The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

[cb_profit_poster Beer1]Clinton, S.C., Sunday, December 1, 2013, 12:40 p.m.

My friend Bernard Durham, who lives outside D.C. in Virginia near Dulles International Airport, drove all the way to Orangeburg, S.C., for Saturday’s FCS football playoff game between Furman and South Carolina State.

Monte Dutton Who else would it be?

Monte Dutton
Who else would it be?

Furman’s very first playoff game (it was then known as Division I-AA instead of FCS, which stands for Football Championship Subdivision) was against S.C. State in 1982. Bernard played offensive tackle for the Paladins in that game. On Furman’s first play from scrimmage Saturday, Hank McCloud rushed for 25 yards, which were two shy of the Paladins’ entire net total in the Bulldogs’ 17-0 victory 31 years earlier.

I’m not sure whether or not Bernard left Orangeburg on Saturday with a sense of atonement, but Furman’s 30-20 victory was most certainly lots of fun for him and me both.

I brought Alex, my 10-year-old grand-nephew, along. He knows the words to the Furman fight song and makes friends easily. He got a thrill a couple hours before game time when he met Furman head coach Bruce Fowler and assistant head coach Tim Sorrells. It wasn’t as much of a thrill for me because Bruce and Tim are, like Bernard, old friends. It was a little thrilling, though, to see Alex thrilled.

He also enjoyed a sense of adventure because what we did wasn’t, strictly speaking, allowed. Bernard, Alex and I strolled over to the stadium to pick up our tickets at the “will-call window.” We spied an open gate and decided to sneak inside and check out Oliver C. Dawson Stadium. In fact, we even walked out on Willie Jeffries Field. Bernard told Alex not to worry. “Just act like you own the place,” he said, which was another way of saying, “Act like you know what you’re doing and you can get away with a lot.” I fear that Alex might have filed that away.

We sat on the bench a while. Bernard talked with a man about the radio communications with the press box. A few Paladins stretched and played catch in sweatsuits. After a while, Bruce and Tim appeared, and we didn’t have to approach them. They approached us, and both were very gracious and friendly when I introduced them to Alex.

It was a great day, and while I never mentioned it until later, it gave Alex a chance to break his jinx. It was the fourth time he’s been to a Furman game but the first time he watched the Paladins win.

The Paladins advanced past the Bulldogs so that they can play the nation’s No. 1 team, North Dakota State, in faraway Fargo next week. The visitors’ stands were packed, and I was proud to see the fan support in Orangeburg, which is about 150 miles from the Furman University campus north of Greenville. Fargo is reportedly about 1,800 miles from Greenville.

One Furman sophomore, Jairus Hollman, scored on a school-record, 90-yard punt return and a 34-yard interception return. In a 10-point victory, his two touchdowns came in handy, and I’m glad Coach Fowler brought him.

The day was perfect. Alex had a wonderful time. One of the reasons I brought him was that I knew he would enjoy the wildly entertaining S.C. State Band, the Marching 101. I thought the Paladins played not only with skill but class, and I think the disappointed Bulldog fans appreciated it.

1:23 p.m.

Traffic on the way home was heavy up to the point where I-77 peeled off in the direction of Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, where Clemson and South Carolina were to play a game of considerable importance.

It wasn’t the first time this year I felt out of the mainstream. I was home in time to see the game on TV, and as a result of watching it, I missed the college football moment of, oh, this century so far, anyway. Here’s how I missed it. I listened to Alabama-Auburn on satellite radio all the way home. With Clemson-Carolina on, I pushed the little red button on my remote control, and it said the Crimson Tide and Auburn variety of Tigers were tied 28-28 with 0:00 remaining.

Hmm. Overtime. There’s probably a break until the extra play begins.

Then I switched channels a few minutes later, and the news was on. I was baffled. What had happened, of course, was that Alabama head coach Nick Saban claimed that time had not expired, officials huddled and decided 0:01 was supposed to be on the clock, which enabled the Tide to try a 57-yard field goal that was short and returned by one Chris Davis the length of the field for a touchdown that gave the Tigers a 34-28 victory over the nation’s No. 1-ranked team.

The Gamecocks went on to trounce the Palmetto State variety of Tigers, 31-17. Steve Spurrier thus became the first Carolina coach ever to defeat Clemson five straight times.

What made me feel out of place was that I didn’t really care much which team won. Clemson and Carolina divide this state like pie and cake, Coke and Pepsi, or hamburgers and hot dogs. I felt no great passion. The Furman Paladins had made my day, and I just wanted to see an entertaining game.

1:50 p.m.

I also learned that Ohio State had defeated Michigan because the Wolverines opted to try a two-point conversion that failed instead of a kick that would’ve led to overtime. I first heard about it on the radio while driving home, and the radio hosts seemed unanimous in criticizing Wolverine head coach Brady Hoke.

I admire him and think he did the right thing. If three yards lie between a team and victory, then it’s a more secure prospect than all the things than can happen when teams swap stabs in overtime. There are fewer variables. Michigan had an achievable goal that it failed to reach. To me, what Hoke tried was damned admirable.

Then there’s the criticism of Saban for trying the field goal that ended in utter disaster. It’s the worst kind of hindsight.

If Saban’s supposed to be the best coach in college football, he’s got to be prepared for someone returning a field goal nearly 110 yards. That’s a bit like saying our scientists should have laser guns pointed toward the heavens in case an asteroid appears from nowhere.

Stuff happens. Auburn won the lottery. More power to the Tigers. I just can’t bring myself to blame Saban. Tomorrow I’m going to walk out to the mailbox. It’s possible that while I’m sorting the letters, a tornado will sweep through between my house and my mailbox.

Am I prepared for that? No.

There’s an old Tom T. Hall song about a sheriff bursting through the door where a man who has gone crazy is holed up. As soon as he looks up, the man has a pistol pointed right at his head. Click. Out of ammo. As he’s being led away, the man turns to the sheriff and says, “The Lord must think a lot of you.”

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About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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3 Responses to The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

  1. Paul A. says:

    Actually, Gary Danielson did make the point about a potential return on the field goal attempt before the play. And as a Michigan fan, I fully supported Coach Home’s call to go for two, but not changing the play call after Ohio State called a timeout–dumb.

  2. Monte says:

    Thanks. I have updated the blog to reflect your, well, semi-correction (it wasn’t Lundquist, but your point is well taken). As noted, I wasn’t watching. One thing we always forget is that sometimes dumb plays work and smart plays don’t. More often, of course, vice-versa.

  3. Paul A. says:

    I was just making a point of clarification, not a correction, since you missed it. And yes, dumb plays sometimes succeed, but not often against Urban Meyer; after the game, an OSU defender said the play Michigan attempted was exactly what they had prepared for, plus they had seen the formation before the timeout. Oh well, it’s just a game, but yesterday was mighty entertaining. Congrats on your Paladins; I hope they have warm clothes for their trip to the Great Plains next week.

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