Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, September 14, 2014, 1:02 p.m.
I can bookend the Presbyterian College football victories over Furman University, my alma mater, at least the two most recent.
Both games were at night. The former was at Sirrine Stadium, where now the Greenville High Red Raiders play. The latter was at Bailey Memorial Stadium. There was another back then, but the current one is somewhere between a quarter and a half mile away. Thirty-four complete seasons took place in between. The Blue Hose won by a score of 17-10 in 1979. On Saturday night, the score was 10-7. The Paladins won fifteen in a row in between. In 1979, I was a senior at Furman, on the sidelines as a team manager. Last night I was in the press box, writing about the game for a nearby paper. In between, I wrote about high schools, small colleges, minor league baseball, local auto racing, and, most notably, NASCAR, for six newspapers. I also spent three years working at Furman.
They are my two favorite college football teams, one my school and the other my town. At the moment, both are 2-1. Both are in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision, which is to say they are not among the monied elite. They are in separate conferences. Furman is Southern; Presbyterian is Big South.
Now that I have avoided the obvious for three paragraphs … I love the Paladins and Blue Hose, but I hate it when they play. I’m happy for PC. They have already played Northern Illinois (3-55). Next week they visit North Carolina State. Later on they face Ole Miss. Theirs is a backbreaking schedule. Blood is thicker than water, though ours is exceptional here in Clinton. I’m glad the Blue Hose won a game like this, but if I’d had my druthers, it would have been against some other school, one like Wofford or The Citadel.
Lightning and thunder were in the air. Rain fell in sheets. It was nearly nine when the game started and 11:30 when it was over. Fog infested the field for most of the second half and the Furman offense for the whole game. The Paladins guarded a lead for roughly three quarters. They went up 7-0 early and fell behind 10-7 late. For the final eight minutes and fifteen seconds, the offense could do almost nothing, and left almost alone to its own devices, the defense was good but ultimately not good enough.
Nothing in the outcome was unjust. A blind man could have seen that Presbyterian deserved to win.
Back in 1979, I didn’t take it well. I remember a man I knew from Clinton ragging me unmercifully on the Sirrine Stadium field afterwards. It’s a wonder I didn’t do something stupid. Instead, I just acted stupid.
Now I occasionally, though not often enough, ponder the phenomenon of wisdom. Not much happens that I haven’t seen before. Many years in press boxes have thickened my skin and boosted my professional reserve. The story, written on oppressive deadline, had to be fair and give credit where it was due. At breakneck speed, I did the best I could.
It was such a great story, I wish I’d had time to write it. Occasionally, I’m a writer, but most of the time, I’m just a glorified typist.
Was the drama and the experience of seeing it worth the dampening of the heart?
Almost. But not quite.
Last night, I was talking to a Presbyterian alum who mentioned in passing the place where he and his friends drank beer back in the sixties. I told him there’s a beer joint a good bit like that place in my novel, The Intangibles, which is set in a town a good bit like this one.