We practiced all summer, between beach time and part-time work. We worked hard to become Western Rose High School’s best tandem quarterback and wide receiver in the football history of our school and our state of South Carolina.
We? Bobby Borden is the wide receiver of whom I write. The quarterback is Danny Miles. That would be me.
Coach Collins ended our Spring Practice session with this locker room announcement: “I’m already second-guessing myself in telling you guys this, but here goes. The team assembled in this locker room may very well be the best group of athletes we Coaches have had for years. I’m talking about all positions. I’m talking about depth, I’m talking about speed, about execution of plays on offense and defense.”
The coach paused, did that little lip press and nod thing he does when he’s about to say something big. “What I’m saying to you group of young men is that you are potentially as good as any South Carolina State Championship team this state ever crowned…" He paused again.
“Now, it’s good if this news pumps you up, but do not, repeat, do not, get your thinking going off in the wrong direction. The teams you will be playing this Fall and Winter will likely be hearing something similar from their coaches. What I’m saying is real, and I mean every word. You can be South Carolina State Champs this year. Keep believing these words! Make them your mantra! BUT, do not ease up on the practice field. Execute your plays, play your positions like you’re in that State Championship game.
“Remember this point: regardless what you hear and read in the various media, do not go into any game thinking the other team is a ‘lay down’. Each team you play this year will be reading of your newspaper heroics and will be posting their bulletin board hypes, having their pep rallies, practicing hard just to humiliate you. Stay within yourselves, know you’re good, but go into every game knowing that the other team has watched the video tapes, know as well as they can your strengths and weaknesses and are waiting to pounce on any mistake or turnover you make.
“We Coaches will do all we can to have you prepared for battle, but you are the guys that have to play the game…and, don’t worry, we’ll keep reminding you of this little locker room chat.
“Remember, football is just a game but it can teach you some important life lessons and lead to bright futures - if not in football, in the business world.
“The last thing I’ll mention is also very important. Each time you take the field against that other team, remember to have fun! Practice will be at times very tiring because the Coaches want to hone your skills, have those skills ingrained so they will be second nature, and you will be glad when bedtime comes. Whether a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior, the rewards are waiting for you when you finish your academics here at Western Rose, scholarships for some, jobs for others, and I guarantee you that these years of playing a rough sport and learning in those classrooms will have you ready for the even tougher competition in the adult world…”
Bobby Borden gathers in his large soft hands my long high-floating spiral on Breton High’s 17-yard line. Bobby works hard to make it all the way to the end zone but the Breton safety has the right angle and tackles my best receiver on the 12-yard line…
Coach Collins predicts correctly about our team. We make it all the way to the South Carolina State Football Championship Game in Clemson, South Carolina.
Coach is right about something else. We build a 24-3 lead at halftime and come out too full of ourselves in the second half. The Breton Warriors make some good adjustments, stop us cold in the third quarter and score three touchdowns - on our two fumbles near our goal line and a punt return.
The coach at the end of the third quarter huddles the players on the sidelines and gives us a reality check. “You’re playing too tight guys and rushing your assignments. We’re here in this exalted stadium with a huge crowd mostly on our side, and they are dying a little bit each time we make a mistake. Look, this is your game to win or lose. You work hard to get here. You believe in yourselves. You know you’re as good or better than the Breton Beavers. The Western Rose Warriors need to take a few deep breaths and rev up for a big finish. Danny, make your reads, audible when you see a one-on-one possibility for Bobby. The Breton safety doesn’t look full-speed to me. Maybe you work on him. Be ready to scramble, Danny, because they are going to keep blitzing you…try a screen pass or two to get them away from the blitz. You linemen are doing a great job. Keep it up. And, Bubba Hopkins, hit them hard up the middle and over tackle…”
The horn sounds for the third quarter.
Coach Collins finishes with this: “All the Coaches are proud of you. You’ve got fifteen minutes to build some great memories… Love you guys!”
We all pile on hands, yell loudly, and take the field.
Well, the fourth quarter goes well for us except for some stupid penalties that stop our drives. Our defense is terrific, holding the Beavers to sixteen total yards. So, now, we’re on the Beavers 12-yard line with nine minutes to play in the game, huddling, and I’m calling a fake hand-off and throwing to Bobby at the post. Bobby fakes the defensive double coverage players out of their jocks and makes our tandem a thing of beauty… The huge, awesome crowd and our sideline goes wild. My heart does little flip-flops!
Touchdown! Extra Point! Score: 31-24…
The Beavers take the kickoff on their own 6-yard line, and our special team guys get the runner on the 13-yard line. The Warriors are feeling good. We have the beavers on their own 13-yard line. They try a couple of running plays but our linebackers fill the gaps.
The Beavers are now facing third down and six yards to go for a first down. The Beaver quarterback calls a screen, and we blitz. The speedy and small motion guy jukes our defensive end, catches a high pass, and outruns our safety and two other defensive backs for a touchdown. Great play! And I hate it!
With the football changing hands two times, we now have one minute and three seconds to play in the game. We miss an opportunity to take the lead. We score on a pass play, but the touchdown is nullified because of a holding penalty. After two more dumb penalties, we punt to the Beavers.
The Beavers have the ball. After our defense holds, it’s fourth down on the Beavers 40-yard line. Their Coach calls the team’s final time-out to go over the options. There are only twenty-one seconds left on the game clock when the players go back on the field.
The quarterback almost loses the ball from the errant center, but recovers and lofts a long 35-yard pass to his wide receiver who catches the ball.
On our sideline, there are lots of groans and many heads are hanging low.
Our safety hits the wide receiver with a jarring tackle on our 10-yard line and the football goes straight up into the air about fifteen feet. Our safety twirls, looks up, and the ball falls into his arms. He then races ninety exciting yards for a touchdown, dodging, stiff-arming, turning, twisting.
Happy moments for Western Rose Warriors.
That’s the way the score stays as the ensuing kickoff return was the last play of the game. The runner is tackled on the Beavers’ eleven-yard line as the clock runs out.
The noise is deafening! People are rushing onto the field. Players are embracing, some crying tears of joy, some tears of defeat.
The western Rose Warriors are the South Carolina State Football Champions!
Bobby Borden and Danny Miles got their athletic scholarships and went on to play as a star tandem passer/receiver at Clemson University where they had three winning seasons and bowl appearances. AND, they could have played pro ball but decided a business partnership and marriage was more important to them.
They married their high school sweethearts, had wonderful families, and built a major sports products business. They stayed friends throughout their lives and occasionally watched a replay of their victory over the Breton Beavers.
They never forgot Coach Collins and his assistant coaches. They never forgot the glory of winning the South Carolina State Football Championship and their great games at Clemson. The bruises and jarring tackles of past football glory became arthritis and hip replacements eventually. Their football experiences made them competitive in business and they achieved most of their goals.
Glory came with business more often than football victories, and the elation always came with each goal achievement, much like that championship game at Frank Howard Field Memorial Stadium - 'Death Valley', Clemson, South Carolina, January, 2017.
Glory with all its euphoria fades but can temper the rest of our lives. The football experience often has for some of us a subtle current that never leaves our minds and bodies. When the right Coaches meet the right players, there can be magic in the transference.
Past glories and the Sports' lessons learned have a place always in the hearts and memories of those who experience them. Those lessons can weave themselves into positive outcomes for life’s problems.
When faith, humility, love, and family are added the human spirit thrives.
Flash Fiction by: Billy Ray Chitwood - January, 2017
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♥CONGRATULATIONS TO CLEMSON UNIVERSITY NATIONAL FOOTBALL CHAMPS - 2017!♥