One of the staples of sports journalism is the comeback story.
Coming back from a torn rotator cuff, chemical dependency or the aggravation of a parking ticket--you name it--an athlete somehow assumes heroic stature. Athlete Bucks Fate, Wins. You’ve read the stories.
This is a comeback story, too, but it’s a little different.
Bobby Jarvis, had his own tragedy been negotiable, would have settled for a torn rotator cuff, chemical dependency and a traffic ticket, and not made any beef at all about a shortened boxing career.
There is something, after all, to getting around on real legs, to eating soup with a real hand. Never underestimate standing 5-9 when the alternative is 4-9.
As a boxer in Seattle, Jarvis never made anyone forget Archie Moore. He’d probably be the first to admit that. He says that his strategy was less than elegant. Take two to get one was his ring science.
All the same, he was a decent enough prospect. In the mid-1970s, he was working on an 11-3 record and had been scheduled for what boxing writers like to call a crossroads fight. He was, in fact, training for a fight with Andy Kendall, then a rated light-heavyweight.
Who knows? Had he had that fight, he might have been able to quit his job in highway construction.
Had he only been able to quit it sooner, of course, he might have had a real career, although that is the least of his regrets today. A decade after his terrible accident has been a decent enough interval, and he no longer mourns a career lost.
Even so, had he quit that job sooner, he would have both legs and both arms. His job these days, as a fight manager, would be a lot easier.
“You know what’s the first thing I do when I take my fighters to another town?” he asked, here in Los Angeles for Thursday night’s program at the Irvine Marriott. “I check out the ring and try to figure how I’m going to get up to my fighter between rounds.”
You see, there are comebacks and then there are comebacks.
Let’s go back to 1975. It was Oct. 10, just 11 days before his scheduled fight with Kendall. Jarvis was working high above I-90 outside Seattle, while crews below were preparing to cut the highway to grade.
Jarvis was a high-scaler, a guy who hangs from the cliffs by a rope, knocking rocks off ledges so that they don’t fall and crown the highway workmen below.
He was going about his business when the cliff collapsed and 40 cubic yards, or 500 tons of rock and dirt--"I know, I checked"--cascaded down to the roadbed.
Jarvis rode 18 tons of it, in the form of a boulder, all the way to the bottom, ending up underneath.
He remembers exactly what he said when he met the boulder, but you don’t want to hear it. He remembers everything, in fact.
He remembers that a front loader tried to remove the rock, but that its rear wheels kept lifting off the ground because the rock was so heavy. He remembers a bulldozer being brought in to hold down the rear of the loader.
He remembers looking to his left, once the boulder was removed, and seeing his left leg and arm, in all the wrong places. His right foot was an improbable distance from him. “My right leg, I could look right through it and see the ground,” he said.
He was in pieces, and nobody could put him back together. All they could do, in fact, was continue to dismantle him. Doctors eventually removed the right leg, finishing the work the boulder had begun. There just wasn’t much left of Bobby Jarvis anymore.
Well, it takes more than a boulder to cut Bobby Jarvis down to size. He was a fighter, remember? The way to look at this is that Jarvis simply didn’t hear the bell. He just kept fighting, in different ways.
“I’m a realist,” he said.
But isn’t he, at best, a handicapped realist.
“Handicap? Handicap applies to golf and bowling. I get around, right?”
He gets around quite well, now.
The first three years, he got around in a wheelchair, but his mobility was limited. For one thing, he couldn’t have mounted the stairs to the Main Street Gym, not on his own anyway.
So he threw the wheelchair out and had a pair of legs designed. They are not like real legs and not even like artificial legs. Actually they are more like knees. He appears to be walking on his knees, or, when at rest, standing in a hole.
“It cuts down on my stride, but now I’m totally mobile,” he said. “Only thing is, I’m now 4-9, a foot shorter than I used to be.”
Soon enough, Jarvis realized that mobility was not his only problem. He got looks and comments, and not all of them were in recognition of his comeback.
“In the beginning, I was self-conscious,” he said, shaking his head. “I got in more fights after the accident then I ever had before. I won most, except for one about seven years ago, when the (leg) straps broke and I came out with a couple of black eyes.”
He admits that his attitude might not have been the greatest. He admits that he had a bad temper. And he admits to stirring things up.
“I was always ornery and hard-headed,” he said. “But now I was suddenly very easy to single out. People would remember me. I mean, I sure wouldn’t be a good bank robber, would I?”
Probably Jarvis would find a way. Why bet against him? Who would have thought he’d make a good fight manager? Who would have thought he’d make any kind of fight manager, especially as a settlement from the construction company and income from property management make him financially secure? He doesn’t need to worry about getting into and out of boxing rings, but he wanted to stay in boxing.
Now, if Jarvis was never the next Archie Moore, he likewise will probably not be the next Angelo Dundee. You haven’t heard of any of his fighters, not yet anyway. The fight game in Seattle, where he operates his Hillman City Boxing Gym, is not all that lively. Still, from time to time he comes up with an athlete such as Ian Mattis, his new prospect, who knocked out Lewis Hightower of Anaheim at 2:57 of the first round Thursday night at the Irvine Marriott.
Jarvis, in other words, may not become famous or even successful. He will, however, become exactly who he was 10 years ago, a stand-up contender.
And that is as profound a comeback as you get in sports.