Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It's Always Better to be "The Hammer" Than the Nail

Texas Ranger Josh Hamilton's amazing performance in last night's Home Run Derby is a storybook tale of redemption -- a former heroin addict turning his life around and and becoming a Major League All-Star. I was saddened to learn courtesy of Deadspin yesterday of another such tale involving another Texas sports figure who's ending has yet to be written, that of former SportsRadio 1310 The Ticket host Greg "The Hammer" Williams.

I was living in Dallas when The Ticket launched in 1994, and like many who tuned in I was immediately hooked. The locker room humor, the frequent forays into pop culture, the great feeling that you were part of a community of like-minded idiots individuals who were also "in on the joke." And all neatly tied together by the twine of sports! Just tremendous stuff.

I dragged Danelle to the inaugural Ticketstock at the Dallas Covention Center, essentially a glorified autograph and memorabilia show. The station had a promotional Hummer they called "The Panther," so I dubbed my 1996 RAV-4 "'Lil Panther." When my co-worker Kevin Prescott and I spotted morning show co-host George Dunham at the Southwest Conference baketball tournament, we yelled his name and proudly gave him the "Ticket Salute" -- essentially an upward extension of one's middle finger.

I listened to the morning show pair of Dunham and Craig Miller more regularly than Williams' midday show. Dunham & Miller's shtick had more to do with mock interviews with personalities like Ribby Paultz, a phony "draft expert" patterned after ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. who made up terms like "arm coefficient" for his analysis. They also had "the fake Jerry Jones" on regularly to discuss the Cowboys. My friend Adam Hill and I still laugh about their Reader's Theater bits which included very-un-PC characters like "freaky homicidal cop Johnny Hernandez" and his vows that he "will keeeellll the Playmaker!", based on Michael Irvin's bizarre saga of cocaine and Penthouse Pets.

Writing about this stuff doesn't do it anything remotely resembling justice. It was usually hilarious, and it definitely formed bonds between listeners.

During one of my first NFL drafts with the Broncos I was discussing the Cowboys with some of the media folks, and I dropped a line that "the fake Jerry Jones" used, complete with the bad impression. A voice behind me exclaimed, "That's YOUR car with the Ticket sticker!" And that's how I met Blake Olson, who had joined KUSA in Denver as a sports reporter after five years in Dallas with KTVT. Like I said, the stuff formed bonds.

Williams' show with co-host Mike Rhyner, "The Hardline," probably had the most tight-knit community of listeners within the larger Ticket family. Many callers became personalities themselves. There was Herman in Oak Cliff who called Rhyner and Williams "Mahmoud and Abdul" in reference to the NBA player who went by the name Chris Jackson before his conversion to Islam, and the provocatively named Naked in Bed. The conversations between callers and hosts sounded more like something you'd overhear between friends in a sports bar than the condescension and air of superiority other sports radio hosts gave off.

Rhyner played the part of the crotchety contrarian. He tried to dismiss all the fawning over Tiger Woods that had already begun with a dismissive growl of "What has he ever won?" I remember him ranting about being tricked into taking his daughter to a No Doubt concert when he heard "Don't Speak" and assumed all their songs would be mushy ballads, only to find a pierced, manic Gwen Stefani bouncing around the stage to the band's ska-punk repertoire (Editor's Note: I saw them open for Fishbone in 1992 before they got big. Phenomenal.).

Williams, for his part, was Everyman. A blue-collar good ol' boy and drinking buddy. One of my favorite pieces of Hammer wisdom -- though not one I subscribe to -- was his explanation of why he always sought out chain restaurants like Ruby Tuesday when eating on the road. "It ain't gonna be great, but it ain't gonna suck," was his defense. That sort of logic was Hammer in a nutshell.

The one Hardline bit I loved was a weekly competition of sorts simply called "Y'know." They played a short snippet of an interview with Cowboys linebacker Dixon Edwards where he said "y'know" about a zillion times -- sometimes twice in a row and even a few "rare triples." Then they played another interview clip with somebody else and scored it based on the number of verbal pauses that person used -- "um," "like" or whatever. Edwards was never defeated. Again, something that probably doesn't seem that funny when you read about it but was absolute hilarity to hear.

More than his actual commentary I remember some of the advertisers Williams shilled for. Like North Main Barbeque, home of "the great Ray Green." "Don't forget that $10 bill," Williams would say, which was the price for their buffet. And Maury Lowry of Dalworth Auto Electronics, the "King of Free." My buddy Adam had to stop me from going there one day not too far before Christmas to take advantage of one of their too-good-to-be-true car stereo specials because he knew Danelle had already bought me one. And the Big Apple Sports Cafe in Arlington, where Rhyner & Williams did a Rangers' postgame show and Adam, my best friend from high school Dan Gibson, my dad and I gathered to watch the Rangers clinch their first playoff appearance.

The fact that Williams' wounds are mostly self-inflicted doesn't prevent me from feeling empathy for him, especially given all the joy he and the rest of The Ticket brought me. He may not be able to hit 500-foot home runs, but I'm hoping he continues down a similar path to Hamilton and gets another chance to do what he loves and excels at.

Stay hard, Hammer.


Ace Hunter said...

Coming from the San Francisco Bay Area, I was astounded at the things one could get away with saying on the radio in Dallas.

The Hardline spoke of "deviltry" (usually in reference to heavy metal music) and referred to homesexuality as "faggotry".

To this day, I still can't help but think of the NBA Team in Dallas as "The little faggot Mavericks", as they were dubbed by a frequent caller. (Especially after what Baron Davis and the Warriors did to them in the playoffs a couple of years ago.)

And there will always be a special place in my heart for the traffic reporter (was her name Julia Price?) who the Hardline referred to as "the giggle, the jiggle, and the wiggle".

Good times.

SteveHarbula said...

Totally agreed on the shock value of some of the material. But it's hard to argue that any of it was offensive to "the community" given their ratings.

And yes, Julia Price was the traffic girl. You can probably add "dirty old man" to Rhyner's profile, and he'd probably gladly accept the characterization.