He turned and smiled.
"Come on in," Bob Faris said. "Take off that tie and give a hand here."
Yesterday being his last day as George Washington University's athletic director, Faris was loading some boxes in his Smith Center office and unpacking nearly five decades of memories. The GW thread is that long and strong for him.
"The only thing that makes this nice," he said, "is that I'm leaving on my own, not doing this because I'm mad at anybody."
As though that were possible. Faris is one of those grand gentlemen of sport who nobody fully appreciates for what he has done until he no longer is around doing it. One of GW's most gifted all-around athletes, in the 1930s, Faris for 27 years as athletic director has scratched to get $3 worth of value for $2.
So much of what he touched yesterday triggered a thought.
A football schedule.
The year after GW dropped the sport.
"Had to send a cancellation wire to all the schools the next day," he said, "after we'd made the announcement."
That hit Faris harder than anything at GW, for he'd been a football man much of his life. More celebrated for basketball, a junior on a team that included a clever junior-college transfer named Red Auerbach, Faris came to GW in 1935 from the hinterlands of Nebraska on a football scholarship.
Those were the days when sports seasons were defined, rarely overlapped, when a fellow as versatile as Faris could end the football season on Thanksgiving against West Virginia in Griffith Stadium and play at Ohio State for the basketball team two days later.
Economics finally forced football's failure at GW, as it had earlier at so many other city schools.
"I guess, in retrospect, you could probably look back and say that it was an intelligent move," he said. "We had no stadium, no practice field, and we still had those high academic standards for recruiting. For a coach to come in under that many difficulties, it'd take a miracle to continue playing .500 ball. Which is what we were doing most of the time."
That '67 schedule was going to be a dandy. First game against Temple; Maryland as the home opener in RFK Stadium. And the annual game with East Carolina, whose team had featured as its place-kicker Faris' son before he was killed in a car crash en route to fall practice that season.
Had there been a future for GW football, it would have included a series with Minnesota in the '70s. Frayed now, the paper filled with games that never got played will not be discarded.
Still, that sad decision made possible what Faris calls his highlight at GW: construction of Smith Center. A dream when Faris arrived in the mid-'30s; a reality under Faris in the mid-'70s.
"I think when Dr. (Lloyd) Elliott said 'Let's go,' " he recalled, "that was the happiest moment I can remember at GW."
You must understand GW basketball to totally appreciate that, how players and administrators for decades suffered because all that was available was an athletic eyesore known as the Tin Tabernacle. Out of bounds was a wall. Faris played there; somehow, the coaches he hired mostly won with the place as the primary practice gym, and Fort Myer as the "arena."
In 1957, an aide rushed breathlessly into Faris' office one morning to report a dramatic fire in the Tabernacle. Faris and the sainted basketball coach, Bill Reinhart, stunned the fellow by screaming at him:
"You didn't put the son of a bitch out, did you?"
In 1976, Smith Center sparkling, Colonial spirits were raised when the Tabernacle was razed. Bids were taken for the demolition; two GW alums with a fine sense of history won. They charged $1.
On Nov. 3, a ballroom full of friends will swap tales with Faris at a retirement dinner in his honor. About the time a basketball game had to be canceled because the ice under the Uline Arena court melted. About Faris saving the bannister that led to second-floor athletic offices in a 100-year-old row house on G Street before the building was felled, and using it in his rec room.
About Reinhart, like Faris an institution at GW.
Reinhart was part character, part innovator. What startled Faris was Reinhart's taking a young coach into his office and giving a detailed basketball clinic a few hours before playing the man's team. Many coaches scarcely speak to each other these days.
Faris played for Reinhart, then watched his decline as basketball began being dominated by salesmen instead of strategists. Still, Faris could not bring himself to force Reinhart from doing what he loved until GW's retirement policy made that mandatory at age 70.
Packing was made easier by Faris not caring to fill office walls with frills. Only a few special plaques and obligatory photos, a large color shot of a Smith Center basketball occasion, a picture of the '36 football team and one of the 1938-39 basketball squad.
The deluxe version of Smith Center would have cost $10 million; Faris got the "guts" version completed for $6 million. He is most pleased that nearly 2,500 people use it daily, that its handball courts almost always are booked and that about 400 lifters drop by to pump iron.
Faris always has thought of the "entire university community" that benefits so much, through Smith Center, from his energy and patience. Give him a call for racquetball sometime soon; he'll actually have some time to play it.