In keeping with the old idiom, the third time Kenny Graham took the test to renew his license, he passed.
“I only missed two,” he said Tuesday as he beamed at the temporary license handed to him by a very pleasant DMV lady.
Now, all he needs is that long-held dream of a Rialta motor home.
For those who haven’t followed this tale, Graham was a San Diego Chargers all-star in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
His deeds on the field were legendary and he played with a number of true legends.
“Kenny is a great guy, a truly good person, someone I always enjoyed being around,” said Lance Alworth, a former wide receiver for the Chargers and Hall of Fame member, in a phone interview.
“I was offense and Kenny was defense so I got to watch him play.
“He was a real smart player. A smart guy. And he would knock your head off if you came across the middle line. So he was in the perfect position,” Alworth chuckled.
“We called him ‘Bambi,’” Graham recalled of Alworth, because he could run so fast.
“I could run, for a white boy,” Alworth said. “And they all gave me hell about it. Kenny used to give me hell.”
They spoke on the phone recently and Alworth said Graham hasn’t changed a bit.
“Everything he said, he backed it up. There was no BS with Kenny. And he’s just the same.”
Some might say Graham and his teammates made the game what it is today.
Even so, Graham was cut from the Chargers and blackballed from football for helping a fellow player who was treated unfairly.
That was in the early 1970s.
From there, Graham worked as a roofer, for the mayor of Newark, N.J., whom he knew in college, and other odd jobs here and there.
Years went by, then decades.
He ended up in Bakersfield perhaps six years ago where his late father had left a piece of property.
His dream is to live and travel in the Rialta and win enough “capital” by playing mail-in sweepstakes that he can build some low-income rentals on his dad’s property.
I met Graham this past May when he was living under a fig tree on that property.
He’d been there some time, he can’t quite say how long. Maybe six months? Maybe a year?
Mark Downing introduced me to Graham and thought his life might make a story.
Several stories, actually.
Downing, a waiter at Sorella and a website designer, had befriended Graham in the downtown post office where they both have P.O. boxes.
Graham spends hours in the post office nearly every day going through heaps of mail.
Most of it is worthless mail-in sweepstakes that he methodically reads and decides whether to enter.
But sometimes, a fan will mail one of his old player cards along with $5 or $10 and ask for Graham’s autograph.
Downing and he got to talking and Downing realized who he was, who he’d been.
He worried about the 74-year-old living out on that empty lot. He also wondered if Graham might be a candidate for a settlement with the NFL for CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy — repeated brain injuries.
At first Graham — who is legendarily stubborn — refused to consider making a claim with the NFL.
The league had left a bad taste in his mouth more than 40 years ago and he wanted nothing to do with its “poliTRICKS,” as he told me several times.
Downing didn’t give up.
He convinced the NFL Player Care Foundation, loosely associated with the NFL but funded mostly by former players, to pay for a long-term hotel room for Graham to get him off the lot.
That, Graham was happy to take advantage of.
“Anything free, I’ll take two of,” is his motto.
In the months since, Downing also convinced Graham to go to doctor’s appointments set up by the foundation.
That finally resulted in a diagnosis of dementia, which, in turn, put him in the running for medical reimbursement from the foundation.
If he’s approved, which seems likely, his medical costs could be reimbursed up to $160,000 a year.
He’ll find out about that probably next month.
Meanwhile, some of his old teammates heard about Graham’s situation and his Rialta dream and found the perfect motor home for him. They’ve been getting it fixed up.
But there was the small problem of Graham having let his license lapse.
He went to the DMV about a month ago and took the renewal written test but missed five out of the 18 questions. You’re only allowed to miss three.
He tried again on Monday and missed four.
Tuesday did the trick.
“I got it!” he said as I, Downing and photographer Henry Barrios waited nervously outside the testing area.
OK, one step closer to the dream.
Now, let’s talk insurance.