Friday, December 17, 2010
Journey from Super Bowl to Orange Bowl
By Peter Bodo
Four days after 15-year-old Allie Kiick won the Orange Bowl 16-and-under title -- arguably, the Super Bowl of tennis in that age division -- her father Jim Kiick was still celebrating.
If you know anything about Jim Kiick, you will not find this hard to believe.
The former Miami Dolphins halfback, a two-time Super Bowl winner and a critical cog in the undefeated (17-0) team of 1972, was also one of the great carousers and hell-raisers in the NFL; he was known as "Butch Cassidy" to teammate Larry Csonka's "Sundance Kid."
But that was then, this is now.
"I'm still getting goose bumps just thinking about Allie's win," Kiick told me. I could tell by the background noise that he had called me from someplace other than a chapel. "Since she won, I've been going to friends' bars, having a few drinks, and I'm still talking about it."
As is often the case, the cause for celebration was more complicated than the fact that occasioned it. Kiick and Mary Johnson, Allie's mom, divorced a decade ago -- before Allie took up the game at age 8. As his daughter's talent developed, Kiick tried to play a significant supporting role. That didn't work out so well. In fact, he was often banished outright from attending her matches.
"When Jim showed up at a tournament," Mary Johnson told me, "Allie would see him moving around the sideline. Every time he groaned, moaned or went 'aaaaraagh!' Allie heard it. Some matches she even started talking to him, telling him to hush. Jim's just very intense, and one reason he and Allie had so much trouble is because they're kind of alike."
By the way, there wasn't a trace of animosity or bitterness in Johnson's voice as we talked about all this. Kiick probably isn't the only guy on the planet whom you can like, even love, but not necessarily remain joined with in holy matrimony.
And Allie more or less rolled with it. "I never really felt pressure from him. It was just that even if I'm killing someone, if I make a mistake, he gets all mad on the sideline," Allie said. "He can be very tough, sometimes."
Tough, but also funny. A character. This is the man who once said that his "specialty" as a runner was the "1-yard gallop."
Jim Kiick admits that he maybe got a little too involved in his daughter's fate on the court, but it was mostly because that's how he always thought sports is supposed to be. "It's tough for me," he said. "My sport was always so different. So many guys on the field. So much talk. When something happens, you let go, 'Yeaaaah! Go-o-o-o-o.'
"In tennis, you have to even clap soft. You're not supposed to yell. It's difficult for me to remember. I have no control over it."
As a result, Kiick would often skulk around the perimeter of the stadium or court during Allie's matches, hiding (his word). Self-control never was his forte. For that reason, he wasn't even invited to the Orange Bowl, which is a hometown tournament for the family.
"Allie beat the No. 2 seed or the No. 4 -- however it works -- but she didn't allow me to go to those," Kiick said. "But then I got that call the day before the final. Allie said, 'Dad, I want you to come.' That was great. I was nervous. So I hid in the corner of the stadium, I tried to blend in, and it worked out. I'm just so proud of the way she handled herself. You're alone out there in tennis. And that other girl, she was really good! So I've gotten better. But Allie's gotten better, too."
As tennis-parent stories go, this one is a little unusual -- and more endearing than most. Whatever you think of Kiick, you can't accuse him of being a tennis nut; a garden-variety nut is more like it. And, of course, his heart still belongs to football. Kiick and Johnson also have a son, Austin, 21. He's the one who gets to go to the Dolphins games with his dad. "It's OK," Allie said. "Austin is a big football fan, and the games are their father-and-son time together."
Of course, I couldn't resist asking Kiick three questions pertaining to the NFL:
Bob Griese or Tom Brady? "I'm not a Patriots fan," Kiick said. "Actually, I hate the Patriots. But I'm not an idiot, either. Griese was a hell of a quarterback, but Brady is the best I've ever seen."
1972 Dolphins or 1985 Bears? "They got beat, right [the Bears finished 16-1, while the Dolphins won 17 straight]? We didn't."
Who gets further this year, the Dolphins or their rivals, the Jets? "The Jets, but I don't think they're very good. They're overrated, and so is their quarterback [Mark Sanchez], but they probably will do better. The Dolphins need a new quarterback."
I hope Allie makes it to Wimbledon one day, not in the least because it would be fun to see Jim Kiick there, too. If she lets him attend.