Growing up as a young hunter, it would’ve been impossible for me not to know about bird dogs. Dad didn’t have one, but that didn’t matter; plenty of guys in the circle we hunted with did.
My hands-down favorite was Liz, a blond Lab owned by longtime family friend John Brose.
John had an array of fancy training gadgets, and he spent plenty of time in his backyard on Cedar St. putting Liz through her paces.
I’m not really sure just how good of a bird dog Liz was, but there was one thing she did better than any dog I knew at the time: Eat. It didn’t seem like it took all that long for Liz to go from svelte pup to two, two, two dogs in one, in her latter years a walking, barking barrel with a tail.
The formula for Liz’s bird dog diet was simple: one serving of dog food, and countless mini-servings of whatever the people around her were snacking on. The Broses never let their guests go hungry, and that went double for Liz.
That made her dangerous, particularly for young ‘uns like me, because the only thing bigger than Liz’s waistline was her rambunctious loving spirit. The rule when arriving at the Brose house, right as you walked through the door: Brace yourself. A twisting, twirling, boisterous battering ram of canine affection would be on you before you could say Jack Sprat; or, more appropriately for the Brose household, Jack Daniels. As the local liquor store owner, John ensured his guests would always have a spirited evening.
Growing up as a young Jayhawk, I loved basketball, and still do. I remember my first trip to Allen Field House, standing in the tunnel with my head tipped way, way back looking at the towering figures of the Jo Jo White-led heroes take the court. I’ve lived and died with the ups and downs of KU hoops for five decades. National championship coach Larry Brown once served me a burger he cooked, and when he asked if I wanted cheese on it, I was the one who melted.
But in all those years of avid fandom, I never knew that basketball had a bird dog, too.
The oversight came to light last week when our county schools were embroiled in substate hoops competition, and I found myself reading a referee handbook.
That’s where I discovered the bird dog, on a page with illustrations of referee signals. Under a picture of a referee with one arm raised and the other pointing forward at waist level was the revelation: Bird dog optional.
Bird-dogging, it turns out, is the act of indicating with the waist-level pointing arm what player just committed a foul. Once upon a time it was commonplace, but I never knew what it was called. The ref’s on point like a bird dog on a wounded quail. Everybody in the stand knew who the offender was.
Who knows why these days the bird dog is optional, and at some levels banned? I blame Fred Rogers and his neighborhood. I’m sure kindly, gentle Fred would never have approved of publically pointing out an individual for his or her foul; it would crush their self-esteem, and Fred Rogers probably wouldn’t even crush a garlic clove, even though you’re supposed to crush them.
However, as much as I love Fred, I can’t ignore that a piece of basketball history could be lost forever if I don’t do something about it, and by golly, I will.
Tomorrow, I’m going to start soliciting the basketball jersey sizes of every elected official in Marion County. I’m going to find out their team preferences, and if they like white home jerseys or colored away ones. I’ll let them choose their own numbers, and I let you guess as to which one I hope chooses double zero. I really can’t hope they’ll actually wear them, and there will probably be a whole new crop of folks in office before I can afford to buy all of them (jerseys, not officials).
But in the spirit of Fred Rogers, I can pretend. I can pretend they’re wearing those basketball jerseys, and when they commit a foul, I can leap into the fray with a whistle and a bird dog.
The great thing is, I don’t even have to use the signal. I’ll just use my fingers and a keyboard, and I’ll be sure to put the finished signal right here in these pages for you to see.
— bird dog dave