Kent & Archie…Delta legends make us proud

Some days make you proud to be a Mississippian. Tuesday was one of those special ones.

Our Tribute to Kent Hull was — as more than one person has said or written — “magical.”

Everyone’s remembrances — John Bond’s, Marv Levy’s, Gov. Bryant’s and Jim Kelly’s — came from the heart. People laughed, people cried. Sometimes, they did both at the same time.

I think back now to how silly it was that when the idea for this tribute first came up, we thought we could handle it within the confines of your Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum (banquet capacity 250). We should have known.

If you’re going to pay tribute to Kent Hull and invite his friends, you are going to need many, many more seats that that.

Jim Kelly, still recovering from surgery to remove cancer from his jaw, spoke eloquently. Obviously, there was a love and respect between Kelly and Kent that transcended the sport of football.

Kent always told me what a great guy Kelly is. Archie Manning has told me that, as well. I found out first-hand Tuesday.

Here’s the text I received from Kelly this morning, shortly before he flew back to Buffalo: “Thank you, sir. I had a blast. You Mississippians all treat me like family. God bless. Take care.”

Class.

The governor spoke about his visits to Blair Batson Children’s Hospital with Kent and how much those visits obviously meant to the big man with the bigger heart.

And John Bond blew everybody away with his comments.

I’ll paraphase one story: State was playing Auburn. In one pileup an Auburn player gouged Bond’s eye. “Nearly pulled my eyeball out,” Bond said. Blood was gushing. Hull picked Bond up and helped him to the sidelines and told him, “Don’t worry, J.B., I got your back.”

A few minutes later Hull came over to the sideline to check on his buddy. This time, Hull had blood all over his white jersey.

Bond said, “Damn, Kent, did the S.O.B. get you, too?”

Replied Kent, “I told you I had your back. This ain’t my blood.”

Later, Bond told the story of when he lost his 20-year-old son, Andrew, in a automobile accident. Unannounced, Kent, alone, made the 9-hour drive from Greenwood to Valdosta, Ga., for the visitation and the funeral. This was when Kent was in poor health.

“He came over and drove back the same day,” John said. “I wasn’t expecting him and I’ll never forget when my wife poked me and said, ‘Look,’ and there that big sucker was…”

John Bond couldn’t finish the story. He was in tears, as were many in the audience.

He finished it to me this morning.

After the two hugged that day and John told Kent how much it meant for him to be there, Kent replied, “J.B. I told you a long time ago, I always got your back.”

There was more, so much more, so many great stories. We did record it and we will have a DVD available soon.

So then, I get home, still glowing from the entire experience, only to remember I have Book of Manning recorded from earlier in the evening.

I watched it, and, yes,I already knew all the stories. But, still, to have them told in that format was a such a rare treat. Rory Karpf, the film maker, did an amazing job. Thank-you, Olivia Manning, for insisting Archie do that project.

Archie is from Drew, Kent from nearby Greenwood. Yes, one went to Ole Miss and one to State, but they were pals and they shared so many of the same traits: kindness, humility, grace, just pure goodness… and I could go on. They epitomize what makes your Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum such a special place.

It has been my good fortune to cover their careers and call them friends.

Nights like last night remind me: I am so fortunate.

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Photo album for Tribute to Kent Hull.

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