TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) — A Tuscaloosa businessman is mourning the loss of Jimmy Buffett like the rest of us.

What’s different is Butch Ellard had a backstage pass to a side of Jimmy Buffett that few of us ever witnessed. Jimmy Buffett mementos are sprinkled throughout Butch Ellard’s home office. 

Memories of a 40-year friendship that began with a ticket request Ellard intercepted when he worked for the Alabama football program back in 1981.

“He had contacted our SID department. We were playing Vanderbilt in Nashville at Alabama. So, nobody really knew who he was, I just by chance had seen the request. So, I took it from there and accommodated him with tickets and sideline passes and stuff like that,” said Ellard.

In Ellard’s Buffett collection rests a one-of-a-kind note — a gift at halftime of the game that came in the form of a request.

“He did say, ‘Hey, can I write a note to get to coach Bryant? Because you guys aren’t scoring enough and I need a few more points, so I can win tonight.’ So we scrambled around and found a notepad for him to write this note on. Needless to say it never made its way to coach Bryant,” he said.

From that first meeting, Ellard says their relationship grew from fan to friend. So much so that Buffett pressed Ellard for a meeting with his boss, legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.

“So, he kind of wanted to meet coach Bryant if that was possible. We arranged it with coach Bryant after practice. Coach would always walk for exercise after practice around the track at the practice facility. They made an acquaintance and had some people that they knew in common and swapped some stories. It was just a really unique thing and unfortunately coach Bryant passed away, you know some four or five months after that,” Ellard said.

As he reflects on Buffett’s passing, Ellard remembers his down to earth friend who became a superstar and never lost his charm, curiosity and kindness.

“He was just an everyday guy, like your next-door neighbor. Had a lot of interest in the outdoors, had a lot of interest in sports, just people in general. Just a very kind person,” he said.