When Football Comes Back Again…

 

…and it will…someday.

It is the middle of the second week in August and there should be sounds, sights, and smells associated with the religion that is football.

There should be the scent of freshly cut grass, the visions of early morning mists rising off the practice fields and sharp white lines gridded on dark green.  There should be the “thump” heard ‘round the world when leather shoe meets the leather ball.

There should be aromas of Cramergesic ointment or Atomic Bomb…and ammonia from sweat-drenched athletic wear left to dry overnight and smelly athletic socks.  There should be grunts and pops, and a groan or two as large bodies running fast make contact with each other.

From a parking lot or distant practice field, the shouts of band directors, trumpet blasts, and drumbeats should be piercing the heavy, humid air.  They should be the clarions of the upcoming season.  There should be a rattle of equipment as they rush to their spots before the silence of parade rest.

Somewhere a chunky kid with a sousaphone wrapped around his chubby body should trip and fall on his way to his spot.  Laughter should reign before the silence of concern.

Spinning flags should be cutting through the air as flag lines practice their half-time routines.  Twisting school colors flying toward the morning sun.  Instead, there is the silence of the Covid-19 Twilight Zone.

Cheerleaders would be joining the band’s spinning flags with flips, cartwheels, and tumbles of their own as they practice their cheers and their routines.  “Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar, all for ‘so and so’ stand up and holler!”  Unfortunately, like London Bridge, their human pyramids have all fallen, the little girl at the top has crashed and burned.

There are no sounds, sights, or scents…at least near my little piece of heaven.  Football season is on hold for a bit longer, maybe the beginning of next month…maybe not.  “All activities shut down until further notice,” due to corona concerns.  The powers that be may make another decision this week.

At Hardee’s, the weekly meeting of old men wearing high crowned baseball caps should be discussing the chances of the local high school having a winning season in between bites of sausage biscuits and sips of coffee.  If it weren’t banned, Marlboros and Salems would send smoke from their fine Virginia tobacco skyward.

Instead, they are discussing the chances of having a season at all along with pontifications of, “They just ain’t as tough as we’s used to be.  We’d uh played through the Bubonic Plague if in we had to.  You remember when ole Roger played an entire season with two broke lags and his helmet knocked bass-ackwards.  Yeah, these coaches and players ain’t nothing but a bunch of wussies”.  Says the equipment manager from 1968.

The local universities have begun “teeing” it up, giving us hope, as smaller colleges await word as to whether their seasons will even take place.  Entire conferences have canceled seasons or pushed them back to the spring.  Telling a player to check his facemask takes on a new meaning in the anything but normal environment of Covid-19.

I miss football.  Not just the “I played it and coached it for so long, there seems to be something missing” missing football.  This year is different.  Every year since my retirement I’ve battled myself, attempting to silence the little football voice in my head that whispers this time of year.

“Go on up to the local high school.  I’m sure they could use your expertise and experience.”  As I’ve gotten older and creakier, the voice has been easier to silence but the little worm is still there.  There still seems to be something missing.

The voice I hear today is a different voice.  This is the low bass rattle of James Earle Jones telling me football will be canceled for this year.  It is as bad as the Beatles telling me “God is dead”.

Bordering upon sacrilege, Southern football is akin to a religion with its sacraments and cathedrals.  We have our revered gods, Bear, Pat, Vince, Bobby, and Danny.  Yes, I know Danny is still among the living and Bobby is Bobby Dodd, never Bobby Bowden.

One hundred thousand seat sanctuaries sitting empty.  The choirs of bands and cheerleaders silent.  Tailgating prayer meetings canceled, stadium parking lots noiseless and unoccupied.  Sacramental beer and pulled pork barbeque abandoned for another year…maybe.  “My Dabo, my Nick! Why have thou forsaken me?”  Will “Go Tigers” or “Roll Tide” be heard at all this year?

I have hope but my hope is tempered with concern.  If football is played someone will come down with the disease…maybe entire teams.  Even with a fatality rate of less than one percent, are we willing to sacrifice less than one percent of our athletes for a football season?  Are we willing to sacrifice our children to football gods?  Was that blasphemous?

Football is a dangerous sport.  It is something that I lived with when I played and when I coached.  You are one wrong step from a career-ending knee injury or an illegal hit away from permanent brain damage.  Some would say you are brain damaged just playing the game.

My greatest fear as a coach was losing someone to a bad hit or heat issues.  We have done much to reduce the possibility of injury or death, but it is still there.  Football is a sport that requires contact in close quarters.  I don’t know how you reduce the contact and contact is what transmits the disease.

1968 equipment managers and ‘wannabes’ are chastising those who opt-out of this season.  I don’t chastise.  I understand the fear.  If I had a son, I don’t know if I would push him toward football even in the best-case scenario.

Football teaches lessons I don’t believe can be taught in other sports.  I just don’t know if those lessons are worth ‘acceptable losses’ and I don’t believe my desires have to be those of my son or daughter.  Except for the desire for them to be safe.

Despite what I once thought, football is not life or even a reasonable facsimile. It is a distraction for most of us, a diversion, and I don’t believe our distractions should cost even one person his life.

***

Don Miller was primarily a high school teacher for forty-one years and a coach for forty-five years.  Twenty-nine of those seasons were spent coaching football in what is a football Mecca…the Deep South.  His author’s page is at  https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3H6APy6s1iIg6N1Cz5-RgcsnXmdrL3L47f2X_zzO1dKChLRG-NShnjbsk

The image is from Pinterest.  Clemson QB Jimmy Addison handing the ball off in the late Sixties.

 

Super Bowl Sunday

 

I watched the first Super Bowl.  I’ve watched all the Super Bowls.  I guess, unless I go blind, I will watch them all until the “sands in the hourglass” run out.

The first one wasn’t called the Super Bowl.  It was the AFL-NFL World Championship Game back then.  Not only has the name changed, but the game itself doesn’t resemble the first one.  More cameras than there are angles, scantily clad cheerleaders instead of pleated skirts, Bobbi socks and saddle shoes, commercials that were sometimes more interesting than the game itself, half-time extravaganzas instead of marching bands and different rules that the officials continue to blow.  Pretty much the only thing that hasn’t changed is me…laughing, are you?

My love for the game of football hasn’t changed…even though I don’t recognize it as the game I coached and played for three and a half decades.  It seems to be more fun-loving, a less brutal game than the original “three yards and a cloud of dust”version.  Much more fan friendly I guess.  Blame the old fun-loving, more offensive minded, pass-happy AFL, I guess.

As a young child, fall Sundays were reserved for church and a single football game on CBS.  That’s correct…one football game and nine times out of ten it was a Redskin contest.  We did have a thirty-minute highlight show of the previous Colts game.  I’m sure my father prayed at church that no one would decide to visit during the thirty-minute highlight show before the Washington Redskin’s weekly beating at the hands of anyone they might be playing.

Still, I became a fan…of Sonny Jurgenson’s lasers and Billy Kilmer’s wobblers.  It didn’t matter who was under center in the early sixties, victories were far and in between.  At least I had those replays of Johnny U and the Colts…but they weren’t very good either, except in ’59 and ’64.

Every Sunday, late in the game, my father would make the same observation about the Redskins, “I think they have shot their wad.”  For clarification, shooting one’s wad related to old muzzle-loading muskets and not…your dirty mind.

In 1960 a new kid dared to approach the NFL block…an always snowy new kid.  We would attempt to adjust our Sears rotary antenna to distant Ashville hoping the ABC affiliate and  AFL game of the week would come into view.  Click, click, click, “Whoa! That’s too far, go back!” It didn’t matter, early September or late November, the games always looked like it was snowing in black and white on the old RCA.  Later they would move to NBC, a channel we could pick up without snow.

These were the days of the New York Titans, Dallas Texans, Houston Oilers and a few names that would still be recognized today.  No, the Dallas Texans were not the forerunners of the Dallas Cowboys, but the Kansas City Chiefs.  The Cowboys were the first NFL expansion team and while briefly known as the Steers, they opened their first season in 1960 as the Cowboys.

The two leagues would eventually merge but not before the 1967 AFL-NFL World Championship played between the Bart Starr led juggernaut Green Bay Packers and the upstart Kansas City Chiefs with Len Dawson under center.  The score was close at half-time but a runaway by the end of the game.  Green Bay’s smash-mouth brand of football won 35-10 and began fifty-three years of futility as I repeatedly pull for the wrong team.

I’ve quit pulling for anyone…well, maybe I’ll pull against someone…like Brady.  It won’t matter.  If he were a religious figure, he’d walk on water.  Is that blasphemy or heresy?  I can never remember.

I’ll watch to the bloody end, maybe the commercials will be good.  I’ll watch and heft a beer and toast my father.  I’ll even use his favorite phrase when watching a fourth-quarter pass fall harmlessly to the ground…”Well, looks like they’ve shot their wad again.”

The only thing to be decided is who shoots their wad and how many of those beers I heft.  Go Budweiser Commercial!!!!

Further musings and a book or six can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

 

Championship Emotions

As I watched last night’s National Championship game, I seemed to drift to days of yesteryear.  Not that the game wasn’t interesting…well…anytime you pop the bully in the mouth it is interesting.  My memories were of young men competing on fields marked with white lines that seemed to glow with their own light.  Days when I still coached football, at a different level, in a different time.  But it was football.  I thought of an early spring evening at a coaching clinic held at Clemson University in 1981.

Danny Ford was my guy in 1981…still is my guy.  I miss his visage and demeanor on the sidelines at Death Valley.  A personable, country come to town, baseball cap pushed back on his head, a piece of grass stuck between his lip’s kind of guy.

Danny spoke two languages, football, and Alabama redneck.  He had a look that could freeze your heart or melt it.  He is still my guy.  Danny had recruited our school as an assistant, and our staff had developed a closeness with him during those days that carried over after he was named head coach.  Not that the present head coach isn’t my guy, Dabo is…its just different…despite being an Alabama boy too.

During those days I had dreams and aspirations.  Dreams and aspirations that never quite came to fruition.  I am now a spectator instead of a participant.  Sounds like I might be bitter.  Hmm.  Thoughts for another day.

Being young and foolish, our high school staff “closed” the clinic in the spring of 1981.  Late in the evening, sitting around a table were maybe a dozen of us “hardcore partiers”.  Ford knew how to throw a clinic.  After the football X’s and O’s were done, he served us beer in sixteen-ounce Hardee’s cups, pulled pork sandwiches with fixings and entertained us with a tree climbing hound dog while a bluegrass band played in the background.  The festivities had ended, the band packed up, with just a few of us sitting around a knockdown table.

In my world of coaching, I sat in the rarified air of coaching elite.  Successful high school head coaches sat close by while I thought it was smart for children and young coaches to be seen and not heard.  I admit to feeling somewhat invisible but listened intently hoping for a coaching nugget to stick in my brain.  Funny, Danny Ford was just two years older.

Normally jovial and full of country colloquialisms, this version was depressed and subdued.  Hat pulled down over his eyes, crying in his beer depressed.  Inside of a coffin subdued.  Clemson had just come off a terrible six and five season and he was feeling pressure from the administration and alumni.  A well-known, South Carolina High School Hall of Fame coach gradually drew him out before pushing a Hardee’s cup toward him saying, “Son, all you can do is coach ‘em up and love ‘em.  Other than that, what’s gonna happen is gonna happen.”

Something happened.  Clemson’s first National Championship was won ten months later as the Tigers beat Nebraska to cap the first storybook season.  The first of three storybook seasons…so far.

I ran into Danny recently…literally not figuratively.  I’m smiling.  At a small mercantile in the middle of nowhere, I walked into him as I exited the door with a package of cigars.  He was entering to get a pouch of Red Man and a hotdog.  Some things never change.  We both paused waiting as neurons slowly crackled in recognition.

Pointing a sausage sized finger at me, he drawled, “I know you.  You were with Lunceford and Bradburn at Mauldin.”  It was nice to be remembered.  I shivered a bit.

We stood outside, leaning on truck tailgates, reminiscing about times gone by and people we’ve lost, highs and lows, hemp farming, raising cows, grandchildren, and retirement.  “Whatever happened to….”  He seems quite happy to be out of the spotlight butI don’t think Danny Ford will ever retire.  Our meeting left me both proud and a bit melancholy, like what I am feeling this early, early morning as the talking heads analyze Clemson’s throttling of the Crimson Tide.

It seems we’re a lot alike…except I’m not a National Championship coach from a major university.  Neither of us misses the long hours but miss the people.  We miss the competition and prowling the sidelines on game night.  We don’t miss the practices held in hot and humid August and September.  I guess he is still competing in a way, now from astride a tractor, trying to resurrect a hemp industry while raising cattle.  At least the cab is airconditioned.

The memories we shared were warm, but I think we both fear there will come a time when memories are all we will have left…or maybe it is only my fear.  I guess I do miss “coaching them up and loving them.”  I also realize my time has passed.  Another reason to be melancholy.  The game has passed me by…but I’m not sorry.  I still have the memories and the attending emotions of young men competing on brightly lit green fields striped in white.

For those of you, not football fans, Dabo is Dabo Swinney, head football coach of the 2018 National Champion Clemson Tigers.

For further musings, https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image is of Danny Ford being carried off of the field after Clemson’s 22-15 victory over Nebraska in 1981 National Championship.

A TURN OF A KEY

 

Woolgathering doesn’t quite define it.  I wasn’t pleasantly lost in my thoughts…well…the triggering mechanism wasn’t pleasant.  Word came that a former player has died and then Aretha left us the next day.  Their deaths sent me down the metaphorical pig trails my wife often talks about.  I never met Aretha but Pat…Pat played for me and deserved better from his former coach.

I see him with his arms crossed over an ample belly, chin on his chest, his helmet cocked back on his head during a break in practice.  His head is cocked to the side as he listens to our diminutive offensive line coach pontificate.  They share a joke, both belly laughing and after a bit of back slapping went on about their business.  Seeing them in my mind is a prized memory.

He was a big youngster, playing offensive tackle, gregarious and fun-loving…except when he was trying to get in on the defensive side of the ball.  A pest with a huge grin enveloping his whole face, “Come on Coach Miller, I can do this.  I can make a play.”

He wasn’t the quickest kid, built for comfort not speed.  I tended to put runners on the defensive side, nasty folk who could fly to the ball…he wasn’t a runner…nor was he a bird.  He could be football nasty on occasion…and was.

Maybe I should have rethought my philosophy.  In a goal-line situation, we sent him in to add a bit of beef on the line of scrimmage and he came up with a fumble recovery.  I clearly see him running on to the field, chin and face mask jutting forward in determination, arms windmilling.  Smiling, I see him fist pumping in celebration as he took his place in what had become the offensive huddle.

His junior year we caught lightning in a bottle six times and had our hearts broken four.  The four losses were all heartbreakingly close and as their coach, I should have figured out a way to win a couple of them.  The last one cost us a trip to the playoffs.

Six and four was the best we could muster during my four-year tenure…back when I thought I was a football coach. There is much guilt, regret and now sorrow associated with those years.

He is gone, stolen from us in the middle of the night.  I’m still regretful…regretful I haven’t kept in contact. I forgot I coached kids, not football.  He and the rest of them deserved better because winning was never the only thing.

My pride was hurt and according to the Bible, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  I don’t know about the haughty spirit, but pride made me push the memories aside.  My “embarrassments” were placed in a mental “lockbox” and stored in a far corner of my mind.  I turned a key and walked away thinking it would hurt less.   “Out of sight, out of mind” meant the good recollections and warm feelings were locked away too.

There are too many good memories to hide them away…and too many good friends…the coaches and players.  People I should still be in touch with.  There is too little time to allow bad memories to overshadow the good.

Pat, I’m sorry it is too late for us.  I’m sorry about your beautiful family and their pain.  I know they are hurting.  I know too, they will have wonderful memories to fall back on when they are ready.

The key has turned and the lid has opened flooding me with memories.  The bad ones are still there but overshadowed by the good ones.  Bad memories can be handled when you have so many warm ones.

Rest in peace Pat knowing you will be missed…and adored.

The image was stolen from https://www.escapeyourfateup.com/store/p3/Multi-Room_Experience.html

For more of Don Miller’s musings https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

A Memory

My junior year in high school, Paul Neal’s retirement as principal caused a domino effect as my football and baseball coach, Bennett Gunter was named principal and his assistant coach, Randolph Potts, became head football and baseball coach.  Two more hats to add to an already crowded resume.  He was already the basketball coach, as in girl’s and boys’ basketball coach.  Oh, he taught science and physical education too.

This was fifty years ago when coaching staffs were just a bit smaller than they are now.  We had two football coaches…total.  I coached high school football for twenty-nine years and even our junior varsity staffs had more coaches by then.

Coach Potts passed away this weekend which is causing me to reflect on the strange and wonderful relationships between coaches and their players.  I feel honored to have been on both sides of the equation and honored to have been coached by Coach Potts.

Coaching and the game of football have changed drastically since the late summers of 1966 and 1967. For thirty-three years, through many of those changes, football was an integral part of my life either playing or coaching it.  I had many coaches and mentors who helped teach me a philosophy of coaching.  As I think back, Randy Potts gave me my first building block.

I was not totally unfamiliar with the new head coach.  He had been a fixture since my first season as an aspiring player and my position coach those previous years.  I remember a tall man with a blond flat top, a prominent nose, and a cheek stretched wide with a “chaw” of tobacco.  A blue wool baseball cap with a gold IL on the front.  A gray tee shirt over khaki pants, rolled up to show white socks and black coach’s shoes…oh, my god, he was my coaching fashion icon too.

I was a terrible athlete, an even worse football player, and fortunate to play on a team with a small number of players.  It gave me a chance to play and I had the opportunity to display my ineptness on many occasions.  One example stands out more than others and drew the deserved wrath of Coach Potts.  At home against Pageland, I met soon to be South Carolina standout Al Usher on the five-yard line with time running out in the first half.  I brought him down ten yards later in the middle of the end zone.  I’m glad halftime was just seconds away, had Coach Potts had any more time to percolate over my effort he might have killed me.  Instead, I got my ears pinned back, shoulder pads pounded, a spray of tobacco juice and a face full tobacco breath to go with it.  No, he was not happy.  Years later, as I began my own coaching career, I would understand.

The following year, also against Pageland, we played in a miserable, torrential, game long downpour.  We moved the ball up and down the field but managed to only put a touchdown on the scoreboard.  We missed the extra point.  Backed up, late in the game I snapped the ball over my punter’s head for a safety.  Pageland scored after the ensuing free kick and despite missing their extra point try, I was lower than whale poop.  We lost eight to six.  It is the only game score I can recall.

I have clear remembrances of sitting in the visiting dressing room, uniform running in water, afraid to look at any teammate eyeball to eyeball.  I wanted to cry but back then real men never cried.  No one said they blamed me which wasn’t the problem, I blamed me.

Coach Potts ambled over and sat down, creating one of those defining moments in a young man’s life.  He said, “Son, don’t blame yourself.  If we had done the things we were supposed to do, that snap wouldn’t have mattered.  Tomorrow the sun will shine…if it quits raining.”  This time he patted me on the shoulder pads.  It did quit raining.

I referred to the moment as defining because as I began my teaching and coaching career, his statement helped guide me.  A game may hinge on one play but if everyone does their job, no one play should matter.  If it does, it’s everyone’s fault, a team sport.  I had a couple of occasions to pass his statement on to needy players.

Some twenty-five years later I got to tell him what his warmhearted and compassionate comment meant to me.  For some forgotten reason, he was in Greenville and asked if he could stop by my office at Greenville High.  I was in the middle of finding out I was not football head coaching material and he was trying to sell life insurance, but we were able to spend some quality time together.  I didn’t buy any insurance, but I do remember telling him what the effect of his words was and how they helped shape who I was.  Today I am thankful I had that opportunity.

Rest in Peace Coach Potts and thanks. The former player whose error kept us out of the state championship thanks you too.  He just didn’t know it was you.

Don Miller’s author’s site may be found at https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B018IT38GM?redirectedFromKindleDbs=true

 

 

The Super Bowl and the Politics of Losing

 

It’s Super Bowl Sunday!  If polls are to be believed, I will join over one hundred million other fans watching the world championship of football.  Unless something disastrous happens before this evening’s game, I will watch my fifty-second game.  I’ve watched them all, dating back to the first one when the Bart Starr led Packers easily defeated the Len Dawson led Chiefs in what was not even called the Super Bowl.  It was the NFL-AFL Championship.  It doesn’t matter, I pulled for the wrong team…as usual.

The game has certainly changed…except for me pulling for the losing team.  I have actually rooted for the winner half a dozen times…maybe.  In some ways, it has become more about the concerts, half-time show and commercials than the game itself.  I must admit I have always enjoyed the commercials…especially the Budweiser Frogs and Clydesdales.  And there was the one featuring a scantily clad and pubescent Britney Spears dancing under erect Pepsi Cola bottles, which popped their lids in a foaming conclusion…after a Viagra commercial.  Very poor timing.

What I’ve not enjoyed, is seeing teams I pull for demolished.  As I look back, the line from the Steely Dan tune, “Deacon Blues”, comes to mind.

“They got a name for the winners in the world
I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me Deacon Blues”

So just call me Deacon Don I guess.

On to the politics of the game.  Kneeling versus Standing…or Standing versus Kneeling, boycotting versus watching.  Because my father was a World War II veteran, I will…probably never kneel…even though I believe their cause is just.  Because my father was a World War II veteran I’ll never berate those who do, and I’ll never boycott.  It may be the biggest game of the year, but it is still a game…an expensive game but a game none-the-less.  It’s not life or death…and despite what they might say, it isn’t war.

I find it interesting people will wish failure upon others because of their political views.  Sure, some of the people playing the game are spoiled and I would say all are overpaid…just like in other businesses.  According to many, it’s just Capitalism.  The league and owners are getting rich and commercials cost way too much.  Just Capitalism… right?  Some of the players are criminals…just like in other businesses.  Some are not very loveable…just like in other businesses. I would also comment that an old white guy probably shouldn’t comment on the trials and tribulations young black men might go through despite what they make now because it’s not about money.

What really concerns me are the folks who make their livings off professional football who aren’t players, coaches or owners.  The groundskeepers, the guy on the street hawking knock-off t-shirts, the folks working in concessions, even the folks working in the Wilson factory producing the footballs for the game…over three hundred.  These people rely upon the game of football for their livelihoods.  Do we wish to put them out of work because of a political stand?  I don’t.

Art, and I believe there is an art to all forms of athletics, has always reflected the politics of the times.  From Dante’s Inferno to Common Sense to “For What It’s Worth” to present day Rap and in between.  Politics and social upheavals have fueled many art forms and people have used their forums to express their beliefs…and their protest.  They have the right, and we need to protect those rights at all costs…and yes, you have the same right to turn it off or change the channel.  I also reserve the right to believe wishing failure upon my friends and neighbors is stupid…even if I don’t know them, and even if they pull for a different team…or political party.

Above all, and most important…Gooooo Loser!

Don Miller writes on varying subjects…some might be considered interesting.  Please go to his author’s page and check him out.  https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

THE SIREN’S CALL

A week and a half before high school football practice will begin and I am already hearing her song. The siren’s call of heat and humidity, the smell of freshly cut grass, the scent of over ripe athletic socks and ammonia from sweat soaked practice uniforms. As bad as it sounds, it is still the perfume of a sexy and sultry mistress from long ago. Our affair ended years ago but I still feel her caress on my skin and her call in my head. She tempts me today as she did all those years ago.

It’s been sixteen years since I broke off the relationship, in favor of family, friendship, and health. I hung up my rarely used whistle and shoved my over-used coaching shoes into a closet. I do continue to temp myself, watching football on TV or attending the occasional game. My senses say, “It can’t be that long ago that I last answered her melody, can it?” The calendar proves it is. Somehow, I can’t quite believe it…the desire to answer her call is just as strong today as it was those not so long years ago.

There is something seductive about the call, it’s more than the potential glory of a successful season. It is more about the people…it’s always been about the people. Relationships forged in the fire of competition. I miss those people, those I left behind and those I never got to meet.

There is something destructive about her song too. The unbelievably long hours, too little time with family. Arm chair coaches who have all the answers. My own loss of religion when plays or games go badly.

A week from this coming Friday I will face the day as I face all days, probably with an early morning walk or run. Despite my endeavors to keep my mind off my former mistress, her song will call to me. I will relive those earlier days and think about the young men I had the honor to coach. I will mull over great wins and heartbreaking losses. The pull will be strong but I’ll make sure Linda Gail ties me to the ship’s mast before I destroy my ship on the rocks.

HAPPY FOOTBALL SEASON to all.

Please take time to visit Don’s author’s page at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP or like his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/cigarman501/

Southern Bias

“The past is never dead, in fact, it’s not even past.” One of the South’s greatest Nobel Prize laureates. William Faulkner

A blog follower of mine paid me a superb compliment…I think…I hope. Her comment was, “I love reading your musings. You confound my biases about Southern attitudes.” No, she ain’t from around here but sometimes I wonder if I should be. I guess I need to ask the clarifying question, “What biases?” I haven’t heard back yet and since our power went off due to a thunderstorm, I guess I shall attempt to saunter on alone.

I don’t believe she meant, “As one Forbes pundit overstated several years ago, ‘the common media view of the South is as a regressive region, full of overweight, prejudiced, exploited, and undereducated numbskulls.’” I wrote a previous post about our own contributions to those biases , “Sot in Our Ways,” but will not re-till this field since I don’t believe it fits her bias. The reason I believe this? She writes from her Michigan farm about chickens, goats and puppy dogs. She even has a story about possums. Sorta sounds like a female, Yankee version of me…except she’s probably a better writer than I am…no, not probably.

I realize the South is full of paradoxes and I know our paradoxes create biases. Sweetening our tea before adding lemon to make it a bit sour. Revering the past while seemingly revering little of the present. My great Grand Daddy preaching on the evils of alcohol while being drunker than “old Cooter Brown.” My guess was he was railing about the evils of “sto’ bought” rather than homemade. Going to family reunions to find our mates…that was a joke although I did date a very distant cousin once upon a time. I lived in a sparsely populated area and female company was at a premium.

I guess another perceived reason for bias is our murder of the “King’s English.” Droppin’ our gees, talkin’ slower than molasses running in the wintertime and usin’ the word y’all all of the time. I was once told the difference between Southern girls and Northern girls was that if you asked for a kiss, Northern girls might answer “You can!”, Southern gals might answer “Y’all can!” Remember, y’all can mean one…maybe. Well, y’all can is singular, y’all ALL can would be plural…kinda like “Youse guys.”

I know many Northerners who have biases about our food. No one I know actually eats Moon Pies while drinking a “dope” and I have never in my life eaten pickled pig’s feet…and won’t ever unless starving. Some folks above the Mason Dixon Line wouldn’t be caught dead sucking a crawfish head after eating a crawfish tail or eating grits even though polenta is nothing more than grits with a Latin name and probably a heftier price tag. Grits should be viewed as a “blank canvas.” Plain until you start adding color…say…mixed with cream cheese and covered with grilled or blackened shrimp “runnin’” in a brown roux featuring Tasso ham or andouille sausage and chives. Now that’s colorful. I will not discuss Cream of Wheat.

I have my own bias or at least an issue with the way certain folks use the verb barbeque interchangeably with the verb grill. Barbequin’ ain’t grillin’. Grillin’ is charring burgers, hot dogs, chicken or fish. Doing so is fine, I love a good chargrilled burger or chicken done right…with a beer can up its butt. BBQ, however, requires low, low temperatures, hard wood coals and large animal parts although we will sneak a chicken or five in for good measure. Most importantly it requires time…hours of time…sometimes a night of time…with lies and brown liquor to help you pass the time or pass out. Rome was not built in a day and good BBQ requires at least that long.

There is a true earned bias. Many Southerners believe if Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, their favorite college football coach sits to the left…regardless of how much he cusses. For sure, Southern college football is a religious experience of sorts. Even our most hated rivals brag about how they always fill their “House of Worship” no matter how many games they lose. Yes, that was a “hell fire and brimstone” missile aimed right at their little garnet and black hearts.

Okay, maybe I am the exception proving the bias or just the rule and no William Faulkner’s quote had little to do with this essay…except it might exemplify one of our greatest paradoxes and I just like it.

“Musings of a Mad Southerner” Stories from my Southern heart. New nonfiction from Don Miller at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss

If you are interested in reading posts from my Yankee, female doppelganger, use the following link to touch base with Nancy and her Bluestem Farm. https://bluestempond.wordpress.com/

COACH ‘EM UP AND LOVE ‘EM

An article from the Washington Post by Chuck Culpepper, “Across college football, ‘I love you’ becomes audible” caught my eye. It featured an exchange, among others, which took place between Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Deshaun Watson after the 2016 National Championship loss to Alabama. As Dabo finished answering a question he turned to Watson and said, “I love you.” Watson returned the love with a back at you “Love you too” to Swinney. There is a great deal to love about these men if you are a Clemson fan.

Football has certainly changed from the days of Frank Howard, Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler and Darrell Royal. The major change is reflected in Royal’s quote, “When you throw a pass three things can happen to it, and two of them are bad.” I would say today’s coaches have totally ignored that pearl of wisdom and have proven the one good thing that can happen is a whole bunch of points are being scored. Another change I doubt any of these “old school” coaches would have ever uttered, is a statement like “I love you” to a player. Old school coaches simply would not or COULD NOT say it.

It is only recently men have been free to express feelings of love for other men…in a manly kind of way. See, I have trouble even talking about it. I can’t even give more than a “love ya Man” to my brother and I feel terrible I am so repressed. Coaches kissing their players on the cheek or giving out hugs, until recently, were restricted to the women’s side of athletics. Displays of affection have now found there way over to the men’s side of the bench and I say GREAT! Until this era the best a player might hope for would be a slap on the butt or a noogie.

I’m sure Frank, Woody, Bo and Darrell all loved their players and for the most part I’m sure their players knew it…maybe. I guess I should add my name to the list. I can’t remember ever coming out and saying “I love you” to a team. Maybe late in my career. You ask a bunch of kids to sweat and bleed for you but you are too repressed to let them know you care about them as young men by saying it. Shame on me.

Once after a particular tough loss, I asked South Carolina high school hall of fame coach Mike Anthony what I should do. His wisdom was simple, “Nothing you can do except coach ’em up and love ’em.” Wise words…wish I had listened. Soooooooo, to all my former players, sorry I’m late doing this…I LOVE YOU and while I’m at it, THANK YOU.

To all of you new coaches or coach want to bes, don’t be afraid to “coach ’em up and love ’em.”

The complete article by Chuck Culpepper can be accessed from the following link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/colleges/across-college-football-i-love-you-becomes-audible/2016/11/23/e2d61f4c-a90d-11e6-8fc0-7be8f848c492_story.html

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf

COMEDIC COACH

I never thought well in the heat of the moment. I can’t tell you how many times over my forty-three years of coaching I have thought hours later, “I wish I had said that instead of standing like an idiot.” The following are funny and sometimes irreverent comebacks or statements about football situations that I wish I had used had I been bright enough or quick enough. I would guess I should say that some of these are R rated.

• Heard during a tackling drill: “Son that hit sounded like a mouse pissing on a cotton ball.”
• Said to one of our honor student football players: “You are the stupidest smart kid I have ever coached!”
• Getting ready for a certain team drill: “Half you guys over here, half you guys over there, the rest of you behind me.”
• Describing the blocking ability of our offensive line: “They couldn’t knock a sick squirrel off a commode.”
• A favorite of a former assistant: “If ifs and butts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas!”
• Lou Holtz during a film session to an offensive lineman: “I know you just got married but all holes don’t have to have hair around them.”
• During a scrimmage: “You are playing like old people screw. It’s slow, it’s disgusting and somebody is going to get hurt.”
• To an offensive tackle after missing a block: “Give me your helmet! I’m going to roll it out there and hope someone trips over it.”
• Along the same lines: “We’d do better with a cardboard cutout playing corner back.”
• To a running back: “Son you couldn’t escape from a wet paper bag.”
• Overheard after the HC said, “Men, the team with the biggest d@#$s will win this game!” A smart aleck from the back row said, “Coach, were in trouble. I’ve seen us all in the shower!”
• NC State defensive end Ronnie Banther when asked by Coach Lew Holtz if he could whip an Ohio State All-American offensive tackle. “NO SIR! BUT I’LL FIGHT HIM TILL I DIE!”
• From another assistant “He was so confused he didn’t know whether to scratch his watch or wind his ass.”
• An opposing coach: “You are so stupid you could fall in a barrel of titties and come out sucking your thumb.”
• From a friend talking about our passing game: “It’s like Halloween. Looks scary but it ain’t real.”
• Finally, my favorite, after blowing the same three assignments in a row, “It’s hard to believe you were the fastest sperm.”

Hope you enjoyed. For more unique humor you might wish to purchase one of Don Miller’s books at http://goo.gl/lomuQf