This was the spring of 2014. Doug Cunningham, deservedly, was going into Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame later that summer. We were doing a videotaped interview that would be part of his induction presentation.
I was trying to get Doug to tell the story about the time when he was a rookie with the San Francisco 49ers when some of his 49er teammates, as a prank, had the equipment manager replace “Cunningham” on the back of his jersey with “Goober.”
They thought Cunningham, the good-natured rookie from Louisville, Miss., and Ole Miss talked like Goober on the Andy Griffith Show.
I had heard Doug tell the story several times in the past. Trust me, it was hilarious. “Hey, I was a rookie, what was I supposed to do?” he’d say. The punchline was the NFL’s reaction, which was to place a league rule banning nicknames from the backs of uniforms.
Only this time, at the Hall of Fame, Doug couldn’t tell the story. He knew what he wanted to say. The words just wouldn’t come. He’d start. He’d lose his train of thought. He’d stammer. He’d become frustrated. He’d try to start again. He’d stop.
“What was it I was talking about?” he’d say.
Says Allen Cunningham, Doug’s widow, “It’s really difficult to watch your husband go through what Doug went through.”