G. Holmes Braddock watched his first Hurricanes football game as a 21-year-old University of Miami freshman – in 1946.
He has missed 12 home games since.
Let that permeate: 12 of 431 Miami Hurricane home football games missed during the past 69 seasons.
And he’s back for more in 2015.
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For those who consider yourselves the planet’s most avid UM fans, this gentleman likely has you beat.
Braddock, 90, who has a Miami-Dade high school named after him and was born in his grandmother’s back bedroom three months after UM was chartered in 1925, will be with his wife Ginny at Sun Life Stadium when the Canes begin their season against Bethune-Cookman at 6 p.m. Saturday.
“I’m still around the 45-yard line,’’ Braddock said of his seats in the newly renovated stadium, which he still refers to as Joe Robbie Stadium. “To me it’s automatic. They play, I go. People say Joe Robbie is too far to drive. Not to me.’’
Braddock championed the charge for desegregation in Dade County as a nationally heralded school board member for 38 years, but he never stopped going to games — even when his mailbox was blown up and his wife got a phone call one afternoon in 1969 that he would not arrive home alive that day. Instead, he has lived life so thoroughly that many who know him expect him to be around for at least a few more rounds of coaches.
Tapped in 1949 by UM’s Iron Arrow Society, considered the highest university honor for those who embody “love of alma mater, character, leadership, scholarship and humility,” Braddock has intersected with nearly everyone whose past is entwined with the green and orange.
“This guy is a history book,’’ said former longtime UM assistant football coach Don Soldinger, 70, who, like dozens of old-time Miamians, is friends with Braddock and sees him regularly at the nonagenerian’s restaurant of choice: Chuck Wagon in Kendall. Braddock, who lives west of the restaurant, once was invited to lunch by Yale president Benno Schmidt, but told him he would go on one condition: they meet at Chuck Wagon — where he has broken bread with countless UM types.
“He’s just fascinating,’’ Soldinger said. “He’s so sharp and so engaging you get mesmerized listening to him. “He’ll say, ‘I remember in 1930…’ I’ll say, ‘Who can dispute you? No one was around then.’’’
Harry Truman was president when Braddock — the eventual sports editor of UM’s student newspaper, “The Miami Hurricane’’ — attended his first Canes football game, a 13-3 victory over William & Mary. Braddock, who grew up in Sebastian and graduated from Vero Beach High in 1942, had just finished serving more than two years as a medic in World War II. The Hurricanes were coming off a 9-1-1 season that ended with former Miami Edison High star Al Hudson’s famous 89-yard interception return that gave the Canes the Orange Bowl Classic victory over Holy Cross as time ran out.
The last home game Braddock missed was the 2008 opener against Charleston Southern. The then-83-year-old had a hip replaced two weeks earlier, and his doctor implored him not to go.
“I know you’re going to do what you want to do,’’ Braddock’s doctor told him, “but you might bump into something.’’
UM won that game 52-7 and has been on the winning end of every other one of Braddock’s home misses.
The first game he missed was on Oct. 20, 1950, when the 14th-ranked Hurricanes beat Boston University 34-7.
“I was on the road recruiting students,’’ he said.
For UM, naturally.
Dr. Bowman Foster Ashe, who served as UM’s first president from 1926 to 1952, hired Braddock to travel to high schools around the country to recruit teenagers to become Hurricanes.
After earning his UM degree in journalism in 1949, Braddock used the GI bill to work toward his master’s degree, which he earned in “human relations’’ in 1953. He managed the Miami student union from 1951 to 1954 for a starting salary of $3,600, then moved on to manage the Miami Shores Country Club for $6,000. Most of his life he has been an independent insurance salesman.
“Life, health and pensions,’’ Braddock said. “I’m still licensed, but don’t do much.’’
During football season he does plenty, planning not just home games, but road trips with his wife. This season he’s driving to Cincinnati and Tallahassee.
The rare times he has been a no-show, he remembers.
After the 1950 BU miss, Braddock went 22 years before missing another home game.
“I was sick for the 1972 Houston game,’’ he said. UM won 33-13.
In 1979, Howard Schnellenberger’s first year as head coach, Braddock was “at a school board-related meeting in Memphis’’ while the Canes were edging Louisiana Tech 6-0.
In ’81 he was out of town for the Notre Dame game, when current Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly led the Canes past the Irish 37-15 in the regular-season finale.
In ’83, UM’s first national championship season, Braddock was visiting his mother and missed the Purdue game, a 35-0 Miami victory.
Braddock’s stepdaughter got married the night top-ranked UM pummeled Northern Illinois 34-0 in 1986.
A former member of the board of directors of the National School Boards Association, Braddock was out of the state for No. 1 UM’s 8-7 victory over Arizona in 1992.
In 1993, while the Canes were beating Virginia Tech 21-2, Braddock, the former Florida State School Board Association president, was at a retreat in Jacksonville.
Two years later, Braddock was in Hawaii with Ginny and missed the 49-3 home-opening victory against Florida A&M, the first game in the Orange Bowl for new coach Butch Davis.
In 1999, Braddock missed UM’s 28-20 win against West Virginia because he was in Indiana with Ginny for an estate sale after her uncle died.
After traveling to Tallahassee for the 2003 UM-Florida State showdown (Braddock has been to every UM game at FSU since 1983), a 22-14 rainy UM win in which Canes receiver Roscoe Parrish “got crushed when he was hit going across the middle,’’ Braddock said he boycotted the postseason Orange Bowl game against the Seminoles in Miami.
Braddock considers the matchup — technically at a neutral site — a home game. “The tickets were $135 for a game that didn’t mean much because we had already beaten them.’’
UM beat the Seminoles again, 16-14, to end the 2003 season 11-2 under Larry Coker.
Finally, there’s that 2008 Charleston Southern game that his doctor told him to skip because of his hip surgery.
Schnellenberger, who coached the Canes to their first national title, has known Braddock for decades without realizing the depth of his devotion.
Schnellenberger was honored Aug. 6 by the Miami Touchdown Club, a dinner attended by Braddock — the oldest living member of the club and its 1963 president. Braddock vividly recalls the date of Nov. 22, 1963, when he was closing a Miami Touchdown Club meeting and a community member ran in, “jerked the microphone out of my hands,’’ Braddock said, and shouted, ‘The President has been shot!’’’
Schnellenberger’s title game, Braddock said, was the greatest UM football game he has seen “because it was so unexpected.’’
He was at the Fiesta Bowl both times UM lost what would have been national titles — against Ohio State after the 2002 season and Penn State after 1986. He said he will never go to the Fiesta Bowl again.
“That’s amazing,’’ said Schnellenberger, who described Braddock as “a great leader,’’ yet had no idea he had quietly, yet fervently, been attending all those games. “It’s not only a tribute to him, it’s a tribute to his lord and maker that has allowed him to be pretty healthy over nearly 70 years he’s been attending Miami games.
To what does Braddock owe his good health?
“I don’t know exactly,’’ he said. “I never drank in my life so that’s helped some. Never smoked, so that’s helped some.
“I haven’t had a cup of coffee since November 28, 1959. I thought I had an ulcer and my doctor said, ‘You have to cut out your alcohol! I said, ‘I’ve never had a drink.’ He said, ‘You have to stop smoking!’ I said, ‘I’ve never had a cigarette.’ He said, ‘Well, do you drink coffee?’ I said yes, like water — 12 to 15 cups a day.’
“He said, ‘Cut out the coffee!’ Two days later Miami was playing the Gators in Jacksonville. The Touchdown Club chartered a plane. I drank coffee on the way up and back and never since.’’
Braddock works out three times a week – “30 minutes on a stationary bike, 20 minutes on a treadmill, 10 or 15 minutes of free weights. And I walk three days a week with Ginny.’’
Ginny, 77, has been married to Braddock since 1982 and is fairly amazing herself. She ran her last of eight Miami Half Marathons at age 76.
“He is what you see,’’ Ginny said of her husband. “He’s got lots of energy, he’s inquisitive, his memory is phenomenal and he’s got an unbelievable zest for life.
“It takes awhile for most people to wake up, but Holmes is ready to tackle the world as soon as he opens his eyes.’’
Confided Ginny with a chuckle: “We really would like him to forget some things occasionally.’’
Ginny recently asked UM Sports Hall of Fame executive director John Routh to represent the Hall (Holmes is a longtime board member) and “the younger generation’’ and speak at her husband’s 90th birthday celebration.
“I said, ‘I’m 55,’’’ Routh said, “‘but I’d be honored.’
“The oldest thing we have in our hall is a UM pennant from a woman who was a freshman cheerleader in 1926. Holmes is older than that pennant.’’
Surprisingly, despite all that football dedication, football isn’t Braddock’s favorite sport.
“Baseball is the best game there is,’’ he said. “Everyone gets 27 outs and there are no wasted plays.’’
He doesn’t much care for basketball — “It takes 10 minutes to play the last play and those uniforms are too damn baggy.’’
He has had season tickets to UM baseball since “the very first year’’ they were sold “around the late 1960s — $10 for the whole family for one season,’’ he said.
Red Berry, who ran Red Berry’s Baseball Camp in South Dade for 46 years, has known Braddock since 1964 when Berry taught history at Coral Park High and was its first baseball coach. “He was campaigning for the school board,’’ said Berry, 75, “and our head football coach, Frank Downing, said, ‘There’s this guy Holmes Braddock who loves athletics. Let’s all get behind him.’’’
Berry sits with Braddock at UM baseball games and as part of the Miami Baseball Forum, a group of old-time, diehard baseball buffs. “He knows every ballplayer and their records from post World War II,’’ Berry said. “He really cares about people — a Southern gentleman and a charmer. And he loves the UM. He’s a walking record book.’’
A LONG ROAD
Braddock was born in Forsyth, Georgia, three weeks before joining his mom — a teacher who graduated UM in 1946 — in Sebastian, near Vero Beach.
The G. before Holmes at first stood for George, his father’s name, but was changed to Grover by the time they filed for a birth certificate because “there were too damn many Georges around in my family.’’
His father, who had polio, was a merchant marine during World War II and died when he was knocked overboard and drowned one week shy of his 44th birthday.
Braddock has two sons and a daughter from a previous marriage. Another son, Bob, who played baseball in college and was a physical education teacher, died of a heart attack at 56. All four children graduated from Palmetto High.
As for his own athletic prowess, Braddock said he broke his left arm twice by the age of 14, “curtailing’’ his “sports career.’’
He doesn’t like the Gators, but pulls for them “depending on how it affects’’ the Canes. “When FSU and Florida play I pull for FSU, unless it helps us if FSU loses.’’
Braddock doesn’t intend to slow down anytime soon. He has served as master of ceremonies for the Miami-Dade Public Schools Scholar-Athlete Awards luncheon for more than two decades, though he said his wife “keeps saying, ‘I’m too old for it.’ But they keep asking me, so…’’
He said he wants others to remember him “as a good person who listened, treated people fairly and tried to do what was right.’’
What does Braddock consider a perfect day?
“Waking up, he said, laughing. “That’s a good start.’’
Beginning Saturday, Braddock expects his Hurricanes to also start strong. He badly wants them to improve from last year’s dismal 6-7 season.
“We all hope that,’’ he said. “When you’ve been around sports as long as I have, you know somebody has got to lose. But when the game is over, you can’t do anything about it except try to find out what you did wrong. There’s no use being mad.”
“That doesn’t mean I’m not still upset about the Ohio State and Penn State games, but mostly the bad taste vanishes pretty soon.’’
Here are the 12 University of Miami home football games that G. Holmes Braddock has missed over the past 69 seasons, with the scores and reasons why Braddock couldn’t attend:
1. Oct. 20, 1950: UM 34, Boston University 7. Reason missed: On the road recruiting UM students.
2. Oct. 21, 1972: UM 33, Houston 13. Reason missed: Was sick.
3. Sept. 29, 1979: UM 6, Louisiana Tech 0. Reason missed: School board-related meeting in Memphis.
4. Nov. 28, 1981: UM 37, Notre Dame 15. Reason missed: Out of town.
5. Sept. 17, 1983: UM 35, Purdue 0. Reason missed:Visiting his mother.
6. Oct. 4, 1986: UM 34, Northern Illinois 0. Reason missed: Stepdaughter’s wedding.
7. Sept. 26, 1992: UM 8, Arizona 7. Reason missed:Out of state on school-board related business.
8. Sept. 18, 1993: UM 21, Virginia Tech 2. Reason missed: School board retreat.
9. Sept. 9, 1995: UM 49, Florida A&M 3. Reason missed: In Hawaii with wife.
10. Oct. 30, 1999: UM 28, West Virginia 20.Reason missed: In Indiana with wife for estate sale after her uncle died.
11. Jan. 1, 2004 (2003 season-ending Orange Bowl at Pro Player Stadium, which Braddock considers home game): UM 16, Florida State 14. Reason missed: Boycotted because “tickets were $135’’ and UM already had beaten the Seminoles that season.
12. Aug. 28, 2008: UM 52, Charleston Southern 7. Reason missed: Recovering from hip replacement.