A man for all (festive) seasons: Ex-coach Kevin Sheedy. Photo: Supplied
Kevin Sheedy looked very comfortable sitting on the stage in full academic regalia at the University of Western Sydney during the week. He could easily have been mistaken for an ageing academic at his umpteenth graduation ceremony.
In fact, Australian football's nutty professor was there to have a Doctor of Letters conferred on him in recognition of his advocacy and mentoring of youth in sport. The doctorate, of course, is honorary - honoris causa - the Latin inscription on the parchment would not be totally lost on Sheedy given his days as an altar boy serving the Latin Mass at St Ignatius Church in Richmond.
Cynics could not be blamed for scoffing at Sheedy being feted by a tertiary institution. But it pales by comparison with the La Trobe University's appointment of Mick Malthouse to its school of journalism. Honestly, the man has haunted footy scribes in this town for decades. (A favourite Mick moment of mine was the time he pinned a footy writer against the dressing room wall at the MCG after West Coast had lost a final. Fortunately for the fearful newshound, Mick was quickly ushered away by the Eagles' footy manager.)
But we digress. Let's give Sheeds his honorary academic moment in the sun. More importantly, it's a feather in his relatively uneducated cap that his influence in the wider community has been acknowledged. We reckon it's poetic justice in a way for the man who probably never studied a line of poetry in his life.
Sheedy would never have studied a foreign language, either, but he certainly has a PhD in the language of the street. Inspired or otherwise, the AFL could not have chosen a man better equipped to lead a fledgling franchise into the tough, working class, rugby league and soccer heartland that is Western Sydney.
The late Graeme Richmond, as unlikely an alumnus of the Geelong Grammar School as Sheedy is a Doctor of Letters, was the godfather at Punt Road when Sheedy arrived there in the 1960s. A hard but fair man, GR took many players under his wing and mentored them not only in football at the elite level but in life in general. Sheedy was one of his many successful proteges.
Once asked which career path Sheedy might have pursued alongside football had he had a good education, GR had no doubt it would have been as a top criminal barrister.
While that might have been the legal profession's gain, Australian football and its extended family would have been the poorer for it.
Sheedy's charm and ability to think outside the square are two of his greatest strengths. Not only did he come up with the idea of the Anzac Day blockbuster at the MCG and the Dreamtime game, but he used them over his 27-year journey at Essendon to transform the Bombers from a suburban club into a truly national brand.
Yet amid the turmoil which has now besmirched the image he spent a generation helping to shape, Sheedy remains staunch to the Bombers and exiled coach, James Hird. Loyalty to his former club - which he could argue treated him shabbily in the end - and his players have always been part of the Sheedy mantra.
Sheedy has always been an innovator but he is also a great sponge. He often approaches a guest speaker for a post podium chat, more often than not walking away not only having picked the speaker's brain but also having filched his notes from his pocket.
Nutty professor? Maybe. But in full academic regalia or the club issue trackie dacks it's hard to have anything but the utmost respect for this man - sorry, doctor - of letters.