My Favorite Moment of Year the 13th

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Clinton, S.C., January 2, 2014, 9:46 a.m.

The Furman Paladins gave me a few moments of indelible excitement and a sense of deja vu.

The Furman Paladins gave me a few moments of indelible excitement and a sense of deja vu.

All my years are made up of moments.

Duh.

What I’m trying to write is that most of my memory is photographic. I see snapshots in my mind. They’re what I remember. They’re what leave an impression.

The most memorable moment in my year was at a football game in Orangeburg, S.C.: Furman at South Carolina State, first round, NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. The name of the level of play is harder to remember than the moment. F-C-S, not to be confused with F-B-S, which is Football Bowl Subdivision.

First, the background. When I played football, many years ago, my team had a player named Dick Vaughan. He is now deceased. He was an exceptional defensive back who also returned punts. Dick used to hang back on punts, similar to an outfielder setting up for a relay throw. Then he’d run forward and catch the punt on the run, which was (a.) quite effective and (b.) quite dangerous.

Nowadays, the rules are more strict across the board. Defensive linemen no longer wear rubbery pads on their arms, the better to pound their counterparts in the head with their forearms. What happened to me quite often – I played center – is now grounds for expulsion. Punt returners get additional protection, too. The coverage team is required to allow room to catch the ball.

If a punt returner could do now what Vaughan could do then, they’d have to get out of his way.

Like most fans, I often think about what I would do “if I was a coach,” but, since I’m not, I rarely get to see my schemes in operation.

Furman’s Jarius Hollman did what Dick Vaughan had frequently done. He caught the punt on the run, and when he did so, most of the Bulldogs’ coverage was … behind him. The result, short term, was a school-record, 90-yard touchdown return, and, long term, a 30-20 Paladin victory in which Hollman also returned an interception 34 yards for a second TD.

One word: Eureka!

Now I’m waiting for the old end-of-the-half “possum play” that has, thus far, only been executed successfully in my next novel.

Predictably, and no doubt owing to flawed methodology, my bowl picks fell with a thud on New Year’s. I was 3-3, leaving me 11-4 overall since quixotically undertaking this mindless project. Tonight, I think the Sooners will be later, and Alabama will win the Allstate Sugar Bowl. As the Archies sang so profoundly, “Honey. Ah, sugar, sugar.”

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