The Purity of Football

Clemson Tigers and USC Gamecocks flag

A house divided–Clemson and Carolina flag

Allow me to wax poetic about football.

In her later years, my mother eschewed football in favor of baseball. “It’s just so…brutal…violent,” she said.

Many writers before me have observed that football is a ritual reenactment of the primal clashes of mankind.  There are broad-shouldered, narrow-waisted men fighting on the field and hourglass-shaped women on the sidelines cheering them on.  Mama was onto something. Nowadays, analysts have turned their thoughts to the consequences of the sport’s violence–brain damage, memory loss, dementia, neuromuscular disorders, orthopedic injury–and the failure of the industry to support players who have passed their use-by date.

People get all that, but people watch football games because they are fun to watch.  There is a culture of football in the US; people schedule their lives around it.  Home game?  Whee!  Excuse to let down your hair, paint up your face in team colors and escape your humdrum life.  Party on!  Tailgate cities and healthy economic support of the poultry industry ensue.  The very existence of fried chicken, chips and dip and beer are justified.

Beat Texas A&M tee shirt

A newly-minted University of South Carolina Gamecock

College football, its rituals and rivalries are a religion in the South.  My son went off to college last week.  Yes, he attended high school football games, in a sort-of lukewarm way.  He has never shown a lot of interest in football of any kind.  Now all of a sudden, he is a student at the University of South Carolina and, GO COCKS!

Me, I cannot watch football at a crowded party, in a bar full of strangers or on a flat screen under a canopy at your tailgate.  The rumble of voices, the distraction of folk coming and going, the food and drink–for me these things all take away from the purity of football.  I have to concentrate, gird up my loins and (sort of) play.  I watch to see the plays unfold and follow the announcers as they dissect the replay.  I find it difficult to give the game my full attention when there are more than a couple of people in the room.  It is as though I get in a zen state where the only things in existence are me…and the football game itself.

Sigh.

This week marks the opening of college football season 2014.  I graduated from the University of Georgia during the Hershel Walker years, but I have always considered myself a Clemson sympathizer.

Lest you think I’m preaching from the sidelines, I worked as a clerk in the Wofford College Athletic Department.  I personally assembled the playbook for the Wofford Terriers with whom the ClemsonTigers opened their 11-0 national championship season.  I’ve also attended some mighty fine contests on the gridiron, games such as Clemson v UGA back in the early 80’s when these teams won back-to-back national championships, and I’ve felt the earth shake in Death Valley at Clemson-Carolina games.  I’ve heard the Dawgs woof between the hedges and stood outside the coliseum in the ticket line. Heck, I separated my left shoulder playing intramural flag football at UGA.  I’ve even been to the Esso Club on game day.

How I prioritize college football

How I prioritize college football

So I self-identify as a Clemson fan though I don’t wear their colors.  I pull for Clemson even when they play my almer mater.  But unlike many Clemson fans, I don’t hate the University of South Carolina.  As a matter of fact, I yell for them like crazy when they play anyone other than the Tigers.

It gets a little more complicated when the two South Carolina powerhouses lock horns.  Long ago, I would have remained true to the Tigers.  Perhaps I’ve mellowed out over the years, or maybe it’s the respect the old ball coach has brought to Gamecock football, for now I pull for whichever team stands to gain the most in the polls.

There, I’ve said it and it feels good, like I’ve emerged from some kind of closet.

This week, South Carolina opens with Texas A&M at home and Clemson travels a few miles down the road to clash with the mighty Dawgs in Athens, Georgia.  Have a happy–and safe–football season.  Don’t  punch some guy in the parking lot of a bar like one of my friends did one time.  Travel safely, party responsibly and enjoy.

Don’t mind me.  I’ll be watching in air-conditioned comfort, solo, in the lotus position with my head in the game.

 

Clemson v UGA

Go Tigers!

 

 

 

Post to Twitter Tweet This Post

  • Share/Bookmark

That Old School Bell’s Gonna Ring Loud and Long…

The other day I ran into an old friend.  We were in school together from the 6th grade until high school graduation and started to reminisce.  I teased him about a pretty unpopular teacher that we shared for 7th grade English who unfortunately followed us to the high school.  We had her again for 9th grade English.  Some poor folks even had her three years in a row.

She berated him constantly–whether he was doing anything bad or not, and I can still hear her calling him out in class,  “Mark Burke, you so mannish!”  My husband suffered a similar fate in her classes:  “Tommy Burns, you are grinning and that means you are up to no good!”

At any rate, I asked my friend who his favorite teacher was.  His answer came as a complete surprise to me.  I had in mind all of the great teachers we had in high school, whether physics or chemistry or 12th grade English lit.  But he shocked me by again reaching back into the 7th grade at old Ford School in Watts Mill and saying, “Well, Jackie, I guess it was your daddy.”

Another shared teacher, my daddy Jack Holmes taught us 7th grade science. I had almost forgotten that.

Surprised and humbled, the best I could do was blurt out “Why?”

“See, it’s funny what I can remember about school and what I can’t,” he said, “but I can remember specific questions on tests he gave us.”

Yeah, right, I thought.  “Name one.”

But he did.  “True or False.  Astronauts cannot eat in space because they can’t swallow.”

I had to think for a second, because it seemed so obvious that it sounded like a trick question.  My friend went on to explain the answer, that yes, they swallow because the muscles do the work of pushing ingesta down into the stomach.  The question made him think and made an impression on him, so I began to think of teachers who had made an impression on me.

My favorite teacher was 10th grade English teacher Mrs. Anna T. Mims, an exquisite lady who somehow took Silas Marner and inspired in me a love of literature that shapes who I am today.  I also adored the almost bashful and halting delivery of algebra-trig and physics teacher Mr. Ben Miller, the precise and demanding Chemistry teacher Mr. Harold Ligon, the irascible U.S. History teacher Mr. Tommy “Sub” Sublett,  strict government teacher Mrs. Rosemary Johnson and Mrs. Keith Oakes, who prepared us well for college with senior English lit.

I spent so many years in school, from Ford to the high school to Wofford College to the University of Georgia.  It would never have occurred to me that anybody could remember specific questions on specific tests.  Later on, I searched  my brain to see if I could recall any test questions.

They were all in college or vet school.  There was the infamous social ethics test at WoCo given by Professor Walt Hudgens, who passed out blue books and then said, “There is no test.  But I want you all to sit here and write in your blue book for at least an hour.  You can doodle, draw, write love letters, whatever…just pretend that you are taking a test.”  The class was flummoxed.  I chewed on the end of my pen for a few minutes staring off into space, then furiously started to write.

Of course it was a test, and on one of the ethical dilemmas we had studied.  Not as good of a test as the previous year when he came in the room, threw a rubber chicken on the desk and said, “Prove that this isn’t God,” but a test nonetheless.  He graded our blue books. I made an A+.

Another Wofford test I remembered was in the second day of class in Dr. H. Donald Dobbs’ freshman zoology.  Each fall he’d start with about 150 would-be doctors filling the lecture hall and rather quickly weed out those who weren’t cut out for medicine By the end of the four years, roughly a 12 to 14 of us actually made it into medical, dental or veterinary school.

Dobbs did it starting on the second day of class with a pop quiz on Latin and Greek prefixes, suffixes and root words.  Most of us, myself included, bombed the quiz.  Why would we think to study our dead languages for zoology class?  In fact, we probably represented the first generation of students who didn’t have the opportunity to take Latin in high school.  Tenacious, I hung in there and made it to the end.  In fact, on the biology class senior comprehensive exit exam, I scored  #1 of 19 graduating bio majors, edging out top rivals who went on to become orthopedic surgeons and gynecologists and dentists.

Another test that sticks in my mind was in vet school’s Public Health class, Dr. Brown’s infamous Caribou Test.  Most of my eighty-odd classmates bombed this test, which could have been on something important like tuberculosis in cow’s milk affecting everyday milk consumers.  Instead, 100% of the test was on the obscure cycle of brucellosis in caribou, wolves and native peoples in Alaska.  I aced the test, mainly because I enjoyed thinking about going up to the last frontier and hunting some of those pretty little caribou with my deer rifle.

I barely remember dragging myself out of bed, driving to the vet school and taking Dr. Clay Calvert’s cardiology final.  I had the flu so I called him and he would not let me out of taking the test.  I was out of my head with fever, but did about as well on the test as anybody else, as none of us could fathom Dr. Calvert or what he wanted from us come test time.

Small Animal Anatomy’s final lab practical was a doozy.  Dr. Peter Purinton took dogs and cats that we had dissected in the traditional longitudinal fashion and sawed them in cross-section, sticking pins in nerves and muscles and veins that we had never seen from that angle.

But the most interesting single test question I recall is from the practical exam in large animal anatomy.   Our only classroom blurb in poultry anatomy had come on the last day of class, “Chicken Day.”  On Chicken Day, Professor “Arvle the Marvel” Marshall divided us into groups and each group was assigned an organ system.  We had to make up a skit about our organ system and it was a big joke.  Nobody gave a rip about a chicken unless it was barbecued at a fraternity party.

The question was posted at the base of an articulated chicken skeleton.  “What gender is this bird?”  Hurt yourself thinking if you wish.  I got it right, but then I was the only student who could identify the bacculum of a raccoon when a dairy farmer hosting us for herd health lay it on the table and asked us what it was.

Next week, school starts again.  For better or worse, teachers are leaders who shape our lives even as they struggle to get through their workdays and their own lives.   Their classroom time is only part of their job.  There is lesson prep and there are forms to be filled out, bus duty and other hoops to be jumped through for the school system.  There are tests to be graded.  They give to their schools with pride, show up for ball games and open houses, encourage and inspire.  I feel that a single simple act of kindness and caring from a teacher may make the difference in a child’s life.

As Jack Holmes would teasingly say to us before the first day of school every year, “That old school bell’s gonna ring loud and long in the morning.”  I still run into people he inspired, from 6th grade at Enoree School to Laurens Primary to Ford or Sanders or Gray Court to the ball fields or boy scout camp.

What an amazing gift.

 

 

 

Post to Twitter Tweet This Post

  • Share/Bookmark