TAMPA — Bobby Knight had his chair. Steve Spurrier has his visor. Mike DePue has me.
At the end of the day, you will remember Mike’s wins at Robinson High, and the state semifinals, and the crusty demeanor.
But let’s be honest. You’ll remember me most:
Listen, Mike is a great coach, nice guy. He has won a bunch of games, and is there anyone in Tampa Bay — anyone? — who wouldn’t like to see me doused with Gatorade in the Orlando Citrus Bowl in two weeks?
I’m just keeping it real, y’all. Without me, Mike’s just some dude with a whistle around his neck.
When people are looking for him, are they directed to the guy with the visor, or the guy with the ponytail? Exactly.
At his age, 60, he’s a little more Pony Express than ponytail. But let’s face it, I make him iconic.
A little about me: back in 1970 Mike was just getting out of Crossland High School in Camp Springs, Md., and I was there.
Mike was jamming to long-haired legends like the Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead and Little Feat back then, and I was just flopping around, making him fit in.
Much to the chagrin of Col. Jack DePue, Mike let me grow and grow and grow.
“Get a haircut,’’ the Colonel told him, “and get a real job.”
Mike always had my back, even while I was draped across his.
Don’t get it twisted: He wasn’t a counter-culture hippie or anything. In fact, he hates that word. Thinks it’s an “overused label.’’
He was just a long-haired redneck — his words, not mine — who might have worn the occasional cowboy hat and Levi’s jean jacket back in the day.
We had some good times, being the chick magnet that I am. Some scary ones, too.
Once, when Mike was working in a cotton mill back in Maine, I got caught in a pulley. Took a whole inch off my backside. He started tucking me under a baseball cap at work after that. And let me say, for the record, I served with that cap. I knew that cap. That cap was a friend of mine. And visor, you are no cap.
The visor has been acting like he’s important or something lately. That needed to be said.
I mean, I’ve been in bar fights with the guy. Now don’t get me wrong, Mike doesn’t go to bars a lot; I’m not trying to …oh, hell, who am I trying to kid.
Anyway, we’re in this bar and Mike rushes in to break up this fight, and guess who pulls him out?
I don’t know, but whomever it was grabbed onto me, covering my follicles so I couldn’t see, and yanked us backward.
That was Mike’s last bar fight. As far as I know.
Because after nine glorious years together, from the time he was 17 right through his 26th birthday, through his last year of high school and his time studying political science at the University of Maine, we cut things off.
The 1990s came and went, I am told, and right up until 2007 I was history. Mike went all grown-up adult on me, and I missed the great ponytail era of Steven Seagal, Penn Jillette and the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.
Then one day, though he met and befriended former Bucs special teams coach Rich Bisaccia at his favorite barber shop on WestShore, Mike stopped going.
And here I am.
“I think if I have my druthers, I’ll never get a haircut,’’ he says.
Sometimes, on Friday nights, I’ll strike up a conversation with Brandon Peters’ ponytail, when Brandon isn’t out there picking off passes, or I’ll stare at the cheerleaders’ perfect ponytails.
Now, like every superstar, I have my haters.
I see the ROTC kids frowning at me. And that Earl Garcia guy over at Hillsborough? And Brandon coach Dean Eychner? Every time I see them coming, I try to tuck myself under Mike’s collar.
“Come on, man, just get a haircut already,’’ Eychner will say, and Garcia is just as brutal.
Try saying that about a ponytail during the Qing Dynasty, pal, and you might lose your tongue!
Mike loves me, though, and that’s all that matters.
“Vanity? Hell, yes,’’ he told someone on the phone Monday. “I can be an egotistical SOB sometimes.’’
He loves — but he doesn’t primp.
With so few in his profession bundling their hair in ponytails, I wonder: Do I deserve better than a high school football coach?
Sure, he uses those soft spongy bands to tie me up, but little-known ponytail secret: we miss the Scrunchie era.
Would it kill him to give me a nice french braid every now and then?
Would I love for him to put on a silk robe and sit in front of a mirror and just spend 45 minutes combing me out, like in those old time movies? Heavens, yes.
Would I just eat up a trip to the salon, maybe some highlights, and a few minutes under the hair hood dryer? And how!
But Mike and I, we got it going on right now. I need him, and he needs me.
Oh, does he need me. Listen, before I came back, Mike’s teams were kind of struggling. He was 5-5 in 2006, then 1-9 and 2-8 the two years after.
The longer I grew, the more he won: 10-3 in 2009 and 2010, 9-3 last year, and this year Mike and I are 12-1 and in the Class 5A state semifinals, set to host Tallahassee Godby.
You do the math, then go read the story of Samson and Delilah, and get back to me, okay?
Our only loss this season was to follicle-murdering Plant, which as you know has the baldest staff in the country, so that one really galls me.
But those chrome domes are sitting at home right now, probably already planning out the 2013 season, or their next Bic purchase.
We’re still swaying, baby.
John C. Cotey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JohnnyHomeTeam.
Check out Cotey's past columns on some of the ponytail's very good friends: