It hasn't taken former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and McCallie School quarterback B.J. Coleman long to learn much of the storied history of the Green Bay Packers, who selected him in the seventh round of the NFL draft Saturday.
Lambeau Field. The Frozen Tundra. The Cheeseheads. Vince Lombardi.
"You're not just talking about some the greatest traditions in pro football," Coleman said Tuesday at UTC's Porky's Open fundraiser at Council Fire. "You're talking about some of the greatest traditions in all of sports."
But Coleman needed a Green Bay draft pick from 20 years ago to fill him in on the Packers' Bike Brigade.
"It's one of the best things about Green Bay," said Shazzon Bradley, the McMinn County star who went to the Pack in the ninth round of the 1992 draft after his University of Tennessee career ended.
"Kids from all over town ride their bikes to preseason practice. Then they have you ride their bike to the practice field while they carry your helmet. They've been doing it forever."
The Packers actually have been doing the Brigade since 1961, but the NFL has been drafting players since 1936, and not all of those draftees wind up making a living in professional football.
For the 42-year-old Bradley it became professional boxing for several years. The heavyweight ran his record to 21-0 before a detached retina forced him to call it a career and make the most of his criminology degree from UT.
"He works security at the nuclear facility at Oak Ridge," said Bob Roseberry, an Athens, Tenn., businessman and longtime Bradley friend. "I think the governor is the only guy in the state with a higher security clearance than Shazzon."
Bradley doesn't say much about his work, but he beams about his family: wife Tracey, son Jackson (9) and daughter India (8).
"My son's in third grade and he's doing algebra already," he said. "My children are so studious, the exact opposite of their father."
Their father spent the early part of his life in "Lanetown," a low-income area in McMinn County. He lived in a tiny home with a dirt floor. Until junior high, when it was discovered he had the learning handicap dyslexia, Bradley was labeled "dumb" and passed through the system.
After that, well, "Some people just have to work harder than others," he said. "You can use it as an excuse or motivation. I was determined I was going to go to college. I told myself a long time ago that I wouldn't have children until I got a college education."
Yet whatever our education, we could all learn a thing or two from Bradley about how to live our lives, especially when it comes to money.
Take our cars, for instance. Bradley has a 1993 Honda Accord.
"It's got about 600,000 miles on it," he said with a smile. "It still blows cold air. It still gets good gas mileage. It pretty much runs like it did the day I bought it. Why should I buy another one as long as that one works?"
"I've got one, and I've got a zero balance every 30 days," he said. "I may not have a whole lot, but what I do have I own. The best thing the NCAA could teach our student-athletes -- heck, all students -- is to live within your means. Learn how to balance a checkbook. Save every dime you can."
Then there's his view on the public appearance and demeanor of college athletes: "It's like Coach [Johnny] Majors used to say: Be five minutes early, clean-shaven, no dreadlocks. Dress like you're going for a job interview, because in a way you are. You don't just represent yourself; you represent, in my case, the University of Tennessee, if not the whole state of Tennessee."
This is how well he represents himself, his family, his school, his state: A couple of weeks ago a former teammate who spent a few years in the NFL called to tell Bradley he was now broke and had no money for his diabetes medication. Bradley covered the cost.
A couple of years ago another former teammate called in a desperate financial state. The Bradley family was supposed to go to Walt Disney World. Shazzon postponed the trip a year so he could help his friend.
"He's the hardest-working, honest, most caring individual I've ever met," Roseberry said.
Early Tuesday afternoon, Bradley smiled a wide, easy smile as he talked about the Bike Brigade.
Then he turned serious.
"Be careful with your money," he said. "Some of those so-called friends you'll have, you won't be able to find them when you need them."
Sadly, that's one of those pro sports traditions that's talked about much too little.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...
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