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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Boldly Going Nowhere

Thursday, October 2, 2003

Bronko and Muffy

Muffy was my ex-wife's shih tzu, a small dog that looks like the business end of a dust mop. My ex-wife and Muffy had stopped by my cactus ranch in Arizona in January of 1990, basically avoiding various creditors hot on their trail. They soon left for parts unknown the same week Bronko Nagurski died. I never saw Muffy again.

Bronislaw "Bronko" Nagurski was born in 1908 in Rainy River, Ontario, and grew up on the family farm across the river near International Falls, Minn., where he ran four miles each day to school.

In the summer of 1926 the Minnesota Gopher football coach made a trip up to International Falls to recruit a player. When he got lost, he pulled over to the Nagurski family farm field and asked a young lad for directions. Bronko raised the plow with one hand to point the direction and quickly became the object of the recruiting trip.

Bronko Nagurski was 6 feet 2 inches and 235 pounds of brute strength and awesome tenacity. As a senior at the University of Minnesota in 1929, he was named a first-team consensus all-American at both fullback and defensive tackle, the only player in history ever so honored at two positions in the same year.

Red Grange once said, "If you tried to tackle Bronko anywhere above the ankles, you were liable to be killed, and running into him when he was on defense was like getting an electric shock." Ernie Nevers claimed, "Tackling him was like trying to stop a freight train running downhill." As a fullback with the Chicago Bears, Bronko once bulldozed his way over the goal line, knocking one defender unconscious, breaking the collarbone of another defender and crashing into the wall in the back of the end zone where he cracked several bricks.

When Bronko retired he opened a gas station back in International Falls. Once you bought a tank of gas from him, you never bought gas anywhere else -- he screwed the cap on so tight, no one else could get it off.

In 1995 the Football Writers Association of America voted to have the name Bronko Nagurski attached to college football's Defensive Player of the Year trophy. In August of 2003 the U.S. Postal Service issued commemorative stamps honoring Nagurski and three of the other early football heroes: Ernie Nevers, Walter Camp and Red Grange. These four gladiators played football in the first half of the last century when the helmets were made of leather and the only thing protecting the face was nose cartilage.

Bronko Nagurski is the perfect name for a powerful fullback, perhaps the best football player ever.

In 1985 I was living in Topanga, Calif., when my ex-wife and Muffy showed up on my doorstep for similar reasons. Topanga was an artist/hippie enclave in the rugged Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles.

One afternoon Muffy and I were sitting on the front stoop, sharing a Colt 45 malt liquor, when a pack of dogs came strolling by. There were five large male dogs in the pack: two German shepherds, a rottweiler, a pit bull and an ugly monstrosity that looked like serious trouble. Muffy leaped from the stoop, menacingly approached the pack and began barking like she was the center of the universe. At first the pack froze, bewildered by a 7-pound wad of dog hair harassing them. Then Muffy joined the pack and the six of them headed off into the hills to mess with various critters like rattlesnakes and mountain lions and bikers and DEA agents.

The pack returned a couple of hours later with Muffy in the lead. She returned to the stoop and plopped down next to me. The pack continued on their way. From that day on, no dog in Topanga ever messed with me.

Muffy is not the perfect name for a perpetual snit fit that resides at the center of the universe.

My ex-wife always had a knack for overlooking the obvious. She once named her most gentle dog Tiger. I suspect she wanted a Muffy at the time, a little fluffy cutesy-pie, and gave her that name out of wishful thinking.

Bronko and Muffy are both gone now but my ex-wife remains on the loose somewhere down in Texas, probably still dodging creditors and doing plenty of wishful thinking.

I sure do miss that dog.