Two Trains after the Last Football Game

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, November 20, 2017, 12:45 p.m.

On Saturday night, something occurred that I had never seen before in my hometown. Maybe it’s because I’m not often out driving on Saturday nights.

By Monte Dutton

I had been at Presbyterian College all day. I brought a pot of chili to the tailgate party before PC ended its season with a 31-21 win over Gardner-Webb. For five years I have been watching the Blue Hose play with a group of alumni and parents of players. Most of those players will be graduating next year. As the season wore on, rumors began spreading that the school was going to phase out the awarding of football scholarships. The rumors became official on the day after the final game, which made it something of a Pyrrhic victory at the end of a Pyrrhic season.

So we celebrated the win of a game and commiserated the loss of a tradition, and when it got dark, and the Georgia game ended on TV, many headed to the comfort of the Hampton Inn lobby, there to sip wine much better than I had the sophistication to appreciate and tell tales regarding the secrets behind several bottles of expensive bourbon. I stuck with the wine. For the bourbon, I didn’t feel worthy, but that’s another tale for another day. I drank for free because the booze was too excellent to buy.

It’s not a world I often frequent. I’m a starving artist, which I wouldn’t have minded when I was 24. I might have idealized such an existence. It’s more complicated and bittersweet at 59.

Life Gets Complicated, Lightning in a Bottle and Cowboys Come Home are available at Emma Jane’s and L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton.

I headed from Bailey Memorial Stadium, feeling as if it ought to be Football Memorial Stadium, and stopped for a freight train at the interception of our little bypass and Highway 76. Then I drove on to the Hampton Inn, where I realized I’d left my backpack at Tailgate Central. Tailgate parties have gotten too big for tailgates. We congregated around a motor coach, the type of vehicle I normally associate with NASCAR drivers and bands. Race drivers call them buses, and that’s pretty much what they are, only designed for comfort instead of capacity.

I went back to PC and picked up my backpack. When I drove back to the intersection, another train was passing through. Two freight trains in fifteen minutes! I don’t remember that happening before. My mother doesn’t remember that happening before.

It must have been an omen. I haven’t noticed or figured out what kind yet. The second train wasn’t loaded with football scholarships, as best I could tell.

 

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

Most of my books — non-fiction on NASCAR and music, collections that include my contributions, seven novels, and one short-story collection — are available here.

Say It Ain’t So, Hose

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, November 13, 2017, 11:12 a.m.

And you know the sun’s settin’ fast
And just like they say nothing good ever lasts
Well, go on now and kiss it goodbye but hold on to your lover
‘Cause your heart’s bound to die
Go on now and say goodbye to our town, to our town
Can’t you see the sun’s settin’ down on our town, on our town
Goodnight

By Monte Dutton

This Iris DeMent song, released in 1993, always floods into my mind when I get sentimental. This time it’s over our college in our town. Specifically, it’s about football, a favorite topic of my nostalgia glands, which are near and dear to my heart as well as being mythical.

Presbyterian College is not my alma mater. Furman University is, and seldom have I been prouder than on Saturday as I watched the Paladins conquer The Citadel, 56-20.

I have fondness for PC, too. It’s funny that the first college football game I remember was Presbyterian at Furman, won by the Paladins, 13-9, at Sirrine Stadium. Thanks to the web that goes worldwide, I know that game was in 1968, when I was 10, but I remembered the score. Maybe that was why I went to Furman. Maybe it was fated, even though I didn’t make the decision until seven years later. I never imagined going anywhere except Clemson until the fall of 1975, when I visited Furman with a high-school football teammate who was being recruited. Oddly enough, my friend, Roy Walker, went to PC. Furman wanted Roy but captured me, and I wasn’t any good at football.

Now, as my alma mater returns to prominence, Presbyterian football is endangered, and my roots run deep at both schools.

Some of the best times my father and I ever had were sitting in wooden stands behind the end zones – inside th

Up with Furman

(Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, November 12, 2017, 10:29 a.m.

It’s not often I feel the joy I felt Saturday. Waylon Jennings once sang that, down in Alabama, “they call me the man of joy.” He wasn’t singing about me. Writing breeds satisfaction, not joy. Life is a struggle as I write and write and write, hoping one day more substantial numbers will appreciate my work.

By Monte Dutton

Karl Marx claimed that religion was “the opiate of the masses.” I don’t believe he was right, but, had he written it about sports, he might have had something.

I sat in Section 7 of Paladin Stadium watching Furman rout The Citadel, 56-20. The first half was almost perfection. While I was in Section 7, with Barry and Dan Atkinson, and Dan’s son, Charlie, and daughter, Nora, the Paladins were winning their seventh straight game, and it was over their (and my) archrival.

While driving to Greenville on Saturday morning and humming the fight song in traffic, I thought of a Groucho Marx line that perfectly depicts my feelings about The Citadel: “I have nothing for respect for you, and very little of that.”

Okay, it’s harsh. But funny. The Citadel does have my grudging respect. To me Furman-Citadel is Athens-Sparta. Liberal arts versus military. It’s overly simplistic, but so, too, is it to those of us who are not scholars of ancient Greece.

David Lyle (left) and Kevin Morgan (Ed Bopp photo).

The Bulldogs had won the three previous years. Some sense of decorum had to be restored. Before the game, in the parking lot, I spent time with old friends who hardly ever lost to The Citadel.

I wouldn’t call 35-0 at halftime, oh, diplomatic, but it was more than satisfying. My ailing knee didn’t hurt. My problems disappeared, “blowing through the jasmines of my mind.” I didn’t need a summer breeze to “make me feel fine.” Really. I was glowing. I felt rosy. It wasn’t a summer breeze at all. It was cold, though I took little notice. I cultivated an unprecedented liking of Seals & Crofts.

Happiness. Happiness. Everybody’s looking for happiness.

Life Gets Complicated, Lightning in a Bottle and Cowboys Come Home are available at Emma Jane’s and L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton.

When I’m watching a baseball game on TV, if it’s not close, I’ll see what else is on. An old movie, or the news, or an old Columbo episode. If I keep the game on, I’ll read a book. Unless it’s a Red Sox game. The Sox can be leading, oh, 19-1, and I’ll still watch. If it’s the Yankees, I may catch a replay on NESN.

The leaves on Paris Mountain seemed neon-infused. As the Furman football team performed gloriously – almost defying belief – I felt transformed by the sheer glory of it all. As the clock expired, I wished the Paladins could keep right on scoring touchdowns, but I walked out to the truck and drove on home. I listened to the post-game show on the radio, and I switched to the Clemson halftime show, and, by the time I got home, the Tigers and Florida State were late in the third quarter, and I watched the rest of the game, or, rather, it was on TV. Nothing but the Paladins could command my attention. Same with Alabama-Mississippi State. Same with Saturday Night Live. Same with social media.

Nothing mattered but my pride in the Furman Paladins, who are back.

Now I must get back to convincing folks to read my novels and finishing the next one.

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

Most of my books — non-fiction on NASCAR and music, collections that include my contributions, seven novels, and one short-story collection — are available here.

The Glory of the Past and the Unremitting Legacy

Coach Tom Bass FIeld, Bobcats Stadium, Seneca, S.C. (Photos by Monte Dutton)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, November 4, 2017, 2:38 p.m.

Since noon, I’ve been keeping tabs on Auburn-Texas A&M, Kansas State-Texas Tech, Syracuse-Florida State, Western Kentucky-Vanderbilt, Florida-Missouri, Massachusetts-Mississippi State, and several others that don’t occur to me now. That’s just on television. Via Twitter, I’ve been keeping tabs on Presbyterian-Monmouth, Chattanooga-Wofford, and Western Carolina-The Citadel.

By Monte Dutton

The Furman Paladins are idle this week. Like Florida.

I like to concentrate on just one game, or, maybe two, but I’m unfocused in the aftermath of Clinton’s 18-14 loss to Seneca. Coupled with Laurens’ playoff loss to Northwestern (58-7) on Thursday, high school football has come to an end in the county. The Raiders went out with a whimper, the Red Devils with a bang.

Neither is playing anymore. Soon I’ll notice basketball out on the horizon.

The moon may have had a little to do with it.

Despite a 4-7 season, Clinton never gave up. It led a region champion Seneca team until there were 37 seconds left. It took a sequence of events (my story is here) to defeat them. But a win is a win, and a loss is a loss, and never the twain shall meet.

Last night I interviewed Clinton coach Andrew Webb with anguish scattered all about me. The kids aspired to greatness and fell short. I still do that today as I crank out novel after novel, hoping for a breakthrough beyond the modest monthly royalties. What keeps me going might have originated on football fields more than 40 years ago.

Clinton’s quarterback, Konnor Richardson, is a sophomore.

The hardest part of the trip to far Seneca – it’s on the other side of Clemson from here, about 90 miles – was having all the time to think on the way home. I knew I wouldn’t sleep. First I had to process all the photos, then type in the stats, then write the story, and then I watched a late game from the West Coast.

I had a high school coach who never accepted the existence of luck or the respectability of an excuse. We won because we deserved to win, and, on those rare occasions when we lost, it was 100 percent our fault. We believed we were supposed to win as much as we believed the sun was supposed to rise in the east.

It’s not easy to do. We lived on the far side of the hump the present Clinton football program is trying to get over. We were there when we arrived, and we built a settlement and left it for those who came next. We had a sense of belonging that this generation thus far lacks. It slipped away. Times changed. Odds that favored us have turned against our descendants, and the pedigree doesn’t make it any easier.

Like every coach worth his salt I’ve known, Webb doesn’t blame luck or make excuses. What he needs to build is a team that doesn’t make it as tempting.

Life Gets Complicated, Lightning in a Bottle and Cowboys Come Home are available at Emma Jane’s and L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton.
Senior rushers Mark Wise (5) and Kris Holmes will be sorely missed.

I don’t mean to be negative. I don’t think I am. I grieve for those kids, sitting on the turf, and crying at the sad ending. They stuck it out and never quit trying. I can’t imagine that because I never had to experience it. Last night it was on the road. In two years on the varsity, my team never lost a single one. We lost two at home. One was for the state championship. I wasn’t an important part, but there were no parts. It was a team, made up big parts and little parts, all well oiled and whirring together.

More than anything, I wish for these kids that kind of heady experience.

Then, perhaps, one day, they can grow up to be failing novelists.

 

 

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

Most of my books — non-fiction on NASCAR and music, collections that include my contributions, seven novels, and one short-story collection — are available here.