Before Tuesday, the last time I saw David Hollis, who played defensive back for UNLV in the 1984 California Bowl, was 1994. He still was known as “Hot Dog” Hollis then. He was playing defensive back for the short-lived Las Vegas Posse of the Canadian Football League, and the Posse were getting ready to play Doug Flutie and the Calgary Stampeders, and that seemed sort of important at the time.
A few years before that, “Hot Dog” Hollis played defensive back for the Seattle Seahawks. In this one game against the Raiders, he intercepted two passes, one of Steve Beuerlein’s and one of Jay Schroeder’s. It happened on “Monday Night Football.” At the time, that seemed important, too.
The next time I saw “Hot Dog” Hollis was on Tuesday. First, I heard his voice. Though it had been nearly 20 years, one does not soon forget the voice of David “Hot Dog” Hollis. It sounds like a bus horn on a city street.
I was talking to James J. Kingera, chief of parole for the State of Nevada’s Youth Parole Bureau, Southern Parole District — David Hollis’ supervisor — when the Hot Dog came bursting in off the street with that city bus horn voice.
He was clutching a bunch of Hot-N-Ready pizzas and a few pounds of cake. He had paid for these out of his own pocket. Inside his pocket were bus tokens. The pizza and the cake were enticements, to get the youth parolees of the southern district, ages 11 to 18, to attend a weekly gang intervention counseling session, during which Hollis would attempt to scare them straight, like on TV.
The pizza and the cake — this was the last weekly meeting of the year due to the holidays — might be the only meal some of these kids get on this day.
The bus tokens will be used to get them home at night. Provided they have one.
David “Hot Dog” Hollis, 48, is in his 17th year as a youth parole counselor, and the pizzas and the cake and the bus tokens and the rest of it — the way in which he will attempt to scare these kids straight in a few minutes, and the way he hugs and loves on them, too — seems way more important than preparing for Doug Flutie and those interceptions on “Monday Night Football.”
If one is seeing it for the first time, it takes about two seconds for one to reassess priorities.
The pizza lasts about three seconds. Then David Hollis, the former gangbanger and star of “Monday Night Football,” is in the middle of this room, which is about 12 feet by 24 feet. It seems way too small. He begins gesturing, like a referee calling pass interference and holding and signaling a first down all at the same time; he begins speaking in that bus horn voice. His voice makes the 12-by-24 room seem even smaller.
On this night, he will try to scare 18 youth parolees straight. There also are former gang members in the room who have turned their lives around, and a community leader or two.
Hollis hopes these men will inspire the youth parolees, because for many of them, the 12-by-24 room is the last stop before the correctional institutions at Elko and Caliente.
These are what James Kingera calls the “deep-end” kids. They’ve been on county probation for years. They’ve gone through all the county programs they can go through.
They probably started off with the nickel-and-dime stuff. They steal stuff. They use drugs, join a gang, get in trouble. Stuff happens in their environment. Stuff escalates. They get in more trouble, serious trouble. Then they sit in the 12-by-24 room and listen to David Hollis pontificate about stuff. And man, can the Hot Dog pontificate.
He pontificates without props, except for cork and eraser boards.
On the cork board are newspaper clippings of gang members either dead or gone to prison. Though the cork board is oversized, there isn’t room for all of the newspaper clippings. On the eraser board is the theme for the night — “Who is your worst enemy?” — and the names of any gang members who have been shot since the last meeting.
Two names are on the eraser board this week: Loco Lenny survived. The Jack of Hearts did not.
The Jack of Hearts was shot nine times. A couple of years ago, that young man sat in this room. David Hollis thought he might even make it.
So Hollis went to another wake. He usually does not go to funerals, because they tend to be gang affairs. So he goes to wakes. He goes to way too many wakes.
While he’s pontificating to the youth parolees, he asks for a show of hands: How many were getting A’s and B’s before they started bangin’? Fifteen hands among 18 shoot skyward.
One or two of these kids has that dark look in his eye. But only one or two. The others just look like normal kids. One looks like Webster from the old TV series, except he’s wearing glasses. He looks smart, says one of the youth parolees. He hasn’t done anything bad. Not yet. But he’s showing signs.
Afterward, after David Hollis has handed out the bus tokens and cleaned up the cake crumbs, he tells a visitor there are no statistics to show if he’s getting through to these kids. It’s not like when he was playing football.
When you make two interceptions on “Monday Night Football,” you know you’ve been a success. Here, you just settle for a handshake or a hug, and you hope you’re not clipping another story out of the newspaper between now and the next meeting.
Hollis pulls out his cellphone. He shows photographs of a pretty Hawaiian girl. She used to a banger, as hard as they come. Now she’s got her college degree.
He knows he’ll never see her name or her picture on his cork board.
Recently, he had the kids in the 12-by-24 room write an essay about the faces in their lives they would carve onto Mount Rushmore, if given the opportunity. One kid wrote that he would put David Hollis’ face and dreadlocks up there.
The kid who wrote that essay was in the room Tuesday, before it got dark outside. David Hollis hopes and says a silent prayer that he’ll see him again, after the holidays.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.