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Championship games can bring things more important than trophies

The Super Bowl makes me wonder what it would be like to play in such a contest. Not only playing in the game, but to enjoy the excitement surrounding it.

The closest I ever came to the ultimate experience, playing in a championship game, was in December 1974. My junior year in high school in Lincoln County we played Trion for what was then the Class B state championship in football. I did not play in the game, but I inhaled the aura surrounding it like smoked sausage sizzlin' on a tailgater's grill.

I didn't play in the game because I was a "scrubstitute." I was a backup to the backups. We had 33 players, and I was fourth string. I could hold a dummy in practice but moved my feet like I had nine ingrown toenails and one missing.

When asked what position I played in high school my answer is always, "tailback." When I begged to go in a game the coach would scream, "get your tail back!" Al Bundy I wasn't.

My teammates were pretty good players. WE managed to win a region championship for our school for the first time in over 10 years. WE then won two state playoff games and presto, we were scheduled for a trip to northwest Georgia to play for the big trophy.

The town was in a tizzy. The fans chartered six busses for the trip. Six busses! Wasn't that enough to move the Mexican army? Rather than driving themselves, my daddy and uncle even paid for a bus seat. They refused to ride two miles to church with a lifelong neighbor if they couldn't drive. I knew then this was big.

Our school superintendent came to the lunch table one day that week and dropped a $20 bill on the boy that recovered a fumble in the semi-final win the week before. For weeks, some of the fans standing in the end zones, between sips, waved fives and tens as the offense drove for touchdowns. For the guy who scored, paydirt would literally be paydirt. Talk was the bank was sponsoring the championship game touchdowns. Our running backs were getting rich.

For road games, we had to pack our equipment into old green Army duffle bags the day before. I was so excited the morning of our trip to Trion I was loony. As we waited to load the bus, I picked up my old green Army duffle bag and realized that it felt too light. I glanced at the chicken wire cages that we used for a dressing room in the back of the gym and there were my shoulder pads still sitting on a shelf.

I can't leave my shoulder pads I thought. They would help keep me warm. In a panic I rushed back into the cages and stuffed my shoulder pads into my old green Army duffle bag. That is when the first wrinkle all season was put into my white game jersey.

We started on the long trip and our coach wouldn't let us talk. Finally after two hours of boredom the bus driver started some music, on low. When the tune "Kung Fu Fighting" came on, coach even let us sing along. When "American Pie" was played, he made the driver cut the music off. Coach wasn't that bored.

We stopped at a restaurant in Cartersville for our pregame meal. That was our first and only stop on the trip. The bus had a restroom you know. We were traveling in style because WE were playing for state. We ate steak, hamburger steak.

Our locker room in Trion was a broom closet. After dressing out we had to get back on the bus for sitting room. Just before warm-ups our six busloads of fans pulled up beside us. Many of them had already been celebrating and tried to board our bus. I saw my dad and uncle scurrying for a 50-yard-line seat. They could get my autograph at home I guessed.

The game was a knock down, drag out. I felt guilty for not paying admission. I stood there screaming my head off, privy to every play that was called. With a minute left the score was still zero all. With 53 seconds left we were behind 7-0 and that's how it ended. The Super Bowl wasn't so super any more.

The broom closet was more solemn than any funeral. All I could do was help an injured teammate pack his old green Army duffle bag and load the bus. On the way home through the cold Georgia night we bonded for life. That was the most super thing about almost playing in a Super Bowl. To this day those guys don't care if I was fourth string or MVP.

WE were a team.



Web posted on Thursday, February 10, 2005











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