Ole Miss Football: Grove Grinder, What Sports Should Really Be About

Ole Miss football fans know something about adverse situations, great wins, insufferable losses and now we have a lot more in common.

Ole Miss football fans, stop reading this right now. Close your eyes and think about what sports really mean to you and when you open your eyes, please continue reading. There is something we all have in common. There is not one single person reading this right now who doesn’t have something in common with me. I’m sure of it, and please message me and try to tell me I’m wrong. I may not know who will win the Egg Bowl in 2020 but with this point there is no dispute.

This is how it is. Skip has had quite a few minutes to do some deep thinking and so have you. In the midst of us being isolated from our normal everyday lives we’ve all had plenty of time on our hands. We’ve had time to focus on the things which matter to us most. Our families, friends, neighbors and faith have come first for me and I’m sure the very same is true for each of you. I’ve had time to think and I do have a tendency to over think things. This time I’m thinking about the little things and I’ll explain.

Give A Kid A Ball

I dare say, besides living, breathing, paying taxes and Ole Miss football, there is one other thing we all have in common. At some point in your life you picked up a ball. It may have been a football, baseball, basketball, a soccer ball or maybe even a golf ball. It doesn’t matter which. The fact is at some point you have. Now, it may not have been today but you have. Try to say it isn’t so.

I don’t remember receiving my first toy as a baby but I have seen old photos. It was a football. Not a plush stuffing filled baby toy, but a real full-size Brooks football. I had that football until my parents lost their home in a fire when I was in third grade. After the fire I remember the greatest gift I could have received was another football. I got it from my dads best friend, Plez, a Miss State fan. This is what sports should really be about.

There isn’t a single good father in Mississippi who hasn’t held their child for the very first time and dreamed that one day that child would be a star athlete. When my sons, Matt and Austin, were born the first gift each got was from my dad, Doc. It was a full sized football each time. Each time Doc said, “Don’t ever let them put it down!” He was very emphatic in his words. This wasn’t because he pushed me or wanted me to push them to be great athletes, but because with sports there are important life lessons young people need to learn. If you ever played organized sports then you know what those are. Sports teach us teamwork, determination, coping skills and work ethic. Sports teach us to not drop the ball later in life when the real game is on the line. This is what sports should really be about.

Sports Build Relationships

Now, I wasn’t a great football player although I played with some of the greatest at Philadelphia High School. Not all of them played professional football but many of them did play college ball. Even the ones who didn’t went on to become very successful in life. Our own high school team manager, Fred McAfee, became a New Orleans Saint. Fred, a standout record-holding RB (most rushing yardage, attempts and TDs) at Mississippi College, played 16 seasons in the NFL and is considered, by me and others, to be the best RB to come out of Philly, and that’s saying a lot when he was handing out water, towels and tear-away jerseys for the legendary Marcus Dupree at one point.

I dare you to research Fred, All-Pro NFL 2002, and all he has accomplished. Fred is now working as part of the New Orleans Saints organization. Fred’s older brother Charles Ray ‘Tree’ McAfee played LB at Ole Miss. (Hardest hit I ever took in practice). Tree entered Oxford with another Rebels great from Philly, Michael Smith, who played TE for Ole Miss. I was truly blessed to have had the opportunity to play high school football with both of them and so many others.

Mark Burnside, Darren ‘Bull’ Jackson, Ken Griffin, Greg Smith, Rob Robinson, Dr Shay Daly, Dr Steve Molpus, Mike Sampsell, Ronnie ‘Domino’ Hunter (Second hardest hit I ever took in practice), Mike ‘Duck’ Donald, Mike Bassett, Wyatt Waddle, Steve ‘Too Mean’ Chisolm, Carlee Smiley, James Henson, Roe Ross, David Kohler, Demetrius ‘Meatball’ Griffin, Roderick Sutton and others, just to name a few.  There are so many more names on the PHS Wall of Fame. If it hadn’t been for football I may have never had the chance to truly know any of them, learn from them or know the kind of men they are today. This is what sports should really be about.

Never Give Up

One of my favorite quotes comes from Ole Miss football legend, Chucky Mullins. Like myself many of you probably have the red t-shirt with the number 38 on the back and that wonderful quote on the front. If you do then you already know the quote. Of course, you are already know the story of Chucky and everything he had to endure after that fateful day in Oxford. I was there as many of you were. I’ve never heard a full Vaught-Hemingway Stadium that quiet. Whispers and weeping was all there was.

That day, that one play, changed Ole Miss football forever. It also changed a lot of young men forever and it continues to change lives today. Each season we honor Chucky with the Chucky Mullins Courage Award and Ole Miss football players select that one player to wear Chucky’s number 38. Thru this one-act his legacy and his message live on. Courage never quits, never gives up and it never dies. My own personal favorite Chucky Mullins Courage Award winner is DT Shackleford, a great man, who won it twice over three seasons. DT is the only two-time winner.

You already know what an inspiration Chucky was for Ole Miss football. Chucky was an inspiration outside of football as well. There was nothing you could be going thru which a smile from Chucky couldn’t erase and he was always smiling. I was fortunate enough to get to meet Chucky and though it was brief I will never forget it. I also had the opportunity to later meet Brad Gaines in Oxford when Chucky was being honored. I’ll never forget that moment either.

Of course, Brad was the Vanderbilt WR involved in that one life changing play. Brad was one of those young men Chucky changed forever. If you haven’t already seen it, I urge you to watch the ESPN Films Storied special about Chucky and Brad. Oh, the quote by Chucky Mullins. “I may give out, but I’ll never give up!” This is what sports should really be about.

What Matters Most

With all the dreams we may have, at some point we have to wake up. Skip’s wake-up call came yesterday. A buddy of mine and I were talking. He is a young professional in the medical field with a beautiful family. He’s been labored as respiratory therapist over the past month or longer working hours on end for days on end. I asked him how he was holding up?  The first thing he said was, “The one thing that bothers me most about all of this is my son. He’s looked forward to playing Little League baseball so much this summer and I don’t even have time to throw with him.” I know how badly this affects both him and his son. He is a great father and his son is great young baseball player. Sadly, both will likely miss Little League baseball this summer.

Somewhere right now, everywhere for that matter, there is a young person affected by COVID-19. Whether you have may have the virus or not, you have been affected. However, no element of our society has been more affected than our youth and organized youth sports. Sure, your own kids may seem happy being out of school indefinitely but they really aren’t. They are a product of us. They grow as youth from our growth as adults. They learn from us and feed off our energy.

A few days ago a friend of mine made a Facebook post sharing his feelings on the pandemic and the impact it has had on youth sports. Basically he pointed out the fact that there are kids who are missing out on organized sports. He focused mainly on spring high school sports and the fact that there are seniors who won’t have the chance to play their final season as high school softball and baseball players. Those young athletes had no idea the spring of 2019, their junior years, would be their final seasons. This is also true for college athletes and even professional athletes. This season was going to be a final season for somebody at every level but it happened last season. It’s really sad.

Growing up shouldn’t be complicated but for a large part of the younger population it is right now. For many kids organized sports gives them a chance to escape. It gives many of them a break from a troubled home or an abusive environment. For some its the best family they have. For some it gives them a chance to be a part of something greater than just themselves. It gives every child a chance to dream. Not every child will grow up to play professional sports but it doesn’t stop the dream or the things they learn from sports which they will carry inside them for the rest of their lives. This is what sports should really be about.

Closing With Character Building

I can remember an ex-wife I had who believed I was way too tough on kids as a Little League coach and I couldn’t measure my own failures as a former player with my own kids success. Yes, I coached some great young men including my sons. Yes, I was tough on them. I didn’t like to lose but I hated even worse to watch them suffer after a loss. I wanted them to win baseball games and little did I know at the time they were already winners. Somehow, I had learned from great coaches, great players and all around great men, but I didn’t realize at the time. I do now.

I coached Little League in total for 16 years and the greatest teams I had were seasons where we didn’t win a single game. Those seasons young men grew up and became winners in life. They learned what sports are truly about. They learned life lessons. Things like coping skills, never quitting, there is no ‘I’ in team and shaking the hand of your adversary no matter how much it might hurt your own pride. There is an ‘I’ in quit and they didn’t. I coached great young men and they learned more than just about baseball.

At the end of every season we would have a cookout supported by the team parents. In 16 seasons of coaching Little League, either as an assistant or head coach, there is one thing which only happened twice. Two no win seasons. Both seasons, at the season ending cookout, I received a baseball signed by every young man on the team. Both baseballs are in my safe deposit box at my bank. Two of my greatest treasures besides my own sons.

Until this day there are young men who I coached who tell me what a great a coach I was and how I made them better baseball players. Most of them had to endure two terrible 0-16 seasons, but they still learned all I could teach them. Most of them went on to play high school baseball and a few played college baseball. All of them, despite their coach, became great men. Several have asked me if I would consider coaching their own sons in two things, the fundamentals of baseball and the fundamentals of life.

I’ve never mastered either but I do understand the recipe. Mix the right ingredients and you get success. Too much of one distracts from the other. Every thing should be perfect to get the right result but seldom is. Sometimes it takes a pothole in life to make you STOP and drive the right way even though there may be a detour. Sometimes life’s losses are wins in disguise. This is what sports should really be about.

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Right now, during the COVID-19 pandemic we are focused on worry and we have every right to be worried. Just remember, in life there are fumbles, interceptions, missed blocks, missed shots, missed goals and losses. In every loss we learn there is always something we gained. The next win! Experience! Hang in there and always try to do your best no matter what. Sometimes it’s the little things which should matter most. Always stay strong, always stay vigilant, always stay focused and always keep grinding! This is what sports and life should really be about. Hotty Toddy!