Wednesday, July 2, 2014
The awfullest fight that I have ever seen … in my life! – Andy Griffith, “What It Was, Was Football” (1953, Capitol Records)
I was in a local restaurant the other day, with 57 big screen TVs adding to the peaceful ambiance of modern American dining, and I heard the announcers say the word “football.” I naturally thought that 24-hour sports media now meant the televising of pre-season practice. Having played high school football myself, I remembered well those hot practices in shorts and helmets before we went to full pads. I didn't see any pads or helmets being worn by these guys on TV, but surely modern sports medicine had discovered a way to prevent heat prostration. The guys had on cleats, there were 11 men on each team, and they were on a grass field. I noticed that the linemen looked real small, though. No thick necks on either team. Perhaps this was Division 3 ball or something, you know, the level where players aren't franchises and have to spend time in classrooms rather than weight rooms. These linemen were small but man were they fast!
“And what I seen was this whole raft a people a-settin' on these two banks and a-lookin' at one another across this pretty little green cow pasture!” – Andy Griffith, “What It Was, Was Football.”
For a preseason practice, the attendance was huge. People even had their faces painted and they were draped in all sorts of colorful flags. They were singing their fight songs across the field to each other. One of them sounded like “Rocky Top,” only slower.
The next thing I noticed was that the goalposts on both ends of the field had the uprights torn down, and the PAT nets had been lowered to stop the ball at ground level. Obviously, whichever was the home team in this preseason scrimmage had won a big game last fall and their fans had torn down the goalposts! It must not have been an SEC or ACC team because not only did they not seem to have the money to fix their goal posts, but their game clock was broken and ran backward, too. It was counting up instead of down. Funniest thing I've ever seen.
My notion that this was preseason practice was reinforced by the obvious emphasis on running to get the players in condition. They ran nonstop and both teams ran a no-huddle offense. They were doing receiver drills that stressed running proper patterns rather than catching passes because even though they got open, not a one of them ever caught the ball. Sometimes they just bounced it off their head or their chest.
The tackling drills were the best I'd ever seen. Not only did the defensive players keep their heads up at all times to not risk a spearing penalty, but most of the time they came up on the offensive player with such speed and intimidation that the players just flopped right down on the ground before any contact was made. In all my football playing and watching experience, I'd never seen so many painful injuries occur before the teams were even practicing in full pads. And yet, sports medicine and conditioning have advanced to the point that even players who had been writhing on the ground in agony one minute were right back on their feet and playing without pain just a few minutes later!
Then the rarest and most unexpected thing of all happened. As the broken clock ran UP to almost an hour and a half, after nothing but a bunch of running drills and no-hands-allowed passing drills, the ball miraculously went into the broken goalpost. It appears that this had never happened before because nobody seemed to expect it. The players looked astonished! The wide receiver whose head the ball accidentally bounced off of and into the broken goalpost ran off the field like he had earned the right to be the first man to hit the shower. His teammates looked stunned too, and celebrated like Auburn did when they ran back Alabama's failed field goal for a 108-yard touchdown. I saw by the other preseason practice scores shown on the 57 TVs that none of the other teams usually scored, either. I had witnessed a sports rarity.
A man beside me kept yelling the same word over and over again. I had no idea what he was saying. To share in his excitement, I put my arm around him and in my Southern accent yelled, “Football, baby! FOOTBALL!”
He looked at me like I was crazy. “Nuh nuh,” he said, “Futbol! FUUT-BOL!”
“Well, we'll see who is really tops when August gets here and they go to full pads,” I said. “And let's go ‘Merica!”
Will Haynie has published more than 400 oped columns as a feature columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times and the Hendersonville (N.C.) Times-News when it was owned by the New York Times. His niche is as a humorous conservative. Find him on Twitter at @willhaynie or email him at Haynie.email@example.com.