Bill Little commentary: Johnny Lam's picture
George Mitchell of the University Co-op has a gift. He is the consummate business man, making enlightened choices and hard decisions. Above the set jaw is a twinkle in an eye. He can growl and smile, all at the same time.
Tucked inside a tough-as-nails exterior is a caring heart.
And that is where our story begins.
As most Longhorns fans know, Johnny Lam Jones was the fastest football player on the face of the earth in the late 1970s. In world record time, he ran the 100 meters more rapidly than any human had ever done. Only a failure of an electronic timer kept him from claiming the record.
His odyssey from that point took him to the heights as the first million dollar contract in pro football when he signed with the New York Jets of the NFL, and it brought him down to the depths in a personal struggle with drugs and alcohol.
They say when you are "raised right," that upbringing will prevail, and Johnny's roots withstood those moments in the Big Apple, and when he came home to Texas, he started his life all over again.
He touched hundreds of "special" youngsters when he gave his Olympic gold medal, won just before his freshman year in Texas in 1976, to the Texas Special Olympics. He had a job, and was beginning a business speaking to young people about how to keep their lives on track -- to avoid the detour he had taken.
But several years ago, life took another turn for Johnny Lam Jones. In the summer of 2005, he was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. At the same time, the company for which he worked went under, leaving him without health insurance.
That shouldn't have been a problem for an athletic, 40-something former world class star -- except for the growth that mysteriously began swelling his chest. By the time he went to the UT football trainer's office, his body was changing. The growth had produced a ledge almost wide enough to sit a cup upon.
A Longhorns team doctor agreed to see him, and as most Longhorns fans now know, the diagnosis was that Johnny Lam Jones had a rare form of bone cancer. Before the shock had worn off, teammates had rallied to help, raising money to offset some of the medical expenses.
There were moments where it appeared he wouldn't make it through the day, let alone the week or the month or the year. And he is still far from a really positive prognosis.
He walks with a cane, and is a full six inches shorter than he was when he was a star at Texas. He's looked for ways to make money, and he continues to earn a little for speaking engagements. But most of those are directed at youngsters and those in rehab.
The one thing he has found, however, is a creative side, and he has channeled that into photography.
That is where George Mitchell and the Co-op come in.
When the Longhorns won the 2005 BCS National Football Championship, thousands of pictures were snapped. Memorabilia flourished.
And Johnny Lam Jones took his photograph of the Littlefield Fountain and the Tower, had it processed, and saw his future. He connected with Mitchell, who agreed to sell the picture. Framed, it goes for $150.
Recovery for Johnny Lam Jones will be a long process, and the surge of help, as with any tragedy, wanes after a time.
But if you want to help, the one thing you can do is buy that picture. It is of a classic moment, taken by a true Longhorns legend. It spans time. It is a special Tower, but as time passes, it will serve for the next National Championship, and the next.
Mitchell gives all of the money from the purchase to Lam.
It's his way of saying "thank you" for a time that has passed, and a moment that will never.