A REAL ACE

Ken Hoffman's favorite memories of his legendary tennis partner President George H.W. Bush

President Bush poses with Hoffman's young son after the tennis "incident." Photo by Ken Hoffman

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

Mr. President, would you take a photo with my little boy?

“Absolutely, bring him over here,” former President George H.W. Bush said. “You need any help? You okay?”

Earlier that morning, I had played a doubles match at a charity event at Lakeside Country Club in Houston. It was Indian tennis great Vijay Amritraj and me against Chris Evert and Chuck Norris at Norris’ "Kick Drugs Out of America" fundraiser in 1999.

During the match, I heard a rumble go through the crowd. President Bush and his wife, Barbara, were being seated in the first row. They had brought Ranger the dog with them. Millie, their best-selling author dog, had passed on, and Ranger was their new pooch.

It was one of those moments when I wanted to call timeout and phone everybody I’ve ever known and tell them, "I can’t talk now, I’m playing tennis against Chuck Norris and Chris Evert. And President Bush is in the front row. Gotta go."

With the score tied, 3-3, Chris Evert was serving. She had been mocking me the whole match for staying behind the baseline and refusing to come to the net. She was wearing a microphone, and the crowd was enjoying her ridiculing me. “C’mon Miss Hoffman, get your butt to the net like a man!” After being the “Ice Maiden” her whole career, suddenly she was Shecky Evert. Amritraj, my partner, a Wimbledon doubles champion, ordered me to move forward.

I should have stuck to my guns, stuck behind the baseline. As Evert went into her service motion, Amritraj warned me to “stay alive up there.” I didn’t hear him clearly and turned my head to say, “Huh?”

Evert served as hard as she could and the ball hit me right in … how should I say this? How about my crotch area? 

Guys, you know how that feels. I crumbled to both knees. I couldn’t breathe. The crowd exploded in laughter. I was in pain, the wind knocked out of me. I was embarrassed or humiliated, whichever one is worse. I noticed Evert running toward me. I swear there were tears in her eyes. She was laughing that hard. “Are you going to write about this?” Evert said.

Presidential assist
I felt someone help me up from behind. The person said, “If you do, say ‘groin,’ it sounds nicer.”

It was former President Bush. I said, in a weak, high pitched gasp, “It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. President.”

After I was taken to the first aid tent, I limped back to the tennis court and played another match, this time with President Bush as my doubles partner. After the match, I asked President Bush to take a photo with my son, Andrew, who was 3 years old.

Andrew is a Gladney Center kid. President Bush was a Gladney grandparent.

Andrew sat next to the former leader of the free world, and I took a photo. I used a $4.99 disposable camera from Walgreen’s.  I took the film to the pharmacy to be developed that day. I’m not a photo ace. There have been times when I’ve heard, “Sorry, none of your photos came out. No charge.”

Please, not this time.

Picture-perfect
The photo could not have been more perfect. It’s President Bush, holding a camera and his tennis racket in one hand, my boy with the other. Best photo I’ve ever taken — sweetest photo anybody’s ever taken.

The next day, I called President Bush’s office on Memorial Drive. I told his secretary, “I don’t know if President Bush signs autographs, but I took a picture of him with my son yesterday. Tell him I’m the guy who got hit in the groin by Chris Evert. He’ll know who I am.” She said, “I’ll ask him. Bring the photos by.”

The next day, my phone rang. It was President Bush’s secretary. “Mr. Bush has signed your photo and he would like you to come by and get them. Can you come over now?”

What’s the speed limit on Memorial?

Ken, meet 41
I was given the once over by the Secret Service and walked into President Bush’s outer office. His secretary said, “He’s waiting for you. Just go inside.” President Bush motioned for me to sit down. He asked, “How are you feeling?” He was laughing, too. I was happy that my pain brought such joy to the president and Chris Evert.

“I’m fine, thank you for asking.”

President Bush said that he enjoyed my newspaper column. Wait, a former president of the United States reads my column? Then he said that Mrs. Bush reads my column in the morning, too. Is this a hidden camera show and the president is pranking me? 

Mr. Bush handed me the photo with my son. He wrote on it, “To Andrew Hoffman, have a wonderful life, big guy — love, George Bush.”

Wow! He wrote “love!” He called my baby “big guy! He also autographed another photo, one of him and me after our doubles match. He wrote, “Thanks for carrying a heavy load.”

The 41st president of the United States and I talked for about 45 minutes. I told him that I was at the Berlin Wall the day it came down. He was president at the time. We talked about other events during his presidency. After a while, he gave me a tour of his office. We walked into a small snack room where two young women were talking over coffee. He introduced them as his “interns.”

I asked, “Do you think it’s a good idea to say ‘interns'? You might want to use a different word.” This was only a couple of years after President Clinton’s scandal with his intern Monica Lewinsky.

From the White House to blue humor
President Bush laughed and said, “I still call them interns. We’re close … but no cigar.”

Great line! The president works blue! As the president said goodbye, he reached in his desk drawer. He said, “I wrote a note to you." (Twitter hadn't been invented yet.) I acted cool and put the note in my pocket. The moment the elevator door closed, I tore open the envelope. The note read:

Dear Ken,

Chrissie seemed pleased that she drilled you. I sent her your column. Here are the photos.

Sincerely, George Bush.

Netting a lasting relationship

Continue reading on CultureMap.

40 years later the amazing moment in sports history still holds its place

Do you (Still) believe in miracles?

Getty Images


It's hard to believe, but this week marks the 40th anniversary of "The Miracle On Ice" A result and event where "if scripted", Hollywood would immediately reject on general premise, due to it's improbability. For a younger generation who is unfamiliar with the story (or the odds), visualize a bunch of nobodies and college kids two weeks ago trying to defeat Patrick Mahomes and the KC Chiefs in the Super Bowl. Then, magnify that by about 50 times, and you'll have the general scope and idea. You see, this is exactly what TEAM USA was comprised of, a bunch of college kids, and nobodies going up against the mighty Soviets.

The average age on the American team was 21. They lacked speed, fire power and the tenure of their opponents. The Soviets hadn't lost an Olympic Hockey game since 1968. They had won 4 straight Gold Medals with their core players intact for entire stretches of their Olympic and Global dominance. By contrast, the only American returning from the 76' games was Buzz Schneider. Schneider would actually score the first goal vs. the Soviets. If you ask most American's today, they probably think Buzz was one of the astronauts. The Soviets were so dominating in this era, they had even defeated the NHL All-Stars 6-0 in 1979 to easily win The Challenge Cup.

Lake Placid, New York served as the backdrop for the 1980 Winter Olympics. Lake Placid is a small village in Essex County, NY with a population today of around 2,500 people. If you visit, it's amazing because everyone in that town claims that "they" were in attendance or had their elders in the tiny 8500 seat arena with their families. What makes the story even more remarkable, is that the matchup wasn't even supposed to happen. The U.S. were heavy underdogs even their opening contests with Sweden & Czechoslovakia. Not to mention, that no one really anticipated a contest vs the Soviets as a mere two weeks prior, the Soviets had easily defeated Team USA in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden by a score of 10-3. Adding insult to injury in that loss, was defenseman Jack O'Callahan pulling ligaments in his knee. Jack remained on the Olympic roster, but played sparingly throughout the tournament.

The Soviets steamrolled through their tier of countries, defeating Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Finland & Canada by a combined margin of 51-10. The American's railed for a 2-2 draw in their opening game vs. Sweden, then stunned the Czechs, and then handled, Norway, Romania & West Germany. Thus the stage was set. There are edited versions of the historic matchup available for viewing on YouTube. Unlike the late Jim Mckay who refused to reveal the result on ABC's coverage (the game had been played several hours earlier) would never have had the impact in today's age of social media, and technology. Most American's had no idea the result prior to the game's airing on that tape delay. As a 9 year old kid at the time, this was certainly the case for me! This improbable upset didn't actually secure the Gold Medal. Team USA had to play Finland (trailed 2-1) before rallying 4-2 for the victory.

The "Miracle On Ice" launched some amazing sports moments in the decade to come. The Flutie Hail Mary, Lorenzo Charles stunning the Cougars, Nova shocking the Mighty Hoyas, but nothing could ever match American Pride on February 22nd, 1980 after the Soviets went down 4-3.

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