HOUSTON — He spent the last night of his life on a couch outside a locker room.
And nobody asked Bill (Mojo) Lackey why he did not go home. Everyone knew he was home.
Mojo awoke his last morning at 4:30 a.m., folded laundry at 6, then collapsed of a massive stroke and died 20 minutes later.
He was hanging sweat jackets and muttering about a spot the cleaning crew had missed. He fell over a bench, hit the bottom of a locker, turned blue.
A simple man had come to a simple ending.
William Van Lackey, Houston Oiler equipment assistant, dead at 43.
A man who for 16 years was paid by the hour to wash jocks.
A guy with a large waist and a childlike mind who became famous for running out and grabbing the kicking tee after Oiler kickoffs.
No wife, no children. Laid out in a small south Texas town with an American flag in one hand and a kicking tee behind his head. He was buried in a suit coat purchased by the Oilers, the only one he ever owned.
End of story. End of another anonymous life that filtered through today's high-powered NFL like smoke.
Who could have guessed what would happen next?
Who could have guessed that two days after Mojo's death Nov. 2, Oiler Coach Jeff Fisher would end a Saturday pregame speech by showing his team a video clip of Mojo and walking out of the room in silence?
Who could have guessed that the lowly Oilers would the next day pull one of the upsets of the NFL season, a 37-10 comeback victory in Cleveland?
Who could have guessed that the game would end with the Oilers bouncing off the locker-room walls, chanting, "Mo-jo! Mo-jo! Mo-jo!" as they wept?
Who could have guessed that former players from as far away as Wisconsin and North Carolina would attend his memorial service, nearly 1,000 people total, speaking about him as if they had been touched by a vision?
All for a man who never owned a house, needed 7 1/2 years to finish college, and mostly worked in T-shirt, underpants and cowboy boots.
"One of life's little people," said Carl Mauck, a former Oiler lineman and current assistant with the San Diego Chargers. "A simple, wonderful little person."
Mojo saw the world not in black and white, but in one brilliant color that caused him constantly to smile and hug.
"On the night before he died, right before I went home, he looked at me and said, 'You know, I haven't said this in a while, but I love you,' " fellow equipment assistant Paul Noska recalled. "He was always doing stuff like that."
Whatever color he saw, it left Mojo unafraid to offer advice to million-dollar athletes, to put his arm around frustrated and weary coaches, to cry on the shoulder of long-lost friends.
"I'll never forget my first trip back to Houston as coach of the Atlanta Falcons, walking down the runway before the game, I felt a big arm around my neck," former Oiler coach Jerry Glanville said. "It was Mojo. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. He didn't say a word. We walked our separate ways. That was him."
Whatever color he saw, it left Mojo incapable of insulting anybody, or feeling insulted by those who viewed him as an easy target because of his slow and innocent nature.
"Even when you asked him about the Oilers during their bad years, he would say, 'I'm not paid to think about those things, I'm paid to wash clothes,' " said Susan Pruett, a close friend. Mojo called her his sister. "Life to him just wasn't real complicated."
Who would have guessed that "MOJO" would now be in black letters on the back of every Oiler helmet?
Who would have guessed that in death, this odd-looking man with the crew cut and horn-rimmed glasses would have caused countless image-conscious NFL players to give thanks for a chance to walk with him?
He didn't think much of death--it caused him to beat his fist against the wall. And he didn't think much of Thanksgiving.
His annual ritual involved eating special chips and salsa while watching uniforms tumble dry.
"In this day of players changing teams, of owners not being loyal to fans . . . Mojo was the one thing in the NFL that was pure," Oiler linebacker Micheal Barrow said. "When he died, it almost felt like he was like a sacrificial lamb."
There were not many mysteries surrounding a man who would tell his life story to prospective players he routinely picked up at the airport.
But one thing nobody ever knew: Why did he pick up the tee like that?
Anybody who has followed the NFL even casually recently remembers it.
From 1979 until weight problems forced him to quit in 1991, Mojo would gallop toward the tee after every kickoff as if riding a horse.
Once at midfield, he would cut a wide circle around the tee and pick it up with his left hand. Always his left hand.
If he would miss, which happened occasionally because of difficulty maneuvering his 5-foot-10, 280-pound frame, he would circle the tee again with arms outstretched like an airplane before making another attempt.
After grabbing the tee, he would gallop back to the sidelines. Once out of bounds, he would somersault, spike the tee and scream.