Saturday, April 30, 2016

Football Great Leaves the Field

I was saddened to learn yesterday that Winston Hill, 74, had passed away in Denver last Tuesday. Winston was, as I always described him, the guy who made Joe Namath famous in the 1969 Super Bowl.

I meet Winston at his first barbecue joint in Denver, on Colorado Blvd. near East 8th Ave. I was "dining in" that evening, and Winston came by my table. He stopped, looked at my dinner and asked, "Did you have da hot sauce or da mild?"

When I didn't answer quickly enough, he said, "You had da mild" and he fetched a spoon of hot sauce for me to taste. Did you ever have BBQ that set your mouth on fire?

A couple of weeks later I stopped in to buy a side to-go and, when the counter girl asked the white customer in front of me which sauce he wanted - hot or mild, he answered, "Hot." Well, the rest of us white guys in line started working on this guy and insisted he get the mild. I still remember his words, "I can handle anything!"

The counter girl got him just a taste on the tip of a spoon. She could have suckered him with a spoonful, but she knew what would happen. He licked off that small amount, and suddenly his face turned red; he started to perspire and was having trouble breathing. When he could finally speak, all he could say was, "My God! What the hell is in that stuff?"

The ER for Colorado General Hospital was only a block away, and I wasn't sure we would have been able to get him there in time, but he eventually got his order and was able to walk out.

On another evening, in 1980, I bought a side to-go, and I gave the cashier my Guaranteed Czech Card. Remember the cards we used to have that showed our bank would guarantee our checks? This card was different; I had bought it in a little bookstore for $1.00. (I still have the card.)

The girl rubbed the numbers on my card and said, "This card's no good. The numbers aren't raised."

I rubbed the numbers, agreed with her and handed the card back to her.

Then she said, "This card's no good. It doesn't have your name on it."

Said I, "That's why I signed it on the back." And she turned it over and looked at my trademark "Gus" signature.

Then she said, "This card's no good. It expired in 13/79."

I said, "That means it's good in all of 1980."

"Have you gotten checks cashed in here before?" I told her I had.

She turned it over again and moved her eyes over the fine print, which said what good people Czechs were and how every neighborhood ought to have a good Czech in it. By that time I was sure her vision was blurring and she wasn't seeing the small print on the card. And then she accepted my check!

Winston called me the next day and told me he'd seen my check. He asked what I'd done to that girl, because she had quit. "I have been wanting to fire her for three weeks," he said.

One morning I stopped by about 10:00AM to say Hello to Winston. He took one look at me and pointed a large finger my way and said, "You! Get out of here!"

Whoa, what happened? Winston explained that he had been out of town and the employees had not opened the mail. His liquor license had expired! How do you operate a rib joint without being able to sell beer or wine? He had hired a company to circulate petitions in the neighborhood and they had just told him they weren't going to do it. And his license hearing was in two days.

I told him that I'd get the signatures for him. The first day I got 25. He said he needed more. I returned the next day and got 25-50 more. Then I needed to go to the liquor license hearing with him, which was the next day.

We arrived at the hearing, and I had to testify because I was the one who had collected them. His lawyer barely said Hello, until it was time for me to testify.

The lawyer said, "Now, Mr. Philpott, at Mr. Hill's behest..."

I interrupted him and explained that Winston had not asked me to collect the signatures. I had offered.

The lawyer continued, "How much did he pay you?'

I explained he hadn't paid me at all.

The lawyer blurted out, "Well, why the hell did you do it?"

I explained that Winston was a responsible business man with a clean rib business, and he had needed some help.

While the judge was deliberating, there was a short break. I noticed an elderly white couple sitting in the hearing room, and I told Winston we needed to find out who they were. They could be trouble.

They could have been. They were there to testify against his license application, but they were not going to be allowed to testify, and they were mad about it. They owned the property next door (a driveway and a photo kiosk), and the hearing officer wouldn't let them testify because they didn't operate the business; they just owned the property!

It turned out that Winston had been trying to locate them (but the property was owned by a Trust), because he wanted to buy the property for additional parking. I told them Winston was a nice guy, and Winston was later able to buy the lot!

I remember the last time I ate at Winston's on Colorado Blvd. A friend and I were eating outside on a nice day. I'd come from the office and was wearing a white shirt and tie, and I was being very careful. On my very last bite, a little piece of meat dropped from the end of the bone and landed in a small puddle of BBQ sauce on my plate, which promptly splashed onto my white shirt.

I still remember Jim's laugh.

Rest in peace, Winston. It was a privilege to know you.

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