Aug. 7, 2012
By Loran Smith
BIARRITZ, France - The sun was sinking casually over sparkling and rambunctious Atlantic tides when a knock on my door signaled that Richard Tardits had arrived for dinner and conversation in his hometown of Biarritz.
It was the end of an eventful day for him. He had enjoyed his daily swim in the Atlantic, he had won his singles match in a local tennis tournament semi-final and had arrived by motor bike--a full day of outdoor activity while keeping abreast of his multiple business interests and making plans for a weekend golf outing with his son, Samuel.
"Le Sack" is now 47. Middle age is treating him well as he continues to underscore the work ethic. His trim physique, his energetic way of life, and his intellectual pursuits are ingredients for good health. Living a full and exciting life will always be Richard's constant modus operandi. Nobody expects anything of him as a former athlete, but he expects great things of himself. Learning for him has no age limit, and in his view, good health must be enhanced by learning in order to enjoy life.
It brings pause to a dinner conversation when you realize it has been 23 years since he played his last game in the Gator Bowl in 1988, which also happened to be Vince Dooley's last game as the Georgia's coach. Tardits' remarkable story will forever be worth retelling. He is, perhaps, the most unusual Bulldog player ever. There have been many curious, fascinating, and unique sidebars and personalities in Georgia's illustrious history, but is there a more unlikely story than the Richard Tardits story? For a Frenchman to have never seen a live football game in his life to walk on, become the recipient of a scholarship, and set the school sack record (29)--what could top that?
Nobody ever had to worry about Tardits meeting a class schedule. He passionately desired an American education and was overwhelmed with an opportunity to play a game and receive a free education in return. He took extra courses and earned an MBA degree while playing college football. Why the NCAA does not showcase his story is a question I have often asked.
When he was awarded an NCAA scholarship in 1988 he used the grant to learn to fly and is a licensed pilot in France. In addition to flying, when he is up to it, he surfs and swims in the Atlantic, rides motorbikes, jogs, reads, listens, and learns. In addition to his Masters degree on his resume, he is a four-year alumnus of the National Football League. His Renaissance approach to life continues. Life after football? Who has a more appealing and credible story than Tardits? Unfortunately too few know about it.
On a recent July Saturday, he invited me to lunch with his parents, Maurice and Christine Tardits. His sister Geri and her husband Daniel Urcelay were there, his son Samuel and his niece Jenna. As their spirited conversation moved about sprightly in French, he made conversation with his guest in English. I could have been French. Or Spanish. Or German. Or Basque and he could have done the same.
This new vignette surfaced during my visit with Le Sack. Following his senior year at Georgia, he was invited to play in the Japan Bowl. He knew that Japanese fisherman brought their catch every day to the docks and cut and quartered their bounty in the middle of the night to get it to the market by sunrise for the restaurants and businesses.
Setting his alarm for 1:30 a.m., he arose in time to experience this stunning scene. While he was there, a pretty blonde caught his eye. Nancy Pollack, a song girl (cheerleader) at USC, came to enjoy the experience also, which greatly impressed Richard.
"You meet the most fascinating people when you travel," he smiled. "Oui," I said, grateful that it has been my good fortune to come Le Sack's way in the summer. Vive la France! And long live Richard Tardits.