I am absolutely crushed this morning. I just found out that Chuck Woodling has died. His passing is like losing a piece of my childhood. He was a cornerstone of my love of all things Jayhawk. Strange to write a man who graduated from the University of Missouri.
Chuck made Jayhawk sports stars like John Riggins and Dave Robisch come alive for me. He was a subtle homer, carrying the banner but if you read between the lines you could see the where the success and failings lie with any given individual or team. I also enjoyed reading his columns. They weren't as pointed as Mayer's or full of the down home humor of Topeka Capital-Journal legend Bob Hentzen, but he filled it with facts, facts that might have escaped the reader in the course of a week.
Fast-forward five years later and I'm a freshman at K.U. My path began to cross Chuck's in the press box at football games. He was really hard to read. What at first appeared to be a standoff personality was really just a man who possessed an incredibly dry wit. It took a few years to figure out that this was who Chuck really was. So for those first two or three years, I was simply scared of him.
But I began to realize that Chuck shared a deep love of track and field, just as I did. And our friendship began to form over that mutual love. A moment that stands out for me was a simple act that happened after the 1977 Big 8 Indoor in Lincoln. I had traveled to meet with the late Allen Quakenbush, who had left the Journal-World for the Capital-Journal. Chuck was sitting in the parking lot stranded. Allen and I helped Chuck out with a jump and got him back on the road. The next week he gave us a subtle thank you in his weekly column. It made me realize what a big heart he really had.
As my career progressed and I became a journalist I would always delight in seeing Chuck. His humor was always there. I hadn't seen him since 2006 when he was at the start of his retirement and I was trying to build a news operation in Topeka. I didn't know he had been battling leukemia the last four years. I simply enjoyed his snarky broadsides on Facebook, usually aimed at the Kansas football program.
I realized today that Chuck was one of the reasons that I became a journalist. Reading him, listening to Jerry Bailey and Tom Hedrick broadcast Kansas sports, watching Bruce Rice and Len Dawson on television, all made me think about a career in sports journalism. And then there were men like Rich Bailey who mentored me through college and helped me become a television journalist. Thanks Chuck, thanks for all those stories.