Football 2013: Return to the Fields of Glory
By Joseph W. Gex, II
Aug 20, 2013, 18:36
As I sit here and pen this story, there are only five days until the greatest moment of the fall. And, that moment is kickoff. On Friday, Aug. 23 at 7 p.m. on small chunks of land throughout the state, the white hats will blow a whistle while standing in the endzone of the receiving team signaling the kicker that it is time to get things started. That’s right, it is football time in the state that has produced the greatest number of gridiron icons per capita of any state in the history of the game.
Mississippi has produced some of the greatest legends the game has ever known. To give you just a taste of what we have grown on the gridiron turf, ponder this – the NFL’s greatest quarterback in term of guts and stats and a first ballot Hall of Famer is Hancock County’s own Brett Favre; or what about the stalwart anchor of the offensive line and Hall of Fame in Jackie Slater of Jackson; or what about the greatest running back in the history of the game who went with running a football like sweet goes with sugar in Hall of Famer Walter Payton of Columbia; and, if those don’t thrill you then how about the greatest wide receiver the game has ever seen who is also the NFL’s scoring leader, a three-time Super Bowl champion and Hall of Famer in Crawford’s Jerry Rice.
That is the beginning of the all-time greatest team in football history. And, there are several more greats that you can add to that list such as the “redhead from Drew” Archie Manning, Heisman Trophy winner “Mr. Inside” fullback Doc Blanchard, Hall of Fame offensive lineman Gene Hickerson of the Cleveland Browns and Mississippi’s first collegiate first-team All-American and NFL Hall of Famer “Bruiser” Kinard. The list just goes on and on. But, that list began here.
It began on fields cut into corner lots from Booneville to Raleigh and Biloxi to Olive Branch. From Kosciusko to Durant and Natchez to Byhalia.
The legendary status of our icons began on Friday nights like the one that is just days away. They started as young players who wanted to go to war on the gridiron with their teammates. The fans along with the players and coaches would smell the fresh cut grass when they entered the stadium along with the effervescent flavorful aroma of the hot dogs and hamburgers sizzling on the grills.
It began years ago with one or two coaches who would rant up and down the sidelines because of missed assignments and preach that water was for sissies who didn’t get their job done to coaching staffs with as many as ten still ranting and raving about missing assignments but encourage water and Gatorade as the life-blood of a hydrated and top performing squad.
For me, it began on what I remember as vast fields of play with friends like Rocky Rhodes, Shane Kowalski and John Necaise donning the black and gold of Our Lady of the Gulf. Now, when I visit those old practice fields and game fields throughout this county, I have this nostalgia of them being the greatest days of my life.
As we grew, the fields began to get a little smaller and the competition a little more intense. New friends on the gridiron joined Rocky, Shane, John and I like Stephen Cuevas, Jerry Fackrell, Chuck Lavinghouse and Jim Bradley. Guys that you knew you could got to battle with and they had your back.
We fought many battles on the gridiron. Some we won and some we lost. The wins sometimes fade into memory while the sting of a loss somehow never leaves.
And, there are always other things about the game and the battlefield that never leave. The smell of the locker room never seems to bother me when I enter one. Perhaps because it has never left. The sound of shoulder pads smashing into a player never exits the mind. It keeps you tuned into what is happening.
The cheer of the crowd never surprises me but is one of unexpected harmony. The blood, sweat and tears that I once put forth is still seen in the players today. It is not shocking but reassuring that the game is constant.
The legendary icons of the game began their trek to greatness on fields just like the Brother Philip Memorial Athletic Complex, Joe D. McCullouch Stadium/Tank Williams Field, Hawk Stadium/Brett Favre Field or McDonald Stadium.
Will we get a glimpse at the next great player or witness a team coming together for an unfathomable win over a menacing opponent? I cannot begin to answer the question. But, what I can tell you is that in five days the cathedrals will open their doors for the congregation to enter and have the opportunity to be witness to some of the greatest coming of age stories we will ever know.
About three years ago, Kenny Chesney put his thoughts to words and sang “The Boys of Fall”. Take some time to really listen to the song and then come be a witness to legend. See you at the game!