Do Smells Bring Back Memories to You?

Do Smells Bring Back Memories to You?

By Woody Jenkins, Editor, Central City News

Do smells bring back memories to you?

Every spring when we cut the grass for the first time, the memories lood back to me. Sometimes I pick up a handful of freshly-cut grass and hold it to my nose. I’ve even been known to lay face down in the lawn like some penitent worshiper.

With my eyes closed and the grass smell overcoming me, I go back in time.

The year is 1963, I am 16 again, and my face has been crushed into the practice ield at Is- trouma Senior High School. I have just been flattened once again by one of the linemen from Istrouma’s last State Championship team. I can’t feel a thing, but I know that my mouth, nose, and eyes are full of dirt.

And there is that smell — that clean, sharp, overwhelming smell — of freshly-cut grass.

I wasn’t any good at football, but I was fast. So they let me play safety on the junior varsity that year, which is as close to being on a State Championship team as I ever got.

However, I got something much better in 1963. I got to be on the same field with Coach James “Big Fuzzy” Brown and his assistant coaches, Moose Stewart, Leon McGraw, “Coon” Porta, and “Boots” Garland.

Our principal at Istrouma was Ellis “Little Fuzzy” Brown. Big Fuz and Little Fuz were identical twins but “the Big One” weighed 50 pounds more! Little Fuz had been the head football coach for years, but when he became principal, Big Fuz became head coach. Between the two of them, they won nine state high school football championships in a 25-year period. In later years, the other members of the coaching staff went on to many great accomplishments also.

To tell the truth, I can’t think about those days without being moved. Anyone who was there understands why. I think of the sun boiling over us, the drills, the repetition. I remember being drenched with sweat and completely exhausted, the sound of our cleats on the concrete, the smell of the locker room, the chatter and camaraderie as we showered and dressed to go home.

Our coaches were like giants to us — men of strength, competence, character, and good cheer.  They loved us with a manly love.  So they made us work hard. They disciplined us. But, most of all, they encouraged us.

They had a name for us. They called us “son”. I can hear Coon  Porta saying, “Son, you need to take that man out” or “Son, you can’t act like that and play for Istrouma.” We weren’t put down. Instead, they raised us up. I remember how much we wanted the respect of those coaches.

Coach McGraw said, “Someday, son, you’ll be glad you were here. You’ll be proud you played football at Istrouma.” He was right. Our dads were plant workers and construction workers. We were from the “other side of the tracks.” But our coaches taught us to assume that we were champions.

If you think you are a champion, you do what champions do. You look another man in the eye and shake his hand. You say, “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’m” to everyone. You don’t talk trash or negative. You respect your coaches, your teammates, your parents, your classmates, and even your opponents.

You work diligently, tirelessly, endlessly to get ready, to do your best, and to be the best. You expect success and so you work to earn the success you expect.

I also learned that, despite all the hype, it’s not about winning and losing.

On a plane trip a few years ago, I happened to sit next to a coach in his mid-60’s. For years, he had coached at an inner city school. He had had some losing seasons recently and was discouraged. He thought he should quit. I asked him if any of his players ever came back to see him after graduation. He smiled and was quiet. Then he began to recount player after player who had returned to thank him.

The message they gave him was, “Coach, you saved my life” and “Coach, you made me a man.” Tears were streaming down his face. He said to me, “You know, all my victories haven’t come on Friday nights. Each one of those boys was a victory, and that’s what made it worthwhile.” Then he added, “I think I’ll come back for one more year.”

That was five years ago. I hear he’s still coaching. A great coach can inluence a young man, sometimes even more than his parents can. He can change a young man’s life, and in that way he can change the world for the better.

Football is just a game. Always remember that. Just a game. But we use that game to teach character, and that’s why football is important.

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