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

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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