Editor’s Note: Buddy already has his football, but he will be honored long-distance during the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast om Jan. 9 in Tampa.
By Teddy Allen
RUSTON, La. — On the fake turf in Louisiana Tech’s otherwise empty Aillet Stadium, his wheelchair toed the goalline on this mid-morning Monday. O.K. “Buddy” Davis, recipient of the 2016 FWAA Lifetime Achievement Award, was about to illustrate yet again his determination and spirit.
He cocked his head toward a friend and said, “Time me.”
And then he eyed his goal, inhaled, paused, hit the forward button and leaned into it. Forty yards and a cloud of rubber pellets later, he’d clocked an 18.79 — not much slower than he’d have run it before the summer of 2014 and the stroke and the fancy wheelchair.
So he’s slowed down. But not much.
The sports editor of the Ruston Daily Leader since pre-Watergate — 50 years and an estimated 43,000 bylines — Buddy has been a one-man show in an athletic community that’s long drawn a spotlight. A quarter of the members of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame — Buddy was honored with its Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism in 2009 — have Lincoln Parish ties.
In 2010, this year’s FWAA honoree was even named Mr. Louisiana Basketball, even though he’s taller than 5-foot-7 only if he stands on his typewriter.
“He plays like he’s 7-3,” said Northwestern State basketball coach Mike McConathy, one of the many All-Americans Buddy has covered in his role as a one-man sports staff, photographer and athletic almanac.
Although there are occasional get-togethers in the house he grew up in and owns, Buddy’s main residence since the stroke is a Ruston assisted living center, Room 58. His friends refer to it as “The Jack Lambert Suite,” a nod to one of the greats on the Pittsburgh teams quarterbacked by Louisiana Tech’s Blond Bomber, Terry Bradshaw.
Although he’s now limited to the use of his right arm and hand, Buddy still cranks out his weekly “O.K.’s Corral” Sunday column and 1,,500-word blog, still tweets and “Facebooks” and goes to as many Tech, Grambling State University, high school games and events as he can.
If anything, the physical setback only has elevated his status as rock star. Before the stroke, the bachelor and hometown lifer had admirers like Fort Knox has gold bars. But now …
“If we could have Buddy daily at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Museum, he would be our best and most popular interactive exhibit,” said Doug Ireland, chairman of the Hall and its Foundation’s executive director. “Autograph hounds around Ruston would be smart to sit in the hallway outside the Lambert Suite to catch the sports celebs who drop by to visit our hero, because he’s not only a great journalist, he’s an even better human.”
In the months immediately after the stroke, friends took turns going by daily to check his phone and give him his messages. One day, the first three messages were from Bradshaw, Archie Manning and former Grambling All-American/Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams, who sounded like a child explaining why the DVDs he’d promised to deliver hadn’t been dropped off yet. (They were in Buddy’s room the next day.)
“He’s a north Louisiana guy, but he loves all of Louisiana,” Manning said. “He’s a dear friend, such a good man, a sweet man. Louisiana is blessed – we’re all blessed — to have him.”
“In a business full of egos and abrasiveness and cynicism and sarcasm, Buddy fits none of those categories,” said his former Tech colleague and longtime sportswriter and editor Nico Van Thyn. “He’s pretty much the same as he was at Ruston High and Tech in the 1960s — dedicated and hard-working and likeable, almost naïve-like in his approach to life. If he had tough stories to report, he did it, but without making enemies, without tearing down someone or some institution.”
For years, Buddy has kept this note on his bedside table, a reminder of what he felt his daily duty has been: “Positive Uplifting Inspirational Messages.”
“In many ways he represents a throwback to a time when more of us wanted to see the best in others,” said sportscaster Tim Brando, who lives an hour from Ruston in Shreveport and joins Bradshaw, Bert Jones, Kim Mulkey, Willie Roaf, Karl Malone, Willis Reed and dozens of others who’ve visited The Lambert Suite. “Hopefully, we’ll see a rebirth to Buddy’s way of covering the game, not just here but around the country. His approach was to say, ‘It’s OK to love not just the game, but the people who play it, coach it, and pay to see it.’ ”
The late legendary Grambling coach Eddie Robinson was quoted in Sports Illustrated saying Buddy “was like a son to me.” Bert Jones still has the clippings Buddy wrote about the six consecutive no-hitters Bert threw one long-ago summer for the Atlas Construction team in Dixie Baseball, before Buddy had nicknamed him “The Ruston Rifle.”
And when the Smithsonian’s “Hometown Heroes” exhibit was in town this fall, one night was set aside to honor a local athletic legend. But which one? Several attended, including Bert and his father (Cleveland Browns receiver great Dub Jones), former Braves-Mets pitcher George Stone, basketball stars Aaron James and Willis Reed among them. Unsurprisingly, they were there to take part in “The Buddy Davis Story.”
Speaking for the crowd, Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Leon Barmore told Buddy that night, “We can all learn from you.”
“Buddy has always been known for his humble nature and passion for good journalism,” said Ruston Daily Leader publisher Rick Hohlt. “But more importantly, Buddy has loved the opportunities throughout his 52 years at the Ruston Daily Leader to help athletes succeed and thrive in their careers. His work ethic and love of the game is beyond reproach.”
”As long as I can remember, back during my days as a young sports scribe coming out of Tech’s journalism department, I’ve been sending in my FWAA dues, reading the Fifth Down, voting on All-American teams, looking forward to receiving my directory and keeping up with my fellow members,” Buddy said. ”Hard to believe that the years since I mailed in my first membership dues have sprinted by faster than Lamar Jackson making it to the end zone again.
”But may I extend a heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the FWAA and all who were responsible for making this honor possible.”
Buddy is the one who made it most possible. He has been the perfect person in the perfect place at the perfect time.
“Buddy has the ability to deal with both the biggest stars in the game and junior varsity with equal enthusiasm,” said fellow Louisiana Distinguished Service in Sports Journalism honoree Ted Lewis. “That is why he has the most appropriate name in the world – Buddy.”