Tom Gorman never saw the Alamo. He had his own uphill battles to wage.
Gorman slept and ate meals in an unglamorous yet serviceable dormitory at Trinity College in San Antonio, Texas. And then he stepped outside into the oppressive heat and onto a cement court, and he took his chances in the NCAA Tennis Championships against the top amateur players in the country, namely the guys from Los Angeles.
On June 19, 1968, Seattle University's Gorman defeated UCLA's Tom Karp 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 in a satisfying morning session, and he later returned and lost to eventual NCAA singles champ Stan Smith of USC 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the afternoon quarterfinals, and his college career was over.
The year before at an overheated Southern Illinois University, Gorman had fallen to Smith 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, again in the NCAA quarterfinals, always finding himself competitive but a step or shot behind the Trojans' ace.
"Smith was the guy I couldn't get by," Gorman lamented. "Smith and [USC's Bob] Lutz played at Wimbledon at 18. I was a late bloomer. I didn't get there until I was 23."
With Seattle U returning to full Division I championship eligibility for the first time in 33 years -- when the Redhawks host Washington in a women's soccer match at Championship Field on Aug. 17 -- this is the 32nd in a series of 33 stories replaying memorable SU events previously held at the NCAA's top level (1952-80).
His college eligibility all used up, Gorman considered enrolling in business graduate school after tennis. A lucrative opportunity, however, came along in a timely fashion: Pro tennis started offering substantial prize money at Wimbledon in 1968 and at all of its events by 1969 and 1970.
Gorman soon was invited to join the Davis Cup team as a practice player, and he played at Wimbledon and all the headliner events, spending the next 12 years taking on the likes of Ilie Nastase, Rod Laver and Smith. Gorman also became the longest-serving Davis Cup coach.
Important knowledge came to him almost by chance on that final college trip to Texas. Arriving three days early, Gorman practiced alone with USC's Smith and Lutz. They showed him Davis Cup drills, stuff he had never envisioned, playing 2-on-1 and doing all sorts of smart things.
Gorman would rely on these intricate tennis drills to advance up the pro circuit, and then after his playing days were over pass them along to juniors that he taught.
"I thought, 'This is Major League,'" he said of the drills shared. "It had a huge impact on me."
Before joining Seattle U, Gorman had held polite conversations with both USC and UCLA tennis coaches about playing for those schools. He was ranked 37th as a junior, and L.A.'s elite college programs generally filled up their rosters with Top 10 players. The rejections were subtle. Yet respect was forthcoming.
"The USC coach did say after that, 'Tom we didn't have to give you a scholarship, because you beat all of our opponents for us,' " said Gorman of the Trojans' George Toley.
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