Lt. Bill Spencer is your trooper escort for the Louisiana State University football team. He might chew tobacco, but he is no beer-bellied slob with meaty lips and jowls and breath like cooked sulphur and one cracked, indigo-needled heart over a polio vaccination that says: Save Yo'sef, Maylene.
The truth is, he isn't a bit filthy, except, he says, for that one bad habit he picked up. He chews the shredded leaf and sometimes does it on the sideline during the games at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, which is damn near sinful, he'd be the first to admit. His troop commander once caught him spitting and got all over him. He said, "As a member of the Louisiana State Police and a role model to the young people of this country, you should know better. You got that image to protect, son."
Sir -- you hear some of the boys on the team calling Lt. Bill Spencer that -- knew that he shouldn't be caught with a mouthful and spitting during the games, because he was the one who'd worked so hard at laying to rest the old stereotype of just what your trooper escort is.
Your trooper escort is one of those old boys who runs out on the field with the head coach before and after the games -- right by the side of your most visible Southern demagogues, your Pat Dyes and Ray Perkinses and Bill Arnspargers. Your trooper escort's got a firearm on his hip and one of those Mountie hats on his head, and you'd just better move yo'sef on over, ma'am.
But what he is not is a dumb gorilla type with hands like the blade of a back hoe and little chest hairs poking out through his T-shirt and a wife back home with rice boiling on the stove and a part-time job sweeping hair off the beauty parlor floor. He does not go all day with a cinnamon-lick toothpick in his mouth and half-moons of perspiration under his arms and waving his firearm at all those indigent low lives who get sassy and talk back.
Your trooper escort is good people, first off. Your trooper escort is not there to muscle up on drunk fans and draw gullywashers of blood when they go for the goal posts after the last game of the year gives the Alabama Crimson Tide the national championship.
He's there to make sure nobody tramples the coach and temporarily postpones the rest of the season. And he's there to make sure the ball club, visiting another town, gets from Point A to Point B -- from the airport, say, to the stadium -- without taking a wrong turn and getting lost in some grim point of no return. That's why you got your sirens a-screamin' and your red lights a-blazin' and your trooper escort nudging his four-door Dodge sedan up above 60.
Said Spencer, "The mama of this big old boy came up to me sometime after the Mississippi State game and said, 'Listen, here, Lieutenant. You ever see John giving any trouble or being ugly, you go ahead and whip him, you hear? You just whip him good for me and tell him I said it was all right.' "
Maj. Ben Gamel is your trooper escort for the University of Alabama, where this business of protecting the coach all started in the late 1950s, when some drunken fool absconded with Bear Bryant's hat. They ran that old boy down, but the next week, Bear Bryant was asking for help and personal protection. He wanted his own trooper, maybe even a pair. The good people down in Montgomery, which is where you'll find your highway patrol headquarters, told the old coach they'd handle it, not to worry.
"Anybody try to run off with your hat, Coach . . . "
But in the state of Alabama, you do for the school at Tuscaloosa, you do for the one at Auburn. That's why Shug Jordan, who was coach at the time, got his very own trooper escort to keep up with the Bear's. Now Capt. Ralph Cottingham and Sgt. Kolie Clayton serve as your trooper escorts at Auburn, making sure nobody bothers Coach Pat Dye.
Said Cottingham, "There's so much honor and prestige involved in this job, people out here would give their eyeteeth to sit where I'm sitting . . . Some'd pass through the nose of a bull if that's what it took."
It's pretty much the same way at Mississippi State University in Starkville, where Lt. Charles Dawkins has been your trooper escort on and off for about 20 years. There are 42 good highway patrolmen working that 10-county area, who'd like to be him come Saturday afternoon. All his years on the job, Dawkins said he's never confronted any real problems, take away an occasional low life throwing toilet paper rolls and ice.
Back in 1964, he said, your fans were even more rowdy. And your football players were meaner. Dawkins said he sees few differences in the game of football between then and now, except that your players today want an education on top of a place on the team. In the old days, they just wanted to go out and hit somebody. That educating has simmered them down some, which is too bad if you stop and think about it.
But sometimes you come across a fellow who wants to learn and who wants to hit somebody, too, and what you have is a Herschel Walker, the former star running back and Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Georgia. Got so bad in Athens a few years ago, Lt. Bob Clifton, who'd been your trooper escort there since 1972, called on Sgt. Carl Sheffield to help him out. What Sheffield had to do was make sure nobody got carried away trying to touch Herschel.
Sometimes if you didn't keep a tight rein on things, Sheffield said, people slipped on the concrete and fell and could've been stomped on by the mob. You ended up watching for their safety on top of your man's, who was so big and noisy with body language you wondered if maybe he should be protecting you. What Sheffield did was say, "Please, let us move along," when it got out of hand. He'd almost bet he said that -- "Please, let us move along" -- a hundred million times.
One thing about your trooper escort, he performs above and beyond the call of duty, working with the team on his own time. Nobody pays him one red cent for this distinguished service, unlike all your campus police and deputy sheriffs who get good money to control the crowds. He'll take a chunk of annual leave to protect the coach and the team in Miami, say, when the LSU Tigers go 10-1 and make it to the Orange Bowl and play somebody like the USC Trojans, who, being from California and able to care for themselves, don't understand your trooper escort.
Your trooper escort stays in a room at the hotel. The room is close enough to the coach's suite for your trooper escort to hurry over in case some beach bum tries to run off with somebody's hat. You'll never catch one of those "Please Do Not Disturb" signs swinging from the door knob.
It is your trooper escort's job to be disturbed. LSU was playing Ole Miss in Jackson a few years ago, and this big-mouthed lawyer started behaving in a most suspicious manner, saying ugly things under his breath as Coach Jerry Stovall was addressing your sports scribes outside the locker room door.
Lt. Bill Spencer came to Stovall's aid and asked the man to move along. The attorney said, "Wait a minute here, I know my rights. And, hey, officer, you'd better look around and see where you are." Turns out your trooper escort hadn't an ounce of power in this foreign land, being that he was from out of state and all dressed up with no place to go. So Sir walked over to one of your local trooper escorts -- "Here was a serious bowed-up old boy, you hear me?" Spencer said -- and asked him to bestow some justice upon that big-mouth.
Said Sir, "Your Mississippi trooper proceeded to tell that lawyer that regardless of where we were, he was an embarrassment to the Tiger football team and to the entire state of Louisiana. Then he showed him the way out."
That's right. The door. All because your trooper escort is in the business of being disturbed. When the LSU team played up in Kentucky last year, Coach Bill Arnsparger's mother -- everybody who knows her just calls her Miss Polly -- wanted a ride to the game in the police car. Spencer heard she was all worked-up about the possibility, but shortly before he was to embark upon the journey, somebody told Sir that they had arranged for another old boy to give her a lift. The other day, Spencer laughed thinking about all that, knowing, as he did, how Miss Polly would have enjoyed that ride. Lights a-blazin'. Siren a-screamin'. And all that happy talk coming out over the radio.