There’s nothing to do here on a Friday night but go to a football game. This town really revolves around football. – John Williams
There was a time….before the small towns were overrun by the Godzilla monster of urban sprawl. Before cell phones, computers, and social media hypnotized us all. Before there were so many choices at our fingertips. Friday night football was king.
I guess there are still small towns that close up lock, stock, and barrel and migrate to the local football stadium on a Friday night. Bright stadium lights and green grass with sharply painted or chalked white lines. Marching bands and cheerleaders dressed in their finest, strutting to this year’s marching songs. Drumlines rocking, pompoms shaking, rabid fans cheering at a fever pitch. Yeah, there was a time.
This coming Friday the annual bloodletting known as the “Golden Strip Derby.” I was a part of the rivalry for nine years early in my teaching and coaching career. During those days I fancied myself as a football coach and felt there could be no higher calling. No greater high than those heady moments after a win…especially against your “down the road” rival. “Better than sex,” one coaching chum tried to convince me, “sex lasts but a few minutes, winning a football game last all week long. Beating your rival last all year long.”
I know it has changed, but during those days, Mauldin, SC, was at one end of the Golden Strip, Simpsonville at the other, maybe five miles separating them by road, closer as the crow flies.
Mauldin High School was created in the early Nineteen Seventies mostly from the student body of Hillcrest High School, just outside Simpsonville. In the Seventies, Mauldin proper was a wide-place on a crossroads, Simpsonville, not much larger but they did have a main street. That is one thing that has changed as Greenville has come calling.
Hillcrest looked down their noses at the farmers and “sh!tkickers” down the road, at least that’s what we told the kids. They probably had as many “rednecks” as we did. It was inevitable a small town, Southern football rivalry would manifest itself. Rednecks versus the townies. Mavericks versus Rams.
I don’t rightly remember who came up with the idea of playing a game for a cheap sporting goods trophy, calling it the Golden Strip Derby. That would be cheap in monetary value. I’m sure it was as valuable as the Lombardi Trophy to those kids.
I think I remember but don’t want to put someone’s nose out of joint if I’m wrong. I know we had a couple of rabid fans I’d put blame on. They bled their school colors. I remember some pretty outlandish bets being wagered…free gasoline for a year? A lot of bottles of Daniel’s or Walker’s finest or five-hundred-dollar bets were the norm.
I read Hillcrest is on an eight-game winning streak. I know hope springs eternal for the Mauldin fans. I was a part of nine straight wins by Mauldin in the Seventies and early Eighties. Never lost to them and winning never got old. Our orange, white, and brown-clad Mavericks never fell to the red, white, and black-clad Rams…although there were some close ones. I’m sure there was always hope by those fans on the opposite side of the field. Hope that we stomped flat.
Many were close, hard-fought games…” slobber knockers.” I remember one was 6-0 on a dreary wet night and not decided until Ray Ritchy secured it with a late interception. He nearly broke my nose when he jumped into my arms and then got tangled in my head set cord. We both went down in a jubilant, muddy heap.
I also remember mocking the Radio City Rockettes as we coaches danced to “Rock and Roll Part Two” watching the final seconds tick off of the clock. I don’t think the opposing school appreciated the lightness of our feet and the Rockettes weren’t in danger of replacement.
In another game we were down by double digits at halftime when a short, stocky running back named Timmy May and our offensive line decided we weren’t going to lose and we didn’t. Stuffed it down their throats we did. Did I mention our defense shut them out in the second half?
The stands will be filled on Friday night and periodically I’ll check the score. I won’t be one of those fans in attendance. When I retired I found out it was about the kids and the coaches, the parents of those kids, the students, teachers, and administrators who supported us.
It was about the people who played the game, not the game itself. The games are not as important when you don’t know anyone. They are not as important when you haven’t invested a part of yourself. The win is no longer better than sex…but the memories might be.
My favorite memory of one of those rival games was a pre-game speech. We had heard how great the Rams were that year, a bunch of college recruits, top to bottom. This was going to be their year. Remember, hope springs eternal.
Our head coach lamented to the team while asking the question, “What can we do to fire you up? We’ll do it. What do we have to do to win the game?” An offensive lineman no longer with us in this life, Preston Trotter, raised his hand and in his best country voice asked, “You reckon Coach Long could do that Johnny B. Good song?” Not at all what was expected.
Coach Long was our Elvis impersonator and on the baseball field next to the stadium he did Elvis doing “Johnny B. Good.” We kicked their butts.
Football is about being a part of something bigger than yourself, even if it is a small town rivalry. It is not about stadiums holding eighty thousand. Its about lifelong friendships forged in the heat of August. About lessons learned form exhilarating victories or excruciating defeats. It is about people, not pigskin.
Good times, good memories. Good luck to the Mauldin Mavericks.
Don Miller wrote a book, “Winning Was Never the Only Thing….” about his teaching and coaching career. It may be purchased or downloaded on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00OM8ONRM/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i4
Image from Greenvilleonline.com