August 22, 2013

Chris Whitfield: Let's play some football

— Every year when the last days of August roll around, I am acutely aware of how much older I become. And it has nothing to do with my creaky knees or the fact that my fashion sense seemingly left me somewhere around 1998.

People use many different things to mark the passage of time. Some make big deals out of birthdays or anniversaries. Others use milestone events such as the birth of a child or the death of a loved one.

All of those things are notable, but for a person like me who has invested more than half of his life to working for newspapers and covering sports, it is the start of the football season which marks my march through time.

Every year around the middle of November — sometimes sooner if the teams I am covering aren’t having successful seasons — I am ready for the high school football season to be over. The reason lies in the fact that the football season is equivalent to Christmas buying season for a big retail company. It is a lot of work, but each year the players and the events and the heartbreak and the elation that each season produces make for some of the best storytelling that we do.

Actually, sometimes it seems like we don’t cover high school football enough. If 7,000 people from the area would show up to watch a debate between politicians 12 Fridays out of the year, it would be on the front page of the paper with headlines to rival the arrival of a governor or a president.

But even if I’m ready for a break in November, by the time the next August rolls around, my excitement and anticipation of another season is renewed. And in tomorrow’s paper, my alter ego — the Guru of Gridiron Guessing, the Prep Pigskin Prognosticator, the Kool-Aid Man himself — will return for our weekly meeting and pig pickings.

With today’s paper you will find our annual area high school football preview section, and within its pages, we give the usual look at the area’s teams and their schedules, and we also our take on the best players the area has to offer. But in addition, we take a different look at the game through the mind’s eye, examining coaching personalities and what mental characteristics are necessary to become a successful high school quarterback.

One mental aspect we didn’t profile was the mentality of the fan. And while I don’t possess a Ph.D. in psychology, there are a few observations I can make heading into my 24th high school football season as a journalist.

While spring may be the season most associated with hope, I have always thought that for the sports fan it is with the coming of the fall when hope truly does spring eternal.

The area’s prep season opens with Dalton hosting Ringgold at Harmon Field on Friday night, and the one thing that all of the area’s football fans share right now, right this second, is the hope of a successful season.

Everyone is unbeaten. Everyone’s dream of a perfect season, a magical season are alive. The possibility of all of the pieces falling into place and a run to greatness are still there and have not been doused.

Success is different for each program and varies from year to year. For some teams, falling short of any goal is considered a failure. For other programs, success may be winning that one game no one expects you to win — or simply winning one game.

Right now, all of the area’s teams have potential and they are all undefeated. That has fans just as excited for the start of the season. It is the players who have invested their time and effort into getting ready for the new season, but it is the fan who will ride the wave of emotions in the stands. It is the fan who will applaud the success and even laud the effort when success isn’t attained.

Strike up the band, power up the amp so we can hear the guitar licks of “Cat Scratch Fever” and get ready to fire the cannon at Southeast Whitfield. It’s time.

Chris Whitfield is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen. He started covering high school football in 1990 as a correspondent for the Savannah News-Press. You can write to him