. We played TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra and TPC courses in Myrtle Beach and Virginia Beach. We trekked through South Carolina, visited Fort Sumter in Charleston, saw a lighthouse that had been moved a mile. We put our rental car on the ferry along the Carolina coast, toured a Navy destroyer in Wilmington, saw where the Wright Brothers flew the first airplane at Kitty Hawk, then headed to Charlottesville for the Virginia-BYU game.
Paul hit the green on Sawgrass No. 17. I did not.
I’ll never forget one day at Hobble Creek Golf Course, just off the No. 6 tee box. Paul urgently needed a bathroom break and couldn’t wait so he headed for the trees. Moments later, with his shorts around his knees, he came stumbling out of the grove, patting his legs screaming there were bees after him. At this very moment, the mayor of Springville, Kenneth Creer, and his wife came rolling up in their cart behind us. I laughed so hard I couldn’t swing a club until No. 7.
It was tough to get one over on Paul. He was smart.
On one trip to Louisville, sports information director Ralph Zobell and James toured a famed horse breeding farm, the stable that housed Affirmed and other legendary racehorses. A knowledgeable tour guide/jockey took them to a barn and on the walls were plaques featuring the genealogy of legends.
Out of the main barn, Paul asked the guide, “Who was the dam who gave birth to Affirmed?”
The guide replied, “Won’t tell you.”
Said James, “What do you mean you can’t tell me? The names are right there on the walls of the barn on those plaques.”
The guide came back, “I’m telling you, her name is “Won’t Tell You.”
“It was one of the only times I saw someone get the best of Paul,” Zobell said.
When LaVell Edwards retired, so did James. He had a remarkable career. He covered the big ones, the careers of Virgil Carter, Phil Odle, the beginning of Edwards and Doug Scovil, Norm Chow, the train of All-Americans, future Hall of Famers, the Miracle Bowl in 1980 and a perfect 1984.
But I’ll always remember the other part, the friendship, the road trips, dinners, lunches, the gossip sessions and stories we asked him to repeat for us over and over again. A few times, he asked me to sit and do color commentary when Paul Ruffner couldn’t make a game, a gesture of respect and honor I’ll never forget. He loved the telling, the nuances, the punch lines, and the not too subtle poaching of a piece of steak.
When Paul left the media circus, he didn’t linger on. He simply walked away into the solitude of his life, the canvas, paint and brushes and his beautiful home. He came, he saw, he did.
I remember living in Tonga in the mid-'60s and our science teacher Burt Nixon found a way to listen to a BYU football game. And from across the international date line, in a world away, there was the voice of Paul James, describing a scene our eyes could not see.
It still echoes in my mind today. I was only 12 at the time.
Paul James had a remarkable career, a storybook life of sorts, covering games that our culture can make bigger than real life at times. He was a solid rock star.
There will never be another like him.
And I will never forget him.
I can’t wait to play another round, see another game with Paul James.
Somewhere, in some dimension, those experiences have to be waiting for us again and they've got to be taking tee times.