Football and the Fairer Sex

This is an odd day for me to make a blog post but after reading some of the posts concerning the Vandy kicker I felt a call to arms.  I felt a call to turn myself into a transgender female.  After reading some of the comments I was ashamed to be a male.  But then I saw some of the negative posts were from women…okay I did not want an operation anyway and I doubt I have the legs for a skirt.

You know the story.  Sarah Fuller, Vanderbilt’s star goalkeeper goes from helping the Lady Commodores soccer team win an SEC Championship to winning an audition as a kicker for the Vanderbilt football team.  The Vanderbilt kickers have a problem with Covid-19.

The Vanderbilt football squad has a problem with offense…and defense. She only had one chance to kick, a squib kick-off to open the second half and people went overboard with comments in both directions. Too much praise, too much criticism.  It was just a well-executed squib kick. No runback and the primitives among us didn’t get to see her crushed.

Do we call male soccer players for Vanderbilt Gentlemen Commodores?  No, there is no Gentlemen Commodore soccer team and I know of no program that refers to their football…or futbol team as “Gentlemen.”

Why can’t we praise people for their efforts?  Maybe it was a publicity stunt, at 0 and forever, Vandy needs good pub or to find a good pub. 

Maybe it was to stir up interest for a Gentlemen’s Commodore soccer team. 

Maybe it was what it was.  She was the best option at the time. She is still the best option but they are playing Georgia so we may again only see her once.

Nah, more than likely George Soros, the liberal boogie man, agreed to pay off the head coach’s buy out so they could fire him if the school agreed to make a spectacle of Miss Fuller.  Could happen.  The head coach did get fired. I’ve read crazier conspiracy theories.

I don’t understand why my male compadres…and their female counterparts were anxious for a person they don’t know to be turned into a pretzel by three hundred pound monster linemen. 

Fact is, she’s most likely tougher than you think, and women have been outperforming men’s expectations…and outcomes since…since…since cave dwellers went out to hunt wooly mammoths. 

She is a goalkeeper you know?  Goalkeepers are tough.  They don’t flop, grab an ankle and wallow like a limb has been torn from their bodies when being breathed on by an opposing player.  Goalkeepers cause strikers to flop, grab an ankle and wallow because a limb has been torn from their body. 

My daughter was a goalkeeper and part of me cringed when she came out on a breakaway, throwing her body at the ball while body blocking the attacking player.  Part of me cheered too, but usually not until after the play was over and Ashley was back on her feet.  “Got all your teeth, Boo?” No, I would never call her Boo.  “Got all your teeth, Spike?”

During my football coaching days, we had a kicker who happened to be a girl…and we were a first.  Said in a kind of mealy-mouthed way, “First high school football team to play a girl.  Play a girrrrrrrl.”  Said as if we might have bit down on a dog turd,Why does she get all the publicity?”  BECAUSE WE WERE TERRIBLE, NUMB NUTS!

None of the italics are true…except the terrible part.  We had “logistic” issues as in where she dressed but she was accepted as a “team member”, just like every other kid who came out. 

That’s also not to say there wasn’t some gnashing of teeth.  We’re already bad and some felt having a girl on the team made us look even worse.  “You’ve got a girrrrrrrl on your team.”

We were probably as bad as Vandy in a high school way, and she wasn’t the strongest kicker, but she did get the opportunity to kick a few extra points and succeeded.  Let me rephrase, she earned the opportunity to kick a few extra points. She was like any other reserve, we played her when we could.  She was also a soccer player and a tough nut to boot.  Bet Miss Fuller is too.

 I still don’t understand why a person would hope someone would break both her legs. Did this somehow make a mockery of football? 

Wait.  Did this somehow make a mockery of your manhood?  I think some men are afraid.  Afraid of being replaced maybe.  Afraid they will somehow be less important.  I keep reading, “Men should have roles, women should have roles.”  Usually with a Biblical reference followed by barefoot and pregnant. 

It was the same reaction when women went out and proved they could be firefighters, or law enforcement officers, soldiers, pilots, etc.  Not so secretly, men expressed their displeasure…as did some women.  Not because women weren’t capable, they have more than proven they are, but because somehow it has upset the belief people should be limited by the antiquated roles we perceive they should have. There should be no limits.

Has she proven herself an American football player? No, and she probably won’t.  She is a kicker and kickers aren’t noticed until they miss.  My hope is she proves herself to be a kicker.  She’s already proven herself to be an athlete.  A lot of other people have proven to be knuckle-dragging cretins.

Don Miller has just released the second of his Drunken Irishman Saloon series, Long Ride to Paradise. The link is https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08P81W6LZ.

His author’s page is https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3CBHKrwrcnRx38KnvopTelH0W56XFsG7wnRRL5lUD1JpiZ4TfUy2YcxfE

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.

 

A Changing of the Guard

 

John McKissick has died.  The picture in the first obituary I read reminded me of a similar pose by General Douglas MacArthur…a green and gold baseball cap instead of a military-style hat with scrambled eggs on the visor, no corncob pipe, but the same jutting, strong chin, and intense look.  Arms crossed in front of his body, he was an imposing figure despite the hint of a smile.  The picture reminded me that along with soldiers, old coaches never die.  They live on in our memories, especially if they are legendary.  McKissick was legendary as was MacArthur…but without MacArthur’s narcissism.

I knew Coach McKissick…but I didn’t know Coach McKissick.  A big man, I shook hands with him and his hand swallowed mine.  He was the legend.  I was just starting out, a wet behind my athletic whistle young coach.  He was on his way to becoming the winningest coach in high school football, not just in South Carolina but nationally.  No one has won more games, 621, ten of them State Championship games.

Perspective.  He became the head coach at Summerville High School when I was two years old and retired the same year I did.  I coached for forty-five years.  He spent sixty-three years as the head coach at the same school.  Over five thousand players…in some cases, three generations of players.  Further perspective, he won 604 more games as a head football coach than I did.

Coach McKissick was a legend and I was a peon; a child and we all know children should be seen not heard.  I learned over time Coach McKissick would have never thought of me that way.  It was my own insecurities melting me under his gaze.

I misstated earlier.  Coach McKissick is a legend.  He still lives on in the hearts of his former players and coaches…and some people he never really knew.

At a clinic in the late Seventies, I sat just outside of his orbit making sure to be seen but not heard.  His orbit included the rest of South Carolina’s Football Trinity, Willie Varner and Pinky Babb.  They were the archangels of the religion known as Southern football…at least in South Carolina.  Together they have 1340 victories.  There were other angels at the altar of football but these three men were the most legendary of the legendary and McKissick would eventually fly higher than any with almost half of their total.

In the periphery of his orbit, I scribbled notes, hanging on his every word, hoping to pick up some tidbit to make my Xs better than someone else’s Os.  I should have listened more and quit writing notes.  For McKissick, as I learned, it was never about Xs and Os, it was about kids.  He was never a master strategist; he was a leader of men.

His former players use such descriptors as honest, motivating, inspiring, and inspirational.  Some use the greatest descriptor, a father figure.  These men speak of life lessons, those he taught and they learned.  They speak of how John McKissick was the town and school of Summerville.  Not one speaks of Xs and Os.

In an interview in Charleston’s Post and Courier by Gene Sapakoff, Coach McKissick refused to let his light shine when asked the keys to his success.  I quote directly from the Post and Courier, “I was in a good place and I was surrounded by good people; coaches, administrators, and some good players,” McKissick said. “I’ve always heard that if you surround yourself with good people who work hard, good things will happen.”

I dare say, it took a special coach to pull it all together and keep it going for sixty-three years.

The old guard was changing before Coach McKissick retired.  Babb and Varner had crossed over to their hereafter and many others of the old school had retired.  New coaches were lining up to take their places.  New legends in waiting…they’ll never be McKissick.

Football, the game, was evolving from a straight-ahead, three yards and a cloud of dust, bust you in the chops game to a more pass-happy, spread you out, finesse rather than smack you in the face game.  Honestly, I don’t recognize it sometimes.

I’m sure Coach McKissick changed how he attacked other people’s Os with his Xs but I’m also sure he never changed the way he coached.  You don’t have to change the way you coach when you coach kids and not a game.

Rest in peace Coach McKissick, rest in peace.

Featured image from USA Today, (Photo: Associated Press)

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Confessions of a Coaching Fraud…

 

My induction into a former high school’s athletic hall of fame has me flitting hither and yon over memories from forty-plus years of teaching and coaching.  For some reason, I don’t feel very worthy of the accolades.

It was great to see former players now conquering their own lives and being successful by any standard applied. Former students, coaching peers, and parents stopping by and pumping my hand or hugging my neck.  It wasn’t great, it was wonderful.

Still, I wonder in the back of my head, “Why?”  “How?”  “Am I a fraud?”  Sometimes things were too easy…except when they weren’t.

Dozens have extended congratulations and well wishes on social media and email.  Despite my pride and delight…I don’t feel worthy.

The festivities were poignant, my plaque sitting alongside Tim Bright’s, a player who passed too soon due to colon cancer.  A player who was, along with hundreds of others, responsible for my success.  I wonder what he might have accomplished had he not left us.  His family is so dedicated to his memory.  His charity is still doing great things for those who suffered as he did.

My wife…a former coach herself and far superior in my estimation.  As always, standing by my side.  Always supportive, always ready with a meaningful critique of the last game’s outcome.  Greatest supporter and greatest critic.  “Just let them play and quit bunting so much.”  “Why did you do….”  I do miss her voice distinguishable from anywhere in a stadium no matter how large or loud the crowd was.  “Come on Coach, run your other play!”  I am so lucky and so unworthy.

As I look back, it seemed too easy.  I know I’m looking through the sands of time and the time is becoming a sandstorm.  Still, great assistant coaches, great players, and great parents made my successes.  I just walked around being me.

I’ve heard so many horror stories that I never experienced.  There were just a few bad apples, just a few obstacles…maybe they weren’t bad apples…maybe I just did find the key to unlock their potential.  I do feel like the king of frauds.

There were laughs and tears but the tears were minimal.  When we gather and exclaim, “Do you remember…?”, the question is always about the laughs.  It is easy to remember the good times.

Through the magnifying glass of retrospection, even the bad seasons were good.  Seasons we knew we were bad but managed to get better.  Sometimes a seven-win season could be as rewarding as a state championship season.  Seasons you really didn’t know how good or bad you were.  Seasons you just put in the work that didn’t seem like work and hoped for the best.  I believe I always received the best they had.  I hope they received mine.

When I first began my coaching journey, I was terrible.  Some might say, “Nothing ever changed.” It is a fact I’m comfortable with because I believe I grew despite feeling apologetic to those early teams.

I grew and turned a corner of sorts after a bitter loss. I lamented to the offending coach. “I don’t know what to do.”  His answer was, “You love them.  Remember, you’re not coaching football, you’re coaching kids.  Win or lose you love them.”  I tried to apply his nugget through the rest of my career.

Names and faces blur over time but I can honestly and unapologetically say, “I loved them.”  I didn’t coach football, soccer or baseball, I coached kids.  Maybe I’m not as big a fraud as I believe.

It has been three years since I last stalked a sideline or a dugout.  I honestly haven’t missed the practices or the games.  Every time I think I might return to a grassy field my body does something to remind me of the beating it has taken over the years and those feelings pass.

What I miss is the comradery.  I miss the interactions with my players, the coaches and the opponents staring back at me from the opposing dugout or sideline.  Those were good times and I miss them.

I still feel like a fraud.  It was too much fun, it was too easy.  Great players make for good coaches.  I had a cornucopia of great players. Thanks for the memories guys, thanks for the effort, thanks for my successes.  Thanks for letting me be me and letting me be a part of your lives.

HOF

Don Miller writes at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The featured image was lifted from https://eic.rsc.org/feature/coaching-for-success/3010068.article.

The whistle is the symbol of the coaching profession.  I find it interesting that I rarely used one.

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

 

“You Deserve a Break Today…at the White House”

Ordinarily, I don’t make two blog posts on the same day but…today is different.  I feel a-callin’!  Some folks have gotten on the wrong side of this old coach.

I’m a Clemson fan.  I hold a master’s degree from Clemson and no I didn’t drive by campus with the window open and have a diploma thrown through it as some from folks in the middle of the state might think.  I also hold a master’s plus thirty, primarily bestowed from USC East, but I’m still a Clemson fan.

I’m not a fan of the present resident of our White House nor am I a fan of McDonald’s.  I’m a Burger King guy if I feel the need to up my cholesterol count with fast food.  I tend to limit the number of Whoppers I consume to “once in a blue moon”…sorta like Gamecock victories over the Tigers.

Last night the Clemson National Championship Football Team was hosted to a fast food feast at the White House.  Big Macs, Wendy’s Hot and Juicy’s, Whoppers and pizza of an unknown brand were served on White House porcelain.  People have gone crazy over it.  Your craziness is misplaced!

Going to the White House to be recognized for athletic excellence has never been about what President happens to reside there at the time…unless you are a professional.  It is about the recognition of student-athletes…and reward…even if it involves “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onion on a sesame bun” served on official White House China.  I don’t like the sauce or the President but that is not the point.

I’ve lived in South Carolina for my entire life and find it tedious to explain why we rank low in areas we shouldn’t rank low in, or rank high in areas we shouldn’t rank high in.  It’s not tedious because I can’t explain it.  Those are other battles. I find it refreshing to have something to be radiant “orange” over.

Last night was a joy for me…and the team, coaches and support staff.  It was a joy for people wearing orange from all over the United States.  It was not about the President, what I disagree with him about, or what he decided to serve as a meal.

Last night was a moment to recognize young men who have worked hard to attain a goal and for a state to feel pride vicariously through them.  Give it a break!  There are young men who would never travel outside of a fifty-mile radius of the home they were born into were it not for Clemson…or U of SC football…or other athletic teams.  They would never in their wildest dreams expect to shake the hand of a United States’ President or sit at a table of honor in the White House.

Call me a hypocrite.  If I were in their shoes, I’d be right in line to get my handshake…I would use a hand sanitizer before I picked up my double meat Whopper, but I’d shake the President’s hand and consider it a lifetime moment.  This should have nothing to do with politics or what food was served…or if the President was using it as a positive “press” opportunity.  As quarterback Trevor Lawrence said, “It was awesome.”  I agree.

Image of Tiger players loading up from Sports Illustrated at https://www.si.com/college-football/2019/01/14/clemson-tigers-white-house-visit-mcdonalds-wendys-fast-food

For further musings, 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

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/