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Saying Thanks

Oct. 9, 2000

By Annabelle Vaughan N.C. State Asst. Athletic DirectorThe NC State Game Program – October 7, 2000

Fourteen years ago, in the summer between my junior and senior years of college, a busy man took the time out of his busy schedule to type a letter that would change the rest of my life. I’ve still got the letter, with the envelope postmarked June 13, 1986, and a postage price of 22 cents stamped on. I still pull it out of the drawer every now and then and wonder what my life would have been like if I had not received it.

The letter tells a great deal about its author. It’s obviously typed by hand, not by some secretary but by the sender himself. No word processor spit out these words – they were obviously pecked out on an old manual-model typewriter. He didn’t take the time to capitalize the letters, but he did take the time to ask about my summer, talk about a pretty good lunch buffet he had encountered in my hometown and offer me a job as a student assistant in the Clemson Sports Information Office.

I remember how excited I was when I saw that letter sitting in my parents’ mailbox. I had gone by to see Bob Bradley (known to all as Mr. B) that spring at the advice of a friend who lived down the hall in my dorm. I was about to finish my junior year of college and really had no idea what I wanted to do after graduation. I was an English major, had won some writing awards and was an avid sports fan. I devoured game programs and media guides, but had somehow never thought that there must be an office somewhere where they put all these things together.

When I got up the nerve to call Mr. Bradley (I can’t even imagine that I was nervous about calling him now. No one could possibly feel ill at ease or uncomfortable around him), he was very polite, but wasn’t able to see me right then. He explained that he was in a big baseball series in Greenville and the ACC tournament was about to begin, which I realized later was one of the busiest times of his year, but he promised to try to squeeze me in when he got a minute.

It only took a couple of days, even though he was driving back and forth to the baseball games, for him to call back and ask me to come by and see him.

There was barely a place to sit in his office in those days. Neat stacks of papers and books lined the walls, the floors, the desktop and the chairs. But despite the cluttered surroundings, I don’t think I’ve ever had so cordial a host. It was my first job interview, so I had prepared answers about my writing skills, my work ethic – I even had a list of references ready for him to call. But instead of a formal interview, it seemed more like catching up on old times with your favorite uncle.

He asked about my family, my hometown and we chatted about my plans for the future (which were pretty non-existent at that point). He called in his assistants, Tim Bourret and Kassie Kessinger, and they sat and talked for a while. Finally, Mr. Bradley got up, thanked me sincerely for coming by and told me they would sit down and try to figure out if they needed my help in the office the next fall.

I couldn’t believe it! He hadn’t asked for writing samples or what my grade point average was (and it was pretty high, so I was hoping he would ask!). He didn’t quiz me about who held the Clemson rushing or passing records (I had actually looked some of those things up – I guess I thought I was going on Jeopardy or something). He had, however, gotten my home address and telephone number and promised to be in touch.

I didn’t know then what I know now – that Mr. B. is ALWAYS true to his word, whether he’s dealing with a head coach or a sportswriter or an insecure college student. Within a month, I had my letter and knew that in the fall, I would start working in the Clemson Sports Information Office.

I discovered later that there was a multitude of students who wanted to work in that office, but Mr. B. saw something in me that he thought showed promise and he gave me a chance. I was so ignorant of the profession (I didn’t even know that there was no cheering allowed in the press box!), but I saw very quickly that I had an excellent example to follow. It was so exciting to be behind the scenes and to see people I thought were “famous,” like Brent Musberger. It was obvious that those well-known people all held Mr. B. in the highest regard, but what was even more impressive was that the guys who wrote for the little hometown papers across the state also held him in high regard. Mr. Bradley treated everyone the same and always has.

I learned so much during the eight years I worked at the Clemson Sports Information Office, and continue to learn from his example every day. I’ve learned that always having a positive attitude, whether your team is losing or you’re battling a devastating disease, will make every day a good day. I’ve learned that asking a sportswriter about his wife and children is just as important as making sure he’s got the updated statistics and game notes. I’ve learned that answering your phone calls and mail personally means more than winning writing awards. I’ve learned the importance of relationships in this business and in any business, and I’ve certainly learned a lot about loyalty and dignity.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago, but I’ve come a long way since I opened that letter more than 14 years ago. Now I’m the one urging people not to cheer in the press box and trying to make sure the local radio guys are given the red-carpet treatment just as the guys from ESPN are. I made the jump from student assistant, to graduate assistant to full-time assistant at Clemson, went on to be the Sports Information Director at East Tennessee State University and am now finishing my second year as the Assistant AD for Media Relations at North Carolina State. I’ve visited so many schools and met so many people, but it doesn’t matter where I go, whenever anyone in the business of athletics finds out that I was at Clemson, they ask if I know Bob Bradley.

I take great pride when I tell these people that Bob Bradley hired me. It seems to me that those people automatically look at me with more respect – that’s how much clout his name brings. I don’t think I fully appreciated it when I worked in the office with him every day, but now hardly a week goes by that I’m not reminded in some way just how special it is to be able to say I worked with Bob Bradley.

I’ve been to well over 100 football games since that time and seen even more basketball contests, which makes me a rookie compared to my mentor, who just saw his 500th football game. I can’t imagine how different my life would be right now if I hadn’t gotten that letter back in 1986. That little piece of paper will always be as special to me as my degree or any accolades or honors that I have won. Not only would the course of my life be different, but I would be different as well without having his example to follow.

I don’t talk to Mr. B. as often as I should or as often as I would like, but I talk ABOUT him more than he can ever imagine. We’ve written each other many letters since the summer of 1986, but I don’t think I’ve ever written to him about how much I, as well as countless others, appreciate him, love him and treasure him. I guess this is that letter. Thanks, Mr. B.