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I still remember when the only man I ever called Coach, Gregg LeMaster, arrived in my hometown to coach football at the local high school. I remember vividly because my older brother, Errol, interviewed Coach LeMaster for the high school newspaper. When he walked into Coach LeMaster’s office in the gym dressing room, Errol found LeMaster sitting by his desk fresh from the shower with nothing but a towel covering him. Errol, embarrassed, excused himself and turned to leave but LeMaster told him to stay and go ahead with the interview. Coach was not known for his social graces.
LeMaster was from Fayetteville, Arkansas, home of the Razorbacks. He was, let’s just say, a very large man. He had a University of Arkansas decal on the back window of his blue station wagon with a herd of razorbacks running in a circle with the caption “Sooie Sooie Sooie”, the call of the pigs. Only one thing from that interview sticks in my mind. When Errol asked Coach LeMaster what his favorite food was, the answer was quick and direct: “Hushpuppies, catfish and pecan pie.
When I was in high school LeMaster coached our varsity football team to two undefeated seasons. We ran the single wing, an outmoded offense that confused our opposition. There were signs in the locker room such as “This is the season for T quarterbacks” and “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Coach’s wife, Virginia, was very attractive, slender, and the envy of many a man in the town. They had no children. I think Coach considered us all his kids.
He could bring us to tears before a game or during a halftime pep talk. Those were the days. Football hasn’t been the same for me ever since. I definitely enjoyed the NCAA games when I was in college although I was under no illusion that I was college football material. Later, as I grew older, I eventually stopped watching football altogether. I occasionally catch a college game but professional football is too much of a money machine business for my tastes. I guess I’ve moved on. Maybe it’s a function of age.
I don’t pay much attention to any sport these days. Baseball is my choice when I need a sports fix. Through total luck I began to follow the San Francisco Giants just before their three World Series titles. What a run that was.
I can’t get into basketball even with the Warriors on top of the world. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recently penned an article that started me thinking: The NBA, and not the NFL, is the league of America’s future.
American professional football is still miles ahead of all the other sports in attendance and money, but it’s starting to decline for a number of reasons. Serious injuries, oversaturation (games now on Sunday, Monday night, Thursday night and sometimes more), and politics (the Trump-Kaepernick war) are some of the reasons offered. Abdul-Jabbar provides a more subtle reason in his essay:
Baseball once ruled all other sports as America’s pastime because it reflected the laid-back, less confrontational mood of America in the 1920s and 1930s. It was highly strategic, required precision teamwork, but moved at a pace reflective of hot summers in rural towns across the country. Football’s popularity rose with the increasing aggression of the America at home and abroad. Football embodied an America who faced all challenges head on, forcing its will on opponents through skill, guile and brute force. We were a country taking bold risks in order to succeed and football was the riskiest of team sports … But America has changed and with that change we are seeing a shifting away from hoisting football on our collective shoulders.
The demographic changes that caused the political anxiety that led to Donald Trump are part of the changes leading to “a shifting away from … football” to other sports that are becoming more mainstream such as soccer. Whatever the reasons the old gladiators are slowly turning into dinosaurs. The ubiquitous electronic devices that have led to Apple becoming the first trillion-dollar corporation vie for the attention of today’s youth many of whom seem to have no room for sports at all.
I remember Coach LeMaster standing on the sidelines with his baggy pants inevitably stuck in his crotch. I remember travelling with him to sporting events when he packed the dashboard of his station wagon with candy bars that he consumed without sharing—they weren’t good for the players. He told a story once of agreeing to accompany his wife to the opera in San Francisco. He bought a new suit for the affair. While they were sitting in their seats waiting for the opera to begin, the man in front of him, “pickled on booze” as Coach said, turned and vomited all over the new suit. That was all the “culture” Coach said he needed. Never again.
I miss those days of running the spinner reverse for an occasional touchdown, of catching passes, of “high diddle diddle up the middle” and the “foolie pass” when someone on the sideline would call for me to get off field and I’d run as if leaving the field then suddenly turn on cue and run downfield along the sideline hoping to catch a long pass behind the shocked defense. I miss them but you can’t go backward.
I wish someone could tell that in a convincing way to the hardcore followers of this President. He uses our nostalgic weaknesses to appeal to our worst instincts. Nothing but disappointment is bound to follow. I yearn for a Coach LeMaster to lead us forward into the future. He taught me much more than football but he taught me that too. We all need a coach or a teacher or a mentor. If you are lucky enough to have had one, you have an obligation to pass the torch along whether the Olympic torch, the torch or wisdom or the torch of justice. “Sooie sooie sooie !”