Category Archives: football

Bobby Dean Goes Viral

A short story

The whole town was delirious. People were on their feet, cheering wildly, hardly believing what was about to happen. Gardnerville had just hit a long pass and was down 23-21 with four seconds left in the game. They just had to kick a 27-yard field goal to beat Consolidated, their oldest and biggest rival, for the first time in eight years.

Cole Daley stepped in behind the holder. Everyone knew he could make it: most of them were there a few weeks before when he nailed a 45-yarder. The snap and the hold were good, the ball rose into the cool night and seemed to be, had to be, dead on…but then it curled just left. The visitors’ bench and stands erupted, while the hometown side deflated like a dollar-store beach ball.

Cole took the blame at the postgame press conference, telling the few reporters, “It was completely my fault. I didn’t plant my other foot right, and I missed the angle.” But when Bobby Dean Glenn heard that on the radio, he jabbed the “Off” button and spat out the window of his pickup. Bobby, as everyone knew, had been on the team that won the state title in 1979. He was a reserve, slow and a little small for a defensive end, and his butt never left the pine in the big game. But no Gardnerville squad since had gotten anywhere near that far.

“The kid’s got no nerve,” he groused to his buddies the next morning over coffee at the Good Day Café. “None of ‘em have any mental toughness. Or physical toughness either, because if you try to make ‘em tough nowadays their parents and the school board come screamin’ bloody murder.”

“He’s a good kid,” Ray said. “Works at my cousin’s place. Always on time, real polite to the customers. ‘Course his old man’s not around. That might have something to do with it.”

“He hit that big one against Central, remember?” Doug chimed in. “Then he misses a short one.” Bobby snorted. “That’s what practice is for. Back in my day, we knew we’d better be good every time or we’d get our asses kicked.” He waved irritably to the waitress for a refill. “I heard him on the radio sayin’ he didn’t plant his foot right. Well, if you’re a kicker, what else should you know how to do?”


When Cole went back to his after-school job in Ray’s cousin’s hardware store, most of the customers, if they said anything at all, said “Too bad,” or “Good season.” But a few of them gave him dirty looks and one man grumbled “It wasn’t but 27 yards.” That night as Cole rode home on his bicycle, Bobby pulled up alongside him and called “Careful on that bike! Better plant your foot!” 

A couple of weeks later, Cole came into the Good Day to get a cup to go before school. The boys were at their usual table, and as Cole turned to leave, Bobby said, just loud enough for the whole room to hear, “Don’t forget to plant that foot now.”

Cole didn’t look at them and never changed his expression as he headed out the door. “I heard he’s coming out for basketball again,” Doug said once he was gone.Bobby shook his head. “Probably can’t shoot any better’n he kicks. There goes that season too.”“He shot pretty good last year,” Doug replied. “And we need him for experience. We only got one other senior.”

When Cole missed a layup in the first game, someone yelled, “Hey number 12, you forgot to plant your foot!” As the season wore on, a couple of freshmen got hot and one night Cole didn’t get in the game until the last few minutes, and right away he heard “Plant that foot!” But he still played hard, hustling up and down the floor until the final buzzer.


Spring brought graduation and just after the 4th of July, Cole’s mother Suzanne came into the café. Wanda, who was running the register, asked about Cole. “He’s great,” Suzanne said, beaming. “He’s already off to college. The University of Illinois.”

“Illinois?” Bobby piped up. “Thought I heard he was going to Auburn.”

Suzanne looked at him, still smiling, but barely. “Well, he applied to different places and he liked Illinois. It’s really a fine school. He decided to take some summer classes and get settled in before fall.”

“That’s a long way,” said Wanda. “It must be hard.”

“Oh, it is,” Suzanne replied. “I never thought such a small house could feel so empty. But you have to let go sometime and he just loves it there. Thank goodness for email and texts. And Skype.”

“Well, I guess Illinois’s all right,” Bobby said. “Nothing wrong with Auburn, though. Seems like a kid’d want to stay close to home.”

Suzanne turned toward him with her mouth suddenly taut and fire in her eyes. A few tables away, Greg Burdick chuckled and took out his phone. He’d seen that look before, many times, in her fourth-grade class. This was going to be good.

“And what young man would want to stay here?” she demanded. “Where you do one thing wrong and have to hear about it for the rest of your life? ”

Startled, Bobby said, “I don’t know what you mean, I –” but she cut him off. “Don’t you lie to me, Bobby Dean Glenn. He told me what you did that night when he was riding home.” She leaned over the table, staring down at him. “I could have killed you dead but he said he’d just have to live with it. But why did he have to live with it?”

No one was eating anymore. “He’s seventeen years old. He made a mistake in a game. And he owned up to it. But you and your good-for-nothing friends never gave that boy a chance.” Suzanne folded her arms. “How would you like it if everybody kept reminding you how your girlfriend ran off with that tractor salesman?”

Bobby tried to say something, anything. She held up her hand. “Not one word. But let me tell you what I told Cole when we said goodbye,” and her expression softened. “Be good, but be yourself and be happy. There’s a whole new world out there. Don’t fret about the old one,” and she picked up her takeout and left.

Everybody was looking at Bobby. “What?” he barked, then muttered, “Guess it’s the wrong time of month for her.” People looked down uncomfortably. But Kristin, the waitress, who was about to give Marge Edmonds her breakfast order, marched over to Bobby’s table. She poured the little pitcher of milk she was holding in one hand into the bowl of cornflakes in the other, and then she dumped the cornflakes right over Bobby’s head.

The room exploded in laughter. People guffawed, hooted, and clapped as Kristin emerged from the kitchen with another bowl and pitcher. “Sorry for the delay,” she said nonchalantly as she set them in front of Marge, who was about to split her sides.

Bobby sat there with soggy cornflakes falling into his collar, milk running down behind his glasses, and the bowl riding atop his head like a World War I Army helmet. With as much dignity as he could muster, he removed the bowl and stood up. “Wanda, if you think I’m payin’ for this –” he began, but she stopped him with, “The coffee’s on the house. But I’ll have to charge extra for the cereal,” and the place erupted again.

Bobby stalked out, shook himself like a dog to get rid of the milk, glared at the two bemused women on the sidewalk watching him, and got into his truck. He wasn’t halfway home before his phone buzzed. “Bobby, you old goat, you’re supposed to eat those cornflakes, not wear ‘em!” Ray howled. “I tell you what, you ought to send that to America’s Funniest Videos.”

Video? Another call: “You can’t talk like that in front of a lady, especially when she’s armed and dangerous!” Another one: “I’ve heard of breakfast to go but not all over your head!” And: “Hey Bobby, I’m buying a new tractor. Let me know if your girl comes back!”

By noon, Greg’s cellphone footage was everywhere and Bobby had 37 calls. That evening, the network news anchor said, “Tonight, we have a lesson in civility from Gardnerville, Alabama,” and the phone rang again. Bobby didn’t pick up, just walked out the back, sat in an old chair, and stared across the yard. He was still there after the sun went down, the air turned chilly, and the moon came out.


Cole was reading in the lounge of his dorm when a girl he’d recently met sat down next to him. “Hey,” she said, “what was the name of that town you said you were from?”

Later he checked his email: Dear Cole: When I saw the video, I laughed so hard I woke up the cat! I know you didn’t want me to make a fuss. I just couldn’t keep quiet.I’m sure this will blow over. But you might save that video so someday you can show your kids that Grandma was a firecracker — and she loved you very much. Be happy.Mom

Copyright 2018 by Dave Swan

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This land is their land

The Saturday after the Paris attacks I watched football as usual, but also for a little normalcy, a break from apprehension and sorrow. The game I saw was ideal for that purpose: Michigan vs. Indiana, taking me back to my home turf and calling up memories of football Saturdays in Ann Arbor 40 years ago.

Both schools are part of the Big Ten, which is as American as they come, being the oldest Division I athletic conference in the country.* Some people claim its brand of football is stodgy and boring, but this one was, as they say in Middle America, a barn-burner. Michigan won it 48-41 in double overtime, with the quarterback tossing six touchdown passes. One of them went to tight end Jake Butt (yes, the joke potential is limitless), who’s from Pickerington, Ohio.

But four of those TDs were caught by a lightning-fast wideout named Jehu Chesson, who was born in Monrovia, Liberia during the first Liberian civil war. The final, game-winning touchdown was scored by Amara Darboh, born around the same time in Freetown, Sierra Leone amid that country’s civil war. Chesson and his family moved to Ivory Coast before going on to St. Louis. Darboh’s parents were killed, but he escaped on foot with relatives to Gambia, Senegal, and finally, with sponsorship from a Christian group, to Des Moines. He’s now a U.S. citizen.

These young men came from places that many Americans would find obscure, like Raqqa. They fled bloody conflicts that dragged on for years, killed hundreds of thousands, and displaced millions. Would we be safer or stronger if we’d arbitrarily locked them out, as various politicians say we should do with the Syrians?

I know: Liberia and Sierra Leone didn’t breed terrorists who plant bombs in other places. But (1) the ones flooding Europe are trying to get away from the bombers themselves. (2) Refugees don’t just waltz into the USA through customs; the existing screening can take months or years. And (3): They’re less likely to be radicalized here than in some European slum.

I’m not blind to terrorism. I was among those who had to evacuate the U.S. Capitol on 9/11 and I spent the day a few blocks from there, wondering if another plane was coming at us. I’m absolutely not excusing extremism either. But Jeb Bush, who I rarely agree with on anything, committed common sense in talking about Paris and, “the despair and the hatred that has built up over time…where people may have a French passport, may be a French citizen, but they’re not really French.”

Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh are sociology majors at one of our great universities. They perform the ritual of running under and touching the Michigan banner at home games, and they play those games under the Stars and Stripes. Even the people in Indiana can be thankful and proud that they’re here. We can all be proud if we reject ignorance, fear, and hatred, and welcome the Syrians to come.


*The Big Ten actually has fourteen teams, having extended its Midwestern roots to Penn State, Nebraska, Rutgers, and Maryland. It’s also one of the most tradition-bound conferences in the country, but that’s another story.

Gone Blue

Even if you’re not a college football fan or a resident of Michigan, you’ve probably caught a whiff of the circus parade that began when a quarterback who’d been blasted by a defender and was obviously wobbly was allowed to stay on the field. I don’t have the space or the stomach to recap the details. In fact, I’m so sick of the whole thing that I’m retiring from Michigan football fandom, at least for the rest of this season and maybe for good.

How can I do this? Not easily. I’ve been following Michigan’s fortunes since my freshman year back in ’72, and I paid a little visit to the Big House even before that. But from now on, the remote will not point toward ESPN or the Big Ten Network at game time. The t-shirts will stay in the drawer. The blogs and Michigan newspaper sites will go unread. A modest volume of beer will go undrunk.

Call me crazy, disloyal, old and cranky, or anything you like. But friends, we are not given unlimited time in this world and I’m just not going to waste any more of mine on this clown car of a football team. It’s over. Done. Finished. Kaput. I’ve crossed the Rubicon, bought my last round and hopped in the cab. I couldn’t possibly say it any better than Jo Dee Messina did:

Well you filled up my head with so many lies
You’ve twisted my heart ’til something snapped inside
I’d like to give it one more try
But, my give a damn’s busted

You can crawl back home, say you were wrong
Stand out in the yard and cry all night long
Go ahead and water the lawn
My give a damn’s busted

Fire irks and ireworks

Would it surprise you that the first controversy of this year’s college football season is already here and it has nothing to do with football – at least not what happens on the field? Nope, this one is about what will or won’t occur a few hundred feet above the turf, specifically Michigan Stadium (where I once played Frisbee at midnight). The athletic department had the idea of staging a fireworks display as part of the festivities at a couple of games this year. But nooooooooo!

The Regents of My Alma Mater have solemnly decreed with all the dignity and intellect ascribed to their office that none shall pass: no red glare and bombs bursting in air. No aerial shells, ball rockets, dragons’ eggs, stars, or other pyrotechnics shall light up the sky over the Big House. The reasons for this kibosh, as reported here by the Detroit News, include safety, which one might understand, but also concerns about “tradition and excess.” One Reg said, “We are not Comerica Park, Disney World or a circus … I love Michigan football for what it is … and for what it is not. It remains and should be an experience, a place that resists the excesses of our culture; intentionally simple. The fireworks should be on the field, not above it.”

Intentionally simple? Extra! Read all about it! A U of M Regent has discovered an actual, honest-to-Crisler time machine and journeyed back to the days of leather helmets and the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame! STOP THE PRESSES!!! (I worked as a journalist for 20+ years and always wanted to say that.)

Resists the excesses? Friends, we’re talking about major college football in the 21st century. You’ve got more than 100,000 people cheering, yelling, whooping, and waving their colors, TV copters and blimps overhead, marching bands, drunks and drunkettes, banners, beer commercials, traffic jams, and three or four hours of pure spectacle.

One of the times where the AD wanted to use fireworks was when Penn State comes in for a nationally-televised night game. I watched last year’s night game at Penn State, and even though my team found about 15 ways to blow it, I truly enjoyed all the pomp, the excitement, and the passion of the home crowd. Fireworks in an atmosphere like that would be just a bit of colorful frosting on a big cake.

The biggest problem with fireworks is that wherever they go, the amateur fireworkers follow. Some kid would get hold of some non-professional but powerful stuff, scare the bejabbers out of the neighbors, and maybe come away with a missing digit or two. This is the kind of thing that probably inspired one of Jeff Foxworthy’s best redneck gags: “What is the last thing a redneck ever says?” “HEY, Y’ALL! WATCH THIS!”

But I digress. My advice to the Regents is to quit worrying about tradition and just enjoy the party, like my friends and I did in the pre-ESPN, no-Internet days. Come to think of it, that time machine’s not such a bad idea after all.

The follies of FL

Right now I imagine a lot of you are digging out of, shivering through, griping about, and generally trying to survive the big winter storm* that somebody christened “Hercules” but could also be called “Hyperbole.” Those who live in the frozen zone (frozone?) also are probably wishing they could decamp for someplace warm, especially Florida.

As a former Michigander, New Englander, and Washingtonian, I can definitely relate. I’m now a part-time resident of Inlet Beach, FL, where the picture above was taken and my wife and I visit every chance we get. However, Florida has some little eccentricities that you really don’t run across in Grand Rapids, St. Paul, Parma, Mahwah, Worcester, Westchester, and all those other places where the flakes are flying.

Let’s take a quiz: Which of these are actual Florida news headlines and which are made up?

Man Tries to Trade Alligator For Beer

Amorous Dolphin Tries to Boink TV Babe in Theme Park Pool

Kangaroo Leads Florida Deputies on 10-Hour Chase

Florida Beachgoer Discovers Human Foot in Shoe**

Man Loses Hand, Has Weed-Whacker Strapped Onto Stump

Florida Man Bitten by Shark, Punched by Monkey (Twice), Struck by Lightning, Bitten by Snake

Slimy, Giant Snails Invade South Florida

Police Ticket Man for Running Backwards

Killer Chops Off Victim’s Legs at Knees to Fit Body Into Suitcase

Woman Allegedly Calls 911 to Report Drunk People Inside Bar

Except for #2, 5, and 9, all of these things actually happened in 2013, according to our friends at Buzzfeed. The others describe events that took place in a few of the many great books by Carl Hiaasen, which any northern immigrant (and everyone everywhere) should read for some wild and hilarious tales (but at all costs avoid the movie version of “Strip Tease”).

*As the Almighty Editorial Poobah, Pontiff, and Kahuna, I hereby ban for now and forevermore the use of “The Big Chill” to describe actual weather events, as opposed to the movie.  Unfortunately, one of the best quotes from the film – “C’mon, Blue, you’re not supposed to fold until the fourth quarter!” – remains relevant.

**Presumably not his own foot and shoe.

Blue in the night

The other day I spotted this headline on the website that brings us all the news from Ann Arbor, Michigan, my college town: “Police: U-M frat members arrested after breaking into the Big House.” One’s first reaction might be, “What are these clowns learning in that overpriced school? Haven’t they ever seen a prison movie? You’re supposed to break OUT OF the Big House!”

However, the House in question, for those who aren’t steeped in college football, is Michigan Stadium. And I can’t condemn the frat guys too much because I once did the very same thing. In fact, I did it on my third night at the University of Michigan.

In late June of 1972, barely a month out of high school, I borrowed my mother’s ’67 Dart and drove to Ann Arbor for freshman orientation. You spent about a week living in a dorm, touring the campus, maybe taking some tests related to your fall classes, and generally getting a feel for college life. I remember being crammed into a single room with another guy, maybe two, and the staff blasting the Beatles outside the door to wake us up in the morning. I also recall the thrill of walking around and knowing I’d soon be there full time, free of my high school self and all his struggles, starting over, being somebody different and better.

What I remember most is that one evening, after the frosh-to-be had finished the formal program for the day and some of us were hanging out in the lounge of the dorm, one of our sophomore and junior advisors suggested we go play Frisbee in the stadium. Of course, I said, “Sure!”

Now up to that point, I was not a Michigan fan. I had no idea the place was “The Big House.” I figured it was just another football field, a bigger cousin of the one where the Kalamazoo Loy Norrix Knights played.

Four of us walked down there: the older guy, two freshwomen, and me. Our “guide” knew right where to find a gate that wasn’t chained tightly and we could squeeze through.

It was midnight. The field was still and quiet, bathed in soft white light. We walked to the 50 yard line and tossed the ‘Bee around, then sat down on the artificial turf and just talked for a while. Because it was night, I didn’t really get a sense of how big the place was. But I was thinking that this college business was pretty cool and I’d probably do all right.

Of course, we were putting ourselves in some serious jeopardy. I can only imagine what would’ve happened to us if we’d been busted. I’m pretty sure the legendary coach Bo Schembechler would’ve been extremely PO’d if a bunch of hippies had been caught defiling his field.

A couple of months later, I got my first view of the place in daylight, as Michigan bested Northwestern in a real Big Ten barn-burner of a home opener, with a final score of 7-0. I spent a lot of fun Saturday afternoons there in the next four years, but don’t remember any of them half as well as that night.

Front yard burial part deux

Some of you alert readers might recall that a couple of weeks ago I brought you the story of a man from Alabama who attracted a bit of a stir by burying his wife in his front yard. As part of my solemn duty to keep my friends fully informed, I now have an update. Granted, this affair doesn’t hit the TV news trifecta: unless you live in the town where it happened, it’s not local, the story’s not exactly late-breaking, and you really wouldn’t say it’s “live.”

But I digress. The word is that the late Mrs. Davis has now been removed from the yard. Her husband says cremation is next, but as a red-blooded Internet busybody, I of course have a better idea! According to the AP, when Mr. Davis went to court to argue this thing, he wore a houndstooth hat. This puts him in that vast and noble group of folks who could be described as “not Auburn fans.”

So what better resting place than the end zone at Bryant-Denny Stadium? Hey, it worked for Jimmy Hoffa in Jersey.