Almanac People: Grace of a Champion

The pointy end of the season delivers the champions. The players, who write the record books, orchestrate iconic wins or suffer devastating losses. The names you might know from medals or stadium wings, who slip back into ‘normal’ life post career, soldiering on amongst us mere mortals.

Open Mike is playing in the background as I prepare lunch. Mike is reminiscing with Brownlow medallists Kevin Murray and John Schultz. Former Lion Murray divulges that he wears his 1969 Brownlow to this day, everyday in case a passing kid wants to wear it in a photo. Schultz, a Son of the ‘Scray, speaks calmly of a time he thought he broke his neck during a game, en route to his 1960 Brownlow under the captaincy of Teddy Whitten. That Brownlow sat in a drawer until Schultz’s granddaughter convinced him to stash it in a safe deposit box.

They speak affectionately of days in the 50s and 60s when they went up against each other, a time when competitors pushed each other on the field but then shared their triumphs and tragedies over a beer afterwards.

Beyond the banter, there was something familiar in Schultz’s voice. I wander to the screen to scope him and realise, despite him being a figure of an era some 23 years before I was born, it’s not just his voice that I know, as I’m struck with a profound déjà vu.

It takes me back to Round 20, on the 70 tram retreating from the MCG. The Demons had just engulfed my Hawks in a final quarter blitz – a portent of things to come. I’ve just taken my seat for a solemn trip home, when a gentleman in a Bulldogs scarf asks me the result.

‘We lost by five goals’ I say, ‘the Demons destroyed us in the final quarter’. The result surprises him, and yet he remains soothing, prophesising that Clarkson will use it to fuel the Hawks to rise again for another finals push. I concur; I have no reason to deny it. I tell him I’m encouraged by his Bulldogs and we talk of their rise. He’s enthusiastic about their spirit, uncertain how far it will take them.

As we rattle up Flinders St, he reveals he’s just been to see his grandson play in the Amateurs league, and is now en route to Etihad to see his Dogs. I divulge that I played a few seasons in the Amateurs myself and he asks about the league, my game and my club.

By the time we’d hit the Docks, I’ve shared more than I expected to about myself from my playing days, to growing up in Geelong but with a heart for the Hawks. As my travelling companion steps off the tram, and we thank each other for the conversation. We pat our scarves and wish each other good luck for the remainder of the season. Despite wearing a losing team’s colours, I feel reinvigorated, the kind of energy you get from speaking to your own grandfather – a mantle of practised listening as though you were the only person in the room.

And now I am the only one in my lounge room, and my fellow commuter is on the TV, his long neck stiff and straight, giving a small nod as he takes in each question.

I pause on his face, smiling. John Schultz, the 1960 Brownlow medallist was the gentleman on the tram, the one who wanted to know about my team and my footy life, stares at me on the frozen screen. My hearts flutters a moment.

I’d had a conversation with the humblest of champions and I’m thankful for his generosity. Because the greatest champions lift us up.

He is a footy legend, who remains a leader at the club almost 60 years later but for the 20 minutes between the gate six tram stop and Etihad, he was just another footy fan on the tram.

Comments

  1. bob.speechley says:

    The boy from Boort – a Footscray LEGEND and a mentor to players at The Western Bulldogs. Always spoken highly of around the club and looked decidedly anxious in the club rooms after the Preliminary Final win. Another Number 4!

  2. The conversation on Sunday arvo at the VFL turned to “Who would present the Cup?”
    No Charlie.
    No Teddy.
    I proposed J.Schultz
    No objections. A much admired gentleman.
    (P.Bedford was also my nom but we wondered if they’d go Sydneycentric).

  3. Neil Anderson says:

    This week just gets better and better. The newspaper is full of Bulldog stories and now one of our childhood heroes is nominated to present the cup. After decades of seeing players from other Clubs getting all the attention, now it’s our turn.
    I think he was No. 14 Bob, like Luke Darcy and now Clay Smith.

  4. A great anecdote, Jason.
    I would have loved to have seen J Schultz play.

  5. Having known him, you’ve pretty much got him spot on. I sent a link to one of his daughters. Nice work.

  6. Wow. That is lovely Jason and fills my heart with even more pride to be able to say – that’s my dad. It is absolutely spot on what dad would do.

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