The Manager's Museum
As any collector knows, it takes patience to build a store of treasures. Patience, and a little luck.
By Bill Edmunds
- Jimmie with wife Donna.
- Standing outside of his backyard museum, Jimmie Callaway cradles the pigskin he retrieved as a young ball boy during Florida State's first football game.
- Callaway's National Championship rings are showcased in the shadow of the jersey worn by Charlie Ward (B.S. '93) during the 1994 Orange Bowl.
- Callaway got his hands on a plethora of Seminole relics.
- "JC My Buddy-4-life. Deion Sanders Prime Time 21 P.S. The Fish are biting."
- Callaway's fortuitous finds include footballs from Tommy Brown's record punt and FSU's first game, plus the university's first letterman's jacket.
- Callaway attended Sanders's Pro Football Hall of Fame induction at the player's invitation.
- Callaway reflects in his makeshift museum.
- Callaway with Frank Vohun's unusual helmet.
- Callaway's collection includes the ball from FSU's first basketball game.
- Callaway's coat rack includes Bowden's V-neck sweater, a 1947 jersey and Bill Peterson's coaching jacket from the 1960s.
Jimmie Callaway has plenty of both. As equipment manager for the Florida State University football team during most of the Bobby Bowden era, he also had access to the ephemera of college athletics — the game-day programs, the roughed-up jerseys, the forgotten photographs, the worn-out and cast-off pieces a team leaves behind as it plays opponents and moves through the schedule.
“I was there,” Callaway said recently at his hilltop home near Tallahassee’s Lake Jackson. “I was on the inside of the fence. I’ve been to practices, staff meetings, trips. I mean, I’ve been all over the United States with the football team, whether it’s in California, New York or Miami. I’ve been everywhere.”
With all that access and with patience, luck and the blessing of an understanding wife, Callaway put together an astounding assortment of FSU memorabilia that tells the story of the Seminoles, from their humble start with an 0-5 season to their reach for bowl games, glory and national championships.
The ball used to kick off the first game, in 1947? He’s got it. The jerseys with no numbers worn by players in the first team photo? He’s got those, too, and they look like new. How about the first letterman’s jacket ever awarded to an FSU athlete? Coach Bill Peterson’s handsome wool jacket, the one he wore to every game? Rings and watches from the bowl victories?
He’s got them all, and plenty more, picked up here and there through years of working with the coaches, players and staff, first as a volunteer and then as the man responsible for the minutia of a national program, from shoe laces, helmets and shoulder pads to the footballs themselves and even the luggage for the road games.
Being an equipment manager is a big job. With so many moving pieces there is a lot that can go wrong, and success requires a hard-nosed individual who can track the details and keep everything in order, and working, at all times. “The toughest, orneriest sergeant in managerial history” is how Bowden described Callaway in a signed photo, and it’s an apt description. Yet Callaway, known as “J.C.” to his friends, also paid attention to the human challenges, and he became a figure of strength and security for a number of players who at times now call him “Dad.” Through it all, Callaway built not just an impressive collection of Seminole history but also a storehouse of anecdotes, memories, friendships and experiences for him and his family.
“You’re looking at an era in FSU’s history that was probably the most special one of all,” explained his wife, Donna, a well-known educator in Florida and an FSU graduate. “You don’t ever create those things again. You can try, but personalities are different, society is different, expectations are different. During that era we became part of a real strong family. Families of faith — we were all in church. We all enjoyed each other’s kids. It was just a great time.”
Callaway doesn’t have everything FSU — no collection is ever complete — but he has more than anyone, and more than he can display in the shrine to all things Seminole he built just a few steps out the back door of his family’s home.
Every visitor to the museum finds something of special interest, but perhaps the most valuable, to history at least, is the beaten old football from 1947 — Callaway’s first, but not last, lucky break in the collection game.
Callaway is a native of Tallahassee and, as he put it, “grew up at Florida State,” attending Florida High, the university’s developmental research school, from kindergarten through senior year and graduation. He played baseball and basketball in high school, and early on he had a knack for being at the right place at the right time for sports history.
Barely into his teens, he handled bats for the Tallahassee Pirates, a short-lived and largely forgotten farm team for the Pittsburgh Pirates, during home games at Centennial Field, at the other end of Gaines Street from Doak Campbell Stadium. Florida State, new to men’s sports and without a field of its own, played its first season there.
“I was a ball boy at the first game, in ’47,” Callaway recalled. “Coach Haskins [an assistant to head coach Ed Williamson, 0-5 in his first and only season] asked me to help with the balls, because I hung out there all the time. I was about 12 years old. … Right at the beginning of the game, the ball went out of bounds, and I got it. He asked me to stick it in a box so they can save it, and I held on to it. They never asked for it after the game, and I kept it, thinking eventually he’d ask for it.”
The ball may have been historic, but in the eyes and hands of a 12-year-old boy it was, well, just a pretty nice football.
“I played with it around the house,” Callaway said, a bit sheepishly, and indeed he did.
The ball bears the scars of youthful wear and tear.
“I shouldn’t have done it,” he said, “but I didn’t realize then that one day it would be valuable.”
Nevertheless, he saved the ball and preserved its story — and that was just the start.
There’s the ball Tommy Brown sent flying 84 yards with a monster kick in the last game of the Seminoles’ undefeated 1950 season.
“He held the record at FSU for the longest punt in FSU history,” Callaway noted, and still does.
Legend has it the ball bounced out of the end zone and into the cars parked outside the new Doak Campbell Stadium. True, Callaway verified. He should know. He ran out to the parking lot and scooped it up. Another case of right place, right time for Jimmie Callaway.
Callaway also has a ball from the 1977 Tangerine Bowl. It’s not the most handsome piece in his collection — it is an odd orange color — but it comes from the first of many bowl appearances under Bowden, and it is signed by team leader Ron Simmons. It’s a keeper.
Like any collection, this one has a few curiosities — the oddest piece being Frank Vohun’s helmet. Vohun (B.S. ’70), who played defensive tackle for FSU from 1965 to 1969, had one proud feature.
“Frank had a nose like no other human being,” Callaway said, and a regular facemask rubbed him.
“We had to get a motorcycle helmet,” Callaway explained. “We heated the helmet and flattened it, and then got an old face mask and heated it and bent it to where it would come out longer than his nose, and that’s what Frank played football in.”
The motorcycle helmet and its metal-flake shine stood out, and the other lineman razzed Vohun mercilessly for it. It was supposed to be a temporary solution for a week or so until the arrival of a real helmet of adequate dimensions. In reality, Vohun said from his home in Villa Rica, Ga., he wore the helmet in “five or six games, half the season or more.” It was, he recalled, one hot piece of protection, and a second version was not much better, even after Callaway drilled some air holes. Nevertheless, Vohun survived the custom head guard, completed his degree in health and physical education and came back to the team as a graduate assistant. He retired this fall from a career of coaching college and high school teams.
Callaway’s collection is overwhelmingly football, but not entirely. Here and there are pieces from other sports. The most significant comes, once again, from Callaway being where he needed to be. While in high school he helped keep the scorebook during games at the West Campus out at the old Dale Mabry Field, once an airport, then home to the men when FSU went co-ed after World War II and now the site of Tallahassee Community College. Callaway came away with the first basketball used by the men’s team in 1948.
There’s also the worn and beaten letterman’s jacket.
“Hank Mercer came to me, way back about ’76 or ’77,” Callaway recalled, “and said, ‘Can I make a trade-in?’”
This was no ordinary offer. Mercer was, it turns out, FSU's first letterman (in golf, 1948 and 1949).
“He gave me that jacket for a new one,” Callaway said, with a small smile.
Another case of luck finding the lucky.
The full collection — every ball, photo, ring, shirt, media guide and more — is too much for his Seminole gallery to handle. It just won’t fit.
“I’m thinking seriously about expanding,” he confided, his big frame stretched across a La-Z-Boy in the comfortable museum/man cave as he gave a hard look at the back wall and considered the possibilities.
Good thing, as Callaway’s garage needs the relief. It’s been taken over by artifacts, most carefully protected in storage containers but some casually crowded and piled one on another. Stepping outside to show where other riches are held in reserve, Callaway negotiated around his pickup — garnet, of course, and parked outside to make room — reached a beefy hand down into one cluttered cardboard box and pulled up a small but significant piece of history. A dusty baseball once pounded into the stands by Deion Sanders, perhaps the most exciting player ever to wear garnet and gold, when he was with the Atlanta Braves. Yes, Sanders played both professional baseball and professional football. As Seminole fans know well, Sanders could do it all.
“The first game Deion played with the Atlanta Braves, the first time up at bat he hit a home run,” Callaway said. (He and his wife were in the stands, at Sanders’ invitation.) “Chuck Tanner [the Braves manager] couldn’t figure out what he was hollering. When he left home plate, he started hollering ‘J.C.! J.C.! J.C.!’ all around the bases.”
Sanders gave Callaway the bat, now framed and hanging in the museum, and he gave him the ball, too, after the Braves fan who caught it handed it back.
“Deion and I are best of buddies,” Callaway said. “We are good friends. … When he came to FSU, I took care of him the best I could.”
Donna, his wife, said Callaway was a mentor for many players.
“He’s kind of a different person to get to know,” she said with a knowing look. “A lot of people think he’s gruff and rough, and he is, on the exterior, but if you get to know him, like they did, they begin to really love him. We had some of them stop us on I-10 on Father’s Day. ‘Dad, give us a hug!’”
As Callaway explained it, he saw his role as mentor in clear and simple terms.
“I treated them like a son, I gave them hell every chance that I thought they needed it,” he said, “and I made sure they were where they were supposed to be.”
And what did they need most?
“Guidance,” he said.
By setting rules and holding the young men accountable, Donna Callaway said, her husband helped boys away from home for the first time find their way and build their character. In the process, he fashioned lasting bonds of friendship and respect.
“Just like the Deion relationship,” she said. “Deion needed a male figure in his life, because his dad had just died. Jimmie, rough and tough, was the kind of person he needed to set some parameters. ‘This is the way you conduct yourself. You don’t do this. You do the right thing.’ I’m in education, and I like to see adult role models, and I suddenly realized my husband was one, in a different venue of course, but still helping to guide young men. … He was growing people, the same way I was in school.”
The Callaways have grown close to Sanders.
“We don’t talk to him, really, about his work,” she said. “We know his family. … We’ve stayed at Deion’s home many times. We’ve got a bedroom out there, played with their kids. We were there at his 40th birthday.”
Both families have strong religious convictions and are active in their congregations, and the Callaways worship with Sanders when visiting him in Dallas.
“If you’re in Deion’s house on Saturday night,” she said, “Sunday morning you go to church.“
This relationship is why her favorite piece of all the memorabilia is a photo of Sanders and her husband on the field at Doak Campbell Stadium in 1995 for the retirement of Sanders’ No. 2 jersey. Sanders is hugging her husband and kissing his neck.
“He wouldn’t go out there,” she said, “if Jimmie didn’t go with him.”
Callaway takes pride in his collection, the work of many years, but the future of all this FSU athletic history is at this point unclear.
“I’ve already got it set up in my will,” Callaway asserted on one occasion, “that it is all to be burned.”
“Not there, not there,” his wife clarified in a later conversation, giving another knowing look that drew a laugh from her husband. “Still to be determined.”
Photos by Mark Wallheiser