Growing Pains (football lit)
I wrote this after the UT game last year; UGA was completely blown out at Neyland Stadium.
Through the woodshed comes a pained voice. UT is straight up woodshed-ing us, our Dawgs, and the voice is mine. “Good block, 72,” I say to the television. I could be eating chili and drinking beer with friends, but after a 21-0 start, I opted out. It got worse. Misery does not need more company, but I am still with us, evaluating players, our team. I am checking for a pulse as we continue to get killed, and that was a pancake block. The game is almost over. “Who is that?” I ask the TV during the replay of the block. “VANCE!” That is Vince Vance. Good block, Vance…I actually once was 72, Vance. In 1st grade, I won the football championship. That and the 1976 YMCA Basketball Shooting Championship are my only real titles. The YMCA trophy was for an individual honor, and I was Camper of the Week at Summer Camp once and won a dance contest one time. But my only team championship came in football. We were the Cowboys. It was flag football in Marietta, GA. I thought my dad had conspired to get me on the Cowboys because I was a native Texan and 3rd generation fan of America’s Team. He denied it, but I still wonder. I played QB and ran an option and we went undefeated. I kept it as long as I could and then flipped it to the fastest and one of the tallest players in the entire league. In the 2nd game of the season, we came to a big 3rd down. I had been pitching it a little early, so the coaches told me to make sure I got as far as I could down the line and up the field before I pitched it to her. “Her?” I asked the Head Coach. “Yeah,” he answered through a laugh. “You did not know that she was a girl…Erin is a girl.” “I had…no idea, Coach,” I said. So, I got around the end and pitched it to her, and she was gone…Gone. I wonder how she turned out, who she became. We ran that option play a ton the rest of the season and blew the other kids out and never looked back. I understood that girls were athletes after that time out. When I ran off the field after her touchdown, the Coach said to me, “She is the best player in the league.” “I know Coach,” I said and meant. “That is why I was getting it to her so quick.” Girls are surprising. They surprise me still. I was number 12 that season. 12 for Roger Staubach: Roger the Dodger. Maybe Roger could have used a female scatback against the Steelers? Anyway, I have never been super fast. I am quick, still, but was never cat fast. She was. I switched to my natural position after that season, but I did not play organized ball again until 5th grade. I am a receiver. I ran routes everyday, played catch with Dad everyday. I had exceptional vision, hands and timing. I would dominate sandlot games, making grab after grab after grab. I was not allowed to make drops, so I did not. In 5th grade, the Coaches of the West Marietta 85 pound Sharks did not know me. I excelled in pass rush drills and was chosen to play Defensive End. I was given 72. I was number 72, VANCE. I was good at getting after the QB. It was like a pass route. If I could get open on a DB, I could certainly get past some fat kid. I made sacks in practice, in games. We started 0-4, and my dad told the coaches about my hands. They tried me out. I caught every single pass that practice, maybe 30 in a row, some off target. I was on. I was back. I still got in on Defense, and we never threw the ball much because our O-Line was terrible, but I was the primary receiver the rest of the season. I caught every pass I touched in the games, in practice. I was good. We went 4-6. The next year, we moved to Louisiana. The first town we lived in did not have football, so I led the basketball team in scoring and did a poor job of running hurdles in track. I was planning to commute to a different, bigger school next year. For football, I would commute from Grand Lake to LaGrange or another Lake Charles High School. Dad would make it happen; he promised. Then, my folks split up. We moved again. Mom was in Houston. I was with Dad. We moved, and I played organized football again. I was a wide receiver in our new town and started the last seven games of the season. We ran one receiver sets. I was a good practice player and eventually beat those brothers out. I would catch every ball I touched. We ran it mostly and were a bad team. In games I blocked mostly, and I remember a Coach saying, “Good block, Vance,” about one of my many blind shots I would take on outside linebackers. We went 4-6…So, Flashbacks. This is a flashback to when Fat Phil and them owned our asses. They own our asses right now. This game always gets me pumped. Every year. This is it. The season is in full swing with this game. This is a big game. We could have won 6 of 8 against UT and Fulmer might really be on the hot seat. Instead, we are getting THE beat down of the Coach Richt era. Visions of Peyton Manning dance in my head. That first half was the worst. The 2nd half of the UT game from last year and the 1st half of the UT game this year are the worst total domination of us by anyone. Maybe ever. West Va was a bad quarter, VaTech was a bad quarter. A bad quarter can be overcome. We went 1 and 1 in those games. But a really bad half is pretty bad overall. A bad half almost always costs you the game. That was bad. Now they have beaten us 3 of 4 and crushed our faces 2 years in a row. They have flipped the series back to them, now. We had won 5 of 7, before. Now reminds me of back then. We could not stop them, then. We are a young team in progress. Our best players are either sophomores or freshmen, so by design we are building for next year and the year after when we have some real experience to go with our talent. Today: we were outplayed, way out coached and totally outclassed. The old Vol who told me that they would win by 30 was only off by 9. Growing pains. Flashbacks to days of growing pains. When I was a young high schooler, I worked as a busboy at The Planter’s Restaurant. I had quit football and was hurt that my parents lived in separate cities. Football was always for my dad and me. I had left him in Louisiana and moved back to Marietta. I lied about my age and got a job working with my stepfather at the restaurant. He was in Chiropractic School. We were fine dining busboys. Youth was already done in a way. I started working, not practicing football for a future as a college player or pro. I was working for clothes, for cash, for recreation money. As we struggled today, I remembered that pain. The pain of losing brought back the pain of family divorce…and as the game was coming to a close, I watched something die. A bird smacked into the sliding glass window and lay dying, and I watched and prayed for it to go as peacefully as possible. I remembered that birds used to smack into the big glass dining rooms at The Planter’s and die regularly. It happened. I hated that. I hate this, and I hated that. I remember thinking: ‘It isn’t fair.’ Why do we suffer? I learned a ton of lessons. Growing pains. I know we are all hurting right now. That is life sometimes, babes. I have to be honest with you-I promised-and babes, I love you, but that is just life sometimes. Fat Phil should be asking for another contract extension tonight, and I won’t sleep well. Neither will Larry or Richt or Stafford or Bobo or my brother Johnny. But, I hope that we are learning lessons. Growing Pains. We must learn from these growing pains…Vandy is next, and they were totally crushed by Aubie today and beat us last year. We must and should win that game, and then we get a week off to rest and heal up and grow some and get ready for the Gators. Like I said…GROWING PAINS.