WEDNESDAY JAM: I was wrestling with an angel, you were working on a sonnet
Posted Wednesday, August 9, 2023, at 8:18 AM
I wouldn’t say I was ever especially close to Mike Meyer, but I certainly respected his approach to coaching and teaching. It was always clear he demanded that these young people give their best and wouldn’t accept less. May we all have someone like that in our lives. It makes us better every day.
And so, the unexpected death of the longtime Greencastle High School English teacher and football coach has been on my mind a lot this week.
My first encounter with Mike was in attempting to write a season preview of the GHS football team ahead of the 2007 season. He gave me a window of when they would be practicing on a particular day, we’ll say it was 4-6 p.m. So I took that as the range of time that I could talk to him and showed up a little before 4 p.m.
Mike met me at the door outside the McAnally Center locker room with a perturbed look on his face and told me that practice was from 4-6 and I would have to either show up earlier or come after if I needed to speak to him.
I wasn’t one of his players, but he was demanding my best. It was a good learning experience for a young sports writer, or journalist in general. It’s not a misstep I made again, with Mike or any other coach. Time for the press was outside of time for the players.
I’ll also always remember my first post-game interview with Mike. It was several weeks later and Greencastle had just handed South Vermillion a pretty sound beating in Week 4, which was cathartic, as the Tiger Cubs began that season 0-3.
Former BG Sports Editor Steve Fields was also there, covering the game as a stringer for the Tribune Star. Explaining his team’s slow start in the game(despite the 41-6 final score), Mike used a term I had never heard before that day.
In their first series they scored, then we came out and stumble-bummed around a little bit. We came out a little flat, but then we picked it up and kept going.
Once the interview was over and the recorders and note pads put away, a grin spread across Fields’ face. He reached out an put a hand on Mike’s shoulder: “Now, ‘stumble-bum,’ that sounds like an Ed Meyer term, am I right?”
A similar grin spread across Mike’s face, and in that moment he was no longer the coach but the GHS linebacker Fields had covered nearly 30 years earlier, the son of a legendary DePauw baseball coach. That moment really brought home to me who Mike Meyer was -— the native son, beloved by those who saw through the gruff exterior.
I still think of that night and smile. I can’t believe that Steve and Mike are both now gone.
The only other Mike Meyer story is one in which Mike wasn’t actually present. There was a time years ago that I moonlighted as a substitute teacher on top of my newspaper duties. I was called to sub for Mike’s English classes one day.
I don’t remember much about the details of that day, except that there were two CD cases on Mike’s desk. (You remember such things when you have a bad music addiction.) One was the 2003 two-disk set “The Essential Bruce Springsteen,” and the other was 2002’s “Genius: The Best of Warren Zevon.”
Now, I never had a music discussion with Mike — before or after that day — so I can’t say that these were his favorite artists. Heck, the albums could have been loaned by a friend or confiscated them from some kid.
But I remember thinking that this wasn’t typical “football coach music.” When I think of football locker rooms, I think AC/DC, Van Halen, Metallica, Guns ‘n’ Roses, etc. etc. Loud guitars and aggression.
Springsteen and Zevon are much more cerebral, and you don’t have to look far to know what they’re truly thinking and feeling.
I came away feeling like I had greater insight into the seeming contradiction of a guy who could teach Shakespeare and also put together a punishing defense.
So, whether Springsteen and Zevon were among Mike’s favorite artists, I choose to believe they were.
In Mike’s memory, I share with you today the title track from Zevon’s 2001 record “My Ride’s Here.” Written and released before Zevon’s diagnosis with terminal cancer, it is nonetheless a rumination on death and eternity, featuring cameos by Jesus, John Wayne, Shelley, Keats, Lord Byron and John Milton and, finally, Charlton Heston with the tablets of the law.
This version, though, is by Springsteen, recorded live just days after Zevon’s death in the fall of 2003. Like some of my favorite live Springsteen stuff, it features E Street Band multi-instrumentalist Danny Federici on accordion. Danny is another gone-to-soon artist whose melodies rattle around in this head of mine.
As I listen, I raise a glass to you, Mike. Unfortunately, your ride’s here. You will be missed.
Have a good week out there, friends. Enjoy every sandwich.