A CHANGED CHARACTER. AND THAT’S NO BULL. Next week, I’m going to a movie about the meanest, baddest linebacker to ever rip a helmet off a quarterback or start and finish a fight in Memphis. I’m going to a movie about a professional baseball player who was kicked out of the sport for the swings he took at players instead of the ball. I’m going to a movie about one of the most feared men in the NFL, and one of the most controversial because of his rabid rage on and off the field. I’m going to a movie about self-destruction, addiction, abuse, and about Jesus.
I’m going to see a movie about one of our own Memphis characters, John “Bull” Bramlett.
In the early 60s, I was playing number eight at Galloway, a par five then. The ground was as hard as the parking lot with the same amount of grass. I flat slapped my second shot and it just kept rolling and rolling and…hit Bull Bramlett in the ankle as he was putting. Bull Bramlett, as in mean for fun, as in the guy Joe Namath said hit him harder than anybody else, and whether or not he had the ball didn’t matter.
On the next hole, I did it again.
I didn’t see it happen this time because there’s a hill blocking the view of the green. I did see Bramlett come over that hill, my ball in his hand. He told me, and I’ll paraphrase, just exactly what he would do with that ball and to me if – not if I hit into him again – if he even saw me again. Ever. He didn’t. And I had to leave the golf course anyway because I had to change my shorts. And get under the bed.
I will see Bull again – in a brand-new documentary of his violent trip to the bottom and his rise in the arms of the faith he discovered down there. Those bearing witness are almost as unlikely angels as the Bull himself – Joe Namath, Larry Csonka, Bobby Bowden to name a few. Always a man possessed, playing and fighting larger than he was, the unlikely founder of John Bramlett Ministries is now possessed of a different spirit.
I’m an Episcopalian, so I don’t see this as a movie about conversion or evangelism. To stereotypical Episcopalians, conversion is moving from summer to fall wardrobe, evangelism is a Sunday brunch invitation, and being saved is a phone call from the broker right before the stock tanks.
This is a movie about redemption, not stereotypes.
While the need is universal, the particulars of the need are as individual and personal as each of us. John Bramlett is larger than life proof that redemption comes in all shapes and sizes, and that all of us are entitled to a custom fit.
I’m not sure of many things, but as far as hitting Bramlett with those golf balls is concerned, I’m sure of this. I’m forgiven.
I’m a Memphian, and I believe in redemption.
Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.