I told a story here quite a while back about a night when we played Pocola, Oklahoma in football and I made an accidental interception that made a big difference in the game. Another year when we played Pocola it didn’t work out so well. We played them on their field in the cold mud and they beat us soundly. It was almost a two hour ride home in the bus, a long, quiet ride home. Coach sat in the front and never said a word. No one else said much either. We were all pretty miserable.
Charleston didn’t have a big sports budget. The cheerleaders and managers rode on the same bus with us. It was close to midnight when we pulled into the parking lot at the school. Coach stood up and opened the bus door.
“Anyone who isn’t a player can get off,” he said quietly. That wasn’t a good sign.
After the cheerleaders and managers disappeared into the gym building, Coach closed the bus door and looked around at us. Coach was a big man, well over six feet. He seemed larger in the shadowy light, and he seemed awfully close to where I was sitting. For the first time that night I wished I hadn’t ended up in an aisle seat.
Coach studied us for a moment. His fists clenched suddenly. I’d never seen him look so angry.
“If that had been a pile of shit out there,” he shouted, “you would have drowned in it. With your mouths open!”
He stalked down the aisle, then back up it. We all leaned away from him. He shouted and raved some more. I only remember those first words, however. They are engraved on my memory.
It seemed to go on forever; I doubt it lasted longer than five minutes. Then Coach opened the door again and told everyone to get off but the seniors. I wasn’t a senior and was very glad of that fact at the moment. To this day I don’t know what he said to the seniors. No one ever talked about it. I didn’t even ask.
The next day we ran wind sprints until the first person vomited. Then we crabbed up and down the field. Crabbing consisted of getting down onto your hands and feet and going back and forth down the field as fast as you can. I had blisters the size of quarters the next day. I remember poking them with a needle to let the water out. I remember the dead flap of skin peeling away over time to reveal the nice pink new flesh underneath.
Someone told his parents about what Coach said on the bus that night. It wasn’t me. He got into a bit of trouble for a while, although I never knew the inside story on that. I didn’t even get mad at Coach. I was more angry at some of my team mates. There were those who didn’t give a crap whether we won or lost.
I’d like to say the team rallied after what we went through. We didn’t. We lost the next week too. Coach never said a word to us about it.