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.


Coping with Adversity

(Monte Dutton photo)
(Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, October 18, 11:36 a.m.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I know this is hard to believe, but it is possible to have a wonderful weekend in spite of the ballgames falling shy of one’s expectations.

Perhaps I’m growing more understanding as I grow older. Perhaps I’m detached enough not to let it bother me. Perhaps it’s all these decades of writing about ballgames and seeing the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

Perhaps — and this is a long shot — I’m actually getting more mature.

Ah, hahaha.

Clinton quarterback Charlie Craven (10) and running back Kris Holmes, (Monte Dutton photo)
Clinton quarterback Charlie Craven (10) and running back Kris Holmes, (Monte Dutton photo)

On Friday night, Union County celebrated the fair next door by thumping Clinton, 36-12. The Yellow Jackets were clearly superior. The Red Devils didn’t play badly. They just weren’t good enough. In such a game was there disappointment, but not dishonor.

Union has a junior wide receiver named Shi Smith who probably has a hard time being shy about his ability. His might be a name you shall get to know better.

A big crowd for Presbyterian College's Homecoming game. (Monte Dutton photo)
A big crowd for Presbyterian College’s Homecoming game. (Monte Dutton photo)

Back in Clinton on Saturday, it was Homecoming at Presbyterian College. The Blue Hose had lost, 24-17, to the nation’s No. 1 team, Coastal Carolina (in NCAA FCS, which stands for Football Championship Subdivision, and the subdivision is of Division I), on the road the week before. This time they lost, 10-7, to another instate school, Charleston Southern.

Close both times, but the record is still 1-6. After a while, moral victories become immoral.

Watching the game from just outside the fence. (Monte Dutton)
Watching the game from just outside the fence. (Monte Dutton)

I know the coaches. Clinton’s a small town. Everybody knows one another. Clinton High’s first-year head coach, Andrew Webb, is the son of one of my high school teammates. I covered Presbyterian when its head coach now, Harold Nichols, played quarterback. One of his players, Hayden Sanders, is the son of an old Furman friend of mine, and, before and after each home game, I join Brent and Sharon Sanders, and other PC fans and parents of players, for tailgate merriment and fellowship.

The Blue Hose have a defense good enough to keep them in games and an offense ill equipped to take advantage. As we used to say when he was still alive, Ray Charles could see that.

(Monte Dutton photo)
(Monte Dutton photo)

Homecoming means more to small schools. At Clemson and South Carolina, the multitudes come to every game. Presbyterian’s crowd on Saturday was twice as big as any other game. My longtime NASCAR friend and colleague, Al Pearce, is a PC man. He came all the way from Newport News, Virginia, took in all the class activities, met me at the tailgate party a couple hours before the game, and drove back to Virginia Saturday night. Usually I see Al when he’s on the way to Atlanta or Talladega and we meet somewhere for lunch.

All one has to do to see what college football is like at the big schools is tune in College Football Game Day. Small colleges are more sportsmanlike, in part because the fans didn’t have to sit in traffic on the way and walk a mile to the stadium, so they’re not so damned ornery. Seldom have I heard the opposition referred to as “them sonsabitches” at PC. Fans of the other team often stop by the parties and are treated with respect and good humor.

A couple of my friends stopped by. The food was phenomenal. I’ve been freeloading too much. For the next home game, I’m bringing a big, steaming pot of chili. I’m no great chef, but I’m good at chili. It’s just now getting cool enough for it.

The floods are over. The Palmetto State is returning to normal. It’s gone all in for autumn. I’m only going to mow the lawn one more time this year, and it’ll be sometime this week when I get around to it.

According to The Blue Stocking, Presbyterian College's student paper, PC Opinion consists of a puzzle and two ads. (Monte Dutton photo)
According to The Blue Stocking, Presbyterian College’s student paper, PC Opinion consists of a puzzle and two ads. (Monte Dutton photo)

I spent the first half in the press box. My credentials were justifiable not for a story on the game but for the blog (this blog) I was accumulating observations to write. Then I wandered around a little and settled in one of the few lightly occupied sections of the home grandstand, and for the rest of the game, I exchanged quips with the family sitting behind me. The head of that family was a man with a musical lilt in his voice and a joyous sense of humor in his soul. All of us wanted the Blue Hose to win, but we enjoyed ourselves laughing at each other’s spontaneous quips.

Yeah, I yelled at the refs. It was meant to be humorous, though, not spiteful.

Our local Presbyterians are, by and large, not averse to a few stern beverages to knock off the chill before the game and, all too often, assuage the pain afterward.

Sharon Sanders and Presbyterian College's Scotsman mascot were ready to rumble. This photo is from the 2014 Homecoming game. (Monte Dutton)
Sharon Sanders and Presbyterian College’s Scotsman mascot were ready to rumble. This photo is from the 2014 Homecoming game. (Monte Dutton)

Everyone came back to the command center, i.e., motor coach, with plenty of pain issues that had to be addressed. I was there for more than two hours after the game, taking part in emergency treatment. The command center was well stocked with supplies. I was amazed at how many fans in the grassy, tree-shaded lots, not just us but many others, stayed and stayed. I thought about driving back out there this morning to see if any were still there.

Or had any beer left. Can’t buy it on Sunday in South Carolina.

When I got back home, before I put away my stuff, I turned the television on. Ten seconds were left in the Michigan State-Michigan game. I figured I might as well watch the final play.

Next week is Furman’s Homecoming, and the Blue Hose are conveniently idle (yes, like their offense most every week), so Brent and Sharon are coming to Furman next week for the Paladins’ rivalry with The Citadel.

Undoubtedly, more hilarity will ensue, but what I’d like to see is a victory.


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

As I have loved sports for my entire life, and written about it for the majority, it should come as no surprise that sports, and, in fact, football, play a prominent role in my three novels, which I hope you will consider buying here:

The new one, Crazy of Natural Causes, has been on sale this month for a mere $1.99 download. Sale ends on October 31, so add it to your device today:


‘Round Our Dear Alma Mater …

The Paladins, wearing black, pulled off a Homecoming upset against Samford, coached by Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan.
The Paladins, wearing black, pulled off a Homecoming upset against Samford, coached by Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan.

[cb_profit_poster Guitar1]Clinton, S.C., Sunday, November 10, 2013, 12:40 p.m.

I guess I’m a bit of a romantic.

Breathes there the man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonored , and unsung.

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), excerpted from “Last of the Lay Minstrel”

Monte Dutton Clinton '76 Furman '80
Monte Dutton
Clinton ’76
Furman ’80

This is, of course, more often associated with patriotism toward one’s country, but I thought about it on Saturday while attending the Homecoming football game at Furman University. It was just one of those poems I had to memorize in school long ago.

This was a weekend of pride in alma maters. Clinton High won its first-round Class 3A playoff game, 55-35, over A.C. Flora on Friday night, and the Paladins defeated Samford, 35-17.

It was a great weekend. At Furman, I squinted and watched another fellow squint his, both of us thinking, Damned if that ain’t old so-and-so, I reckon, and then, when we spotted the same spark of recognition in each other’s eyes, we knew, why, yes, it is old so-and-so.

The Paladins were strong in the trenches against Samford in a 35-17 victory.
The Paladins were strong in the trenches against Samford in a 35-17 victory.

A man shouldn’t go to a school that doesn’t instill in him pride, and confidence, and ambition. Some do. For some, it’s just a place where one was educated. Judged on the basis of practicality, they’re right, but I have an emotional attachment to where I went to school. Clinton High School and Furman University gave me memories that flood back into my psyche when I walk their hallowed grounds. For better or worse, they helped mold me into the man I am.

For 20 years, while I was writing about NASCAR, my visits to mama (in the sense of the term “alma mater”) were rare. Now, when I go back, I sing the national anthem, and the alma mater and, occasionally even the fight song. No one now knows the words to the CHS fight song (same tune as Notre Dame’s) that my parents sung in the 1950s. It is a long-suppressed victim of political correctness.

This fall I’ve learned the importance of going home more often. It takes a while to catch up to people one hasn’t seen in more than 30 years.

My two schools’ football teams rather reflect each other. The Clinton High Red Devils started their season disastrously but have now won five straight games, all convincingly, and advanced into the second round of the playoffs, where next they visit Daniel High School, which is 11-0. I doubt anyone outside of School District 56 gives them the slightest chance against the Lions. I think they’ve got a shot if they can control the ball and eliminate turnovers. Those are big “ifs.”

Furman, like Clinton, is young and started slowly. Half the Paladin team is made of freshmen, whether by red shirt or, uh, natural causes. At one time, injuries caused Furman to play its fourth- or fifth-string quarterback, depending on how one measures or to whom one talks. Now the original starter is healthy, and the Paladins are playing well. Furman has already beaten Samford, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and arch-rival The Citadel, and it may have been a scary victory over Presbyterian – the day was saved by a blocked field goal – that turned the season around.

I didn’t get home until very late last night, having been invited to a party of old friends at a house on the other side of Greenville from the campus. There I performed some songs, watched the LSU-Alabama and Notre Dame-Pittsburgh games, told raucous old stories and listened to others, and talked about Furman now and Furman then. It was well worth being a little the worse for wear this morning.

Now it’s time to settle in for the NASCAR race from Phoenix. This blast will be from the more recent past.

[cb_profit_poster Guitar2]

A Small Miracle

A surprisingly large crowd got a an even larger surprise from the Clinton Red Devils.
A surprisingly large crowd got an even larger surprise from the Clinton Red Devils.

[cb_profit_poster Travel1]Clinton, S.C., Saturday, October 12, 2013, 12:12 p.m.

The afternoon channel surfing has begun. My first priority, at the moment, is Texas-Oklahoma, followed by South Carolina-Arkansas and Missouri-Georgia. The priorities may change as the day develops and some games are close and others aren’t. Right now the Longhorns are driving, so I may linger a while.

At the moment, I’m still savoring last night’s oasis at Wilder Stadium. Clinton entered the game 0-6. Chapman, which is located in the hometown of James Harvey Hylton (Inman), was 5-1.

Clinton won, 50-21. At one time, it was 47-7.

Here’s a dirty little secret. The only time in history Clinton ever had a winless season was 1933. The Red Devils had not started 0-6 since 1941.

Whew. We can chalk up 1933 to the Great Depression. Rest assured, apparently there won’t be another Pearl Harbor this year.

I hear Chapman was missing its star receiver. The Panthers’ quarterback fell in the second half, but Clinton was already far ahead by that point.

Forget the details. It was a miracle. Perhaps, now, the Red Devils will remain awakened. They’re 1-1 in region play. Not that anyone should get his or her hopes up just yet, but it’s still possible to make the playoffs.

Fans have an endearing tendency to get their hopes up, but for now, all this lone victory does is make wandering around town – to the Mexican joint, or the office-supply store, or the post office – a little more pleasant.

The first impression when I got to the stadium – later I even walked across Keith Richardson Field – was, it’s amazing that a large crowd will still turn out to see an 0-6 team play. Yes, it was homecoming, and homecoming means more to small schools than large ones. When Clemson has its homecoming, all those people come every week anyway. At Furman, my alma mater, it’s a lot bigger deal because lots of people come from a long way away once a year. It’s about the same at Clinton High School, at Presbyterian College here in town, and at relatively small schools all across the country.

Last night the Class of 1983 was in reunion. Some of its members were at the game in coats and ties, some were wearing Bass Pro Shops caps and camo fatigues. Some had been traveling; some had been deer hunting.

I watched the game with an old friend who joined me after I yelled at him. He kept partial tabs on his beautiful girls, who happened by breathlessly from time to time. It was his first game of the year even though he’s not in the Class of 1983. “I keep up with them in the Chronicle, though,” he said.

We talked about what was wrong – I’d seen all six losses – as the team informed us it was nothing.

Texas and Oklahoma are tied at 3. I’m going to watch a while.

Chronicle21:03 p.m.

Last night, as noted, I watched the Chapman-Clinton game in the stands, and all I reported was the score via Twitter and Facebook from time to time. The previous two weeks I covered the game for the local paper because its regular reporter was otherwise occupied.

As you may remember from a previous blog, the two losses, both on the road, were the first high-school football games I covered in more than 15 years.

Did I enjoy it? Well, kind of. Writing about high-school football is a chance to go back to what Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings called “he basics of love.” It’s not the same love they were singing about, but I was a journalist for the majority of my life, and I didn’t go into it just for the hell of it. I loved writing about sports (and, obviously, still do).

It also involves doing it all yourself. Cover a college game, and there’s someone else providing the statistics and, in almost all cases, a brief description of each play. Someone hands out the stats. At a high school game, it’s everyone for himself (or herself).

At Abbeville, there wasn’t room for me in the press box. I sat in the back row of the home side with binoculars around the neck, program lying next to me and clipboard and pen in hand. I had no place to set up the laptop, which the folks there were kind enough to let me store in the press box.

At Broome (near Spartanburg), I did sit in the press box and used the laptop, though if I ever cover another high-school game, I’ll use the clipboard. It’s just easier to write the information than it is to type it in. Too many tabs and shifts and alignments. I always keep individual running totals, then go back later and make sure they’re correct. For instance, a description of a play might be:

3-2-24                        Dowdy 3 rt (9-42)*

Translated, that means that, on third down and two from the 24-yard line, Dowdy ran for three yards off right tackle, giving him 42 yards in nine carries for the game. The asterisk denotes a first down. Occasionally, I write more information if it’s an important play, and I list the time on the clock for scores and changes of possession. I’ve been basically doing it this way since I was a stringer for nearby games while in college.

After over 15 years, I had no trouble at all remembering how to do it. I was a little rusty, but it didn’t take long to get the hang of it. What was difficult was trying to do it inside a laptop, which I shan’t try again.

I realize most of you have little interest in the fortunes of my old high school, but I assume that many of you have old high schools and may find some common ground. Other than that, it’s just what I felt like writing today, and since I write a blog most every day, this is bound to happen from time to time.

[cb_profit_poster Beer1]