Memoir recounts father's grief cycle

Book Review

March 14, 2006|By PAUL MCMULLEN | PAUL MCMULLEN,SUN REPORTER

Riding with the Blue Moth

Bill Hancock

Sports Publishing LLC/246 pages

Full disclosure: I have known and liked Bill Hancock since 1995, when first- and second-round games of the NCAA basketball tournament were played at what is now 1st Mariner Arena.

Hancock was then in the midst of a 12-year run as operations director of the NCAA tournament, and said that my hometown would be an ideal Final Four site, if only it had a domed stadium.

The NCAA tournament that begins tonight bears the stamp of Hancock, who standardized the experience. Whether you are playing in Baltimore, Boise or Boston, the NCAA provides the same water bottles, news conference schedules and pecking order in hotels. That's the doing of Hancock, who literally wrote the book on how to run both a Final Four and a sub-regional.

College basketball has defined his life, for good and bad.

On Jan. 27, 2001, a charter plane carrying 10 people, including two members of the Oklahoma State men's team, crashed outside Denver. None survived. The publicist on board was Will Hancock, Bill's oldest son. He left a wife, Karen, who remains the Cowgirls' soccer coach; an infant daughter, Andie, who is now 5 years old; and a mother and father facing a parent's worst horror.

Long before that tragedy, Eddie Sutton had an alcohol problem, one he has yet to solve.

Bill Hancock dealt with his grief by bicycling across the continental U.S. In the summer of 2001, at age 50 and well past his marathoning days, from Huntington Beach, Calif., to Tybee Island, Ga., Hancock rode more than 2,700 miles in 36 days, accompanied by his wife Nicki - his SAG team, support and guidance - and the titular Blue Moth.

Hancock is a native of Oklahoma, where cold fronts are known as "blue northers." Through his grandmother's North Carolina drawl, Hancock heard "blue moth." He used the term to describe the chilling depression that enveloped him after his son's death.

Along the way, Hancock kept a journal, which developed into his first book. Besides exploring his own healing, Hancock has written a fine travelogue, one that crosses nine states, from Arizona desert to Alabama backroads.

If you have sworn off self-help books, don't be scared off. Hancock's book is sentimental without being maudlin. It benefits from a clever, handsome design and shockingly poignant prose for a man whose previous writing experience was for a small Oklahoma weekly. You can hear Hancock sing, and smell his afternoon odor.

Hancock now oversees the Bowl Championship Series. Two months ago, while catching a flight out of Los Angeles to the Rose Bowl, he fell and broke a leg. He walked into the Rose Bowl on crutches, and shrugged off the calamity.

"I have to cherish every day," he said last week. "We all do."

You do not have to know Hancock to enjoy his book. It will help if you love basketball, your children, grandchildren, or the open road.

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

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