A SHOUT-OUT TO JOHN AND KEN

Ken Hoffman relives his painful showdown with tennis legend John McEnroe

McEnroe's upcoming Houston appearance should be a real scream. Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images for The Laver Cup

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

Tennis legends John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Andy Roddick, and James Blake are coming to Houston for a one-night tournament, October 4, at Rice University's Tudor Fieldhouse. The Champions Cup will feature semifinal matches starting at 7 pm. with the winners facing off for the title. Tickets are $35 for adults and $10 for kids under 10.

Fans also can buy VIP packages that include backstage passes, the players' party, and opportunities to "play with the pros" earlier that day. 

Here's some advice. If you pay to play a doubles match with the legends, ask for John McEnroe as your partner. For two reasons:

No. 1: McEnroe may be the greatest doubles player of all time. They used to say, the greatest doubles team is John McEnroe and anyone else. He was part of 79 champion doubles teams, including nine grand slams.

No. 2: More important, you definitely don't want to play against him.

I learned No. 2 the hard way. True story:

Several years ago, River Oaks Country Club hosted an exhibition tennis match. Originally it was going to John McEnroe vs. Xavier Malisse of Belgium.

The tournament director and I cooked up an idea. I would be a linesman and call a "foot fault" on McEnroe's first serve. He would pretend to go ballistic on me, scream his trademark, "You cannot be serious," call me the "pits of the world," and demand that I be removed. Security would escort me to the parking lot and off I'd go. Then McEnroe and Malisse would play a real match.

It didn't happen that way. Malisse didn't show up at River Oaks and the tournament flew in U.S. pro Mardy Fish as a replacement. Also, I heard that somebody in McEnroe's camp killed the foot fault routine.

Instead ... the tournament director told me, "Look, McEnroe and Fish are going to play a match, then we're going to have a fun doubles match, you and Fish against McEnroe and the club champion."

Huh? Sure, I'll do it.

I love John McEnroe. He's one of my favorite players ever, seven-time Grand Slam singles champion, Davis Cup warrior, and the voice and face of U.S. tennis.  I think he's the best TV analyst of any sport. I respect him as a person for the way he's conducted his life. Plus, he was hilarious as a guest on Larry David's show, Curb Your Enthusiasm.

A few days before the match, I did a phone interview with McEnroe to drum up ticket sales. McEnroe couldn't have been more gracious and accommodating. He said he was driving one of his children to school (or something, I forget) and "take your time."

I told him, "I have your autobiography (You Cannot Be Serious). I hope I get to meet you and have you autograph it."

Things turned weird the night of the match. First, Fish beat McEnroe in a pretty tense match. McEnroe, true to his reputation, took the match dead seriously and played his guts out. He's not exactly what you'd call a "good loser," at least not during the losing. 

Now we're going to play doubles. As I was waiting in the players' lounge, an official with the event told me, "We're going to have you wear a microphone. We want you to go after McEnroe, rile him up, make him angry — the crowd will love it."

I told him, there is absolute zero chance I will do that. I should have said, "You cannot be serious!" John McEnroe is one of the reasons I stay up all night watching tennis tournaments from around the world.

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Walter will host The Night of Champions. Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images.

In 2014, Austin Walter rushed for 2,704 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior at Crosby High School. Despite falling short of a state title, Walter was named District 19-4A MVP and finished his prep career with a little over 6,000 rushing yards on 613 carries (6,062 yds). Seven years later, Walter will be returning to his high school alma mater to give back to the community that laid the foundation for an NFL career as a member of the San Francisco 49ers.

"It's a blessing to be able to come from a small town and be one of the guys who made it out," Walter said. "Not a lot of people made it to the NFL or the NBA from Crosby High School. To be one of the first, it's an amazing feeling. It's a blessing and an honor."

On Thursday, April 15, Walter will host The Night of Champions to benefit the Crosby High School Booster Club from 6-9 p.m. The event will be a weight lifting competition at Crosby High School for student-athletes around the area to showcase their talents and abilities.

In addition to hosting a weight lifting showcase, Walter will also share his life teachings with student-athletes in attendance. Perseverance and not taking no for an answer will be one of the most vital messages the Crosby native will share with aspiring pro-athletes. It's the two virtues Walter has leaned on from little league football to the NFL. And as an undrafted prospect in 2019, it was that same morale that helped him outshine six other running backs during the 49ers rookie training camp that same year.

"Before I started playing football in high school, a lot of people thought I was too small," Walter said. "They thought because we played little league and not in middle school we would not make it in high school. My twin brother [Ashton Walter] and I did not listen to that. We just kept pushing forward."

"When I left Rice, people thought I was going to play in the Canadian league or AFF, and I did not take no for an answer. I believed in myself. And I believed in God. And if I can make it out of a small town like Crosby, anybody can make it...It's the mentality I've had my entire life of not quitting. I feel like that is what got me to the point I am at right now."

Whether their life goal is to play in the NFL or not, Walter's primary objective for The Night of Champions is to be an inspiration and show kids they can find success despite their environment. It is one of the things the former XFL running back (Dallas Renegades) wished he would have seen growing up in Crosby.

After graduating from Crosby High School, Walter went on to have a record-breaking collegiate career at Rice University. He became one of two players in school history to rush for over 1,500 yards (1,744 yds.) and 1,000 kick return yards (1,548 yds.) in four seasons with the Owls. In February, Walter signed a one-year contract extension to re-join the 49ers ahead of the 2021 NFL season.

Click here to learn more about The Night of Champions at Crosby High School or support Walter and the Crosby High School Booster Club.

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