Granted, the praise comes in a column published three days before Mizzou’s 41-20 shellacking in their Southeastern Conference debut against No. 7 Georgia. (Please allow this UGA grad school alum a tiny bit of schadenfreude at the expense of a brother in Christ. Credit James Franklin and Mizzou for hanging in there for three quarters before succumbing to “Old man football.”)
But Dodd’s praise has little to do with the football prowess of either Franklin.
Both of them answer questions with the same clipped, military-style “yes sir” and “no sir.” Both are college football veterans. Both are devout Christians, the model son a replica of his father, an evangelical minister. …
There is nothing new for Willie, who leads his flock from his home in Dallas. He prepares for life the same way, every day. They call this African-American man “Uncle Chocolate,” even some of the Missouri players. Back in 1976, as a young evangelist, his life was laid out for him after some preaching in Alabama. A 12-year old boy asked him to be his dad.
“I just started crying,” Willie said. “To have a white kid down in Alabama tell a black man, ‘I wish you were my daddy,’ humbled me. If that kid saw something in me, I wasn’t going to let him down. Kids have always motivated me because they’re so innocent.”
The love shines through father and son like a laser. Even the simplest things can produce a rollicking laugh. Get close to James and you get close to Willie. Not too close, because Willie is likely to kiss you pretty much anywhere skin is showing. Gender doesn’t matter, nor should it. Willie Franklin does this because the Bible says, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”
But Willie has a past he keeps locked away in a silent place in his soul. It’s not a past to be ashamed of. Willie wasn’t the one who succumbed to alcohol or drugs or joined a gang. Willie couldn’t help it if his family was dependent on welfare or that the presence of a well-dressed white man in his San Diego neighborhood meant one of two things — FBI or narcotics officer.
James Franklin’s tough Saturday wasn’t nearly as bad as Tyler Wilson’s. The quarterback for the University of Arkansas left the game with a concussion after the first half, before his Razorbacks lost in overtime to the University of Louisiana-Monroe. Wilson grew up at the Northside Church of Christ in Greenwood, Ark.