Taz Anderson was smart and fearless and, best of all if you were a journalist, ready and willing to speak on the record. He didn't like it when Dave Braine handed Chan Gailey a new contract and proclaimed that Taz's beloved alma mater would never win big consistently -- didn't like it and said so: "I'm disappointed Georgia Tech would expect mediocrity in anything."
Taz Anderson died Monday. He was 77. He'd had 43 rounds of surgery and was awaiting a 44th. He'd been on the waiting list for a heart valve when his kidneys began to fail. He'd been in the Cardiac Care Unit for two weeks -- "He was fine up until then," his wife Greg said -- and then he was gone. I miss him already. I liked him a lot.
We'd corresponded last month about Mike Bobinski's exit as Tech athletic director. We discussed about the possibility that the Jackets would hire alum Todd Stansbury away from Oregon State. "I've always thought a Tech AD should have gold in his blood," Taz said. I looked for him at Stansbury's press conference Thursday. He wasn't there. I meant to call him that afternoon. I didn't. Wish I had.
His family thought it was funny that, back in the spring, he did an interview with me from a hospital bed . I did, too. He was in Piedmont, recovering from Surgery No. 43 -- a hip replacement. I'd called to ask his thoughts about Calvin Johnson retiring at age 30. Like Taz, Johnson played at Tech. Like Taz, Johnson had been injured while playing football. The damages of an NFL career had become one of Taz's most ardent causes. (Of his 43 surgeries, he attributed 30 to football.)
I'd dialed his cell number, clueless as to where he was. When he told me, I said, "Is it a good idea for you to be talking?" He said it wasn't as if he was going anywhere. We gabbed for a half-hour. That day he told me about being blindsided by the Packers' Willie Wood . Other times he told me about his old coach Bobby Dodd, or about playing golf with Paul Johnson, or about his trip to Newcastle upon Tyne and the Geordies he encountered, or about meeting Sarah Palin.
That was Taz -- savvy and successful and good-humored and a teller of stories. He had an unmistakable voice and a huge laugh. I can't say I numbered among his closest friends, but I like to think I knew him a little. I was pretty sure he'd had one heck of a life.
It was always a bit puzzling to me that we connected. Tech fans are sure I hate their team. (Georgia fans are sure I hate theirs, too, but they didn't dub me "Bark Madly.") In the days before email, Taz wrote me a letter saying he appreciated my candor, this at a time when other eminent Institute grads were writing to liken me to a horse's hindquarters.
I appreciated Taz's note so much I picked up the phone and told him thanks. For the next 20 years, I was forever picking up a phone to check in. I quoted him in probably a dozen stories, only half involving Tech. He was on the board at the World Congress Center. He was responsible for the faux Olympic flame by the Varsity -- "Taz's Tower" -- and laughed off any criticism of it. He sat front-row at Tech basketball games.
In sum, he was a big deal. Everyone knew Taz. Two days after Tech beat Georgia in 2008, we had lunch in Vinings across the street from his office. Every person who entered that restaurant congratulated him.
Whenever I drove through Vinings, I'd be reminded of Taz. His office is smack by the train tracks that are the bane of Vinings drivers' lives. The posh-looking condominiums at the top of the hill are a Taz development. (He used to tell me he'd have "the Bradley Unit" ready for when my daughters were grown. I'd tell him I could never afford it. He said he'd get me a rate.)
Every time I cover a Tech game, I'm reminded of what Taz told me: "The first thing I look for when I get to the stadium is to see if we're wearing gold." (With all the uniform permutations in neo-football, that's no longer a given.) His memorial service is Thursday morning. I'll wear a gold tie.