This is a story of two good men. Separated in age by several decades and in geography by several thousand miles, but with much in common: successful careers, devoted family men, veterans, athletes, men of high character. Both with a love for the University of Georgia. Both my friends.
There were, of course, some differences: One loves gardening; the other, playing guitar in his neighborhood's rock 'n' roll band. One was a Marine; the other an Air Force pilot. One is a grandfather several times over; the other a father of two teenage daughters. One of these men you will recognize. The other - well, let me tell you about him.
Vince Dooley, as we all know, is the former football coach and athletic director at the University of Georgia. He retired having won 201 games over 25 seasons, including a national championship. The word "legend" sticks to him like white on rice. What we tend to overlook, however, is how many lives he has touched - on and off the football field.
Rick Born was one of those people. Rick grew up in East Point, an Atlanta suburb. He was a terrific athlete and excelled in every sport he played. Rick was introduced to the University of Georgia and to Vince Dooley in the late '60s when he attended Dooley's football camps with his best friend, my son, Ken. And it was there the story of these two good men begins.
As a teenager, Rick and his family moved to California. Had he stayed in Georgia, I often wonder if he might have ended up wearing red and black. We will never know. Instead, he graduated from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo and pursued his love of flying. In 1984, Rick entered the Air Force and flew 49 combat missions in the first Gulf War. It was a risky business. Enter Vince Dooley.
Although it had been a lot of years since he had seen the little boy from East Point running sprints at Sanford Stadium, he heard where Rick was and what he was doing and wrote him a letter of quiet encouragement. Rick told me later that hearing from Vince Dooley was a tremendous morale booster. Plus, he took great delight in showing the letter to his co-pilot, a Georgia Tech graduate.
From the Air Force, it was on to American Airlines, where Rick Born rose to the rank of captain, flying the big birds. Life was good. And then disaster. In the prime of his life, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and the bottom fell out for all of us who loved him.
Although Rick Born's health quickly and steadily weakened, his love for the Georgia Bulldogs did not. Enter Vince Dooley again.
Rick told me how he enjoyed watching his adopted team on television. I relayed that to Coach Dooley, who sent him an autographed cap to wear while he rooted for the Bulldogs and, more importantly, a letter detailing his own family's battles with cancer and more words of quiet encouragement. What a lift that was. Remember that around here we tend to take Vince Dooley's accomplishments for granted. In that part of the world, getting a pep talk from a Hall of Fame football coach is better than a bowl of Brunswick stew. And Dooley
didn't do what I asked him to do; he did more.
Rick Born died recently in San Rafael, Calif., at the much too early age of 49. There was a standing-room-only celebration of his abundant life in Tiburon, Calif., overlooking shimmering San Francisco Bay. What was said about Rick that day would have pleased him greatly, not the least of which was his love for the University of Georgia and his association with a man named Vince Dooley.
I will miss Rick terribly. He brought a lot of joy to a lot of people in a lifetime that was far too short. And once again, Vince Dooley showed he is more than a famous football coach; he is a world-class individual. This is why I wanted to share this story about these two good men. They have made this a better world by being in it. God bless them both.
E-mail columnist Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org.