It was, simply put, one of life's true memorable moments.
The occasion was a seminar, sponsored by The University of Texas, on the issues of "Integrity In Athletics," and it came during a blue ribbon panel discussion.
The panel, which was made up of professors, writers, sociologists and other noted authorities, stretched all the way across the front of the vast expanse of the stage at the LBJ auditorium. From the back of the room, the red carpet and cushions on the plush seats seemed to almost lap at the base of the white cloth-covered tables, behind which the panelists sat patiently as one after another held court.
The speaker was H. G. Bissinger, a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter who had recently published a book called "Friday Night Lights." To write it, Bissinger had gone to Odessa Permian High School, and used the Midland-Odessa hotbed of Texas football as the backdrop to his expose on Texas high school football.
Having grown up in Winters, a small town south of Abilene, I learned a healthy respect for high school football, and for what it could mean to a community. And as the coaches of this state gather this weekend for their annual pilgrimage to the Texas High School Coaches Associatio's Coaching School in Fort Worth, this particular moment is worth revisiting.
As Bissinger spoke, talking of all of the negatives that come from organized sport and the "shocking" emphasis on high school football, I couldn't help but think of my youth. I remembered Miss Freddie Gardner, without whose guidance as the girls basketball coach a lot of my friends would have never learned valuable lessons that extended far beyond the basketball floor.
I thought of guys whose lives were changed by the advice, and the discipline, brought by our coaches, not to mention the values etched in all of us by a healthy swat of a paddle, or a hug. Do that today, and a coach probably would be in hot water. Then, however, it was a reinforcement of right and wrong, and it didn't take many wrongs to get the message of how to behave right.
All of that flashed through my mind as Bissinger went on about the problems in organized football, and of the excesses he thought he saw during his visit to a cradle of Texas high school football.
No one, it seemed, was moved to challenge his premise.
And then suddenly, it all changed.
As the audience faced the panel, Bissinger was seated far to the right. From the other end of the table, as Bissinger was almost in mid-sentence, a familiar voice boomed. Barbara Jordan had heard enough.
"Why does sport matter so much?" she boomed defiantly in what surely could have been best described as "the Voice of God."
Her love of sport and faith in young people transcended politics, race, and gender. And as Bissinger was speaking on the things wrong with amateur sports as we know them, he was treading on the fighting side of the famed former U. S. Representative who was teaching at UT's LBJ School of Public Affairs.
"Why does sport matter so much?," she repeated.
"It matters because sport is vital, it is viable, it is basic, and it is essential. Sport is not a frivolous distraction as one may first, without thinking, believe. Sport is an equal-opportunity teacher. It is a non partisan event. It is universal in its application."
At the other end of the table, Bissinger was slumping, almost out of sight.
"I see sport as an antidote to some of the balkanization that we see occurring in our society; everybody wanting their own private little piece of turf; an absolute abandonment of any sense of common purpose, of common good," Jordan continued. "It is almost a cliché to say there is no 'I' in the word team. If you are so focused on self, you cannot have any awareness of the common good."
A hush grew over the auditorium, as the audience, made up of students and professors who were leaning toward agreeing with Bissinger, hung on every word.
"Another reason why I believe sport is essential is self-esteem," she said. "In order to be a contributor to American life, each individual needs to have a high regard for himself or herself first. Sport can do that. If you get out there and you have never been recognized for anything before in your life, if you show some capability, some particular tilt and talent for a sport, it gives you self-esteem."
By now, heads began to nod, and every speaker on the panel turned in their chairs to listen and view an American legend. That is, except for Bissinger, who by now was so far down in his chair he was nearly invisible - a state I'm sure certain he could only wish for.
"I believe that sport can teach lessons in ethics and values for our society. It is attractive to the young, and how many times have we heard someone despair over the plight of our young people?" she said. "If you give them something to engage their energies, you would see that it might be something which lures them into the community of mankind and womankind."
It was several seconds of almost stunned silence before the applause began, a tribute to the lady who cared so much about kids, and to the power of her words.
That was in 1994, and almost 10 years later, they still play football at Odessa Permian, as is evidenced by the fact that the Longhorns' Heisman Trophy Candidate Roy Williams comes from there. But it is also a community which embraces young people of all races, where the fiber of Texas football is obvious.
It is the that same fiber that weaves its way through the small towns and cities of Texas, on a Thursday or Friday night or a Saturday afternoon, when the sense of community transcends a win or a loss.
And when there are a handful of misguided folks who do abuse kids or the game, and when a small minority of the 14,000 coaches have goals other than those high standards of most in the profession, it is that fiber that will bring back reality.
Next week in Fort Worth, an era will close as the THSCA bids goodbye to its retiring leader, Eddie Joseph. Eddie has been a wonderful example of what a high school coach should be about, and as Executive Director of the Association, he has cast a huge shadow from his small frame across the landscape of football in Texas.
Mack Brown's office at The University of Texas is decorated with sayings that Eddie has sent him during his time with the Longhorns.
"Tradition Never Graduates," is just one of the dozens.
But the most significant, and I am paraphrasing here, is "A coach will not be measured by what he knows, but by what his players have learned."
Sport itself teaches us a lot about life. But it is from the coaches that we get the message.