Last year, or maybe the year before, I was talking to a giant on the west edge of town. Right now, I can hear someone saying, “Taylor has gone mad. There is no giant living here – never has been, never will be!”
You’re wrong. The giant is over 6’ 6” tall, taller than almost anyone in the area for years and years, and his feet – he wears a size 16. I guess that’s where the expression “growing like a weed” came from.
Although we had seen each other lots of times, we never had the time, or taken the time, to talk for more than a moment. Now, in our seventies, with our careers distant memories, we sat in his living room, discovering what I had forgotten or missed about his life.
If my notes are correct, the conversation began and ended on the same subject – basketball, his playing it and my watching from the stands. You see, I can still remember Dean Murdock under the basketball hoops in the old grade school gym, tipping in missed shots for EHS, or his name being announced when he entered a game at the old Robertson Field House at Bradley. Something like “Here comes Dean Murdock, that lanky giant of a kid from Elmwood in for…”
As he sat across from me, he beamed – his eyes wide open, smiling like a teenager, sharing his excitement about a big victory over Farmington at Farmington, playing Peoria Woodruff at the Canton Regional or sinking 12 out of 13 free throws in front of a large crowd… but also before Ozzie Osborne. Someone had given the freshman coach at Bradley a tip: “Elmwood has a good prospect, grew over 3 inches his freshman year in high school. Go see him against Cuba.”
A couple of weeks later, Elmwood headed to the Canton Regional where they played before hundreds of fans and a famous coach for whom Ozzie then worked. Dean can’t remember the score, but he can’t forget Fordy Anderson, the coach for the Number One team in the nation, offering him a scholarship for the next season: books, tuition, meals and $15 a month He accepted the offer after turning down an identical one from the University of Oklahoma. Imagine the thrill of wearing a Bradley uniform!
Playing on the freshman team was exciting: “scrimmaged against Squeaky Melchiorre, quick but not fast,” “Billy Mann kept Fordy under control,” “Aaron Preece was a good guy.” His mind racing back fifty years, Dean was reliving some of the most exciting days in his life. Unfortunately, those dreams were crushed when Dean suffered a serious leg injury, an accident which didn’t end his career, but left him out of the Bradley University Hall of Fame. It’s a familiar story: close, but not close enough.
Some time ago, I got a call from a friend at the Bradley. “Hey, I was over here at the Field House where they are cutting up pieces of the floor and giving them to fans. Do you want a chunk? “
My first thought was “what would I want that for?“ Quickly I changed my mind and said, “I’ll pick it up. I know a giant who lives on the west edge of Elmwood. I’d like to give it to him.”
When you see Dean Murdock drinking coffee in the restaurant or sitting in one of the pews at the Presbyterian Church, ask him if he is the giant who used to run up and down the floor at the Field House. It may make him smile. I hope it does.
Karl K. Taylor – August 13, 2013