The teenaged boy was approaching the second green of the 9-hole public golf course he played with his dad, usually on hot, summer weekend afternoons. The boy and his dad liked it that way, when the course was less crowded, even if the heat and humidity compelled most people to head indoors and drink a cold one, usually those bottles of Coca Cola that had the steam coming out of them when opened.
His dad was in the right rough, near the hedgerow that separated the golf course from the parking lot of the neighboring apartment complex and was situated near a department store and a combination shopping mall and office building. A well-built African-American man was jogging on the fringe rough, pushing himself hard. I remember that he looked determined, cut, that he was working hard.
The dad was looking for his ball, waved to the jogger, said "Hi, Champ." The jogger nodded in recognition of the greeting, mumbled hello, and kept on jogging. He would repeat a loop around the course, up and down its terrain, which included a big hill or two, for a while, perhaps an hour.
When they got to the green, the son was curious. His father was a friendly guy, the type who said hello to everyone, but he normally said only hello. He wasn't one of those guys who called everyone "champ" or "buddy" or "chief" or anything like that.
"Who was that?" the son asked. "Do you know him."
"Don't know him, but know of him. That guy," the father said, "is Matthew Saad Muhammad. He's the light heavyweight champion of the world."
The son looked at the jogger, still running hard, in the distance. It was pretty cool, seeing the light heavyweight champion of the world doing his running on this small, friendly golf course. Apparently, he lived nearby, and his was quite a story.
That teenaged boy was me, the dad my father, and the place was a small course in the Philadelphia suburbs that once had been a private country club. The champion once was named Matthew Franklin, was abandoned as a young boy, took up boxing after he got into trouble, and was one tough fighter, a "Rocky" type who could fall behind in a fight and battle his way out of it. Many of his fights were brutal, and he won many more than he lost.
He was young, he was tough, but he didn't know how to manage his money, and he paid for everyone and everything. He tried working different jobs, but, well, time and a lack of post-boxing skills has taken its tolls. Matthew Saad Muhammad, at 56, walked into a homeless shelter in Philadelphia the other day. Out of money, out of luck, out of places to go.
You can read his story here
And a tough one it is. But the one thing that you cannot escape is that despite his reputation for being a fearsome fighter, at the core he's a nice man.
A nice man in need of a few breaks.
Someone who entertained and thrilled many, someone who gave his profession his all.
Here's to hoping that he can renew himself and combine his fearsomeness and fierceness as a fighter to rebuild his life and emerge from his current set of problems.
Deep down, he's still the champ, and no one can take that away from him.
Here's to hoping that he still has many, many rounds to go.