Tag 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.

Angry old man part 2 (and now he’s a diehard)

The ageists are at it again.  On CBS “Sunday Morning,” a reporter noted that Earth, Wind and Fire is still out there touring – and then, in a breathless, incredulous tone, she added “in their sixties.” STOP THE PRESSES!!!!!! Musicians who are over 30 can still perform!!!!!! According to what I understand, these blokes are in that category, and so is this cat, and this one.

But I digress. (Can I digress from something I haven’t mentioned yet? Don’t ask me, I fell asleep in freshman English.) What’s really got me going is reading this in the Hot/Not column of Sports Illustrated, a magazine I actually pay good money for: “Rivalries. Florida-Miami and Michigan-Notre Dame grudge matches go the way of the CD – i.e., only old men and diehards will miss them.”

Personal foul. I could use a lot of words to break down the tone and impact of that statement: cheap shot, snarky, gratuitous, mean-spirited, ugly, baseless, classless, snide, abrasive, caustic, and sarcastic (a thesaurus is a great thing, folks). But that wouldn’t be productive.

Instead, why don’t I point out that the recent Michigan-Notre Dame game, the second-to-last one these teams are scheduled to ever play and that no one of any importance will miss, just happened to SET THE ALL-TIME ATTENDANCE RECORD FOR A COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAME.  That’s 115,109 butts in the seats, and I’m pretty sure not all of them were attached to the bodies of “old men” or “diehards.”

(Sports Illustrated reporter in the stands: “Excuse me, are you a diehard? You don’t look like an old man.” 19-year-old woman fan: “And they say there are no real journalists left.”)

Time out. As my longtime readers know – those old enough to remember when “twerk” wasn’t a word yet and Mitt Romney still had a binder full of women – I once took a poke at football traditions myself. Fair enough. But I never said all traditions should come with an expiration date or that all changes are good.

(By the way, I compounded my irrelevance and decrepitude by buying a few CDs the other day.  At a yard sale. For a dollar apiece. For the price of four songs online in this wonderful new world, I got about 60 of ’em, including two fine collections by the legendary R&B saxman King Curtis. So please excuse me while I throw some back copies of Sports Illustrated on the fire and heat up some “Memphis Soul Stew.”)

Already?

There’s a football game tonight? And a lot of other games on Saturday, this Saturday? Are you sure about that?

It’s still summer. More accurately, in Atlanta it’s been summer again for the last week or so. We had weeks of wet, gray days and October-like chills, but finally the sun has reasserted itself. Right now the thermometer on the back deck reads 90 degrees and the pool looks crystal-clear and inviting, even if those darn frogs are still around.

Yes, the water is a bit cooler, and I’ve had to pull up the blanket on the bed these last several nights. It just can’t be time for football, again, already. We just got a new table-top grill and haven’t even had a chance to use it once. So easy: you turn it on, load in some wood chips for flavor, and in no time at all you’ve got the juiciest, tenderest chicken you’ve ever tasted. Ready to eat with some fresh corn and tomatoes, those hulking red ones so sweet they could almost pass for dessert. Nothing fancy, nothing better in the world.

I know, the price of tomatoes is up again. Lots of school buses on the road in the morning, too. I haven’t seen any lightning bugs for a while; the big yellow butterflies are out instead. There’ll probably be dragonflies in the air at the beach when we go there for a weekend. But our grass is pure green from all that rain, the crepe myrtles by the driveway still need trimming, and the days are still pleasantly long. So it’s still summer. Isn’t it?

Pretty soon, I’ll be yelling, “Go Blue!” to anyone in earshot, probably my wonderful, tolerant wife. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else at that moment. But won’t it still be summer?

Please?