Columnist: Grateful for time with Zippy Morocco

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Loran Smith

Syndicated columnist

Every August, the incoming football freshmen arrive at campuses across the country with plans to spend three years in residence and then move on to National Football League with the central objective to become enriched and live happily ever after.

Statistics confirm that for the balance of them, there will be short term cash flow and long term disappointment. Entitlement attitudes will become an albatross for all too many. There are exceptions, fortunately, but for every showcase story, there will be countless failures. In the quest for riches, education, more often than not, will be relegated to secondary status.

While today’s game is made up of players with consummate skills, I like the old days and the times when a football player thought of a scholarship in terms of a free education. There has never been a greater trade off in our society — than to play a game for a degree.

Zippy Morocco was the grateful beneficiary of that concept. He grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, in a family that eked out a living and struggled to survive. Austerity haunted them every day.

This is the way it was. Zippy and his two brothers slept in one bed with his sisters sleeping in another bed just feet away. They couldn’t venture into the living room — two boarders slept there. His parents slept in the other bedroom in the bandbox of a house with all residents lining up each day to use the bathroom which was located in the basement.

Because he was an exceptional athlete, Zippy used his skills to excel which led to a scholarship at the University of Georgia where he became one of the Bulldogs most accomplished two sport stars; slick running halfback and kick returner in football and a scoring genius in basketball, Georgia’s first All-American.

Zippy played Southeastern Conference basketball when LSU’s lineup featured 6-9 Bob Pettit who became an NBA center par excellence with the St. Louis Hawks, a team that would eventually have Georgia on its mind. Kentucky, the league’s dominant program under Adolph Rupp, countered with Cliff Hagan, who would become another Hawks legend.

You’d think that Zippy would be a gnat those guys would slap away, giving him the back of their hand, but Morocco was the ultimate competitor. All he did was set the SEC scoring record with 590 points which included a performance at Tennessee, which prompted Gus Manning, the Volunteer publicist, to call Furman Bisher, then a young sports editor of the Atlanta Journal, and sing Zippy’s praises after scoring 38 points.

“I just wanted to tell you that (Zippy’s) performance … was the greatest that has ever been seen on a Tennessee court. This probably sounds crazy, me calling to tell you about it,” Manning said. “After a performance like that, I think credit ought to go where credit is due. I’m just telling you, I’ve never seen anything like it on a basketball court.”

When is the last time you have heard of a publicity director of one school calling a newspaperman to tout the performance of an opponent?

When Zippy arrived in Athens to play football on scholarship, the norm of the day was to bring 80 or so prospects to try out. Not many lasted as it was mental challenge as well as physical.

It was hot, it was a scrimmage slugfest on the field — no friends, strange diet and homesickness that lay as heavy on the mind as the heat from the searing afternoon sun. In the middle of the night Zippy could hear trunks slamming with kids making their way to the bus station and a life without discomfort and practice field agony.

“As bad as it was, I didn’t want to go back to Youngstown and the steel mills,” Zippy aid. He earned a degree and prospered in real estate.

Following a stint with the Army, he settled in at Athens, making it his home and making countless friends with his warming smile and genial personality.

His friends enjoyed kidding Zippy who was affable and good natured. When you laid a zinger on him, he would counter with, “You know I am from Youngstown. I got connections. I can have the Godfather take care of you.”

Zippy enjoyed a joke, especially a clever Italian joke. Among his favorites was one from Tommy Lasorda, long time Dodger manager who is of Italian descent. Lasorda had this explanation of why so many Italians are named Tony.

“When they were getting on the boat to come over to America,” Lasorda said. “They stamped on their foreheads, “To N. Y.”

We are going to miss Zippy’s comforting smile, generous personality and his goodwill in our community. We regret that he has gone on to the athletic fields and courts in the sky — but we are ever grateful that he came our way.

Loran Smith is an athletic administrator at the University of Georgia.