BISHOPVILLE, S.C. --- Eddie Brown came to say thank you to Luther Welsh on Saturday.
Brown had done so just three weeks earlier. He and other members of the 1963 and 1964 football teams at McLaurin Junior High School in Sumter, S.C., hadn't realized -- not for certain -- that it would be their last chance to shake their coach's hand.
Brown, though, had used that chance to voice the words he had felt for almost 50 years.
Brown repeated his story Saturday after Welsh's funeral.
A 150-mile journey had taken the legendary Thomson coach across a state line and across eight decades to the community that Welsh had hoped to call home once again. Brown had driven 70 miles north, from St. Stephen, S.C.
Brown described himself as a successful businessman with a comfortable home. He also described himself as a kid "on my way out." He described the football coach who had stood in the way of his seemingly inevitable failure.
He apologized. "If I start crying, then you'll know why," he said.
Long before Welsh went on to win affection, acclaim and state football titles in Georgia, he was a success in the eyes of a kid from South Carolina. "I knew I was playing for a special person," he said.
"A lot of us kids were from the wrong side of the tracks," Brown said. "I had been socially promoted and I was about to fail in junior high. I got into a mix-up and Luther caught me up.
"About three weeks later, he came up to me and he said, " 'I want you to play football,' " Brown said. "And I said, 'I don't know how.' And he said, 'I'll teach ya.' "
Soon after, Brown was running and ran out of wind. Welsh told Brown he wanted him to play fullback. "I told him I didn't know how to play fullback," Brown said. "And he said the same identical thing: 'I'll teach 'ya.' "
The practice was tough and the games were tougher, Brown said. "We ran those plays over and over and over," Brown said. The freshman team traveled to the next county to play a varsity team. "He just threw us to the wolves," Brown said.
The players reaped lessons, not victories, Brown said.
Brown had gathered many of those players together just three Saturdays earlier.
"Don't get me wrong, but I've got a pretty nice house," Brown said. "And I looked at the coach and I said, 'Without you, I wouldn't have any of this,' " Brown said. "And the coach looked at me and he said 'Maybe.' "
"Luther didn't care who you were, what you knew," Brown said. "He was only interested in what you wanted to be."