My wife and I have a date with a shark on Friday night.
We’re going to see “JAWS” on the big screen at the Paramount Arts Center. The last time I saw it up close and personal like that may have been the summer it hit theaters for the first time in 1975, the summer after Beth and I graduated high school.
My good buddy Bill Hornbuckle was an assistant manager at the Midtown Cinemas which, if rumor is correct, will soon be a Planet Fitness gym. Bill worked the weekend shifts and I was working the same at the newspaper. When a new feature came to the theater, it often came on the bus and it was dropped off late Saturday nights. I’m not sure Bill was supposed to be showing the movies to anybody, but he did anyway.
I worked until about midnight and Bill called and invited me over to watch this new movie about sharks. It was practically a private showing with a handful of us there to catch the first glimpse. We were all terrified, especially with that initial scene, when the swimmer gets taken down in the dark ocean. That gets me every time! (I’ll let you know if it does this time as well).
All movies are better on the big screen and this one particularly belongs there. I’ve watched JAWS on television screens many times over the past 42 years. It’s never been quite as startling as that first time, sitting in the dark movie theater, practically alone, when the swimmer goes down for the last time. Too bad she couldn’t hear the music like the rest of us. We knew that shark was coming!
The late Bill Tom Ross saw the movie in Myrtle Beach while vacationing with Herb Conley that summer. The coaches were plotting summer camp for the Ashland Tomcats football team and the 1975 season looked to be particularly promising. Ross was so engrossed with the movie he thought it’d be a good idea to name the Tomcats’ defense JAWS. Coach Conley didn’t exactly jump at the idea. He wanted to make sure the Tomcats could live up to the nickname because it could be a big embarrassment if they couldn’t. He was imagining headlines like “JAWS defense toothless in loss” or something similar.
He need not have worried. Coach Conley got his answer in the first week of the season in a thrashing of Johnson Central and officially began calling the defense of Ashland’s 1975 team “JAWS” after the high-grossing movie. The Tomcats showed some sharp teeth in a 14-1 season that featured some terrifying hits from the likes of Terry Bell, Jay Shippey, Chuck Anderson, Casey Jones, Rick Sang, Greg Jackson and others.
When the band played the JAWS shark approaching song became a fan favorite. Everybody caught on to the JAWS theme, especially the players who knew they had a lot to live up to that season. Forty-two years later, people in Ashland still talk about the JAWS team. One of its key members, Casey Jones, recently passed away.
JAWS is a classic movie too and one of several the PAC is showing for a $7 admission. The next one is “Gone with the Wind” and we’ll probably be there for that one, too.
I’m sure none of our area football teams want to use that one as a motto for the season.