The Years Disappear, If Only Briefly

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, October 22, 2017, 11:20 a.m.

I never took a note. I never snapped a photo. I didn’t bring any business cards. I went to a football game.

By Monte Dutton

None of the above is unusual for most people. Oh, wait. Maybe it is. Sportswriters, or writers of any kind, for that matter, are not alone in writing, or taking pictures, or spreading the words and the images as far and wide as possible, anymore. Everyone knows the art of 140 characters. I just know the art beyond a little better.

It was Furman University homecoming. It was the first time in a while I’ve been back to clap to the fight song and sing the words I remember to the alma mater. A mountain city is her home / A mountain river laves her feet! Campus, beautiful though it be, is nestled in the foothills, and the mountain river, the Reedy, winds its way through downtown Greenville, where the campus was well over half a century ago. A manmade laaaaake laves her feet!

Most people maintain rich, loving memories of their school, and rally, sons and daughters dear / ’Round our dear alma maaahhhhter! Coincidentally, they are also prone to eating, drinking, and being merry.

One of my more impressive decisions was the realization that, though I loved it, I was really over my head playing football in high school. I was at Furman, first as a student and then working in the sports information office, for most of a decade that was well over three of them ago. It was the golden age of Paladin football, and I was fortunate to be friends with many of the giants who come back to walk the campus now. Mostly, they treat me as if I was somebody, too.

It’s been my impression that, at large schools, homecoming is, yes, a grand event, but still just another home game, the stadium no more packed than usual, though the big schools typically tilt the odds by playing a school they anticipate defeating, and homecoming may pack a house that otherwise might be fringed with empty seats.

The schools that I frequent – Furman, my dear alma maahhhter, and Presbyterian, the hometown college – are populated on homecomings with throngs of people who don’t get back every week but do so diligently for homecoming.

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.

The Paladins, coached now by Clay Hendrix, played the Mercer Bears, coached by Bobby Lamb. Clay and Bobby once played guard and quarterback, respectively, for a Furman team that advanced to the Division I-AA (now FCS) national championship game in 1985. They also played guard and quarterback, respectively, in high school down in Commerce, Georgia. Bobby is a former Furman head coach. Clay is in his first year, having been lured back to dear alma maahhhter this year from the Air Force Academy, where he coached the offensive line for 10 years and was associate head coach for seven.

It was a marvelous game. Furman won, 28-21, and it was in doubt until the final desperation Mercer aerial was intercepted in the end zone. Clay lost in the final seconds of each of his first two games as Furman head coach. Then North Carolina State throttled the Paladins, as expected. Now the team has won five straight games and is 4-1 in the Southern Conference.

(Monte Dutton photo)

Many drinks were hoisted. Many tales were told. The day was long and rewarding. Fifty-somethings became twenty-somethings. This the grueling nature of the weekend required.

I hesitate to mention names because I would leave some out, and I’m sure I’d have to mention a hundred to do it justice, plus, there’s the matter of my not taking any photos. I was weary when I got there because I had tramped around covering a fruitless high school game on the road the night before and didn’t get much sleep ruminating about it. My right knee and leg were acting up, so it probably helped, if not medically then subconsciously, to lubricate them. Perception may not be reality, but it helps.

Many tales, some with a considerable degree of truth, were told. I, in fact, told many of them. I renewed acquaintances with people I saw last month and people I saw last century. I drank beer from Costco and beer from Germany. Though the exemplary young men of today gave a concerted effort on offense and defense, Mercer’s fate was superstitiously sealed in a ritual imbibing of purple shots before the kickoff about two hundred yards from the sacred grounds of Paladin Stadium.

Clemson, South Carolina, and, yes, Presbyterian, were all off renewing their vigor for the succeeding weeks. Robbie Caldwell, now Clemson offensive line coach of growing legend, and I became friends when he was a Furman graduate assistant coach and I was an equipment manager. We hardly talked at all about the Tigers. We talked about the time we had to hot-wire the van to get back from Appalachian State.

The first time I met Sam Wyche, I was picking up a box of chinstraps from his (and Billy Turner’s) sporting-goods store on Poinsett Highway. He went on to lead the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl. Jimmy Satterfield, the coach who led the Paladins to the national championship in 1988, was there, and it was the first time this century I talked to him.

Good friends. Great oldies. I could have walked up the hill and partied all night long, but I opted for the security and predictability of home. I wouldn’t trade the day for a literary agent and a publishing deal, but it’s the day after now, and they sure would be nice.

 

(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.

 

If Only It Seemed Like Old Times …

As Jerry Jeff Walker sings, "Lots of smiling faces, little children running around ..." (Monte Dutton photos)
As Jerry Jeff Walker sings, “Lots of smiling faces, little children running around …” (Monte Dutton photos)
Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges
Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, October 30, 2016, 11:28 a.m.

I’ve had this small problem this fall. If didn’t watch my alma mater (Furman) and my hometown school (Presbyterian) play football, I might be happier.

But I do. Even if these schools aren’t good, they’re still mine.

dscf4106

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I’m not a PC graduate, and it makes a difference, but I have been going to games there for my entire life. The earliest college football game I remember was between Furman and PC at Sirrine Stadium, now the home of the Greenville High Red Raiders. Furman won. It was close. Maybe that’s why I went to Furman, subconsciously. Maybe it made an imprint on my psyche.

dscf4105As I’ve told a thousand people, I went to Furman because I wanted to be close to home but not so close that I’d be available every time the hogs got out at our farm. It’s a joke, but it’s true. Had I gone to PC, there would have been no peace.

Then again, I planned to go to Clemson until my senior year in high school. I visited Furman and loved it. The Paladins pulled off an upset of Appalachian State when I went with my friend Roy Walker on a recruiting visit.

dscf4110Roy went to PC.

It was Homecoming at Bailey Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Not my homecoming. Clinton is already my home.

Brent Sanders and I went to Furman together. His son Hayden plays for the Blue Hose. At each home game – there are a whole four this year — I join the tailgate party that gets bigger and better every year. My friends are the parents of players. Their sons and some of their teammates stop by after the games. They’ve won two and lost six. I’m keenly aware of their frustrations. I’m frustrated.

dscf4112Here’s the column I wrote in the Greenwood Index-Journal.

Still, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. The last home game is next Saturday when Liberty comes to town. The Blue Hose won the game I missed because I had a high school game to describe. I watched them defeat Campbell on my laptop.

Furman, by the way, is 2-6, too.

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My nephew, Ray Phillips, and his wife, Jessica, recently moved back to town from Charlotte. I invited them to our tailgate party because it’s a good place for families and they have a wonderful little boy, Thomas, and a newborn baby girl, Margaret.

I think they had a good time. I had mentioned how convenient it was. The farthest parking location is within 250 yards or so of the stadium gates. Ray and Jessica are Clemson graduates. Ray said to me, “We gotta get you to a Clemson game,” and I said something like, “Uh, maybe so.”

dscf4114It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Tigertown. It was so long ago that, when I covered the Clemson-South Carolina game, neither was any good. Now the Tigers are contenders for the national championship, and the rebuilding Gamecocks upset Tennessee on Saturday.

I enjoyed switching back and forth between the Tigers and Gamecocks on TV once I trudged home from watching the Blue Hose lose again.

I love going to PC and Furman games. I even remember when they won. Etched in my memory is watching the Blue Hose defeat Saginaw Valley State in a long-ago NAIA playoff game. The Paladins have won 13 Southern Conference championships.

But what have they done lately? Not much.

While I breathe, I hope.

dscf4118

 

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, The Intangibles, and/or a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs.

(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)

Kindle versions – you don’t have to have a Kindle, just a free app for your electronic devices – of most of my books are available here. Links to print copies are below.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses is the latest. It’s a tale about a crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.(Melanie Ryon cover design)

Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.

The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.

Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.

Follow me at Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Twitter (@montedutton), Google+ (MonteDuttonWriter) and/or Instagram (Tug50).

Lou Lauer helped me repair my website. He could help you, too.
Lou Lauer helped me repair my website. He could help you, too.

A Fierce Flock of Owls

Twilight nears as the last flickering hopes dwindle away. (Monte Dutton photos)
Twilight nears as the last flickering hopes dwindle away. (Monte Dutton photos)
Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges
Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, October 2, 2016, 12:05 p.m.

My home state is mostly ecstatic. Even the Gamecocks grudgingly acknowledge another great Clemson triumph. I saw about five-eighths of the Tigers’ marvelously exciting resistance of the Louisville invaders.

But I’m a Furman man. I took a Furman stand. For decades, it was grand. Even now, it isn’t bland. They just can’t seem to win on demand. Their feet are churning in the sand.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I was in school at Furman the last time the football team lost its first five games. The final record was 5-6, Dick Sheridan’s only losing season as head coach. I spent four years attending Furman and five more working there. I was in Greenville for nine years in a span of 10.

Was it only yesterday or 30 years ago? It used to seem like yesterday. On days like Saturday, it grew distant.

Professionally, it was opportune. The Marietta Daily Journal asked me to cover its local school, Kennesaw State University, against Furman. I saw the Owls play Presbyterian late last year. In fact, it was one of the Blue Hose’ two victories. I once walked the Kennesaw Mountain battlefield with a sportswriting colleague a few days before an Atlanta stock car race. I knew the Owls wore black and yellow.

Before the game, I did what lawyers call due diligence, which is, I studied the statistical and promotional material disseminated in the team’s behalf by sports information director Mike DeGeorge. I quickly discerned that Kennesaw State University, of Kennesaw, Georgia, had won two of its three games, losing narrowly to East Tennessee State, like Furman, a Southern Conference member. The Owls are in the Big South, which is also home to Presbyterian College.

They are in their second year playing football in the lower rung (FCS) of Division I. Furman began playing football in 1889.

I told a friend in the press box that I would be writing about the game from a Kennesaw State perspective, so I hoped it would be a good game to write such a story, and he replied that he thought I would get my wish.

In terms of having a story to write, my friend was right. In terms of it being a good game, he was wrong.

Roughly as distorted as the game played there.
Roughly as distorted as the game played there.

At halftime, Kennesaw State led the Paladins, 49-14. Forty-nine to 14. In a half. The right side of the Paladin defense appeared as sparsely populated as Wyoming. The grandstands, too.

Sirrine Stadium, home of the Paladins through 1980.
Sirrine Stadium, home of the Paladins through 1980.

That Fighting Paladin spirit kicked in a bit in the second half. The final score was 52-42, but that was the closest Furman got in the final 53 minutes and 30 seconds. I hear a lot about that Fighting Blue Hose Spirit, too. It occurred to me this morning that the more fighting spirits are invoked, the more likely it is the spirited are losing.

My thoughts went back to 1979, when the Paladins won a 63-55 victory at Davidson in what was then the highest scoring game in history. It was sheepish, but it was a “W.” It reminded of Saturday, only the guys in purple won. Actually, that game was at Davidson. They were in white.

Furman then played home games in Sirrine Stadium, now the red-slathered home of the Greenville High Red Raiders. At halftime, end-zone stables housed the teams. Sometimes I drove the team bus from the Furman campus, well north of town, to Sirrine. The bus was an unreliable monstrosity that required its driver’s constant attention to the pressure gauge of the air brakes.

Paladin Stadium
Paladin Stadium

Paladin Stadium, whose home side faces Paris Mountain, is a lovely edifice. Saturday was a perfect fall afternoon, though relatively few of the leaves have yet changed.

It’s all relative, though. Everywhere is revamped and modernized. PC has a new Bailey Memorial Stadium. The old one is the home of lacrosse. About the only place that hasn’t changed drastically for the good is Newberry College’s Setzler Field, where I had written about a high school game on Friday night. It was a good story to write, too.

Good stories I got.

 

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, The Intangibles, and/or a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs.

(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)

Kindle versions – you don’t have to have a Kindle, just a free app for your electronic devices – of most of my books are available here. Links to print copies are below.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses is the latest. It’s a tale about a crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.(Melanie Ryon cover design)

Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.

The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.

Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.

Follow me at Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Twitter (@montedutton), Google+ (MonteDuttonWriter) and/or Instagram (Tug50).

Shock and Awe

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

If statues had feelings, the one outside Bailey Memorial Stadium would have been proud. (Monte Dutton)
If statues had feelings, the one outside Bailey Memorial Stadium would have been proud. (Monte Dutton)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, September 14, 2014, 1:02 p.m.

I can bookend the Presbyterian College football victories over Furman University, my alma mater, at least the two most recent.

Both games were at night. The former was at Sirrine Stadium, where now the Greenville High Red Raiders play. The latter was at Bailey Memorial Stadium. There was another back then, but the current one is somewhere between a quarter and a half mile away. Thirty-four complete seasons took place in between. The Blue Hose won by a score of 17-10 in 1979. On Saturday night, the score was 10-7. The Paladins won fifteen in a row in between. In 1979, I was a senior at Furman, on the sidelines as a team manager. Last night I was in the press box, writing about the game for a nearby paper. In between, I wrote about high schools, small colleges, minor league baseball, local auto racing, and, most notably, NASCAR, for six newspapers. I also spent three years working at Furman.

They are my two favorite college football teams, one my school and the other my town. At the moment, both are 2-1. Both are in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision, which is to say they are not among the monied elite. They are in separate conferences. Furman is Southern; Presbyterian is Big South.

The Blue Hose? They're fighting Scots, seldom more so than Saturday night. (Monte Dutton)
The Blue Hose? They’re fighting Scots, seldom more so than Saturday night. (Monte Dutton)

Now that I have avoided the obvious for three paragraphs … I love the Paladins and Blue Hose, but I hate it when they play. I’m happy for PC. They have already played Northern Illinois (3-55). Next week they visit North Carolina State. Later on they face Ole Miss. Theirs is a backbreaking schedule. Blood is thicker than water, though ours is exceptional here in Clinton. I’m glad the Blue Hose won a game like this, but if I’d had my druthers, it would have been against some other school, one like Wofford or The Citadel.

Lightning and thunder were in the air. Rain fell in sheets. It was nearly nine when the game started and 11:30 when it was over. Fog infested the field for most of the second half and the Furman offense for the whole game. The Paladins guarded a lead for roughly three quarters. They went up 7-0 early and fell behind 10-7 late. For the final eight minutes and fifteen seconds, the offense could do almost nothing, and left almost alone to its own devices, the defense was good but ultimately not good enough.

Nothing in the outcome was unjust. A blind man could have seen that Presbyterian deserved to win.

Back in 1979, I didn’t take it well. I remember a man I knew from Clinton ragging me unmercifully on the Sirrine Stadium field afterwards. It’s a wonder I didn’t do something stupid. Instead, I just acted stupid.

The home of the Blue Hose. It's stately. (Monte Dutton)
The home of the Blue Hose. It’s stately. (Monte Dutton)

Now I occasionally, though not often enough, ponder the phenomenon of wisdom. Not much happens that I haven’t seen before. Many years in press boxes have thickened my skin and boosted my professional reserve. The story, written on oppressive deadline, had to be fair and give credit where it was due. At breakneck speed, I did the best I could.

It was such a great story, I wish I’d had time to write it. Occasionally, I’m a writer, but most of the time, I’m just a glorified typist.

Was the drama and the experience of seeing it worth the dampening of the heart?

Almost. But not quite.

Last night, I was talking to a Presbyterian alum who mentioned in passing the place where he and his friends drank beer back in the sixties. I told him there’s a beer joint a good bit like that place in my novel, The Intangibles, which is set in a town a good bit like this one.