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.

 

Where the Ashes Fall

Wilder Stadium. Richardson Field. (Monte Dutton photo)
Wilder Stadium. Richardson Field. (Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, September 4, 2015, 11:28 a.m.

This, of course, is Labor Day weekend. I’ve put in my share of hours over time, first more with arms and legs, but then gradually working down to the fingertips because they still work well.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

This weekend, though, is notable for all my various homes. I’m sitting in the living room of one now. In the background, Jack Lemmon is talking about the director Billy Wilder. Another home is across the pasture, where my mother, sister and two nephews still live along with several pets, two goats, and some chickens pecking about in the yard.

Clinton High School is home. I spoke to some students there this morning and told them how I happened to become the nation’s top-ranked, and quite possibly only, combination novelist and high school football beat reporter. Tonight I will describe the hostilities between the Red Devils and the Bulldogs of Newberry.

The Clinton High logo dates back to 1972.  (Photo courtesy Tex Glenn and Dale McWatters)
The Clinton High logo dates back to 1972. (Photo courtesy Tex Glenn and Dale McWatters)

A pair of anniversaries are to be celebrated at halftime. This marks 40 years since the state championship team of 1975 and 30 since the titlist of 1985. I played on the former team and wrote stories in The Clinton Chronicle about the latter. Tonight, while teammates are out on the turf of Keith Richardson Field, I will be in the public-address booth reading a script I wrote. Many years ago, my first book was called Pride of Clinton, a history of football at Clinton High School. Richardson coached both championship teams and four more.

Clinton High School is a home, and so is Wilder Stadium (Wilder being the stadium, Richardson the field).

Paladin Stadium, Furman University (Monte Dutton photo)
Paladin Stadium, Furman University (Monte Dutton photo)

Tomorrow night I’ll be at Paladin Stadium in Greenville, where the Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina visit another of my homes, Furman University, to open the college football season. Clinton High is where I played ball and acquired a love of writing. Furman is where I learned self-reliance and became a man.

Then, on Sunday night, I will watch the Bojangles Southern 500 on television. It has been off in exile, like Napoleon at Elba and St. Helena, but now it has been restored, not for history, as NASCAR officials would have you believe, but because they moved Darlington around to other dates, as if it were a traveling circus, and couldn’t make Labor Day work in either California or Georgia, so they figured they might as well let that pesky Darlington, out in the middle of nowhere, have it back.

Darlington Raceway. (Monte Dutton photo)
Darlington Raceway. (Monte Dutton photo)

Now we’re all supposed to pretend a tricked-up Camry is a ’74 Torino, just because it’s white and has a “15” on its sides, confuse Ricky Stenhouse with David Pearson, and believe NASCAR is run by a bunch of really swell guys who care about any history that doesn’t pay big money.

You know, like the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. People with lots of money and power always think people with neither are gullible. They aim to convince us we can’t survive unless patches in our underwear are removed, we stop drinking that deadly tap water and buy the bottled stuff, and that Brian France moved Darlington back to Labor Day eve out of the goodness of his heart.

BZF. He’s all heart.

That might be a '73 Mercury David Pearson is driving, but Carl Edwards still can't pass him. This photo was taken in 2008.
That might be a ’73 Mercury David Pearson is driving, but Carl Edwards still can’t pass him. This photo was taken in 2008.

I’ll stop complaining now. My cynical sense of humor gets me in trouble. Last week an off-duty cop half my age told me he didn’t like my attitude. He didn’t like it when I laughed at that, either. I just figured it was a joke.

I’m glad Darlington is back. Darlington is also a home. It’s where my daddy took me to watch stock cars race. I think of Darlington the same way I think of Mount Rushmore, Fenway Park, and Sledge, Mississippi, the birthplace of Charley Pride.

Occasionally, I think of eternity and where, in the words of the old hymn (“Just a Closer Walk with Thee”), my remains will settle:

When my feeble life is o’er / Time for me will be no more / Guide me gently, safely o’er / To Thy Kingdom Shore, to Thy Shore.

I've gotten to where I don't much care to be buried in the cold, cold ground. (Monte Dutton photo)
I’ve gotten to where I don’t much care to be buried in the cold, cold ground. (Monte Dutton photo)

Sometimes I think I’d like my ashes scattered over Wilder Stadium, there to waft onto the green, green grass of Richardson Field. At other times, I think of my remains mingling with the cool water of the Furman lake or in its many fountains, and, sometimes, I think of being ground into the pebbled asphalt of Darlington, there to be interred righteously by the pounding of Goodyear Racing Eagles.

Alas, I’ll be gone. I’ll probably be stuck in an urn, in the back of a closet, and one day, an ancestor who doesn’t recognize my name will find some other use for the urn and flush me down the closest toilet.

It will make perfectly good sense. It just won’t be quite as romantic.

 

(Design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Design by Jennifer Skutelsky)

If there’s anything to remember me by, it will probably be my books. You can consider them here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

Only Siri Let Me Down

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

IMG_0220
Paladin Stadium, Furman University, Greenville, S.C.

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, August 7, 2014, 10:50 a.m.

As much as it pains me to write, Siri hasn’t been paying attention. On Monday, the nice little woman in my iPhone directed me to where a high school used to be. It wasn’t much of a problem. The “new” school was just around the corner and up the hill.

On Wednesday, she led me to a football stadium that might have been used in the movie Leatherheads. Then she took me to a high school that could have been in It’s a Wonderful Life. To find this “new school” – four years old, quite a bit more so than the iPone – I had to stop at a convenience store, where I successfully deciphered the directions of the owner who happened to be standing outside.

Heah is wheh you go. Go out right heah, when you get to de stop sign, tuhn left, awkee, den you drive ovuh de breedge, and you tuhn right at de chuhch, you rilly cahnt mees eet.

I took this photo before a high-school football game in Abbeville, S.C., last year.
I took this photo before a high-school football game in Abbeville, S.C., last year.

Once there, I walked through a set of double doors to find a band practicing instead of, oh, a team lifting weights. The football coach had told me there was a white Silverado outside. The band director, as it turns out, also has a white Silverado, though, to his credit, the coach does have a club cab.

From there, I had an enjoyable visit, and in the event that I ever go back there, well, I’ll know where it is.

When I finished talking about returnees on offense and defense, and how boys have to learn how to win, and if they do, this could be a really good year, if not too many of them get injured, and gosh knows, you can’t have too much depth, I hit the road again and pondered whether I should (a.) go back home, (b.) see a movie, or (c.) drop by my alma mater and see how the football team is looking, just for fun, and it came down to my hands (on the wheel) being forced to make a quick decision at the White Horse Road exit.

Furman, in black, against Samford in 2013.
Furman, in black, against Samford in 2013.

I drove out to Furman, and I’m glad I did.

As it turned out, I arrived at an opportune time. A group of linemen were walking from Timmons Arena to Paladin Stadium, and when I asked where Coach Fowler was, several answered, almost in unison, that he was in the weight room.

Next I had to figure out where that was. I didn’t ask Siri.

Bruce Fowler is the Paladins’ head football coach. Understandably missing from his resume is the incidence of being a friend of mine for well over thirty years. Coaches don’t have much free time right now, but I guess I managed to hit it just right because he showed me around the new football complex, we laughed at stories we both knew too well already, asked each other when was the last time we’d seen so-and-so, important stuff like that, and then Bruce went to a meeting and I killed an hour eating chicken wings before the Greenville Drive game.

My second visit of the week to Fluor Field.
My second visit of the week to Fluor Field.

The Drive, which has mainly driven slowly this year, completed a three-game sweep of the Augusta GreenJackets with a 5-3 victory that got slightly nervous in the top of the ninth. The Greenville starter, who entered the evening with a record of 2-10 and an earned run average of 6.43, hurled six shutout innings, and the Drive closed to within nineteen games of .500.

I even bought a cap at half price, thanks to the kind of sale teams have when season’s end is drawing near.

Alex, the kid sitting in front of me, had a great time but was flagging a bit near the end.
Alex, the kid sitting in front of me, had a great time but was flagging a bit near the end.

The parent club, meanwhile, endured a rain delay, meaning that I could listen to the Red Sox and Cardinals fade in and out on KMOX, St. Louis, all the way home and see the last three innings on TV. The Red Sox won, two to one, and I was so keyed up, I stayed up to watch the Dodgers hold off the Halos in Anaheim. My eyes were closed, and I was almost asleep, when Vin Scully described the final out.

By then, I’d forgotten all about Siri.

My novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, are available online in several places, including http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_8/188-8704687-6522444?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=monte%20dutton&sprefix=Monte+Du%2Cstripbooks%2C248, where Kindle editions are available, as well.