Remembering the magic of legendary columnist Cecil Hurt | Goodbread
I had to whirl around in my chair to catch the biggest smile I ever saw cross Cecil Hurt's face.
I knew what I thought of the trick − Holy Hell, did that just happen? − but what did Cecil think? What did Tommy Deas think? This was my idea, after all, and it wasn't cheap; so if they weren't too impressed, it was on me.
The place was called Del Frisco's at the time, an old-school steakhouse in Winter Park, Florida. They call it Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster now, but Kostya Kimlat is still doing live magic shows there for awestruck diners. We were staying in nearby Orlando the week the Alabama football team took on Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl in December 2010. I convinced my colleagues, Cecil and Deas, to join me for a prix fixe steak dinner at a cost of $100 apiece, far steeper than what company per diem would cover.
Inclusive in that price, however, was the theater of Kimlat dazzling about 20 diners in a private room with an array stunning magic tricks performed intermittently between servings of a four-course feast. Some were elaborate, others simpler but no less shocking. On one in particular, Kimlat had a playing card laying on a table, placed a hand on it, lifted his hand to show an empty open palm, and the card had disappeared.
There was an audible gasp in the room as I turned toward Hurt, who was sitting behind me, and there it was: a speechless Cecil grinning ear to ear.
One year ago, Hurt passed away at UAB Hospital of complications from pneumonia, at 62. I'd rarely seen Cecil over quite a few years, having left The Tuscaloosa News in 2013, but I still had a friend, a colleague and a mentor all at once in him. And his reaction to that card trick is the image I've chosen to conjure whenever I think of him.
Maybe that's because I didn't see Cecil smile a great deal. Not that he wasn't pleasant or fun to be around − he was both those things − but the vast majority of time I spent with him was in the work environment, which he had a way of separating from the social. Maybe it's because that's how those we've lost are best celebrated, in the most joyful moments. Or maybe it's because I found Cecil to be a bit of a magician himself.
Like magic, his craft was also an artform.
Like Kimlat, he could be wildly entertaining, on a level that very few can duplicate.
Words were his deck of cards, and he had a lot more than 52 of them with which to work. More than a generation of Alabama fans were, well, spellbound by his talent for capturing Crimson Tide athletics with just the right amount of humor, analysis, praise or criticism, depending on what was warranted. A lot opinions, some that mattered even more than his, had a way of coalescing around his viewpoint. And in a social media-era that amplifies some of the dumbest opinions imaginable, that was perhaps his greatest trick of all.
I wish Cecil had written a column about Kimlat's wizardry. But then again, that would've been mixing business with pleasure, which wasn't his style.
I wish I hadn't circulated so much in his professional sphere, and so little in the sphere of his personal life, where I could've gotten to know him much better.
I wish I'd had a chance to say goodbye.
But I don't have to wish I had a good way to remember the man, because I do. Away from iPad, nowhere near a press box, laughing in amazement and asking the same question his columns left readers wondering: How did he do that?
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @chasegoodbread