It feels like football season. I’m sure those words were spoken across the South this morning. For the seven people who still receive a newspaper at home, the words were spoken when they walked up the driveway to retrieve the paper; for the remaining millions -- unless they charge their phones outside -- the words were spoken a little later. It does not feel like football season because high schools have started handing out equipment or preseason camps at colleges and the NFL have begun. Those things happen at the end of July every year. But rarely does it feel like football season when they happen.
Today was different. Today, the trees had a gentle sway as if they were a student body singing the alma mater and a cool breeze danced across the Southland. In other parts of the country, today felt like fall. But in the south the four seasons are Winter, Spring, Summer and Football. So, today it feels like football season. Let’s take a moment to talk about what we have to look forward to in the next couple of months.
But before we begin, why does a dentist feel he has any authority to speak on such a sacred activity as football? Well, because I played high school football of course. I did not just play high school football, but I think a vast majority of people would agree I played the most respected position in all of football. Quarterback? No. Linebacker? No. Running Back? No. I was the kicker. Yes the kicker. People think of a kicker and football like the medical community thinks of a dentist as a doctor. You can dress up like one, but you know you aren’t really one.
For those who don’t know me, I am skinny, but in high school I was really skinny. To give you an idea how skinny, there are people roaming this great country that only know me by the name “Stick.” I love football, but I am pretty sure if I even wanted to play another position, I would not have been medically cleared to play, due to fear of blunt force trauma being the cause of my death. That fear almost became a reality even at the position of kicker.
It was a damp, foggy, Friday night, and the JL Mann Patriots had traveled down Hwy. 25 to take on the Woodmont Wildcats. Things were going according to plan. Woodmont was AA, a class below Mann, so it was a game we normally could win with relative ease and we were doing just that. I trotted out to kick a routine extra point, but what happened next was anything but routine. The snap skidded across the wet turf and the sure-handed holder, also know as our running back and overall best athlete, bobbled the snap. He started screaming FIRE FIRE FIRE, the universal football alert that things are bad and try to get open. As he ran to the right I ran to the left like there was a real fire. I was not even pretending to try to get open, as a matter of fact I was not even looking back at where all the action was happening. That proved to be a big tactical error. The next thing I know I was blindsided and went flying through the air. When you are imagining the impact, think about Jadeveon Clowney hitting that Michigan running back. At least I want to think the guy who hit me was like Clowney; in reality, he was probably a 5-foot 108-pound kid from Moonville. What made matters even worse was that not one piece of equipment I had on came close to fitting me. My ear pieces exploded in my helmet, one became an eye patch. My chin strap became my mouthpiece. My mouthpiece became an unidentified flying object. Do you remember those big shoulder pads women wore under shirts in the 80’s? Those looked natural compared to how shoulder pads fit on me. When I stood up, the buckles on the shoulder pads were dangling, unhooked on both sides. I walked back to the sideline, not knowing if feeling on the right side of my body would ever return or the ringing in my right ear would ever stop.
I am proud to say that on this Sunday I have full use of my right side, and as my wife would say, I have regained selective hearing. So let’s discuss just a few things that make football in the South so great.
It did not take a girl in a white sun dress walking down the beach on an SEC commercial to teach me that it just means more. I was first taught that by my JV football coach. That lesson was taught to us on Wednesday afternoon, the day before the game each week. “You boys see what I am wearing today?” coach would say just before staring at us for one minute with a real serious look on his face. “I am wearing all black and when you see me wearing all black that means business.” So every Wednesday Coach had on all black, or more like 50 different shades of black. Socks included. We knew he meant business and that football was serious stuff.
Growing up in the South in the 80’s taught you Sundays were for two things - Church and the Coaches’ shows. Before you could see highlights anytime you wanted, there was a time you had to wait to see your team’s highlights on Sundays, and they were always first-class productions. A southern football coach breaking a play down on a chalkboard in non-HD is pure poetry in motion. Once again, the internet proves how amazing it is and you can watch the entire season of episodes of “1988 with Danny Ford” commercial-free. The only disappointment about not watching the commercials is you don’t get to see the great Carolina Pride ads.
My favorite one is when the little boy builds a birdhouse and hangs it in a tree outside. Just as he hangs the birdhouse, mom calls him in for lunch. She serves him a plate of hotdogs and just as he begins to eat, a bird begins chirping. And wouldn’t you know it, a bird flies up and lands on the birdhouse. I get teary-eyed thinking about the young boy looking out the window with a hotdog in his hand as the jingle “The best things in life are made with pride...Carolina Pride.”
Football just means more to women in the South as well. Besides a horse race in the spring, football games are the only place that a girl is going to wear what she had planned to wear regardless if the actual weather forecast cooperates with her. You see it every season, and we will see it again Labor Day weekend. Somebody will be so excited to wear cowboy boots with a dress. The only problem is it will be 95 degrees with a “feels like” temperature of 117. I am not sure how the boots come off at the end of the day. But I am fairly certain it does not happen without the help of three firemen and the jaws of life.
Well, fashion is not the only reason a girl might be in cowboy boots during a heat advisory. If she is walking up to the gate with a slight limp that is because her boots are carrying more mini bottles than an airline beverage cart. I have often thought that border patrol agents should train at college football games across the South. More contraband is smuggled through the gates on a Saturday than when Pablo flew into Miami in the 80’s. What began as just stuffing a couple mini bottles in your pants or boots has turned into a very sophisticated operation. This summer at a women’s store in St. Simons Island, I saw for sale a fake tampon flask. Yes, you read that right. It was a tampon-shaped flask that was advertised for sneaking liquor into a football game. I will let the mini bottle in the waistband slide, but if you find yourself pouring liquor this fall into a tampon, don’t be surprised if the next tailgate turns into an intervention.
What happens to all the empty mini bottles? Well they go to the mini bottle recycling stations throughout the stadium. These stations normally have very long lines. They are clearly labeled throughout the stadium under the codenames “Men,” “Women,” and “Family.” Once you get inside the recycling station, the bottles can be placed anywhere. Most are placed on the bathroom stall handicap rail like a collection piece or scattered across the floor, but some find their way into the urinal or toilet. It is the only place on earth that with one attempted flush a Fireball can make a river.
Weather is not the only indicator football season is getting close. Car flags are another indicator. Normally around mid-August you will find someone who has been reading too many preseason feel good articles and has declared their team August Champions. They are so excited because the same person that fumbled the ball 17 times last year stated in an article that this summer things were just much more serious and everyone is just working harder, so the fan has renewed optimism. This leads them to put the car flags up and drive around town.
Facebook will also start to transition from swim team and Little League trash-talking among parents to football trash-talking. It will not be long before people will be screaming for a coach to be fired or lecturing anyone who will listen on how to be a good fan when you win. The lecturing is always done by the person whose team just lost by 4 touchdowns.
Radio begins to heat up as well. Sports talk radio on a Monday in the South during football season brings out the best football minds in the country. You will have your regular callers who can break down the game and dissect with laser-like precision where everything went wrong. Then you have your excited callers who have a football thought that was sent down from the heavens that must be heard on the air. They normally start like this, “Hey, this is Ron, first time, long time...” That is radio code for first time caller, long time listener. But my favorite talk show caller is the guy who has a deep burning question, but does not want to discuss on air. His call will go something like, “Hey, I was at the game Saturday and 17 looked like he was a step slow. I noticed on several occasions when he was in Cover 2 he could not move like I am used to seeing him. Have you heard anything from the coaches or trainers? I will hang up and take that answer off the air. Love your show!”
As you can see, this kicker is ready for football. Just like this kicker thought he was ready for the kickoff following the extra-point debacle 22 years ago. As the kickoff sailed into the night sky, the Woodmont player who caught it turned into Devin Hester and became the greatest kick returner in the game. After he ran past the rest of the team, it was just him and me. I was still numb all over, but I was in a football-ready position to save the day. But instead of making a touchdown saving tackle, I froze as he faked left and went right. It was not until he was five yards past me that I think I attempted to dive and make a tackle.
So in a span of five minutes, I was decleated by a Woodmont player and the kickoff was returned for a touchdown. And just like the VHS tape that game film is on, this cool breeze will not last. The dogs days of summer will return. But sleep well knowing that the greatest time of the year is quickly approaching. Football season is near.