It was only 7:30 o'clock in the morning, but Kay Elliott (who was Katherine O'Malley before she married Jumbo 19 years ago) already had served seven bacon-and-egg breakfasts, packed four lunches and now was circling the table in the dining room of the big stone house in Haverford, Pa. passing out vitamin tablets.
At the head of the table, reading the sports pages, sat Jumbo himself: James Francis Elliott, highly successful salesman of heavy building equipment, three-handicap golfer, chairman of the greens committee at the Aronimink Golf Club and famous coach of Villanova University's track and field teams.
I was there to spend a day making the rounds with Jumbo and to investigate reports that he was coming up this year with the best team he has had since 1957, when Villanova had, among others, Ron Delany, the miler, and Don Bragg, the pole vaulter, and had won practically everything in sight, including team championships in the National AAU indoor, the IC4A indoor and outdoor and the NCAA.
"Let's see the homework," said Kay Elliott, sitting down for a cup of coffee. Joy, 7, Jeffrey, 8, and Tommy, 11, passed over their notebooks. Jimmy Jr., 14, a high school freshman, didn't bother, nor was he expected to, for he is a remarkably fast study and gets consistently high grades.
January 22, 1962
Jumbo folded his newspaper and slapped it against the table. "By golly," he said, looking around as if he had just decided the point, "I love sports. I love all sports."
"You don't love tennis," said Joy softly.
Startled, Jumbo looked sharply at his red-haired daughter.
"Why, that's right," he said. "I don't love tennis. But I don't dislike it. I don't hate tennis. I'm just not crazy about it."
"Dad," said Jimmy, "do you think Frank Budd will turn professional?" Frank Budd, Villanova's great sprinter, the world's fastest human as holder of the world record of 9.2 for the 100-yard dash, has been drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles although he hasn't played football since high school.
"Why," said Jumbo, "that's up to Frank, Jimmy. I think he could make it in pro football if he wanted to. Of course, I'd like to see him stay eligible for the next Olympics. I'd like to see him stay on at Villanova and study law. I think Frank would make a very good lawyer. He could turn pro and still study law. He's thinking it over."
"Do you think, coach," I said, "that Frank Budd can equal his own world record in the 100?"
"Can he equal it?" said Jumbo. "I think he'll break it. He ran that 9.2 100-yard dash under what I consider a handicap. He drew the first lane, which isn't as fast as the third, fourth or fifth lanes on any track. Frank himself is much stronger than he was. He ran more last fall, he can take more work than he could in his first three years at Villanova. He has been doing a lot with the weights, working particularly to strengthen that right leg of his. Frank had polio as a child, and his right leg is about two inches smaller at the calf. But with this additional work, he is helping his right leg and smoothing out his technique generally."
Jumbo drained his coffee cup.
"We intend to give Frank more distance work this year," he said, "possibly running him five or six quarter-miles in the next two or three months. This will give him increased stamina for the 220 and it will also help him in the 100 because Frank is one of the fastest starters in the history of track, and with a little more endurance I think he'll be one of the real great, great sprinters of all time. We'll run Frank on the relay team up to and including the Penn Relays. After that he won't run any more quarters. He'll concentrate on sprinting in the National Collegiate, the IC4A and the AAU championships."
Cocker spaniel available
Tommy Elliott, who had been listening carefully to this inside information, leaned forward and said, "Tell about the cocker spaniel."
"Cocker spaniel?" said Jumbo, obviously making an effort to adjust to this swift change of subject.
"You know," said Tommy.
"Oh, yes," said Jumbo, his eyes lighting up. "Kay, this cocker spaniel that showed up out at the club about four months ago. Nobody's come to claim him. I'd say he was six, eight months old, honey-colored, cutest thing you ever saw. You'd love him. Now, what I thought I'd do is bring him home on a trial basis, see how Prince [the Elliott dog, a fierce-looking cross between a German shepherd and a Doberman] gets along with him. What do you think?"
"Jim," said Kay Elliott, "cockers shed terribly. Isn't one dog enough? What do we want with a cocker spaniel?"
"There's a big dog looking in the window right now," I said.
"That's the garbage dog," said Jeff. "He knocks over garbage cans."
A horn sounded outside. It was Tommy's school bus and the signal for a sudden, expertly executed dispersal in the dining room. Notebooks were swiftly redistributed; there was a wild but somehow orderly scramble for hats, coats, scarves and galoshes and, in a twinkling or two, with Kay taking the Ford and Jumbo taking the Cadillac, the Elliotts' show was on the road.
Jumbo's car is a rather special case. He has put 35,000 miles on it in 15 months. It has never been in the shop (and in very few car washes), and it is Jumbo's theory that the harder a car is driven, the better it performs. It is a theory that may derive from his techniques in training athletes, for time and again—Sprinter Frank Budd is a current case in point—he has persuaded boys that they are capable of more than they themselves thought they could do.
Jumbo's car is special in another way. The back seat is piled high with sales literature describing the merits of the tractors, rollers, cranes, shovels and bulldozers in which Jumbo deals as star salesman for the Frantz Equipment Company, a distributor for a dozen or so manufacturers. Mixed in with the sales material are the rubbers and galoshes that Jumbo puts on when he visits a building project that is in the excavation stage.
Having delivered Joy Elliott at her school, Jumbo gripped the wheel of the big car with his wide eyes sparkling in anticipation of the day's adventures. His day is spent as salesman until 3 in the afternoon, as coach from then on. He travels at top speed, running more than he walks, running with the easy grace of a onetime middle-distance man who was good enough to win a scholarship at Villanova and after that an appointment to West Point. He left the Military Academy after five months because he couldn't be happy there while his widowed mother had to work as a dressmaker. (He put on a uniform again, as a lieutenant commander in the Navy, and saw service in North Africa and France in World War II.)
Jumbo had always worked since he was 7; his father died when he was 3. His first job was a paper route, later he was a grocery delivery boy, then came construction work, and while at Villanova he sold clothes to fellow students and faculty members.
Jumbo is no Jumbo. He got that nickname because the Philadelphia Phillies had a pitcher named Jumbo Jim Elliott years ago. At 47, Coach Elliott keeps fit by his running around, by pedaling on the bicycle in the exercise room at home and by playing golf at Aronimink about once a week.
As we roared along the highway, Jumbo took a ball-point from his pocket and scribbled a note on the memo pad he keeps beside him on the seat. The memo pad has nothing to do with his sales work. He keeps it for putting down ideas about the track team, maybe a hunch about something that will help a certain boy, or an idea for his assistant, Jim Tuppeny, to work on. Putting the pen back in his pocket, he said, "I don't know what I'd do without Jim Tuppeny. Greatest guy in the world."
Everybody's just great
Jumbo's acquaintances, it begins to seem after a little time with him, are made up exclusively of people who are the greatest guys in the world. He delights in talking to people; he says he would wither away if he had to travel far from home and spend lonely hours in hotel rooms. Happily, most of his customers are along Philadelphia's Main Line. He has known them for years and eyes light up when he walks in of an office. His laugh rings out, secretaries beam on him and their bosses drop everything to welcome him. However, although the evidence is clear that he is a first-rate salesman, it is difficult for an outsider to tell whether he is selling or just kidding around.
For instance, in the office of "Main Line Joe" Giangiulio, the contractor, the talk was devoted exclusively to the fortunes of Mr. Giangiulio's horse farm and the runners he had entered at Tropical Park in Florida that day. At Contractor Al Conan's one topic under discussion concerned certain salesmen who seek to capitalize on their membership in fraternal organizations, the back of Mr. Conan's hand to them. Jumbo dropped in on Contractor Chris DiFelice to tell him Harry Stuhldreher (one of Notre Dame's famous Four Horsemen) was coming to town and wanted to have lunch with Chris. Mr. DiFelice. who used to buy truck tires from Stuhldreher when he was coaching at Villanova, was delighted with the news. At the office of Hugh McGinn, Jumbo paid high tribute to Mr. McGinn as a devoted family man, a public-spirited citizen—and then charged him with being the toughest man to sell along the entire Main Line. To which Mr. McGinn replied: "Jimmy Elliott, you're as cunning a fox as ever jumped out of a hole."
A little later Jumbo was sliding and sloshing through the mud of a big excavation for an expressway construction within the Philadelphia city limits. A workman spotted him and yelled, "Here comes Jumbo!" Soon Jumbo was surrounded by a group demanding some watch fobs that his company was giving away as a promotion gimmick. Jumbo sloshed back to his car and got a supply and passed them around.
His man here was John Buckley, one of the busiest of the big contractors in the Philadelphia area, who numbers among his present projects a job on the underpinning of the Capitol in Washington. He has been a steady customer of Jumbo's for 15 years, and Jumbo's uncle, Lou Elliott, has been shop superintendent for Mr. Buckley for more than 30 years. Uncle Lou ("absolutely the greatest guy in the world") took over as man of the house, at age 18, when Jumbo's father died.
The talk between Mr. Buckley and Jumbo was drowned out in the din of the excavating equipment, but Jumbo's gestures, his furious scribbling in a notebook, his placing of one hand over his heart and the raising of the other high over his head—as if he were swearing a solemn oath—made it seem clear that the talk was strictly business.
Back at Jumbo's office there was a sheaf of urgent telephone messages from George Bascom, the groundkeeper of the Aronimink Golf Club, who had been working closely with Jumbo in preparing the course for the PGA tournament that will be played there in July. Getting Bascom on the phone, Jumbo learned that during the night there had occurred what Bascom described as a "terrible, terrible catastrophe." A driver, under the influence, had roared into the main drive, swerved through a fence and plowed into the first tee, knocking over a water fountain and leaving the tee utterly (in George Bascom's view) beyond repair in time for the PGA. Jumbo said he would drive out to inspect the damage right after lunch.
At lunch, another catastrophe was in the making. As Jumbo ate heartily of spaghetti and meatballs, his gabardine coat was taken by mistake and an undistinguished raincoat left in its place. Jumbo was inconsolable. He spurned the raincoat that had been left behind and spoke almost tearfully of his lost coat. "That was the best coat I ever had in my life," he said. "That was no ordinary coat. That was an Eisenhower reject. When Eisenhower was President, the White House called Abe Freeman, who is a clothing manufacturer in Philadelphia, and asked him to send down three gabardine coats for the President's approval. The President picked out one and sent the two others back to Freeman. Abe called me and said if one of the coats fit me it was the chance of a lifetime. Oh, that was a wonderful coat. When it got dirty I'd have it cleaned and it would look brand-new. I never had a coat like it in all my life."
"Don't worry, Jumbo," said the restaurant proprietor. "Whoever took it will bring it back."
"Ha," exclaimed Jumbo in scorn, "do you think anybody will bring back a terrific coat like that? It's gone. It's gone for good."
The vanishing hat
(Jumbo is prone to such minor disasters as had begun to mark this day. Once, on a trip with his track team, he had packed his bag and then was unable to find his hat. He spoke sharply to the desk clerk on the subject of petty thievery. Then he went next door and bought a new hat. He found the old one in his bag when he unpacked at the next town. When he had visited Al Conan, the contractor, earlier in the day he had knocked two maps off the wall and had labored mightily—as the world's unhandiest man with a hammer—to refasten them to the wall. One time he was ruled off the road for driving his muddied Cadillac without a state license plate. After he had had a secretary mail off an application for a new plate, he put his car in the garage for a steam wash. The cleaning uncovered the original plate, bright and shining after the mud had been washed away.)
At the golf club Jumbo inspected the catastrophic damage to the first tee, as described by George Bascom. Joe Capello, the pro, came along.
"Why, this isn't so bad, George," said Jumbo, looking over the tire tracks and the broken drinking fountain at the first tee.
"Not bad?" cried George Bascom in his fine Scotch burr. "Not bad? Mon, it's terrible. Look at that tee. We can't use that. We'll have to play from the front tee. What will the big-time professionals think of that?"
"You can fix this up," said Jumbo. "If you get started right away."
George Bascom rubbed his chin and shook his head sadly, "I might, I suppose. I might. Oh, I'd like to get my hands on the fellow who did this, I have one clue, a bit of red paint that looks like it might be off a car."
"Looks like a case for Eliot Ness," said Jumbo solemnly. "Well, let's get to work on the tee, George, and see what you can do before the first bad snow."
He looked at his watch and whistled. "I'm behind schedule," he said, starting for his car. "Thank heaven for Jim Tuppeny. He'll have the boys working."
At the wooden track that has been set up outside the field house, Jim Tuppeny had the track men running quarters in groups of four. Jumbo conferred with Jim briefly, called out comments to the runners, then drew one boy after another off for private conferences. In these conferences, close observers say, Jumbo can be very kind and encouraging and very tough. If he thinks a boy is loafing, he'll tell him in no uncertain terms. He prods them about their studies, too, and keeps a chart in his office, listing class cuts by every member of the squad.
In place of the Eisenhower reject, lost at lunch, Jumbo was wearing a heavy coat of the style affected by pro football coaches on game days. It was warm, certainly, but it had no sentimental associations for him.
"Why, yes," he said, watching the runners, "I think this is going to be the best team we've had since '57. For one thing, we've got better balance. Our greatest strength, of course, is in the sprints and relays. Frank Budd and Paul Drayton, who are co-captains of the team, should get us a lot of points. Paul has been a great help to Frank. It's really because of Paul that Frank Budd is what he is today. Paul loves to work, but Frank—when he first came to Villanova—thought he couldn't work as hard as we wanted him to. That's not unusual with sprinters. They're a special breed. Frequently a boy who has been a fair sprinter in high school will have the idea that he should take things easy, put on his track shoes, jog around a little, take a few deep breaths, shower and comb his hair—and that's it. Frank was inclined to be a little that way, but with Paul Drayton's example he has worked very hard. Both boys are congenial, get along well and are easy to coach."
Jumbo waved to Father Rafter, one of his old teachers, who never misses a track practice, rain or shine.
"Now," Jumbo went on. "Bob Coffill will double in the hurdles and will run on the mile relay team with Bobby Raemore, Carl Wagner and Paul Drayton. Drayton has always been our anchor man and I think he's going to be really sensational running that anchor leg this year.
"In the distance running we have Pat Traynor, who holds the IC4A record in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. He had a neck injury last summer, but he's coming along strong and I expect a lot from him. He's better outdoors than indoors. Jon Dante, our IC4A half-mile champion, also has been bothered by injuries, but he's fine now and we think he'll be a strong performer in the half-mile. We have another potentially good half-miler in Alan Jackman, Vic Zwolak can run a 4.11 mile, and I think he can beat 9:00 in the two-mile. He can also run the three-mile.
"In the hurdles, we're pretty well fortified, with Bob Coffill, Charley Hammock and Leon Pras. Pras won the IC4A a couple of times and has had a very good training period this year. He's stronger than he ever was in his life. We have six boys to choose from for our two-mile relay team—Dante, Gerry Hackett, Pat Nicastro, Al Adams, Vic Zwolak and Frank Hegarty. We'll pick the four from that group.
It was getting dark and the team started for the field house.
"As for the field events," Jumbo said, following along behind his athletes, "we're in excellent shape. In the shotput we have Billy Joe [the star of the Villanova football team's upset victory over Wichita in the Sun Bowl last month], and Billy, as you know, won both the indoor and outdoor shotputs in the IC4A last year. He'll be backed up by Gerry Donini, a senior who has been improving rapidly. We've got a very good man in the javelin, Doug Kerr. We expect him to get out around 235,240 this season.
"In the pole vault there's Rolando Cruz. The sky's the limit for him—he did 15-5 as a freshman. Right now we're trying to put some weight on Rolando. He weighs 152 and we'd like to bring him up to 160. He ran more this year than he ever had before and I feel that with all this extra running he will smooth out his pole-vaulting technique and—with added weight—will do big things."
Jumbo walked into the locker room, chatted with Trainer Jake Nevin, who went to Moscow, Warsaw and Stuttgart last summer with the U.S. team coached by Jumbo, had a word or two with several boys, then went on upstairs to his office to look over his mail.
"It's easier to get a boy in shape," Jumbo mused, glancing swiftly over his correspondence, "than to keep him in shape. The fall is the most important time of the year. Then we build a boy up. Now—going into the indoor season—we get him in shape. We can't overwork the boy. We must come to know him as an individual. Some boys require more work than others. We have to be careful about colds. We give them vitamins. We let up on a boy when he's taking examinations. Once the indoor season is under way, the meets themselves enable a boy to keep in condition. We try not to overemphasize a lot of meets. You can't bring a boy up for every meet, because there's always the chance of a letdown. For the important meets like the IC4A we try to bring a boy up as high as possible, but that can be a ticklish matter, too. Track men tend to be tense and nervous anyway and can usually get up enough without any urging or excitement created by the coach himself."
It was time to call it a day. "Jumbo," I said as we drove back to the big stone house in Haverford, "you seem to get a big kick out of selling as well as coaching. Furthermore, from my observation, you seem to do very well at it financially. What would happen if you suddenly had to make a choice between the two—selling and coaching? What would you do?"
Jumbo flipped back the narrow brim of his skimpy black hat. He seemed to grip the steering wheel a little tighter.
"What would I do?" he said. "I would not hesitate for one minute, one second. I'd take coaching. Coaching isn't a sometime thing with me. It's been a big chunk of my life. Villanova means something to me. I went to school there when it was just a college with 800 students. I'm in my 27th year as coach. Some of the kids I've coached have kids of their own almost ready for college. They come to visit Kay and me and our children. One of them has seven kids of his own now. It's not as if I had been moving from college to college. I've spent the best part of my life right here. The biggest satisfaction I get is to hear that one of our track boys is doing well—like Fred Dwyer, who's western manager, I believe, for Hallmark cards. Or Joe Manion, our quarter-miler last year, who's doing fine in business."
The Elliotts regrouped at the dinner table. Kay Elliott (she has a maid in to do the housework but does all the cooking herself) produced a leg-of-lamb dinner for eight. Afterward, the children went upstairs to do their homework and Jumbo settled down in his favorite chair in the den. There were track pictures on the wall, one of them a group shot of the 1957 squad with a headline over it: "The greatest track team ever assembled." This is the team Jumbo hopes to equal in power this year.
Framed on another wall was a letter written back in the 1930s, recommending James Elliott to the track coach at West Point as "one of the best track prospects in years." It was signed by a loyal graduate of the Military Academy, then a major, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The mention of former President Eisenhower brought a frown to Jumbo's face.
"Kay," he said, "I'll never get my Eisenhower-reject coat back. You know darn well the guy who took it will see what a prize he's got. He's not going to return it."
"Jim," said Kay patiently, "that coat was about gone anyway. You've had it relined several times. It was a nice coat, but it wouldn't have lasted much longer."
"Why, Kay," cried Jumbo, "how can you say that? There were years of wear in that coat. It cleaned up like new. You know that. Everybody remarked on what a fine piece of gabardine it was. You just don't get that kind of material every day. If a coat just like it was good enough for Eisenhower...."
"I'm just saying," Kay interrupted, "that it had seen its best days. Look, Jim, would it cheer you up any if I said you could bring the cocker spaniel home from the club?"
Jumbo sat up straight in his chair.
"Why," he said, his face lighting up, "yes. Yes, that would cheer me up quite a bit. As I said this morning, it would be on a trial basis. We'd see how Prince took to him." He whistled. Prince came bounding in from the kitchen.
"What do you say, Prince? Would you like a pal, a nice little cocker spaniel to keep you company?"
An almost happy ending
Out of his German-shepherd-Doberman ancestry, Prince summoned a bark that combined the most terrifying qualities of both breeds.
"Good boy," said Jumbo as the telephone rang. "Get back in the kitchen."
As the big dog ran out of the room, Jumbo picked up the phone.
He listened carefully to the caller, a look of disbelief and wonderment on his face.
"Thank you," he said, his face flushing a little. He put down the phone.
Kay Elliott looked at him inquiringly.
"Kay," said Jumbo after a moment, "I was wrong about that guy. He brought back my coat. That was the restaurant calling."
Kay Elliott took a deep breath. "Well, thank goodness," she said.
Jumbo jumped to his feet. "Boy, what a day!" he exclaimed. "Put over a couple of deals, got a couple more in the works, the team looked great, I got my Eisenhower-reject coat back—and you give me the green light on the cocker spaniel out at Aronimink."
Kay Elliott smiled and shook her head.
"Could a guy ask for anything more?" demanded Jumbo.
As things were destined to turn out, he could. When Jumbo went to Aronimink Golf Club next afternoon to pick up the vagrant cocker spaniel that had been in residence there for four full months, it had—like that hat in the hotel room, the license plate on the muddied Cadillac and the Eisenhower-reject gabardine coat—vanished (at least temporarily) without a trace.