John Conley

John Conley


Statesboro was where I grew up even though I was born in Atlanta. I collected cards when I was a kid and can still remember the excitement of getting a few new packs at Woolworth and ripping them open and damn near choking on a fistful of bubblegum. And, I NEVER got a Rod Carew....388....THREE-HUNDRED EIGHT EIGHT in 1977!!!.

My first real sports hero was Steve Bartkowski. I was thrilled when the Falcons drafted him out of California...he could throw the ball one-hundred yards in the air! I still think about the 1980 NFC Championship game against Dallas and how bitter of a loss that was for Atlanta. Being an Atlanta sports fan has been humbling to say the least. C'mon, you had to love the Gritz Blitz and Jerry Glanville.

Our town got Ted Turner's Channel 17 (later TBS) and all the Braves games that were legally allowed. I guess that was around 1977 or so. Anyway, I watched my quota of Bob Horner and Dale Murphy on many a muggy summer night in South Georgia. It was fun to sit up late and catch the West Coast Swing through San Diego, San Fran, and L.A. My favorite Brave was probably Brett Butler...the leadoff centerfielder.

Jim Rice and Dwight Evans were the guys I wanted to be like in my high school and summer league career though. Rice was so strong he once broke a bat on a check swing and he won a long drive contest across the Savannah River. So what if he didn't talk to the media. Evans was simply the "best arm in baseball" and he could hit too. Plus, there was just something about those uniforms and losing out to the Damned Yankees. Now, I'm having a hard time with the allegations against Roger Clemens though. I loved when The Rocket pitched. Steroids and HGH in baseball? Hate it.

In 1983 and 1984, our traveling baseball team go to play the best squads from Australia while they were participating in a training camp at Georgia Southern under Coach Jack Stallings. That was fun. Future Minnesota Twin, Marty Peavy, and a couple of other Georgia Southern players were on our team to help make us more competitive.

Erk Russell left the University of Georgia football team after the 1980 National Championship season to revive a dormant program in Statesboro at Georgia Southern. I imagine many UGA fans thought he was nuts. The first few seasons were played at the local high school stadium where Tracy Ham initially made his debut. After Paulson Stadium was erected, the Eagles won Division 1-AA Championships under Erk in 1985, 1986, and 1989. The enrollment went from around 6,000 when Coach Russell came to Statesboro to 20,000 now. I now have a Zazzle online store dedicated to Coach Russell. All profits go to his endowments at UGA and GSU:

After I moved to Atlanta, I got to meet Willie Stargell (retired and living in an apartment complex in Stone Mountain) and Bob Gibson (doing an in-store promo for a local Sherwin Williams). Stargell caught me doing the 1990 U.S. Census when he opened his door in a kimono or something. I was nervous when I asked what his biggest memories from playing ball were. He said he had a lot of them including setting the all-time strikeout record.

Bob Gibson signed several items and wrapped his arm around my oldest son's shoulder (Dylan was about 6 years old at the time) and gave me the best smile for a picture. He did tell me that if I had mailed one of the cards he signed for me that day, he would have thrown it away because he hated his was a 1971 Topps, I believe. He let me keep the card.

Today, my sons and I enjoy going to the Hawks games at Philips Arena. The Hawks usually are competitive although it has to be disheartening to a degree whenever the Bull, Lakers, or Knicks show up and it sounds like we are the visiting team. Atlanta has a population that has moved here from all over the country and's truly an international city. Lastly, I'm not one of those who holds my breath when Josh Smith attempts a three. If you've been in Philips, you know what I'm talking about. In the 2010-2011 season, he shot 33% from behind the arc...Joe Johnson completed 30% but nobody gasps when he decides to shoot the trey.

In the last three years, the NBA Hall of Fame came to Atlanta with a traveling display of some of the Hall's memorabilia to reach out to fans. The reason I wanted to go was the opportunity to meet Walt Bellamy, David "Skywalker" Thompson, and "The Iceman," George Gervin. Dominique Wilkins walked out from behind the curtains and introduced each one to the small crowd (maybe 50 people; sad considering there are at least four million folks in the metro area) and we got to speak with all three as they signed a few things for us.

They were all friendly and laughing and having a good time. Once they finished signing, all three went out to the temporary courts and played some hoops with the fans (Dominique had already left for a meeting but not until he had hurriedly signed a Hawks jersey for Dylan). That was awesome; I can remember trying to do Gervin's finger roll while I was a kid playing hoops on our rickety goal at the end of the driveway and how much fun it was to see The Human Highlight Film come up with a new dunk. Thanks NBA!

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