…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.