Wednesday August 14, 2013Times change but this 'Norm' remains same for Gators
Updated: 2:21pm, August 26
Updated: 2:21pm, August 26
Gators historian Norm Carlson recently celebrated his 50th anniversary working at UF.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A phone call from Ray Graves is how it all started.
Graves had just finished his third season as Florida’s head coach when in early 1963 he made a call to Norm Carlson, a former sports writer for the Atlanta Journal who was by then sports-information director at Auburn.
During his time as a journalist, Carlson covered Georgia Tech for the Journal and got to know Graves, who was defensive coordinator on Bobby Dodd’s Yellow Jackets staff.
“Bobby Dodd sat up on a tower,’’ Carlson recalled this week. “He would never come off that tower at practice. He would always say, ‘Go over and talk to Ray about it.’ I’d go down and talk to Graves after practice for a little while. I got to know him really well that way.”
Shortly after Florida defeated Penn State in the 1962 Gator Bowl, Graves needed a new ‘publicity director’ as they were called then.
He called Carlson and in Feb. 1963, Carlson returned to his alma mater.
He never left.
Carlson turns 80 on Sept. 7 and continues to maintain an office on the west side of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as UF’s historian. In fact, Carlson’s office is located on the same floor where he lived when he first took the Florida job.
“This used to be dormitory space,’’ he said. “I lived up here for two months until I got my family down.”
The UAA honored Carlson’s contributions in 2002 by unveiling the Norm Carlson Press Deck following the completion of a new press box and luxury suites at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Carlson’s 50-year anniversary with the UAA is the latest milestone on his journey with the Gators. He continues to represent the UAA at certain functions and will write once again for the football game programs in 2013.
“It’s been gratifying because we’ve had a lot of success,’’ he said. “I went to school here and graduated from here. I raised a family here. It’s like coming home. That’s what it’s meant to me. I’ve made a lot of friends and seen a lot of people go on and do good things in the world. It makes you feel good that you were around it.”
The stories are the best part of a visit to Carlson’s office. He shared many of them in 2007 when his “University of Florida Football Vault” was published.
Shortly after Carlson returned to UF, Graves began recruiting a quarterback from Johnson City, Tenn., named Steve Spurrier.
Spurrier was just beginning to get into golf around that time. Thanks to Gators punter David Bludworth, he always got to play at the campus golf course on visits to Gainesville.
“Bluddy [Bludworth’s nickname] took him down to the 10th hole. The tee box is around from the pro shop where everybody had their eyes open. He snuck him on the course through the trees there at the 10th hole. Steve thought that was great. Every time he came in for a trip, Bluddy would take him to play golf.
“When Steve got here to play, he would always say, ‘Suddenly that 10th hole was closed.’ Bluddy had a lot to do with the recruitment of Spurrier; had more to do with it than anybody.”
A favorite story of Carlson’s recalls how he and Pepper Rodgers weren’t exactly Tom Petty fans.
Carlson and Rodgers used to live on adjacent streets off Eighth Avenue during Rodgers’ tenure as a UF assistant from 1960-64. Around the same time Petty was just beginning to get into music and cranking up his guitar in a garage nearby.
“We lived on a dead-end circle. On the street behind us was a dead end and Pepper lived down there,’’ Carlson said. “We used to always say, ‘there is this guy up here in this shed at all hours of the night playing this awful music and beating on drums.’ It was Tom Petty as a teenager and what became the Heartbreakers.
“Pepper and I just couldn’t get over that, ‘what the hell is that guy doing?’ You meet a lot of people and collect a lot of stories [in 50 years].”
Prior to leaving the newspaper business for Auburn – Carlson wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of Atlanta and had made lots of friends in Auburn on trips there to cover the Tigers for the Journal – he worked with one of the most celebrated sports columnists of his time, Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Furman Bisher.
The sports staff of the early 1960s also included legendary golf writer Ed Miles and baseball writer Bob Christian.
Bisher remained one of Carlson’s favorite writers until his death at 93 in March 2012.
“He was the funniest guy I ever seen,’’ Carlson said. “He was a legend and he was a great writer, one of the best ever in journalism.”
So many years, so many stories.
Carlson had knee replacement surgery earlier this year but has returned to work ready for 51st Gators football season. Carlson also keeps a busy social calendar. He and wife Sylvia have been happily married for 37 years and have eight children between them.
“This is always a fun time of year,’’ he said.