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Underwater Football


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Among the worst high school football games I played in, I think, was the one my sophomore year at Milton High of Alpharetta. Greensboro (GA) had been put into a new region that year, and we played some schools we had never heard of. Nobody in Greensboro even knew where Alpharetta was, and the typical thing was that nobody was going to ask. It would have been considered a sign of weakness or of being country if we had to pick up the phone and call Milton High School and ask, “Where y’all at?”

No such thing as GPS or Google then, of course, nor were there any road maps, since back then men did most of the driving, and they wouldn’t use one of those things, even if they had one. So, there was a lot of speculation among the coaches and the school officials and the townspeople as to just where Alpharetta might be. A consensus developed that Alpharetta was up in the mountains beyond Gainesville, a four- or five-hour drive from Greensboro on the two-lane roads of the day.

The lunchroom fixed us sack suppers, and we got out of school after lunch. We loaded onto the school bus and headed off. We arrived at Milton before their school let out for the day, since we got to Alpharetta even before we reached Gainesville. Ordinarily, we would have come for a football game an hour or so before, in time to put on our uniforms and go out onto the field and warm up a little. This time we got there with around three hours to kill and nothing to do but eat our sack suppers and roam around the Milton campus, wearing ourselves out. By the time the game started, we felt like we had already played a couple of quarters.

That season, in addition to being in a new region, we were playing in a classification that made us one of the smallest schools, competing against teams drawn from much larger student bodies, so that in almost every game we were outmatched, and we generally lost by embarrassingly large margins. The Milton game would not prove different, except for the rain.

They had a new stadium, so new, in fact, that grass had not yet enjoyed the opportunity to take hold. The new stadium, moreover, was clearly designed by a Georgia Tech engineer, because it took advantage of the topography to nestle into a natural bowl, a bowl that held every drop of water that descended upon us in that flash flood, a blinding rainstorm that hit when we were already so far behind that we had long ago passed the point where we had any chance to turn it around, even though our plodding, single-wing attack was better suited for slogging through the mud than was their modern, split-T offense. I don’t think the officials called the game on account of the rain, even though the water was so deep and the wind so strong that the ball floated away from the line of scrimmage every time the referee placed it at the beginning of each down.

Finally, the game ended. I don’t think any Greensboro fans hazarded the long drive to Alpharetta, except my father, who brought the cheerleaders, including my sister. In his attempts to cheer us on, feeling his responsibility as the sole fan, at some point during the deluge he slipped in the mud and fell down, smearing his old black overcoat with red Georgia clay.

We players were glad when the thing was over, relieved to peel off our soaked, heavy uniforms and pads, get out of our sloshy football shoes and get on the bus for Greensboro. At least the ride back wasn’t nearly as long as we had expected it to be when we left home.

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