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Spags: This Was No Ordinary Joe

Discussion in 'History Zone' started by WoodysGirl, May 31, 2006.

  1. WoodysGirl

    WoodysGirl Do it for the Vine! Staff Member

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    IRVING, Texas - This certainly is not unique to me, because after all these years, I can say with some certainty that everyone remembers the first time they met Joe Brodsky.

    Be it this 14-year-old high school freshman named Joe Avezzano or an 18-year-old college hot-shot freshman like say Alonzo Highsmith or Michael Irvin or some precocious 20-year NFL rookie named Emmitt Smith.

    But weird how that first brush with Brodsky rushed to my mind on Friday when I overheard someone passing down the hallway outside our office say, "Did you hear Joe Brodsky died?"

    Died. Aw man, not Joe. He was too young. Now my Aunt Sarah, who passed away two weeks ago, I could understand. She was 87. But Joe? Why, he had coached his entire life, and then some it seemed, and I don't know who would keep track of stuff like this, but Joe won a high school state championship, a college national championship and three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys as a coach. And he only had retired a few years back, set to enjoy life with Joyce, wife of 49 years, back in his beloved South Florida.

    So understand, Joe didn't lose much, but met his match with prostate cancer at the age of 71.

    Joseph Brodsky was buried on Tuesday in Hialeah, Fla., just 11 days short of his 72nd birthday. But they couldn't bury the memories. Can't even contain them.

    Me, that first meeting, came just more than 17 years ago, back in March of 1989, just after he arrived here at The Ranch with the other unsuspecting University of Miami assistant coaches to join up with newly-named Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson. I remember him leaving me alternately laughing and aghast at some of the things he said.

    To this day I remember him telling me how he left high school coaching after 24 years - 16 at his old high school, Miami Jackson, and then the last eight at Miami Lakes. Seems the last year there the principal wanted him to teach two more classes, and he tried, getting up at 5 a.m. every day so he could handle all his tasks. But he had enough, and told principal he was through. The school then told him, OK, don't worry about the classes. But he was a man of principle, or as he told me that day, "I'm a very old-fashioned person. My word is my badge."

    Old-fashioned, maybe, but that's for all ages.

    I remember him saying what his wife, a school teacher herself, told him, "She asked if I was on drugs because we can't do that."

    Now dear Joyce didn't exactly put it that way, but the word "drugs" made me recoil a tad, thinking, uh-oh, this guy might be a tad too real for the NFL. The word made Joyce recoil even more, and he would tell me later how he got chewed out after my story ran.

    Yep, I remember that, and this, and I'll let him tell the story he told me of his last day at the Lakes: "Johnny Paycheck had just come out with this new record and I went and got a 45 (RPM) copy, walked into the principal's office, loaded it on the record player and walked out with him in there. It played . . . .

    "Take this job and shove it . . . .

    "He thought I was kidding, but I did it. It was a matter of principle - maybe stupidity, too."

    Guys like that, you don't ever forget.

    Ask Avezzano. Joe was but a freshman at Miami Jackson back in 1958. Brodsky was a first-year high school coach fresh off a successful playing career at the University of Florida. Avezzano has told the story many times. It's even better when they tell the story together. Brodsky would prove here as unrelenting as he was back then there.

    See Brodsky just happened to be the junior varsity basketball coach. Avezzano was playing all sports, and Jackson was about to beat Miami High for the first time, up by one, with three seconds to go and Avezzano at the foul line. Avezzano tells the story this way:

    "So Joe, in all his coaching wisdom, called timeout and called us over and informed me in his best, charming manner (detect sarcasm here), that I didn't need to make the free throw, I just needed to hit anything and the clock would start, three seconds would be gone and we would win."

    Avezzano did worse than Jerry Stackhouse. He air-balled it, and yep, you guessed it, Miami High throws a length-of-the-court pass, and hits a last-second jump shot to win.

    "I was looking for condolences," Avezzano would say of after the game. "But in the locker room Joe had some of his old college players and a couple of pro football players who happened to be visiting him for the game in to watch one of his key coaching moments. And so as I was sitting there looking for my coach to console me, he was standing within earshot, telling his buddies, 'There he is! He's the one who lost the game.'"

    Thus the start of a beautiful, 48-year relationship, and one that brought former student and coach together in 1990 as assistants for the Dallas Cowboys.

    "You know, I'm one of those people when you ask him who won the last five Super Bowls, and even though (that was the business I was in), I couldn't tell you that or who won the Most Valuable Player for the last few years," Avezzano said. "But I can tell you that one of the very few people who affected my life just passed away.

    "That's how special he was."

    Joe Brodsky was self-deprecating but always brutally honest. He could be verbally abusive, causing Avezzano to admit when they hooked up in Dallas, "Joe Brodsky has been verbally abusing me since I was 14 years old," but would always cut to the chase. Joe, as you can imagine, never minced words, never missed a chance to take a dig.

    When Emmitt Smith ended his two-game holdout in 1993, eventually signing that four-year, $13.6 million contract, we walked into the locker room that night well after 11. And there, on a chair in front of his locker was his playbook, causing Emmitt to say of his running backs coach of three years, "That Brodsky." And never one to miss a chance at a dig, instead of the normal "Emmitt Smith" on the cover of the playbook as is the norm, Brodsky had labeled this one "Mr. Emmitt Smith."

    And then it was only a week later Brodsky created a media stir when he had this to say about Smith after he played his first game that season: "Emmitt has an average work ethic for a great player. I think Troy Aikman is a great player with a great work ethic. I think Michael Irvin is a great player with outstanding skills and a great work ethic. I'm not going to fine him, and I wouldn't say he's a dog. I'd just like to see the kid work like Tommie Agee, Daryl Johnston and Derrick Lassic."

    Joe couldn't leave it at that, un-uh. He revealed how he told Emmitt to put his helmet and shoulder pads on, hit the blocking sled and run some pass routes to prepare for his first start. Smith fired back, "I came here, I worked out. I didn't hit no damn sled and I ain't going to hit no damn sled."

    Brodsky would only shrug his shoulders, saying, "I'm going to treat him like I treat every other player. If he gets tired of that, and says to Jerry Jones, 'Listen, I don't need him out there.' Now which way would Jerry Jones go? Would he say, 'The hell with it, I'll keep Brodsky' or 'Let's go get another one of these Brodskys because there's about 200 of them out there. I've heard from other coaches this can be a problem. If it is, I'll get fired because I'm not changing. So let her rip."

    You might not have known Joe Brodsky, and not many still here at The Ranch do, save Flozell Adams, Mike Zimmer, the Joneses, a few of the of the trainers, equipment guys, operations guys and secretaries, but you love him, don't you?

    Joe was an equal-opportunity ripper.

    Let Avezzano explain.

    "I admired the way he communicated with people and his loyalty," Joe says. "I just loved it. Joe Brodsky had a quality about him that very few people had that I came in contact with during my years coaching, and I worked for some pretty prominent people. Joe Brodsky was the head coach at my high school when it was all white. Joe Brodsky was the head coach at my high school when it was predominately Cuban. Joe Brodsky was the head coach at my high school when it was predominately black.

    "And go back, you'll find he was as frank and communicated in the same way with everyone, and everybody could always reflect on the times spent with him, and the honesty which it was presented with.

    "He had a great way of ripping you that almost made you believe if he didn't rip you he didn't love you. Anyone who ever played for him always wanted him to very much rip you again."

    One more story, and sorry if I'm getting carried away here, but there's a book in all these priceless stories. Avezzano tells of the time he was an assistant at Texas A&M and Brodsky was an assistant at the University of Miami, and they met at one of those high school late-summer jamborees where they could scout (i.e. start recruiting) players in the Miami area. Avezzano tells of the Pied Piper experience, all these high school coaches and former players there almost as much to meet him as they were to watch the scrimmages.

    They all would come up to this coaching legend in Miami, and where he lived his entire life, save for a year in Maryland as a boy and his time spent with the Cowboys (10 seasons) and a season with the Chicago Bears.

    "They were all there it seemed just to see him and wanted him to bust their chops," Avezzano said. "And he didn't disappoint any of them."

    So you just need to know this was not just some running backs coach who coached Emmitt Smith and Daryl Johnston with the Cowboys, and who coached at the University of Miami the likes of O.J. Anderson, Alonzo Highsmith, Cleveland Gary, Albert Bentley, Melvin Bratton and Keith Griffin. Or never complained a bit his first year in Dallas when the Cowboys parted with Herschel Walker, and left him with the likes of Kevin Scott, Darryl Clack, Broderick Sargent, Junior Tautalatasi and Johnston.

    This was a special man and a special coach, whose coaching success spanned generations, races and every level of ball. His eldest son, Joe Jr., called Avezzano just a couple of days before his dad died to tell the family's good friend of the inevitable, that time had run out. His son told Avezzano that the services would be private, that that is what his dad wanted.

    "I told his son, that was a good decision because if you had something public, it would have been a zoo," Avezzano said, "because he affected so many people and that they all wanted to come and tell Joe Brodsky stories."

    Yep, just like Joe did. Just like I have, and I won't apologize for going on and on about a man who taught me a lot of football and a lot about how to treat people.

    And I was glad to find the story I wrote in the old Dallas Times Herald on March 14, 1989, after our first meeting, because here is one part I didn't remember 17 years later. Joe Brodsky told me, and totally unsolicited, this, which is so him:

    "You know, one day I'd love the tombstone to read, 'You did a hell of a job.'" Joe, nothing would be more fitting.

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