[cb_profit_poster Football2]Clinton, S.C., Sunday, September 1, 2013, 1:25 p.m.
I’m just home from taking Alex Howard, my 10-year-old grandnephew, back to Columbia. It’s an hour each way. I marvel at the resiliency of the young. It’s actually possible for a 10-year-old to watch Clinton High School be pummeled, 45-19, by Gaffney, and Furman University be shocked by Gardner-Webb, 28-21, without being personally devastated. It’s even possible for a 10-year-old to cheer up his comparatively ancient relative a bit.
It looks like I should plan on taking Alex to many more games.
Interstate 26 was crowded with jubilant Clemson fans on Sunday, all of whom were so happy at beating Georgia that they felt perfectly justified in driving nearly 100 mph all the way home.
Based on unscientific polling data, 93 percent of all Tiger fans drive SUVs and the other seven percent drive large, four-door pickups with chrome toolboxes.
This was obviously an armada since actual Nissan Armadas were interspersed through the triumphant invaders, though they weren’t the flagships. Those were Lincoln Navigators and Cadillac Escalades. The drivers of these vehicles were so arrogant that, when they were pulled over by state troopers, they actually wrote them tickets.
South Carolina fans were treated shabbily, particularly in view of the fact that they, too, had won their long-awaited opening football game. It was, unfortunatedly, on Thursday night, not Saturday, so that the memory had already been expunged from the minds of all Clemson fans. I think psychologists call this “suppression.”
The Gamecock fans, trapped with dangerous missions similar to mine (taking a kid home or some such), endured humiliating treatment. The Navigators would dispatch a sleek trio of Ford Escapes to pen in the Carolina fans — even those driving, horror of horrors, Escalades – in the passing lane, one in front, another alongside and a third stalking the back bumper, with only grass and a barrier on the left. Then the junior Tiger officers would slow down in unison, forcing the poor Gamecock fans to drive along at just slightly over the actual speed limit. Then, after a bit of fist shaking, the Escapes would peel off and roar away.
It wasn’t pretty to watch.
Fortunately, as Alex and I were driving a 13-year-old Honda with Furman stickers, the ruffians left us alone. We were sort of like the Swiss.
The first sign that something in Boiling Springs, N.C., was amiss was the thunder and lightning that delayed the game. Fortunately, Alex and I met many nice people while penned in under the concession-stand awning, sliding around to various sides and stairwells as the wind direction changed.
The Paladins then proceeded to squander a 21-7 lead and lose, 28-21.
Furman’s football program is sort of like the British Empire right now. We are living on tradition that is decaying. There’s no reason why Gardner-Webb shouldn’t be able to defeat Furman, but somehow we continue to be shocked, commiserating the diminution of grandeur.
Earlier this summer, Alex and I attended a Greenville Drive game, and I let him go play on the grassy bank down Fluor Field’s left-field line, telling him that I wanted him back by game’s end. I half-watched the game and half-watched Alex doing knee slides on the bank. He’s as absent-minded as “Uncle Grandpa,” though, and was still merrily playing with newfound friends when the game ended. I told him I wasn’t mad, but that when I told him he’d better be back by the time the game was over, I meant it.
It’s funny how kids find each other. With the Paladins still comfortably ahead, Alex asked if he could go play football out behind the visitor’s side. I told him OK, but this time he’d better be back by the time the clock said there were five minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
Of course, I had visions of an emergency room dancing in my head, but those visions were no worse than what was happening in front of my actual eyes.
With 5:02 showing on the clock, Alex arrived on the sprint, hair wet, pants and shirt covered with grass, breathing heavily. Yes, he almost forgot. But he didn’t, and I suppose it was a highlight in a day of low points.
Alex slept most of the way home while I tried to drum up some optimism where the Paladins were concerned and listened to Clemson color analyst Will Merritt mangle the language and pontificate endlessly about the officiating. I ended up seeing most of the second half, and doubtless I would have considered it wildly entertaining if I hadn’t had the Furman Purple Flu.
Yes, I hated the Furman loss. So did Charlie Anderson, the one-time All-America who sat in front of me. And Charlie’s youngest son, Brian, who is in the ninth grade and getting perilously close to being as big as his father. And John Baker, who once worked in the Furman athletic department with me. And Eddie Bopp, another ex-Paladin. And all the mamas and daddies sitting on the visitors’ side, watching a seemingly pleasant excursion turn into a horror movie that actually began with thunder and lightning and ended, essentially, with an interception.
I love auto racing. I worship baseball. I enjoy the occasional basketball game, and there are many occasions during the year in which I watch other sports with interest.
But Clinton High School and Furman University really are like family, and the losses hurt more. I am interested in what Clemson, South Carolina, Texas, Vanderbilt, the Washington Redskins, Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers do.
The Red Devils and Paladins, though, they take years off my life, or at least they are at the moment. Over time, I’ve picked up more ground than I’ve lost, but based on the opening weekend, I’m going to be walking with a cane by Thanksgiving.
But I’m not basing expectations on the opening weekend. Things are going to get better. As John Anderson used to sing, “This old place ain’t home, it’s just a stop in the road.”
Gaffney. That’s not home. Home is Wilder Stadium. Boiling Springs isn’t my home. It’s Paladin Stadium, which is newly renovated. Things are going to get better. This glass is half full.
I’ll be a complete fool again by midweek.
On the way home, listening to NPR, I heard that 32 is the age at which point humans start acting like their parents. It’s when they start saying things like, “Because I said so!” and “Don’t make me stop this car!” I’m 55. What’s my excuse? Thanks for supporting my suspended adolescence. I’m trying to develop an immunity to growing up, and, by George, I’ve got it.