I have good news for Elvis fans. He is not dead. Jim Arnold says so. Jim also says he and Elvis are good friends. They met at a doughnut shop. I am not making this up.
“It was a few years ago, at the Krispy Kreme in Memphis,” recalls the Lions’ punter. “I went in for some breakfast and there was Elvis, eating a jelly doughnut. I said, ‘Hey, E.’ He kinda looked up, then he looked away. He was wearing a hat and glasses but I knew it was him. I got mosta his movies. I said, ‘Hey, E.’ He said, ‘Not here, man. Let’s get outside.’
“So we went outside, and I said, ‘E, don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.’ We started talking a little, you know, about football. Been friends ever since. He loves football.”
“Really?” I say.
“You guys play together?”
“Sometimes. In the backyard. He can throw the ball pretty good, too. Maybe 40 yards. Not a real tight spiral or nothin’ . . .”
Now, it is not every NFL player that can tell you this story. But then, how many NFL players have a picture of Elvis taped inside their locker? Some have a poster. Some have Miss January. Arnold has the King, a color photo with the words “Remember” in pink letters, alongside a postcard from Graceland.
“Ever been there?” I ask. “Graceland?”
“Naw. Not yet.”
“They have tours, you know.”
Arnold snorts, then spits tobacco. “I won’t take a tour. I’ll wait until E wants to show me himself.”
Of course. How stupid of me. You can trust Arnold
Now, you may have your doubts about Arnold and Elvis. But not me. I have learned to believe pretty much anything Arnold tells me, ever since the time he sang “The Twelve Days of Christmas” in the voice of Pee-Wee Herman. Or maybe it was the time he did stand-up at the Comedy Castle. I once called his house when he was living with Eric Williams and Rusty Hilger, and his voice came over the answering machine sounding just like Robin Leach: “THREE ELIGIBLE BACHELORS LIVING IN A ROMANTIC PARADISE . . .” Besides, the man is arguably the best punter in football. I figure if Elvis were alive, and he really did like football, he’d want to hang out with the best, right?
“You never know with E, of course,” Arnold continues, leaning against his locker, “sometimes he does the craziest things. He’ll call up a fast-food place and order 147 cheeseburgers. And you got to help him eat ’em.”
“Do you see him often?”
“Over the summer down in Tennessee. I been trying to get him up here for a game. But I can’t just bring him in and say, ‘Hey, guys, look who’s here.’ That’s why he faked his death in the first place.”
He sighs. “Barry Sanders wants to meet him.”
“Barry’s pretty big,” I say.
“So is Elvis. I told him the other day, ‘E, you’re bigger than all cattle.’ “
Did I mention how we got on this subject? Oh, Thursday was the 13th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. Or supposed death. Arnold was clearly moved. This is a man who knows the entire soundtrack of “Blue Hawaii.” In honor of the occasion, Arnold planned to wear black for tonight’s exhibition against the Bills. Until Elvis called and said don’t bother, seeing as he wasn’t really dead and all.
“He told me, ‘Jim, don’t mourn for me, man,’ ” Arnold says. ” ‘I’m happy now. I got peace a’ mind. Only thing I miss is puttin’ on them sequins.’ ” Elvis is a fan of Lions
OK. I know what you’re thinking. Arnold is crazy. Some of his teammates would agree with you. Then again, they all laughed at Jerry Glanville a few years ago when, as coach of the Houston Oilers, he left two tickets for Elvis at the Astrodome box office. Elvis never showed.
“Hmmph,” sniffs Arnold. “Course not. He don’t even like the Oilers. He’s a Lions fan now.”
“Will you leave him tickets?”
“I won’t leave him nothin.’ I’ll give him the tickets myself. Just like he gave me this.” Arnold fondles a gold necklace, with a charm in the shape of a lightning bolt, through the letters ‘TCB.’ I recognize this as an Elvis trademark. Taking Care of Business. He had one just like it. Hey. Wait a minu–
“The day E gave this to me, he said, ‘Jim, I want you to have this. You been a friend, man.’ “
He pauses. “I’ll never forget that.”
No. That would be hard to forget.
And so we wait. Arnold says Elvis has a standing offer to come to any Lions game, and if the crowd is big enough “so he can slip in unnoticed” he just might show. Stranger things have happened. Philadelphia’s Tim Rossovich once ate live spiders before a game. Keith Jackson saw his pants catch on fire during a “Monday Night Football” broadcast. Why not Elvis? I mean, I see people picking the Lions to win the NFC Central this year. When was the last time that happened?
“He won’t be coming in a UFO, will he?” I ask.
“Come on,” says Arnold. “I don’t believe in that UFO stuff.”
I didn’t think so.