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Kantowski: Remembering ‘The Acorn’ who fell from boxing’s tree

Ten years ago, I spent the better part of a day with Earnie Shavers, the former heavyweight contender who was 78 when he died Thursday.

A friend from back east had spotted “The Acorn,” — what Muhammad Ali called Shavers owing to his bald pate — signing autographs for a fee at the airport. Business wasn’t exactly brisk.

My friend thought it sad that people were walking right past Shavers on their way to Orange Julius or the duty-free shop, because Shavers once had anvils for fists, and his thunderous punches had Ali in all kinds of trouble during their grueling 1977 title bout that lasted 15 rounds.

“Earnie Shavers hit me so hard he shook my kinfolk in Africa,” Ali famously said two years before Shavers dropped Larry Holmes with another lightning bolt at Caesars Palace before being stopped in the 11th round in another classic rumble.

Gene Kilroy, who was Ali’s business manager, set up a meeting at a bagel joint. The waitress brought the engaging Shavers his usual breakfast – eight slices of crisp bacon on one plate, about a half loaf of wheat toast on another.

Then who should come bopping through the door but Roberto Duran. And Mrs. Duran. She wrote in my notebook that her name was Felicidad, and that she had been married to “Hands of Stone” for 40 years.

Shavers and Duran were going to the airport to sign autographs after breakfast. Earnie said I could ride along. Roberto was spouting off in Spanish about having swum in the Panama Canal when he was a kid, and Mrs. Duran couldn’t write fast enough to explain the point he was trying to make.

What I most remember was The Acorn and Hands of Stone sitting for hours at a fold-up table on another slow day at the memorabilia shop. They playfully jabbed at each other, hoping that somebody who remembered when they threw thunderous punches in earnest would come inside.

And that $19.95 for a signed 8 x 10 photo wasn’t too much to ask for the memories.

Around the horn

— Faith Lutheran grad Erich Uelmen recently received a special gift from his grandma, Diane, after he pitched for the Cubs against the Brewers — a commemorative baseball, still encased in the plastic wrapping, from the Miller Park groundbreaking ceremony she attended in 1996 when her grandson was 6 months old.

Grandma said she was saving it for the day Erich pitched in Milwaukee, after which she would give it to him.

“I was surprised,” Uelmen told Cubs field reporter Taylor McGregor. “It was a new story for me. It was cool to see her excitement and genuine joy to be here and experience the moment.”

— Last week UNLV opened its football season at Allegiant Stadium on a swath of pockmarked turf that resembled a tee box at a municipal golf course. The end zones were painted black and silver. An announced crowd of 19,579 rattled around a cavernous 65,000-seat football barn like peas in the Jolly Green Giant’s pod.

On Saturday San Diego State cut the ribbon on Snapdragon Stadium on its satellite campus that seats almost 35,000. The focus was on building a modern stadium that was “the right size for the program.” The turf was in pristine condition and the end zone paint matched the Aztecs’ colors.

— The readers sometimes write: WJmatos@cox.net inquired about the most points scored by the UNLV football team in a single game after it scored a bunch of them (52) in a season-opening victory over Idaho State.

The answer is 80 — also against Idaho State, in 2015. Other top point performances were 72 vs. New Mexico in 1980, 69 vs. Wyoming in 2016 and 69 vs. Cal Tech in 1968.

0:01

It took former Liberty High star Germie Bernard less than a quarter to score to score his first Michigan State touchdown on a 44-yard catch and run against Western Michigan Friday.

It was a difficult reception made at full stretch, but the true freshman made it look a lot easier than playing against Bishop Gorman.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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