He Was An Old School Football Coach

I never knew Robert Davis personally but I certainly knew him. He was a legend in Warner Robins, Georgia where I lived from 1984-2009. Davis was the former coach of the Warner Robins Demons football team. I spent many Friday nights watching the games he coached. He created one of the top high school football teams in Georgia.

He was old school football. He believed in running the ball and playing defense. One look at him and you KNEW he was a football coach. He always reminded me of the high school football Bobby Bowden. At Warner Robins High, Davis led the team to a 253-41-1 record with 18 regional championships, three state championships (1976, 1981, 1988), and two national championships (1976, 1981).Davis won 354 games which has him ranked as the third winningest coach in Georgia High School football history. He never had a losing season. At Warner Robins High, Davis led the team to a 253-41-1 record with 18 regional championships, three state championships (1976, 1981, 1988), and two national championships (1976, 1981).

The first time I met Coach Davis, I was working part-time as a sports writer for a local newspaper. I remember how I was scared to death and nervous that I would ask a dumb question or make a rookie mistake in my first postgame interview with him. On this night, Davis was not happy with my competition from the other newspaper. During the week, the other newspaper had published a story about his football players stealing pizza from a local pizza hangout. When we entered Davis’ office for the interview, Davis ripped the reporter from the other newspaper then turned his back to him. Davis looked at me and said “Go ahead son, I will answer your questions”. I made sure I asked good questions.

After losing a state semifinal playoff game in the Georgia Dome, I once again interviewed him after the game wondering how he would be after a disappointing loss. He was kind and honest about losing the game. He was frustrated that his team couldn’t seem to get past the semifinal round.

In 1997, I was stunned when I heard the news that Davis was leaving Warner Robins to become the head coach of a new school in Macon. I couldn’t believe it. Macon had done the unthinkable in snagging the coach who had owned the other Macon schools rarely losing a game. That was the end of an era at Warner Robins. Davis also built Westside Macon into another strong contender. Davis retired in 2008.

I have read many tributes today from former players, coaches and fans whose lives have been impacted by Davis. It is certain that his legacy will carry on.

He Was THE Voice of Georgia HS Football

There are some things that enhance a fan’s experience with sports. Perhaps the lasting impression for most of us are the voices of the people who report about the game. They are the voices of the game.

For me, I will never forget the voice of Brent Musburger in the 1976 NBA finals when the Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns battled through three overtimes in Game 5 where the Celtics prevailed 128-126.

The voice of Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football. Who could forget him?

And without a doubt, the voice of Al Michaels in the 1980 Team USA win over the USSR on the miracle on ice in the Winter Olympics with his “do you believe in miracles?”

I also have the memories of UGA football games with the legendary Larry Munson. His voice was the identity of Georgia Bulldogs football.

Last week we lost the man I called THE voice of Georgia High School football.

Tommy Palmer was that voice. Anyone who knows anything about Georgia High School football knows his name. His voice was a constant part of my experience every Friday night in the fall. Whether I was driving home after a game or listening at home, I would tune into his scoreboard show. His slow Southern drawl and moments of humor made it more than just reading the scores from the games. He also recorded podcasts each week for the Top Ten Teams and Top Games. Tommy also provided commentary for the state championship games.

I don’t remember when I actually started listening to Tommy but he was a part of my Friday night routine and a voice I will never forget.

Palmer revealed in May that he had been battling cancer since Aug. 17 and would enter hospice care after being given the diagnosis the his cancer was terminal. I had heard he was ill but I did not know it was that serious.

Palmer grew up in Claxton and worked in radio for 60 years, starting at age 16. He began work in TV in 1981. He began producing and hosting the Scoreboard Show in 2005. It reached a network of more than 50 stations in the state and took callers after the games who shared details of games they attended. Palmer also would interview coaches.

I never met Tommy Palmer but I have shared some emails and Facebook posts with him. I also shared a copy of my book “Passing Toward The Prize” with him. I also read his own book “The Daisy Boys Club” which is a great read about his life growing up in Daisy, Georgia.

The 2020 season won’t be the same for me without Tommy Palmer.

Friday Flashback: My First High School Football Game (November 21, 1975)

Every year at this time I look forward to the new Georgia High School Football season while looking back to the past of games I have attended. Since moving away from Georgia in 2012, I have not attended any high school football games in other places I have lived. Georgia was my home for over 40 years of my life. With all the teams, players, games and stats being stored in my head from all of those seasons, I can’t really see myself getting involved in another state. Today I reside in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and live within ear shot of a high school football stadium but I don’t have the same feel for high school football here as I did with my time in Georgia.

I attended my first high school football game on November 21, 1975. I was 11 years old. It was a game between the Clinch County Panthers and Charlton County Panthers. The teams were playing in a region playoff game at Memorial Stadium in Waycross, Georgia as a neutral site.

At the time we were living in Homeland, Georgia where my dad was the pastor of a small Pentecostal church. I attended Bethune Middle School in Folkston which was part of the Charlton County school system. My dad had attended high school and played football at Clinch County so he was quite interested in attending this game which was the first time his alma mater had played in a playoff game.

During the regular season, the teams had split their games with Clinch County losing at Charlton County 15-10 and the Panthers winning at home 14-7 during week eight. This created a need for the teams to have a playoff since they both had 5-1 records in Region 2-B.

The neutral site of Waycross Memorial Stadium might as well had been Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for me. If you have ever been to this stadium, you know how that stadium is configured having once been the home to a few minor league baseball teams. It was an old stadium with some of the seats under the roof which had been behind home plate during its baseball days. My parents let me sit on the Charlton County side which was only a section over. I even went to the concession stand and got me a hot chocolate which was needed on a cold November night in South Georgia. I enjoyed my warm beverage while watching the game. The game was a defensive battle between the two rivals which bookended the Okefenokee Swamp. The Panthers actually dominated the game but not the scoreboard as they came up short 6-0 to end their season. My dad was disappointed in the outcome as he talked about it on the drive home how his Panthers had dominated the game but weren’t able to win the game. I didn’t share his disappointment as I was happy on the inside since I had been rooting for the Indians to win the game.

Waycross Memorial Stadium, Waycross, Georgia

The win for Charlton County was short-lived as they lost to Lincoln County the following week 13-0 in the state playoffs. The Indians eventually won the first of their four state championships in 1999. Clinch County won their first state title in 1988. They have won eight state titles.

I still fondly remember that first game and that was a start of a long history of following Georgia high school football over the years. I would attend three more different schools after we moved from Charlton County in the summer of 1976 with stops at Waresboro, Villa Rica and finally finishing at Tompkins High School in Savannah.

That first game began my interest in Georgia High School football. I have attended many games over the years but you always remember your first experience. Incidentally, the last Georgia High School football game I attended was in December 2010 at the Georgia Dome with my dad to watch his Clinch County Panthers defeat Savannah Christian 24-14 in the state championship game.

History Of My “Demon” Obsession

Later this afternoon, the Warner Robins Demons football team tries to win the school’s fourth state title in their history. They won titles in 1976, 1981, 1988 and 2004. This is their eighth appearance in the state final and third straight time they have made it to the title game. They lost to Rome in 2017 and suffered a heartbreaking loss last year’s game to Bainbridge.

Today, Warner Robins will be trying to adding their fifth title when they play the Buford Wolves at Georgia State Stadium in Atlanta.  Buford is no slouch either.  They have 11 state championship trophies.  This is the first time the two teams have played.  It should be a good one.

I have never attended Warner Robins High School and never played on their football team yet for the past 34 years they have been my team of choice. I know it’s silly but everybody has their thing right? Georgia High School football and the Warner Robins football team has been my thing during football season.

I did actually play high school football – or it would be more accurate to say that I was ON the football team in Villa Rica, Georgia during my freshman and sophomore years. There was never much of a chance that I would have ever been a starter. Before my junior year, my family moved to Savannah, Georgia and I finished my last two years of high school at Tompkins. The school closed in 1989.  When I moved to Warner Robins in 1984, my first game was a Warner Robins-Valdosta playoff game. The next season I attended every Warner Robins home game and I have been a fan ever since. Many years I had season tickets. I rarely missed a game. There was a couple of years when I lived just less than a mile from the stadium and could walk to the games on Friday nights. I loved it. I went through the ups and downs of the various teams through the years. From 1996 until 1999, I worked as a part-time writer for a couple of newspapers and wasn’t able to attend their games; however, I did get the chance to cover a few games for the newspaper. I was both thrilled and extremely nervous the first time I covered a Warner Robins’ game.  My first interview of Warner Robins’ Head Coach Robert Davis was a bit intimidating but it went well.  When those days were over I continued attending Warner Robins’ football games.

I moved away from Warner Robins in 2012 and after two years in Tampa, Florida we moved to Nashville, Tennessee where we currently live. Even with the distance which separated me, I have still tuned into the games or followed the results on Friday nights.

When each season approaches now, I get the notion that I should end this obsession I have with high school football and following Warner Robins but I still end up tuning in or listening to the Georgia High School Football Scoreboard show. I don’t put my life on hold anymore like I used to do. There are times that i will do other things instead of listening to the games but when I get home or finish what I am doing, I immediately go to all of my places to get updates on the games. That’s just how I am and that’s my thing.

I remembered a funny story about the last season that Warner Robins won the state championship in 2004. Before the season began, I had a situation that I wanted to pray about a situation in my life and decided that I would “fast” going to Warner Robins’ football games that season.  Instead of attending or listening to the games, I would pray about the need I was focused on. Wouldn’t you know it – that was the season they won the championship. Was my sacrifice of giving up my season tickets and following the games worth it? Was my prayer answered? Yes, it was. I think it was answered about two months after the season.

Yeah, I do some crazy things sometimes. Try to explain to your church that you support a team with the nickname of “Demons”.

It has been fun. There have been exciting games and heart breakers along the way.

In my first Warner Robins-Northside game in 1985, the Demons won the first overtime game in the series 21-14.  I still have a video recording of that game somewhere in my collection.  Warner Robins went on to get to the 1985 final which was played in Athens against Clarke Central.  I made the trip and sat in sub-freezing temperatures watching the Demons come up short in the game 21-7 and endured a Clarke Central fan yelling in my ear the whole time.

It was also quite cold in 1988 but it didn’t matter when Warner Robins defeated Brookwood 33-7 to win the state championship.

The last game I attended in person was the 2009 Warner Robins-Northside game when the Demons overcame a 20-0 deficit to win on an improbable touchdown pass in the final minutes.

There is not enough space or time for me to tell you all the great games I have seen or listened to over the years.  There have also been many exciting players to watch such as Willie Reid, Jon Perkins, Eric McDowell, Ben Smith and so many others.

I have to admit that I am not as obsessed now but I do still keep track of how the Demons are doing.  I am living in Tennessee now and I haven’t been able to get into high school football up here. It’s just not the same. I live about a mile for a pretty competitive school but I doubt I will ever attend a game. That time has past and i have no desire to follow another team. Warner Robins has – and will always be – my team. I am not their #1 fan but they have been a part of my life for many Friday nights for the past 34 years.

Friday Flashback: Warner Robins vs. Starr’s Mill 2000 Playoff Game

SM_2000Tonight the Warner Robins Demons will play the Starr’s Mill Panthers in the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) Class 5A state semifinals.

The last time they played each other was in the 2000 playoffs and I was there on November 24, 2000 in the rain, watching in disbelief as Warner Robins was upset by this strangely named school.

The lasting memory wasn’t necessarily the game but when I was standing in line the day before to get my ticket for the game. There were some guys talking about the Demons’ opponent.  Here’s how the exchange went:

“Whadda ya know about this team we’re playing this week?”

“They got a bunch of white guys and they’re slow.”

It was quite an ominous moment as I had hoped that the team didn’t fall into the same mindset about their opponent.  It’s a funny thing about jinxes and these guys put the hooey on Warner Robins.

Warner Robins, which was the #1 team in the state at the time, was upset by Starr’s Mill 21-7 in overtime.  The Demons had just come off an impressive 41-0 win in the first round over Colquitt County but they obviously underestimated the Starr’s Mill Panthers.  Starr’s Mill eventually went on to lose in the state semifinals to Harrison that season.  Starr’s Mill had only been in their third year of playing football.  Warner Robins packed it up for the season.

I remembered that rain on the day of the game played a big role in the game as it gave Warner Robins problems. The Demons had Willie Reid who was one of the states top players. He was not able to get on track in the rain and the mud on that night.  However, Starr’s Mill fullback, Jason Laney had the game of his life on that night as he sloshed through the muddy field for 144 yards and two touchdowns.  I watched in anguish as Warner Robins’ defenders could not seem to bring the big man down throughout the game.

I have never forgotten that conversation in the ticket line and remembering how the “slow, white guy” ended the season for Warner Robins.  Today it is 19 years later and I hope that folks remember that game and have the kids ready to play Starr’s Mill.

In tonight’s game, Warner Robins (12-1) is again favored to beat Starr’s Mill (10-3) as they were in 2000.  This season  Starr’s Mill has reeled off eight straight wins since its uncharacteristic three-game losing streak. No. 1 Warner Robins’ lone loss has been to Colquitt County.

Starr’s Mill will try to control the ball on the ground, eat away the clock and improve their odds by keeping the ball away from Warner Robins as they did in the 2000 game. Quarterback Hunter Lawson runs the option attack and 1,000-yard runner Kalen Sims and Ben Bodne. Warner Robin’s QB Jalen Addie has thrown for 2,142 yards and six touchdowns and run for another 536 yards. Marcayll Jones, who set the state receiving a year ago and has 37 catches for 731 yards this year. The Demons have a two-pronged running attack in Jahlen Rutherford (1,246 yards) and James Smith (840).

Monday Morning Quaterback

Here are some of my thoughts about football games that were played over the weekend:

Warner Robins broke open a close game against Thomas County Central on Friday Night for a 45-10 win to remain unbeaten in Region 1-AAAAA. The Demons will travel to Bainbridge this week in a rematch of last year’s AAAAA state championship game. Yeah, that one is still difficult to think about.

The Northside Eagles were shutout by the Lee County Trojans 35-0 in their game. Losing to Lee County wasn’t too much of a surprise but the fact that Northside has been shutout for the third straight week is the bigger story. The Eagles have not been held scoreless in three consecutive games since 1971. At 3-5 they are also close to missing the playoffs for the first time since 1991.

After a surprising win over Campbell in their season opener, the wheels have come off of Villa Rica‘s season. They lost 41-3 to Hiram on Friday. The Wildcats are still looking for their first region win.

On Saturday, Georgia beat Kentucky 21-0 in a rainy, sloppy game. I don’t think the win helped the Bulldogs much in the national rankings. The stat from the game that caught my attention was that Jake Fromm was 9-of-12 for just 35 yards passing. I know that the weather had a lot to do with it but I think Fromm has become one of those quarterbacks who is said can “manage” a game which means his passing isn’t going to beat you. The Bulldogs now prepare to play Florida in two weeks which will be a huge game in the SEC East.

The Tennessee Titans held on to beat the Los Angeles Chargers 23-20 Sunday. It took 10 minutes to play the final 39 seconds of the game after three video reviews which reversed the Chargers scoring the game winning touchdown. On the final one, the Chargers’ Melvin Gordon was stripped of the ball before breaking the plane of the goal line. Well, honestly the Titans should have never been in that position had they not went for it on 4th down just past midfield. That was a dumb call.

The Atlanta Falcons were routed 37-10 by the Los Angeles Rams at home to fall to 1-6 on the season. QB Matt Ryan left with an ankle injury. Matt Shaub came in and played well but the Falcons have a horrible defense. Falcons’ Owner Arthur Blank still says he has confidence in Dan Quinn as coach but I don’t know how much confidence you can have in someone who was supposed to be a defensive guru. I’m thinking the confidence is a little shaky right now.

The Rivalry

wr-nsWhen I arrived to Warner Robins, Georgia in 1984 I had heard everyone talk about the annual Warner Robins-Northside game and how big it was.  Some called it the biggest rivalry in the state.  I had my doubts.  I had missed the 1984 game by a couple of weeks but heard it was a classic.  When the 1985 season arrived, I started attending football games and on November 8, 1985 my first experience of the big game had arrived.  At the advice of others, I bought my ticket in advance and arrived early.  I was amazed at the crowd that was already there when I had arrived.  At kickoff I looked around in awe at the enormous crowd.  At that time it was easily the biggest crowd I had seen at high school football game.  The game was also the first one in the series that needed overtime to be settled.  Warner Robins prevailed that night 21-14 and went on to lose in the state championship game to Clarke Central.

There have been many classic games played between the two teams over the years I was living in Warner Robins and attended the game.  Another memorable one was in 1989.  Warner Robins entered the game as the #1 team in the nation according to USA Today.  Northside wasn’t given much a chance but when the Demons missed an extra point late in the game, the Eagles pulled out a shocking 7-6 upset.  People still talk about that game.  No one really cares that Warner Robins won the rematch two weeks later in the region championship 20-6.

I attended my last game in 2009 in a game where Warner Robins trailed 20-0 going into the fourth quarter. Jonathan Jackson caught a 47-yard touchdown heave from quarterback Maurice Dudley on fourth down, and Kyle Floyd kicked a 35-yard extra point as Warner Robins rallied for a stunning 21-20 win.

The Demons scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to beat Northside for the first time since 2004.

Warner Robins leads the all-time series with 36 wins and 25 losses but Northside has won 16 of the last 23 games.

How good are these two teams?  The both played in the state championship game in their classifications last season.  They also have seven state titles between the two schools.  Warner Robins has four (1976, 1981, 1988 and 2004) and Northside has three (2006, 2007, 2014)

They used to call the game the “city championship” until Houston County opened in 1991.

For most of the years I attended, the games were scheduled as the final regular season game.  As the schools changed in size and moved to different classifications, the game was moved as a non-region game played earlier in the schedule.

Since moving from Warner Robins I have always kept an eye on the scoreboard or listened to the game online but it’s never the same as attending the game in person.  I’m sure there are biggest rivalries but this one has been special over the years.

 

 

Resources for Georgia High School Football fans

GHSFIf you’re like me and you are a fan of Georgia High School Football, you will need to arm yourself with the necessary tools to obtain information throughout the season.  I remember the days when my ONLY source of high school football news was the local newspaper or the radio.  Today there are many resources out there you can access to keep your updated on your favorite team – even if you live in another state like me.

Let me start off by saying that I was disappointed that there was no quality preview magazine this year.  In past seasons, we had Friday Night Football publishing the previews but this year they decided not to publish.  There is another preview magazine that has apparently been around for many years but I wouldn’t recommend it.  In fact, their magazine is still yet to come out and we are already into week 2 of the season.  Even without the preview magazines, there are plenty of places you can get information.

Subscribe to Georgia High School Football Daily. This is a free e-mail newsletter produced by Todd Holcomb and Chip Saye. Holcomb is a former lead high school football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and co-founder and primary researcher behind the Georgia High School Football Historians Association. Saye is a 25-year veteran of the newspaper industry who has covered high school sports for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Athens Banner-Herald, Anderson (S.C.) Independent-Mail and Gwinnett Daily News.   The newsletter features region standings, schedules, interviews, stats and just about everything you need to know.  Click here to subscribe.

If you want historical stats and records or anything about Georgia High School Football, you need to bookmark the Georgia High School Football Historians Association website.  It is simply amazing.  I could get lost on this website for hours looking up past results and historical information.  These guys have done a fantastic job.

As the scores come rolling in on Friday nights, one of my go-to places is Scoreatl.com which will keep you updated on scores.  They also have game stories and other features you will want to read.  They also have an app for your phone called GA HS Scores so you can keep track of scores while you are out.

If you want to watch the game-of-the-week, Georgia Public Broadcasting will show these on their website or on their GPB Sports app.   They also have a scoreboard and feature stories that you might enjoy watching.  They also do a great job with broadcasting the state championship games.

If you live in the Middle Georgia area and want to keep up with the teams there, you can watch the highlight clips from Football Friday Night on Saturday morning at 13WMAZ.com.  Watching Football Friday Night used to be my routine when I lived there.

I also still follow Warner Robins’ teams and the best app to do that is the SportsMic app.  They broadcast the games of Houston County teams as well as feature stories.  Since moving away from there I will listen to Warner Robins’ games through this app.

Another good source of information is the Palmer Media Group.  Tommy Palmer, who I call THE voice of Georgia High School Football, does the Georgia High School Football Scoreboard Show from 10pm-12midnight on Friday Nights.   He also does podcasts of “This Week’s Top Games” and “This Week’s Top 10 Teams”.   He also host “Countdown to Kickoff”.

Sometimes I will peak at the national rankings of high school teams.  The best source I have used is the USA Today Super 25.

I have also found that you can go to the websites or Roku channels for local television stations in Atlanta, Savannah, Albany, Columbus, Augusta and others to get more coverage.

It’s a lot different today than it was back in my days in high school.  When I moved from Villa Rica High School to Tompkins High School in Savannah, Georgia after my sophomore year, the only way I could keep track of Villa Rica football results was to go to the school library and get the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.  We’ve come a long way.

 

 

 

GHSA State Championship Games: It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

santaToday is an exciting day for me.

No need to panic and check your calendar.  It isn’t Christmas Day yet.

Today is the day of the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) football state championship games.  After the games were delayed due to the Atlanta United Major League Soccer (MLS) team hosting (and winning) the MLS Cup on Saturday, the state football championships will finally kickoff today at the Mercedes Benz Dome.

There are three teams playing today that I have an interest in.  The first one is Warner Robins who will be playing Bainbridge for the Class 5A title, Clinch County will play Irwin County for the Class 1A Public School championship and Northside Warner Robins facing Lee County for the Class 6A crown.  (Of all seasons for both Warner Robins and Northside to play for the title and they are in different classifications!  If you’ve ever attended a Warner Robins-Northside game, you would know what that would be like.)

I know to most people out there this doesn’t mean much to you but for anyone that knows me, this is a pretty big deal.  I am a huge Georgia high school football fan.  Even though I live in Nashville, Tennessee now, thanks to modern technology I can still keep connected to my teams through the SportsMic Radio website/app, Score Atlanta website, Georgia High School Football Daily emails as well as the legendary Tommy Palmer with his podcasts and high school football scoreboard show on Friday nights.

So why Georgia high school football?  How did this obsession get started for me?

My dad was a graduate of Clinch County High School and had played football for the Panthers during his day.  On November 11, 1975 he took me to my first football game at Waycross Memorial Stadium in Waycross, Georgia where Clinch County played Charlton County for the Region 2B title.  It was a cold night but shivering in the cold I was excited as I watched Charlton County edge Clinch County 6-0 in a defensive battle.   During the 1976 season we attended a few more games including the last regular season game when Clinch County played Jeff Davis.  Jeff Davis scored early to take a 6-0 lead and held onto that lead most of the game until the Panthers scored late in the game and made the extra point to win an exciting 7-6 game.

High school football was about the only entertainment I was allowed to participate in since my dad was a preacher and our church had some ridiculous rules against attending professional ball games.  I’m not sure why we never attended any college games but I was okay with being able to go to high school games.

When I started high school in Villa Rica, Georgia, dad would drop me off at the game and pick me up when the game was over.  I loved going to those games.  I remember the night that the football team beat Darlington 20-14 in overtime and then won the next two games to make the playoffs and dethroned the two-time defending state champions East Rome Gladiators in the playoffs.  I tried to play for the football team but my physical abilities were limited so when we moved before my junior year to Savannah, Georgia, I decided to stick to being a fan.  I finished my high school at Tompkins High School in Savannah, Georgia.  I never attended any of their games in person but I would listen on the radio on Friday nights.  Tompkins did pretty well in 1980 (my junior year) with Coach Joseph Turner who was a legend and coaching in his last season.  The team upset heavily favored Coffee County 24-21 in the region playoffs.  During my senior season, Tompkins wasn’t so good.  With a new coach, they dropped to last place.  I began tuning into Savannah Christian games on the radio.  The Raiders played in a strange private school league called the SEAIS which I believe was Southeastern Association of Independent Schools.  The most exciting game was when Savannah Christian scored on the last play of the game against Pinewood Christian and later went on to win the championship over Southland Academy.

My Georgia high school football was put on hold when I joined the United States Air Force (USAF).  In my first season without high school football, I was stationed in Abilene, Texas.  I attended my only game in the home opener for Cooper High School.  Although high school football is huge in Texas, it just wasn’t the same for me.  I had Georgia high school football flowing through my veins.  I spent the next season shivering in the cold at Thule AB, Greenland with my next assignment to be Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia.  A co-worker had been stationed at Robins and told me all about the Warner Robins football team winning national championships in 1976 and 1981 so I was looking forward to getting back to Georgia in 1984.

On November 30, 1984 I finally returned to attend my first football game when Warner Robins hosted the Valdosta Wildcats in the state quarterfinals.  Valdosta shutout Warner Robins that rainy night 28-0 but I was back.  From 1985 to 1991 I attended most of the Warner Robins’ home games and even had season tickets during many of those seasons.  When I got a job with the Macon Telegraph, I had to “work” on Friday nights at other games.  I had a chance to report on a variety of teams in our area although I have to admit that I had a hard time getting into the private school games.  I was excited when I was assigned a Warner Robins game, although I couldn’t show it.  I will tell you that I was scared to death to have to interview Warner Robins’ Coach Robert Davis but he was always nice to me and gave me some good quotes.  When the balance of power shifted to Northside, I would support them in the playoffs when Warner Robins was eliminated.  They had some exciting games too and it was good to see them finally win their first state title in 2006 after so many heartbreaking losses.

clinch_dad

Dad and I watching the 2010 State Championship Game

My dad was the reason I have followed these games over the years.  He passed away last month and before he passed we talked about his Clinch County Panthers and who they were playing in the playoffs.  It is special to me that the last game we attended together was the 2010 State Championship game at the Georgia Dome on December 12, 2010 when the Panthers defeated Savannah Christian 24-14.  That was a special memory and the last Georgia high school football game I attended in person.

Yes, it’s “just” high school football and the players are 16-17 years old playing a game but it has been a large part of my life.  On Friday nights I head back to my room to open my SportsMic app and play on my Bluetooth speakers.  That’s my thing.  Always has been.

Today, it will be a little different.  I will be at work but I will tune into the games and shoo off anyone that wants to bother me.  If the technology works right, I’ll watch the games online from Georgia Public Broadcasting and then turn the volume down to listen to Warner Robins and Northside on SportsMic.

I have come a long way since that first football game on a cold night keeping warm with my tiny hands wrapped around my hot chocolate in Waycross in 1975 but in many ways I haven’t.  I still love the excitement of the game.   Thanks dad for passing this on to me.

Friday Flashback: Coldest Ever High School Football Game

Tonight in the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) state quarterfinals, The Warner Robins Demons will host the Clarke Central Gladiators.  This matchup takes me back to the 1985 State Championship game which was played between these two teams in Athens, Georgia.  In fact, I start shivering immediately when I think about it.  It was the coldest high school football game I have ever attended.  I had to pull up the weather history to find the exact temperature which was 29 degrees at kickoff.  That was cold.

The 1985 season was my first full season of attending Warner Robins football games.  The team finished the regular season undefeated at 10-0 which was capped with a thrilling 21-14 overtime win over crosstown rivals Northside.  Warner Robins defeated Southwest Macon 40-14 and then Northside again 27-0 in the region playoffs.  Warner Robins edged Lowndes 8-7 in penetration in the first round and then beat Bradwell Institute 28-14 in the semifinals.

I decided to make the two-hour trip to Athens for the game.  At the time I was a single 21-year-old man in the Air Force and I was able to convince a date to go with me to the game.  More on that later.  When I arrived at the game I had general admission tickets and the only seats I could find were the front row of bleacher seats in one of the end zones.  I had a blanket and attempted to keep warm but the cold weather made the blanket as stiff as a sheet of plywood.  The bleachers were also full of some Clarke Central fans – one of which would purposely yell in my frozen ear every time his team made a big play.  I might have moved had I not been frozen to the bleacher.  I think every part of my body was cold that night.  I certainly wasn’t a whimp to the cold weather since I had just been transferred to Robins Air Force Base from Thule, Greenland and it was a painfully freezing reminder of Greenland.

Although the game was statistically close, Clarke Central recovered three Warner Robins fumbles, turning the first two into a pair of field goals (31 and 41 yards) by John Kasay, who also put four of five kickoffs deep into the end zone to help keep the Warner Robins offense backed up. Additionally both Gladiator touchdowns were big plays, the first a 53-yard pass from Robbie Kamerschen to Tommy Stewart on the Gladiators’ first possession of the second quarter and the second a 54-yard run by tailback Richard Jewel on Clarke’s first possession of the third period.

In comparison, the Gladiators committed only one turnover, a fumble at their own 42 late in the second quarter. After recovering, the Demons moved to a first down on the 4-yard line, but the Clarke Central defense held on three straight running plays inside the 2 and took over on downs, preserving a 13-7 halftime lead.

Kamerschen and Jewel accounted for the majority of Clarke’s 291 yards total offense, as the senior quarterback completed four of eight passes for 122 yards while the senior tailback rushed 14 times for 108 yards.

Warner Robins, which totaled 245 yards offense and led 14-13 in first downs, got 101 rushing yards on 16 carries from junior Jeff Thompson. But 98 of those came in the first half. Warner Robins totaled just 53 yards and two first downs after intermission.

The game was a disappointment. I had to drive the long trip back home.  The only consolation was that my car had heat and I would be able to thaw out on the drive.  I also had my date with me.

About that.

On the drive back I got that “You’re a nice guy but I just want to be friends” line.  Ouch.  My football team and my dating suffered a bitter defeat that night. That night was cold on so many levels.

But, as they say, it all worked out for the best.  As for Warner Robins, it took three seasons before they captured the state title and demolished Brookwood in 1988.

No high school game was colder than that night in Athens.