SPARTANBURG – Yours truly, who rails against the idiocy of superstition, was a bit shell-shocked when I walked into Gibbs Stadium.
It’s absurd to eat the same meal before games as long as the preferred team keeps winning – Clinton High is 7-0 and I’ve eaten a lot of hot wings – and I don’t believe it makes any difference at all.
But my high school coach didn’t even believe there was any such thing as luck, and he was superstitious, so I, like he, am, too.
Just in case. I don’t really believe in it.
Our little company holds Zoom meetings most mornings. Last week I all but volunteered for Presbyterian-Morehead State duty. Caleb Gilbert, my young and audacious general manager, told me the truth, point blank. Occasionally, I find this annoying, but I am in favor of truth speaking to power.
“Furman-Wofford is 1A,” he said. “A-Team gotta go to Spartanburg.”
So there I was, trudging into a stadium where I had never seen Furman win.
I was torn. On the one hand, if my alma mater lost in that godforsaken stadium again, I knew I would go home bearing the burden of a Baptist upbringing and feeling in my soul – absurdly! – that it was somehow my fault.
On the other, damn, I wanted to see that jinx broken, and, damn, I wanted to be there when it was.
Keeping a professional reserve is difficult where the Paladins and Red Devils are concerned.
Next week, when The Citadel comes to Paladin Stadium, Athens defends Sparta, for Paladins versus Bulldogs is a battle not just of sports but of liberal arts versus the military virtues. Besides, long ago, when I was but a Furman freshman, I stayed up all night before the game wielding a baseball bat in case the Bellhops, predictably, attempted to commit mayhem with their baby-blue spray paint on the stately bricks of “my dear alma mah-ah-ah-ter.”
Wofford? It’s more our liberal arts versus their liberal arts. More than once during the Mike Ayers era, the Terriers appeared to win in the name of the military virtues.
When the legendary Jeff Snipes was dying of cancer, he couldn’t make it to Gibbs Stadium one fall afternoon when the Paladins were playing there and we had been planning to attend. I called him from the venue, where I was sitting alone and fuming.
“Sniper,” I said, “the best way I can describe it is that Furman is playing catch and Wofford is playing football.”
Wofford is the object of my grudging respect, and I expect the Terriers’ respect of the Paladins grew grudgingly during the course of Furman’s 42-20 conquest.
Like Johnny Cash, via the words of Shel Silverstein, in an early version of country rap known as “A Boy Named Sue,” sang, “I come away with a different point of view.”
In spite of another four hours’ sleep after another high-school Friday night to oh-dark-30 Saturday morning of readin’ (stat sheets), writin’ (game story, putting together stories of games we didn’t staff) and ‘rithmetic (stats on those sheets), not to mention, editing, cropping, collecting and coffee making, I felt refreshed as I drove back to Clinton. I took S.C. 56, which leads almost directly from Gibbs Stadium to my rundown abode, and is shorter in miles but longer in time than I-26. The 2-lane blacktop could use a good bit of that federal infrastructure investment, but it’s about as scenic a trip through the rolling hills of the Upstate as a happy sportswriter can imagine.
As I drove through Pauline, I sort of wanted to write a song about her.
I am never better or more popular than the last story I wrote, and a football team is typically judged by the last game it played.
If there were one observation I would make – as opposed to the many observations required by my chosen profession – it would be what Billy Crystal used to say imitating Fernando Lamas, and it would be directed at the Furman Paladins, circa Saturday afternoon.
You … look … mahvelous.
It was sucha privilege to talk to Devin Wynn and Jace Wilson, both delightfully articulate and clever, and then, when Clay Hendrix finished talking to me and headed into the locker room, he said to me, “Hey, come on in! You went to Furman!”
That I did. When I was on the fringes of that raucous celebration, I was thinking, Caleb wishes he stayed because he’d have a ball snapping pictures of this.
As I bumped my way back out the door of the Din din, Hunter Reid, Furman’s splendid associate AD of professionalism – unofficial but true -- was standing there where journalists typically wait.
“Hey,” I said, “Clay told me to come on in.”
I’m still floating along in a satisfaction-induced vision of la-la land.