(Rick Bowmer/AP Photo)

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: I’ll miss the hell out of Joe

Posted December 23rd, 2015

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Now they’ve really gone and pissed off Joe Jamail.

Joe is royally pissed off now. If you knew him for even five minutes, you know that’s true.

He’s red-in-the-face mad because there are no more cowering defense lawyers to intimidate, no more grand courtrooms to fill up with his oversized presence. He’s upset his beloved Longhorns aren’t going to a bowl game and still don’t have a quarterback. And he’s ticked off there may not be enough Scotch in heaven to quench his thirst. Or wherever he’s gone to now.

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And wherever that is, you can bet he’s taken over the place with his strident, bold persona and stuff-it-if-you-don’t-like-it attitude.

Joe Jamail died Wednesday, and it’s a Texas-sized understatement to say that the state has lost a giant of a man.

Joe Jamail was that big. Only bigger. He may have been The Greatest Lawyer Who Ever Lived, but he was also The Greatest Longhorn Legend You May Have Never Known.

It doesn’t really matter what category you’re talking about. Law. Philanthropy. Longhorns. Drinking. Cussing. On all of those levels, Jamail set the bar. He was the gold standard, the icon of icons. He gave untold millions to Texas. And Baylor.

Rodolfo Gonzalez/American-Statesman)
Joe Jamail poses for a photo in front of the larger-than-life bronze statue of himself during the statue’s unveiling at the University of Texas School of Law in 2003. (Rodolfo Gonzalez/American-Statesman)

No one cast a bigger shadow than the 90-year-old Houston attorney who died of complications from pneumonia after suffering a fall last week. There will never be another like him.

With his passing, I lost a trusted source, but more than that, a dear friend.

He always returned my calls, always gave out information willingly in his gruff, gravelly voice and never heard of the phrase “off the record.” Joe was strictly an on-the-record kind of guy. You don’t like what he has to say, to hell with you. He never backed down from a fight. I couldn’t print 90 percent of what he told me. He was that honest, that blunt.

Like after Texas was shocked 66-3 by UCLA in 1997, a rout that basically sealed John Mackovic’s fate as head football coach and led Jamail to tell men’s athletic director DeLoss Dodds, “How much (expletive) money does it take to get my name off the field?”

Like when Mack Brown asked Joe to speak to the team and he told the players, “If you meet me in the courtroom, if you’ve got pride, you have a chance. If you don’t, I’ll whip your ass every time.” When he was told Mack didn’t like cussing around the team, Joe responded, “Then, why did he ask me to talk to the damn team?”

Exactly. You know what you got in Joe Jamail.

Friends and acquaintances of him had told me a long time ago he wasn’t all that happy with my version of the truth-telling concerning his beloved Longhorns, but when I met him in the flesh at a cocktail reception for Dodds’ induction into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame years ago, we hit it off. We must have spoken for half an hour about law and all things Longhorns, and when Dodds walked up and saw us sharing conversation and an alcoholic beverage, his face turned white.

Thereafter, Joe and I talked frequently, much to the displeasure of Dodds and Mack, whom he both represented. Joe always told me Mack implored him not to talk to reporters, and Joe being Joe, he always blew off the advice.

When Brown was hired at Texas, Darrell Royal told him to call Joe. Mack said he would immediately after the news conference. “No,” Darrell said, “call him now.” Mack did and they talked almost on a daily basis every day since.

“He was a great friend to both Darrell and Mack,” said Longhorns historian Bill Little, whose name adorns the football press box. “It seemed to me that Mack was like a son to him.”

For Texas home games, Joe always invited me to his luxury box at Royal-Memorial Stadium where his likeness oversaw the proceedings in the form of a well-deserved statue at the southeast end of the venue. I told Joe that I didn’t know if he should invite me because Mack’s wife, Sally, was there as were others who might not agree with my columns, and Joe said, “Screw ‘em. You’re my friend, and I’ll invite whoever I damn well please.”

Former UT had football coach Darrell Royal and Houston trial lawyer and UT athletics donor Joe Jamail do the hook-em along with their wives and UT president Larry Faulkner as statues of Jamail and Royal are unveiled at Royal Memorial Stadium Friday morning. Full left to right is Royal, wife Edith, Lee jamail, Joe Jamail, Larry Faulkner, statue of Jamail, statue of Royal. (Andrew Loehman for American-Statesman)
Former UT had football coach Darrell Royal and Houston trial lawyer and UT athletics donor Joe Jamail do the hook-em along with their wives and UT president Larry Faulkner as statues of Jamail and Royal are unveiled at Royal Memorial Stadium Friday morning. Full left to right is Royal, wife Edith, Lee jamail, Joe Jamail, Larry Faulkner, statue of Jamail, statue of Royal. (Andrew Loehman for American-Statesman)

That was vintage Joe. He didn’t care what anybody else thought. If you were his friend, you were for life. If you weren’t, well, that’s tough. Joe lived his life without apology, without regret.

“Joe had a personality bigger than Houston and a heart bigger than Texas,” said University of Texas regent Steve Hicks. “A true Longhorn forever.”

No one has ever spoken his mind quite like Joe.

Joe had an every-man’s bluntness about him. He despised political correctness, had no tolerance for fools and would draw people to him with his candor and, yes, his cussing. Never met a man who swore so casually and so constantly. Joe spoke his mind, and if you didn’t agree with him, you were welcome to be wrong.

One of the last conversations I had with him concerned the private airplane that flew over the stadium with a trailing banner that said “Fire Patterson.” Another source had told me Jamail had financed the operation, but when I asked him about it, he said, “That’s absolutely bullshit. You can go through my financial records. That’s a (expletive) lie.”

Maybe he protested too much. Or maybe he meant it. Quite often, he would confide to me that I was the only reporter he was talking to, even though I knew he didn’t mean it.

In my 42 years at the Statesman, the two biggest power brokers I’ve ever dealt with — not to mention two of the best sources — were the late Frank Erwin Jr. and Joe Jamail. Both loved the Longhorns to their very core and wanted them to be the best in everything. Neither had any tolerance for losing.

As Hicks told me: “Joe always watched the games from his suite with a patch over one eye so he could see the field better. He told me there were some games that he needed two patches.”

His vision for Texas was unlike that of anyone else. I’ll miss our frank conversations, and I will miss him. He was a legend in every definition of the word. And he was my friend.

A toast. To the biggest Longhorn of them all. Drink in peace.

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