By THOMAS C. SHAW
Not every legend in pool was a tournament champion. There were a few who crossed over between the public glare of playing before flashing cameras and being a wraith on the road. Luther 'Wimpy' Lassiter comes immediately to mind. There was also many a tournament player of the '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s who spent more than a little time matching up mano a mano.But by and large the best road players made it a point of being unknown because recognition would kill their action faster than you can say Dr. Jack Kevorkian. They were legends among other road players, titans among the invisible, and they often gathered together at rooms such as 7-11 in New York and the Hustler's Tournaments in Johnston City, IL and the Stardust in Las Vegas.Lewis Alexander Goff, Jr. was one of those players. A country boy from Geneva County, Alabama ("Near Coffee Springs and Florala," he says, as if that would pinpoint it for the unknowing) he speaks with an accent so thick that if he'd gone up north they might have figured he was speaking a foreign language. But in the south, he was a traveling legend.He went by many names - Lefty, Lewis Alexander, Junior and more. As a teenager playing in nearby Dothan, Mobile and Panama City he was known as 'The Florida Kid'.
"When I was a kid," he says, "I stopped in an ice cream parlor on a trip to town (Geneva, AL) and wandered across the street to a barbershop. They had four tables in the back and I'd never seen such a thing before. The owner just let me pick up a stick and hit the balls around. I took to it right away."Born October 2, 1925, Junior Goff learned the game around his home town. "In the South at that time, the pool rooms were all in back rooms either behind a barber shop or a cafe. Florala had one of each; four tables in one and five in the other. There was no more than 2,500 to 3,000 people in Florala then; not many more now."Junior moved to Pensacola with parents when he was sixteen, just before W.W.II. He got a job in the shipyards "working the graveyard shift so I could play pool. The only game I'd seen before that was 9-Ball, and that's all I played. Then I went up to Davis Avenue with the colored people and they played 8-Ball all the time and pretty quick, I was winning some money at that game, too."Six Ball was also popular. "It was 10 cents for 9-Ball and 5 cents for 6-Ball," he remembers. "One time I played this cab driver called 'Doodle Bug' for 24 hours, him playing on the cuff, and the room owner got all my money and I never got paid my winnings. That was a lesson, one of the things you learn as a young boy. When I turned 18 in '53, I got drafted and spent three years in the infantry in Europe. The State of Alabama paid us for a year after we got out and I just went around playing pool. Thank god I didn't get nailed. I guess I avoided the better players while I was leaming. I started leaming One Pocket about then."In 1950 he moved to Tampa, which would be his base for the next 21 years."I was gifted 'in my talent," Junior said. "I was a great shot-maker, not braggin', you know, just fact."In 1951 Junior made the first of many road trips, heading up through Georgia to Pennsylvania, then across through Cincinnati, Memphis, St. Louis and Dallas.
"I was traveling by Greyhound and Trailways," he said, "learning One Pocket as I went. By the time I got to Ft. Worth, I had my first big One Pocket win, about $700. I did okay with the money on that trip, mostly from winning 9-Ball."In Tampa he started rooming with the famed Johnny Irish. "Johnny was a fanatic for playing the dogs. He was good at any game: bowling, One Pocket, very excellent Straight Pool player and 3-Cushion Billiards player, just any game. He taught me a lot about One Pocket."During the 1950s, Goff managed the well-known Baker's Billiards in Tampa for a short time, and plenty of action came to town. It became a regular thing for him to team up with another top player and take a road trip for a month or two."I traveled alone a lot of the time," Goff said, "but I went out with Bill Mullens of Tampa, U.J. Puckett, who I'd been knowin' since 1947; me and Eddie Taylor ran together a little bit in Missouri and Kentucky, ran with 'Oakland Don' Watson and 'Handsome Danny' Jones. You could do that during the'40s and '50s, see, because a decent motel was only $2.50 to $3.00, breakfast was 40 to 50 cents. These days it'd cost you $100 a day just to travel around. And if you hit those tournaments and show your speed, then you couldn't get no games. I don't know how those fellas who hit TV do it. 'Course, the '50s was the roughest decade. It seemed like people just didn't want to spend their money. Everybody was tight in the '50s, and pool wasn't too popular."Goff began rooming with "Connecticut Johnny' Vivas, one of the country's top road players.