Rex Nelson: The Record Speaks for Itself, David Bazzel


david bazzel

Rex Nelson Archive PageLet’s review a 24-hour whirlwind for Little Rock’s David Bazzel.

It was Thursday afternoon of last week, and the Little Rock Touchdown Club – which has been Bazzel’s baby since it was formed in 2004 – was holding its annual awards banquet at the Embassy Suites Hotel. Banquet day is always a busy day for Bazzel, but this year was busier than usual.

For the first time, the banquet featured a keynote speaker. That speaker just happened to be one of the most recognizable names in sports, Lou Holtz, who had coached Bazzel at the University of Arkansas.

Bazzel also had created the Cliff Harris Award, which will be given each year to the top small college defensive player in the country. Harris was in town for the presentation, and Bazzel had to see to it that he was taken care of in addition to Holtz.

Bazzel had created the Dan Hampton Award, which will go each year to the top high school and top college defensive linemen in Arkansas.

He had created the Willie Roaf Award, which will go each year to the top high school and top college offensive linemen in the state. By the way, Roaf also was in town for the banquet.

So in addition to worrying about VIPs Holtz, Harris and Roaf, there were five additional honorees to take care of this year along with the usual honors: The Paul Eells Award, awards for a player from each of the six high school classifications, awards for a coach from each of the six high school classifications and most valuable player awards given to athletes from each of the 12 colleges and universities in the state that field football teams.

Do the math.

That’s 30 players and coaches to honor.

That’s 30 sets of family members and friends to attempt to keep happy. 

And Bazzel was just getting started. He also had planned a 5 p.m. reception for former Razorbacks who had played for Holtz at the UA. 

Bazzel, a man constantly in need of more sleep, stayed at the Embassy Suites until midnight, making sure that his former coach had everything he needed. Holtz said he wanted his airline boarding passes for the next morning printed in advance. Bazzel drove home, printed the boarding passes, took what amounted to more of a nap than a good night’s sleep and then met Holtz at 5 a.m. Friday at the hotel.

Bazzel handed over the boarding passes, said goodbye to Holtz and then drove – probably a bit too fast – to Hot Springs. The radio show he co-hosts each Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. until 10 a.m. on KABZ-FM, 103.7, in Little Rock was broadcasting that day from Oaklawn Park. Operating on very little sleep, Bazzel left as soon as the show was over and made the curvy drive south on Arkansas Highway 7 to Arkadelphia. Ouachita Baptist University was honoring Harris, a 1970 graduate, with a luncheon that day, and Bazzel wanted to be there to show his respect for the former Dallas Cowboy star. After the luncheon, Bazzel accompanied Harris and dozens of others down the street to witness the demolition of the home side of Ouachita’s A.U. Williams Field to make way for Cliff Harris Stadium.

David Bazzel was among the last people to leave that event Friday afternoon. Let’s not forget that last Friday also was Valentine’s Day, and Bazzel has a girlfriend to worry about. 

Here’s the thing: That 24-hour period is more typical than atypical for Bazzel. You know the old saying about there being ideas people and details people. Bazzel is both. He comes up with plenty of ideas. Then, he’s a fanatic about ensuring that nothing falls through the cracks.

I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Bazzel on Touchdown Club activities for 10 seasons now. I remember vividly our lunch meeting over pasta (though, come to think of it, Bazzel probably was watching his figure at the time and had a salad) at Ciao in downtown Little Rock in 1984 when we first talked about forming the Little Rock Touchdown Club. Since then, it has grown into one of the largest clubs of its type in the country. More than 500 people were in attendance at last week’s banquet.

It has been easy to joke about Bazzel through the years due to his good looks, his penchant for wearing tight shirts with the sleeves cut off and his constant media presence. I’ve made more than my share of jokes with him sitting next to me at the podium during Touchdown Club meetings. But take it from someone who knows: Even though he’s a Florida native, no one loves the state of Arkansas more, and no one has done more during the past two decades to promote sports in the state.

On the evening of Friday, Feb. 28, Bazzel will be inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

Bazzel was a good college football player. His induction, though, has more to do with what he has accomplished since his playing career ended.

Bazzel grew up on the Florida Panhandle at Panama City and was a highly recruited high school player. The big three in his state – Florida, Florida State and Miami – all wanted him. So did Georgia. Bazzel liked Holtz. He liked the mountains around Fayetteville, a terrain quite unlike the flat pine forests that surround the town where he was raised. He liked the people of the state and their devotion to the Razorbacks. He signed with Arkansas.

Playing for Holtz and then Ken Hatfield, Bazzel was a team captain, a three-year-starter and a four-year letterman. One of his best performances came against Auburn University and Bo Jackson in the 1984 Liberty Bowl at Memphis despite the fact that Auburn won, 21-15. Jackson had a 40-yard run in the fourth quarter for what proved to be the winning score. Bazzel was the captain of the 1985 defensive unit that set a Southwest Conference record of allowing no rushing touchdowns during the conference season.

Prior to his full-time radio job, Bazzel was a weekend sports anchor and reporter for Little Rock television station KARK-TV, Channel 4. He did marketing for Gold’s Gyms and advanced the sport of weightlifting in high schools statewide. He wrote a newspaper fitness column for a time, was the chairman of the Arkansas Governor’s Council on Fitness for nine years (serving three governors – Bill Clinton, Jim Guy Tucker and Mike Huckabee), did ads on television for automobile dealerships and served as a close adviser to the late businessman Jennings Osborne. Bazzel also advised Frank Broyles on marketing issues when Broyles was the UA athletic director.

No project was too big or task too small when Bazzel worked for Osborne. He would help arrange Christmas light displays with executives for Elvis Presley Enterprises and Disney, making numerous trips to Memphis and Orlando. Yet he also would work the serving line for Osborne, dishing out ribs and more for hours at a time in places like Gillett when Osborne would hold his famous barbecues.

Adding Touchdown Club awards isn’t the only thing Bazzel has taken on this year. At the urging of UA athletic administrators, he has affiliated the Touchdown Club with the National Football Foundation. In essence, the Touchdown Club now serves as the NFF’s Arkansas chapter. Founded in 1947 with early leadership from Gen. Douglas MacArthur (a Little Rock native), legendary Army head football coach Earl “Red Blaik and sportswriting legend Grantland Rice, the NFF is a nonprofit organization with 210 chapters and more than 12,000 members nationwide. It operates the College Football Hall of Fame, the NFF Leadership Hall of Fame, the NFF Scholar-Athlete Awards, the NFF National Scholar-Athlete Alumni Association and the Hampshire Honor Society. Its awards dinner, held each December at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, is a black-tie event that always sells out. Bazzel has plans to strengthen the state’s ties to the NFF, which is headquartered at Dallas.

In 1996, Bazzel put Little Rock on the college football awards map when he established the Broyles Award to recognize the top college assistant coach in the country. Each year, five finalists are chosen from a field of more than 1,500 assistant coaches and are brought to Little Rock for a luncheon that attracts hundreds of people. More than 30 Broyles Award finalists have gone on to become head coaches. Past Broyles Award winners and finalists include Gus Malzahn, David Cutcliffe, Dana Holgerson, Mark Dantonio, Charlie Strong, Jimbo Fisher, Will Muschamp, Chris Peterson and Gary Patterson.

Bazzel now partners on the award with Rotary Club 99, which is among the largest and oldest Rotary Clubs in the country. But the Broyles Award never would have become a reality without him.

Also in 1996, Bazzel came up with the Battle for the Golden Boot. Arkansas was about to begin its fifth season in the Southeastern Conference, and Bazzel was concerned that the Hogs had yet to develop a real SEC rivalry. Thus the Boot, which is awarded each year to the winner of the LSU-Arkansas game. Molded in the shape of the states of Arkansas and Louisiana, the trophy stands four feet tall, weighs almost 200 pounds and has a value of more than $10,000. It’s likely the heaviest trophy awarded for any college football rivalry.

In Bazzel’s world, size matters when it comes to sports trophies.

The Boot is big.

The Broyles Award trophy is big.

The Cliff Harris Award trophy is big.

Even the plaques given the winners of the Dan Hampton Award and Willie Roaf Award last Thursday were big.

That’s as it should be since David’s accomplishments are big, as is his personality.

There are plenty of people already in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame who had more accomplishments on the field than David  Bazzel did. Ask me who in the Hall of Fame has done more to promote sports in our state, however, and I would have a hard time coming up with anyone who has a better record than the man they call The Baz. 

Congratulations, David.

Your induction is overdue.

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