“Joe’s Big Note from Dabo Swinney,” April 23, 2018

When I think of things that reaffirm my faith in a loving God, I think of babies. And sunsets. And the kindness of strangers. And people who are good to my brother.

Joe is blind. Has been all his life. If you’ve read this column with any regularity in the 25 years I’ve been writing it, you probably know him well. I often write about him. He’s the most courageous, most inspiring and most mule-headed human being I have ever met.

Recently I wrote a column in which I mentioned, among other things, that Joe would soon celebrate his birthday; that he is a huge fan of Clemson Tigers’ football; and that he gets really mad if I tell him what to do, so I usually try to avoid it. In response to that column I heard from a lot of kind readers who wanted me to wish Joe a happy birthday for them. Which, of course, I did. Then last week I received an email from someone in the football offices at Clemson University, asking for Joe’s address. They’d read my column about Joe in their local paper, the Anderson Independent Mail, and said Coach Dabo Swinney wanted to send him a note.

This may sound blasphemous, but I have to tell you: For an orange-blooded Tiger fan like my brother, getting a note from Dabo Swinney is a little like getting a note from Jesus. I emailed back to thank them, and explained that Joe can’t read mail unless it’s in Braille. I promised if they’d send the note to me, I’d read it to Joe over the phone, then forward it to him.

So they did. It arrived in an envelope embossed with an orange tiger paw. Enclosed were Swinney’s business card; a poker chip declaring “I’m all in!” (a token of the commitment Swinney requires of his players); and a handwritten note done with a purple pen (Clemson’s colors are orange, purple and white) signed “Dabo Swinney.”

I phoned my brother and left a message (he never answers his phone) saying “I have a note for you from somebody you’ll want to hear from. Call me.” Minutes later, he called. “Hey, Sister, you’ve got a note for me from somebody?”

“Yes, I have,” I said. “Are you sitting down?”

He had to think about that. “Uh, yeah,” he said. “I am.”

“It’s from Dabo Swinney,” I said.

A momentary dead silence made me fear he’d had a stroke. Then he shrieked into my ear.

“Hoo-wee! From Coach Swinney? For me?”

I read the note aloud: “Joe, thank you for being a loyal Tiger fan. I hope you enjoy our 2018 season. We got a good team. God bless, and happy bday! Go Tigers! (signed) Dabo Swinney.”

Joe laughed the way he does when something is too fine for him to picture. Finally he said, “Well, don’t that just beat all?”

He didn’t bother to ask how Swinney knew about his birthday. He knows I write about him. He doesn’t care.

“I’m going to send Coach Swinney a note to thank him,” I said. “Is there anything you’d like me to tell him for you?”

“Tell him I sure do appreciate him thinking of me and wishing me a happy birthday. And tell him good luck on their next season! I’ll be pulling for ‘em all the way. I’ll be proud of ‘em, win or lose, come what may!”

I’ve never coached, but I know some things about coaches. My first husband coached high school basketball for 30 years until he lost a battle with cancer. Coaches love to win. They love to win almost as much as they hate to lose. But some of them — the good ones — also love to encourage and inspire and bring out the best in their teams and in everyone around them.

Dabo Swinney’s note did that for a man who has never seen a football, but loves the game with a passion. It made my brother very happy. And it made his sister, who doesn’t cry easily, shed a few Tiger orange tears.



  1. Shelley Kellerman says

    What a great story!! I am so glad your brother got the surprise and you hand a hand in it all. You are one of the best sisters!!

  2. Sharon, I would love to hear one day that sweet Joe got to go to Death Valley to hear his tigers play! That would be awesome. Love your writing! Thanks for the words of encouragement you always have tucked in somewhere,

  3. Becky Hartman says

    This die-hard Woooooo Pig Sooooie fan loves your column, even after finding out you and yours are die-hard Tiger fans. Great story. Keep them coming. Our tired-confused world needs to be reminded there is lots of goodness happening everywhere.

  4. Sharon, this was great of you to help Joe. I feel as though I know you and your family. I can’t wait to read your column every Sunday in the Bristol Herald Courier, in Bristol, Va. My Mom & I saw you when you were here around Mother’s Day. Good luck on your move back home. Tell your husband to take it easy. Be there done that. Bless you dear friend. Connie Burnette.

  5. Shirley Bolt says

    Love you Sharon & Joe! And love my Tigers!
    Also love Dabo & Coach V & Ben Boulware!
    Ninny Bolt

  6. E.Lynne Denney says

    That is just precious! A wonderful memory for you & your brother!

  7. “Well, don’t that just beat all” is right! I’m shedding Tiger orange tears, too, thanks to you and your marvelous storytelling.
    Here’s to another 25 years of writing.

  8. As always another beautiful piece about the beautiful, simple things in life that touch us, inside. Happy birthday to Joe! And blessings on Coach Swinney.

  9. Love your column. Sometimes it seems like a personal letter. God has given you a wonderful gift.

  10. Linda Kantowski says

    Hoo-wee Ms. Sharon, you sure are a mighty fine example of a loving sister! (Also a Nana, wife, mother, columnist and friend) The world is a richer place because of you.

  11. Kate Sciacca says

    And it made a purebred baseball mama shed quite a few tears. Been a tough week around these parts, thanks for this awesome story of love and kindness.

  12. libby nowell says

    Sharron, I am a Roll Tide fan all the way. Like everyone else in my state you pick in grammar school and you stick with your team come what may. Since Dabo graduated from and played from Alabama I am a fan of his, but I might just cheer for him this year. Especially if he beats Auburn.

  13. Dick Daniel says

    The time it took Coach Swinney to write that note made a difference. Big time college coaches are hard pressed to find time to do anything outside of their job descriptions. I hope Coach knows his extra effort to make time to do something so nice is worth it. Good for him!

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