Mesa Musings: Football coach loved life, God and his wife

"Humpty-diddy, baby!" is an exhortation without precise translation, akin perhaps to Bluto's thunderous "Let's do it!" in "Animal House."

Or, more poetically, it's a bugle blast accompanying the charge of a cavalry unit.

During his life, the legendary football coach Paul Briggs often bellowed "Humpty-diddy, baby!" He died last week at 90. With that phrase he fired up players and coaches on his sideline.

Paul was a prince of a man who lived a long and rewarding life. He was a widely loved football coach for 57 seasons — 37 as head coach at Bakersfield High School and 20 as an assistant at Orange Coast College.

I was privileged to know Paul for 23 years.

Daily Pilot Sports Editor Steve Virgen movingly eulogized Briggs in this paper last week. There's nothing I can add to Steve's eloquent prose but one final memory.

When I last saw Paul three or four months ago, he was battling several debilitating ailments and looked wan and frail. He had great difficulty walking. Yet the old "humpty-diddy!" was still very much evident. His foghorn coach's voice hadn't diminished one iota.

He slapped me on the back as we caught up for a few minutes. I asked him about Sally. He told me Sally, his beloved bride of 64 years, had passed away some months earlier.

"How ya doin', Coach?" I prodded.

"Jimmy, I miss Sally terribly," he said, his voice uncharacteristically muted. "Every night I fix dinner and I set two places at the table, one for Sally and one for me. I talk to her as we eat. She's always with me."

I couldn't respond. My eyes burned and there was a lump in my throat.

God broke the mold when he placed Paul Briggs on this earth. Paul loved "the Man Upstairs," as he called Him, and he had an ongoing love affair with life. He was passionate about football.

Briggs loved the thousands of kids who played for him over the years — many of whom advanced to major universities and into the NFL. But he gave his heart to his "girl," dear Sally.

And he gently took her hand in heaven on Valentine's Day.

Humpty-diddy, baby!

Golden State stories

Are you a writer or hope to become one? Do stories about the Golden State appeal to you?

The Friends of Orange Coast College's Library will offer a program at 7 p.m. March 1 geared toward you. The program is in the library's Lecture Room at OCC, 2701 Fairview Road. Admission is free for Friends of the Library members, and $5 — or a gently used book — for nonmembers.

Sylvia Worden, editor of the anthology "Voices of the Golden West: Our California Stories," will be the featured speaker along with several authors who contributed personal stories to her book.

"Voices" is a collection of 89 true tales collected by Worden for the California Stories Initiative. The initiative is sponsored in part by a grant from the California Council for the Humanities.

Worden's book features stories by authors describing their arrival in California. The collection ranges from turn of the 20th century accounts to stories by recent arrivals.

Worden, associate dean of OCC's Student Health Center for the past two years, is a nurse practitioner and a health educator. Prior to joining OCC's staff, she was head of the Student Health Center at Golden West College in Huntington Beach.

Worden began collecting stories for her book while at Golden West. She initially gathered stories from college students but soon began soliciting works from other sources, including Orange County senior centers.

Members of the Braille Center also provided several essays for the book.

"Voices" isn't Worden's first book. She's author of a children's book, "Beautiful Music," written eight years ago. That book was inspired by Worden's visit to China to adopt her daughter, Anabel, now 12. Worden's 17-year-old son, Ira, illustrated the volume when he was 9.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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