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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.