The view from the rear
The first day of practice in the seventh grade Coach Rogers told us that “football mirrored life.” We then spent the next week doing side straddle hops, bear crawls, monkey rolls and tackling drills. We beat on each other till our arms were black and blue. We ran so much our tongues dragged along the ground behind us…..
As we were limping off the field about dark-thirty at the end of the week Buddy Wiggleton was the first to find his voice, “Guys, Coach is feeding us a line—this football stuff ain’t nothing like real life!”
Coach Scott agreed one hundred per cent with Coach Rogers when we reached high school, “Men, football will prepare you for life. The principles of hard work, fair play and respect for your teammates will be with you forever.” He emphasized his words by running us around that little space between the back of the bleachers and the tennis courts till I died four times in one afternoon.
Coach Majors looked the freshmen class over at our first practice at the University of the South and decried, “Young mens (Coach had his own special language), I can tell you your problem, your mother has always cut your meat for you (meaning of course, that we were spoiled, selfish, worthless, childish and thought too highly of ourselves). Don’t you mens worry, we are going to run that out of you this morning!”
At my very first day of practice as a young assistant football coach in 1969, I didn’t say a word. I didn’t know enough to speak. But you would be amazed at what I discovered over the next six decades…..
It didn’t take long to realize every child on the field had self-worth. Every player had specific needs, wants, hurts, desires and dreams. If you couldn’t see and understand them as individuals…..you were in the wrong line of work.
And you cannot believe what those young football players taught me about RESPECT over the years!
It started my very first season. Integration was just coming to the Gulf County educational system. I saw some serious black and white confrontations in the school. I didn’t see any on the football field.
Let me tell you something, when you get kids up at 5:30 in the morning for gut drills during two-a-day practices, run them, work them, yell at them, send them through the chutes, make them run-the-lines, tackle each other, do up-downs till their little legs begin to quiver….. And then come back that afternoon and do it all over again.
The color of somebody’s skin is the least of their worries.
Listen, if you SURVIVED fall practice, respect was a given in that locker room! It had been earned ten times over!
I coached the offensive line. I’d stand behind the chutes (iron bars with openings for linemen to practice coming low and hard off the line of scrimmage) looking at seven big rear ends in those look-a-like practice pants as they hunkered down in the best stance they had.
From my perspective I couldn’t tell if they were black or white. I didn’t know if they were rich or poor. I couldn’t tell if they were sophomores or seniors. I didn’t know the all-American from the first timer.
And I didn’t care. All that mattered was when I said “down-set-HUT” they’d better leap out of that chute like a whirlwind in a hurricane!
I’ve seen scared, timid seventh and eighth graders grow into the bravest people you will ever know. I’ve seen proud players humbled. I’ve seen the quiet, insecure child burst out of his shell. I’ve seen selfless, courageous acts become common place.
And teamwork become paramount above almost life itself!
You cannot imagine how I’ve seen teams prepare the week of a big game. They laid it all out, pushed themselves, gave all they had….and then played the game exactly the same way. The coach didn’t matter. The weather didn’t matter. Extraneous things like individual backgrounds, what happened the week before last or who your favorite cartoon character was didn’t matter.
The team mattered. You cared more about the success of a friend than your own. It was about the good of all!
I’ve seen “our guys” win those big games with great humility and empathy for the opponent. I’ve seen tough loses….heart wrenching loses…..where our guys met the winners on the fifty yard line with a handshake and a sincere congratulations.
I’ve seen common sense, knowledge and maturity grow with each drill, each scrimmage and each game. It’s unbelievable how easy the love comes when you really get to know each other…..
As I look at the world, and especially the United States, in the late summer of 2020, I agree with Buddy Wiggleton. Real life as we know it today…..ain’t nothing like football at all!