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In a couple of hours, I’m going to get in my truck and drive to my hometown of Lockhart. This will not be a fun trip, although I will try to make it a positive one.

I’m driving to my friend and teammate Charlie Branch’s funeral.

Charlie was a year younger than I, and a school class behind mine. Our first encounter was in Little League baseball. Charlie was a pitcher, and kind of a ten-year-old version of Bob Gibson. Batters were terrified of Charlie, who would not hesitate to stick one in their ear-flaps, intentionally or otherwise. I was terrified of Charlie for different reasons. I was his catcher. Any time I considered coming out to the mound to talk to him, he’d shoot me that “Don’t you even think about it” look. It was an earnest warning that I heeded.

But the thing is, Charlie and I always got each other. Always. And when we became high school varsity football teammates, our relationship was beyond great. Charlie was a cornerback. I played that safety/linebacker position known at the time as “rover.” So we were in the same secondary, often eyeball to eyeball. Football is not always fun. Playing on the same side with Charlie was fun.

It was fun even when it got crazy. In all the time I played football, I got into only two fights in practice. One was with Charlie. We kept waiting for coaches to pull us off each other, but they never did. We had to punch ourselves out, followed by the inevitable, “I love you, man.”

I have a hundred Charlie stories, because Charlie was a story-generating machine.

But this one is my favorite.

My senior season, Charlie’s junior, we won our district. It remains Lockhart’s only district championship since 1962.  You heard me.

Our bi-district playoff game was against Uvalde. They were 11-0, ranked second in the state, and had just wasted a Cuero team that had beaten us soundly in a non-district game early in the season. We had the pleasure of reading a newspaper prediction that said we didn’t “have a snowball’s chance in hell.”

Yeah. Things were a little tense.

It’s Tuesday’s practice. We are in a brief “live and in color” defensive session against the scout team offense.

On the first series, the offense ran a wide running play to Charlie’s side. Charlie lined the ballcarrier up, but then stepped away. There’s no other way to put this. He turned it down. Ole’.

We were all horrified. As a senior co-captain, I was contemplating calling him out, loudly.

As it turned out, I didn’t have to. Our head coach, Roy Dollar, got as angry as I ever saw him.  Understand, Coach Dollar was a composed man. Coach Dollar was not crazy. I’ve been around crazy coaches, and later became a crazy coach myself.

Coach Dollar turned crimson, and threw his cap. Coach Dollar got in Charlie’s face. “Charlie Branch! What if this had been a game?!”

I’m standing six feet away from this.

Charlie, calmly and without insolence. “Coach Dollar, if this had been a game, I’da stuck him and he’da coughed it up.”

Oh, motherofgod. Why don’t we all just start running now, and keep running until Valentine’s Day?

I stopped breathing.

Coach Dollar looks at Charlie. Make that, stares through Charlie. This goes on for what felt like a half hour.

And then, he just couldn’t help it. Coach Dollar tried and failed to stifle a laugh. It actually improved the tone of our practice.

Three nights later, at what was then Northside Stadium in San Antonio, Uvalde ran that same play early in the first quarter.

Charlie stuck him. Actually, Charlie impaled him. And, yeah, he coughed it up.

Lockhart 21, Uvalde 6. The snowball in hell prevailed.

So long, my wonderful friend.

I did all my crying earlier this week. I’m going to try not to do it today. But I’m not making any promises.

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Paul's Bio

I clearly have the attention span of your median fruit fly.Look! Airplane!

Sorry. I’m back.

It’s both a curse and a blessing. I’ve never bought this stuff about, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” But I do think that a wide range of life experiences helps us grow as people, and helps us better relate to other people. I’ve been fortunate. And I am beyond grateful.

I show up on time. I go like hell. I’m a good listener. I hold myself accountable. I own my mistakes. And I have a natural and an insatiable curiosity. I’m never afraid to say, “I don’t know,” when I don’t. But then I try to find out.

The flip side is I’m a lousy ballroom dancer and my clothes sometimes fit me funny.

Stuff matters to me. I care. But while I take that stuff seriously, I try hard to never take myself seriously. As a result, I have sometimes been told, “Paul, it’s hard to tell when you’re serious and when you’re just having some fun. Which is it? Serious or fun?”

My answer is “yes.” But I think that is a legitimate criticism. I promise I’m going to work on that.

This has been the quickest and strangest half-century I’ve ever experienced. During that period, I’ve been afforded amazing opportunities in news and sports journalism across all platforms. I have taught wonderful students at the high school and collegiate level. Always, I learned more from them than they did from me. I’ve been a high school administrator. I spent ten seasons as a high school varsity football coach. I’ve been an advertising executive. I’ve hosted nationally syndicated television entertainment shows. In maybe the biggest honor I ever received, I was selected by NASA to be “Chet The Astronaut” for the “Land The Shuttle” simulator at Space Center Houston. (All I can say there, is “Do as I say, not as I do.” I put that thing in the Everglades more often than not.) Most recently, I just wrapped up a decade as a television news director, during which time our teams distinguished themselves in holding the powerful accountable, achieving both critical and ratings success.

What does all that mean? It means I am profoundly grateful. It also means I’m ready for “next.” So here we are. Radically Rational. It’s an idea I woke up with in 2017. I scribbled “Radically Rational” on a piece of notebook paper and used a magnet to stick it on our refrigerator. I saw it every day, and it just would not leave me alone.

I am second in charge at Radically Rational, LLC. My wife, Jo (also known as BB), is the president. Clearly, I have failed in my attempt to sleep my way to the top of this organization.

I hope you will learn that I’m loyal as a Labrador. But I will admit that this doggie can bite every now and then. My promise to you? I will show up on time. I will go like hell. I will listen to you earnestly and attentively. I will hold myself accountable. I will never be the least bit hesitant to say, “I don’t know,” when I don’t.

But then I’ll try to find out. Let’s do it.