Wharton: Remembering Big Mike, who was larger than life
Sandy • People called Mike Murry many things.
The thousands of students he taught at Jordan High and Butler Junior High knew him as coach. Children flocked to him as a jolly Santa at countless parties. Some called him the king of tailgating at the University of Utah. Fans on the west side of Rice-Eccles Stadium followed his cheerleading, perhaps not knowing that three of his five sons played football for the Utes and the other two were loyal fans.
In the 1960s, some knew Mike as one of two of legendary Utah State basketball star Wayne Estes' friends who were with him the fateful night in 1965 when Estes was electrocuted.
He was dating my first cousin Marge at the time, and they later married. I was probably 15 when dad took me to Westminster College's old gym to watch Mike play basketball for the team, then called the Parsons. For a big man, he had a soft touch around the basket.
I would also learn later that Murry played football at Westminster. His coach was George Seifert, who went on to be a National Football League coach who led the San Francico 49ers to a Super Bowl title.
Mostly, though, everyone I knew called him "Big Mike."
The name fit.
He was a larger-than-life character, with an emphasis on the character part. You always knew Big Mike was in the room. He possessed a blustery sort of charisma. His bombastic pronouncements carried a certain intimidation factor. But we all knew he would be there for us no matter what.
As an example, when my dad passed away, he would call mom every night before a Jazz game, reminding her to watch it. Big Mike often surprised her by purchasing freshly made Morrison Meat Pies and dropping them by the house.
Whether you brought something or not, you could stop at the Murry tailgating lot and be invited to enjoy a beer, a burger and fine conversation, something I did at the most recent Utah home game against USC.
That said, Mike hated to lose. His exploits at the old Camp Strawberry fishing camp where we gathered in the days Utah had a fishing season opener became the stuff of legend.
He would find a color of his favorite lure, a Triple Teazer, that no one else had and then win the big fish and most fish contests, teasing everyone in the camp with a loud, booming voice.
Big Mike would then play poker until the wee hours of the morning, often inventing new terms such as "Derking It" in honor of my younger brother, who had a habit of hiding his winnings so no one knew he was winning. Never a big card player myself, I would sit in wonder as the group would play strange-sounding poker games such as "no peekie baseball." Since they were often in our cabin, I also didn't get much sleep. With Mike around, no one did.
He made a memorable Santa and usually didn't need much stuffing to play the part. During Christmas, he grew his own scraggly white beard. Most youngsters, I'm sure, regarded him as the real deal.
Big Mike was the real deal.
He and Marge raised five wonderful sons, all of whom possess his confidence, slight bluster and ability to turn any situation into an instant party. When "Little Mike" an offensive lineman for the Utes, Scott, Brad, Ryan and Jeff are around, as they often are at tailgating parties, they make everyone feel like family.
And now "Big Mike" is gone.
He passed away Friday at the age of 69.
Tailgating, Christmas, family parties and fishing trips will never be quite the same.