Over in Patrick County, Virginia, people still fondly recall the “Mud Bowl.”
It was a high school football game played in the 1970s when the home team, the Patrick County Cougars, hosted another squad from the Martinsville area. The visitors — whose school shall remain nameless to protect the guilty, but who I affectionately will refer to here as a bunch of trash-talking jerks — was favored to win by 40 points, according to fearless forecasters at a newspaper there.
The weather forecast for Game Night, however, was much more ominous, with heavy precipitation expected in Stuart.
I don’t know what led up to the choice to go ahead and play, but obviously it was a mutual decision by officials of both schools.
One thing I do remember is the uncharacteristic look of glee beforehand on the face of our head coach, Bill Hanner, who lived in Pilot Mountain and recently was inducted posthumously into the inaugural Patrick County High School Sports Hall of Fame.
“Them big ol’ boys are going to bog down in the mud,” Hanner, laughing wildly like a mad scientist, told us during his locker room speech in describing what might be in store for the opposition.
A written account from that game mentions that it was played “in a driving rain.”
One thing I remember most is that our white uniforms became quickly covered in mud, so that we all looked like a Southwest Virginia version of the Browns by game’s end. At that time, home teams wore white and the visitors dark, the opposite of today (who makes these fashion decisions, anyway?). But that old Patrick County red mud was our red badge of courage.
Yet the most important thing about that night is we won, by a ridiculous score of 6-4 — one touchdown by us and two safeties by the trash-talking jerks. One was a brilliantly called intentional safety by Coach Hanner near the end of the game in which our quarterback took the snap, ran back to the end zone and fell flat on his back as the defense watched with confused stares.
Giving up this safety allowed our punter to boom the ball way down the field, leaving little time for the opposing offense to score under horrid conditions.
Another memory I have is the guys throwing Hanner into the shower, where mud was caked everywhere from our cleats and clogged the drains.
Now I’ve told this this story today not for a “Glory Days” reason — as in the Bruce Springsteen song — but to use it as an illustration that, yes, high school football can be played in the rain, and yes, good things can happen as a result.
There is an increasing tendency nowadays to postpone games when there’s any chance of a raindrop on a Friday night. Now I realize that weather of biblical, Noah-like proportions was being predicted for our area this weekend as I penned this column, but the point is, postponements occur when there’s seemingly just a few sprinkles.
The apparent reasons for this include:
• School officials are concerned about washing out ticket sales.
• Field conditions/damage, i.e., the turf not draining properly, or a bunch of 200-pound guys tearing up the sod at our “world-class” stadiums around here. If the fields need to be re-graded to provide better drainage, why not divert some of the money paid to high-priced administrators for this purpose?.
• Cheerleaders and others just don’t want to get their fluffy hair wet or otherwise be inconvenienced.
• A combination of the above.
Much of this phenomenon relates to how football games today have become social events rather than athletic contests. This is exemplified by an emphasis on entertainment, including music blaring from the speakers during every break in the action, along with the obligatory halftime fanfare such as band performances and homecoming festivities.
Indeed, some big-time college and pro games, such as the Super Bowl, are made-for-TV events with concerts, fireworks and other activities that obscure the fact football is the reason for everybody being there in the first place.
However, pro and college games are never cancelled because of bad weather, although contests sometimes are understandably delayed or interrupted by lightning. The show always goes on despite heavy snow, wind, heat and, yes, heavy rain.
If left to the players around here, I’d bet just about all would vote to not postpone games — and enjoy their own Mud Bowls.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693.