The Midwestern university was lucky to have Big Ed McNeil as their defensive line coach! In his playing days, Ed was a Division II, All-American; then he spent two years on the practice squad of a NFL team. Ed was big and Ed was strong, but he was far too nice to make it in the pros. Coaching was his forte! He loved and respected all his football players and all of the other athletes (including the women athletes) at the university. Ed made it a point to know the name of each athlete at the university. Calling each by name, he gave a big hello and an encouraging comment as he strode across campus.
Big Ed was a sight to behold. He was a giant at 6’5” and 260 pounds of muscle. He wore his hair in a balding flattop and his heavy black beard grew so fast that he needed a second shave by 10 A.M. His round wire-rimmed glasses, with lenses as thick as coke bottles and a bow tie that complemented his variety of tweed sport coats gave Big Ed a very scholarly look. Big Ed was very smart, this huge man who was a full professor in the Physical Education Department. But Big Ed’s most distinguishing feature was his teeth. He had a huge head and even bigger mouth. When he smiled, like he did most of the time, the gap between his teeth seemed to be an inch wide, like Alfred E. Neuman, the boy on the cover of Mad Magazine.
Ed loved football practice and constantly encouraged his linemen with his favorite phrase, “stay low and strike the first blow”. Some of his linemen learned first hand what that meant when Big Ed, with no helmet or pads, demonstrated on them. (One lineman even complained to the head coach that Big Ed was too rough!)
When this assignment “stay low and strike the first blow” was carried out to perfection, Big Ed would get so excited he had a excited spasm, flinching his shoulders and jerking his head and rubbing and scratching his huge hairy forearms with both hands. One day after practice one of his players asked another, “do you think Big Ed is “Punchy”, you know like a boxer gets after too many hits to the head? You think he spent too much time on the practice squad in the NFL?” The nick name stuck and from that day forward everyone affectionately referred to Big Ed McNeil as “Punchy”. Behind his back!!
The university students loved him way too much to ever call him Punchy to his face, but each of his lates exploits, mostly exaggerated, traveled the campus like a tweet on Twitter. This story became famous: Punchy showered with his players after practice. They would watch in awe as he would lather-up his body, that was covered with thick black hair, then vigorously scrub every nook and cranny, before towel drying with the same vigor and attention to detail.
Punchy enjoyed golf, but the fact is, he was terrible! One beautiful spring day, playing by himself he caught up with two members of the very good women’s golf team. They had already hit their tee shots onto the 125-yard par 3, 7th when Punchy arrived. “Hi Suzzie hi Beth, do you ladies mind if I join you for the last few holes on this beautiful day,” he said with his wide toothed grin.
“Not at all coach, we would love to have you join us. We have already hit so the tee is yours,” said Beth, the tall athletic girl that was almost as tall as Punchy.
“How far is it playing today?” Punchy questioned as he fingered the irons in his stand bag.
“About 127 yards to the stick, but the greens are really holding after that rain last night. What club will you use for that shot, coach?”
Punchy reached into his bag and said in all seriousness, “Oh that’s the perfect distance for a smooth 7-iron,” as he leaned over and teed-up his ball. The girls winked at each other as they had hit 9-iron and wedge.
Punchy took two nice smooth practice swings, and then approached his ball with a few of the shoulder spasms that had become his trademark. He then addressed the ball with his club head toe-in (to prevent a slice). If he hit the ball in the direction the club was aimed, it would have hit him in the ankle. With a short, very quick, swing Punchy skulled the ball catching it just below center. With very little arc the ball raced like a bullet straight for the pin. Punchy’s ball ripped a huge divot in the rain-softened green about 20 feet short of the flag took one hop and stopped about one foot from the hole. With his club in left hand, Punchy had one of his excitement induced spasms scratching his hairy arms as he shook and hunched his shoulders. With a grin spread across his huge face and the 7-iron in his left hand, Punchy boasted seriously to the girls, “that is one club I have mastered!”
The girls nodded to Punchy and in unison, exclaimed, “nice shot coach.” As the threesome walked toward the green the girls suppressed the humor of: “The Punchy story of the day!” The golf team members got a lot of mileage out of Punchy’s favorite club!
A few days later at spring football practice, one of the big lineman said to Punchy his coach, “hey coach I heard that you showed the girls on the golf team how to hit that little 7-iron!”
As Punchy spasmed with his arms and shoulders and grinned ear to ear, he said, “yes that is one club I have mastered.”