This is from the nineteenth chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City Tales. I hope that you’ll enjoy going back to Bryson City with me each week, and that if you do, you’ll be sure to invite your friends and family to join us.
MY FIRST HOME VICTORY (PART 1)
Friday finally arrived. Tonight would be my first football game as a team physician in private practice. Gary Ayers’s morn- ing news was basically all about the rivalry—past and present. He was predicting a record turnout and advising fans to arrive early for the best seats.
When I got to the office, Helen gave me a funny smile. “We’ve got something for you, Dr. Larimore.”
I followed her to the staff lounge. There was a gift-wrapped package, with maroon paper and white ribbon—the Swain County colors. I unwrapped it under the curious eyes of the staff. Inside was a white golf shirt with maroon-tipped sleeves. Over the left chest was embroidered “Dr. Larimore” and, just below that, “Team Physician.”
Leave it to Helen to burst my bubble. “Better not let Mitch see that,” she warned. “They’ve never given him one like that. And after all he does for them! I guess to get a shirt you need to be the new kid on the block, or from Duke or something like that.”
I tried to defend the difference between being a sideline and a grandstand team physician, but the explanation was lost in a cacophony of comment and argument.
Late that afternoon Mitch caught me in the hall. “Heard about your shirt, Walt.” He paused. I braced for the coming onslaught. I was certain his next comment would be, You stupid? It wasn’t. “Walt,” he sighed, “I think that’s great. Folks normally don’t take a shine to a newcomer so quickly. That’s a good sign, son.”
After finishing up the afternoon’s paperwork and stopping by home for a quick dinner, I was off to the stadium. I arrived an hour before kickoff and was waved into the reserved parking area. Joe Benny was the attendant. “Been expecting you, Doc. We done put up a special sign for you right over by the gate.”
I thanked him and drove on. Another attendant waved me into a parking spot next to the fence. “Dr. Larrimore, Team Physician” were the words on the freshly painted sign wired to the fence. I don’t mind telling you that, despite the misspelling, I was feeling pretty special indeed. At least “Larimore” was spelled correctly on my coaching shirt. But I was secretly hoping that my senior colleagues didn’t see this sign. I could only begin to imag- ine the professional jealousies. Perhaps petty jealousies, but nevertheless very real.
It was already getting dark, but the stadium lights lit up the field like day. The lighting system was as good as any college field I’d seen. Fantastic.
For a die-hard football fan, there’s nothing quite like the feel- ing of walking out on the cool turf on a crisp autumn evening. The crowd gathering in the stands, the smoke from the ham- burger-stand grills, the band warming up. I drank in the sights with childhood memories surging through my mind. From my earliest memories I have deep-seated impressions of Death Valley. That was the name opponents gave to the football stadium in Baton Rouge. Games at LSU are almost always played at night, and the turf is and always has been genuine—thick and luscious. My dad and I would go to the games together, and not only can I still name my childhood and adolescent heroes, I can also remember some of their most spectacular plays.
As I walked onto the field, a thousand memories flooded my soul and my arms looked like gooseflesh. I felt at home. The kids from both teams were already on the field warming up, and to my surprise the visitor and the home stands were nearly full— one whole hour before the game! Fans were beginning to claim spots on the grassy mountainside. And all along the chain-link fence around the field, the men were a dozen deep.
I dropped off my medical kit in the locker room. It was a fabulous locker room—as large as some college locker rooms. On my way back down to the field, I passed Preston guarding his and Joe Benny’s spots on the fence at about the 40-yard line on the home side. This was just far enough down to avoid having their view blocked by the players on the sidelines, yet close enough to yell any needed encouragement to coaches or kids.
Once on the field I checked in with Coach Dietz. He had no medical concerns to report regarding the kids, but asked, “You got some Tums in your medical kit?”
“Can you keep some handy for me?”
“Will do, Coach.”
I stood by him to watch the warm-ups.
“Doc, I’m glad you’re here.”
I nodded. I didn’t say anything. May have been the lump in my throat. But I remember thinking, Me too, Coach. Me too. As I looked across the field, I was astonished at how small our boys were compared to the Sylva kids. Our largest player, tackle Mac Gossett, was probably six-foot two, 210 pounds. He was by far our largest kid. And most of Sylva’s kids looked bigger than him. We’re gonna get creamed, I thought.
After warm-ups were completed, the teams retreated to the locker rooms. Each coach had his kids in a small group, reviewing last-minute details. Asking and answering questions. The kids had each been taught how to “scout” their opposing players dur- ing warm-ups and had observations on any apparent injuries. Several of the junior varsity coaches who had scouted Sylva in previous games and during the warm-ups would go from group to group to share their observations.
A referee entered the room. “Coach, I’ll need your captains in two minutes.” Finally Coach Dietz, who had been watching the preparations, clapped his hands. The room instantly became silent. All eyes were on the coach.
“Men, you’ve prepared well for tonight. There’re probably four or five thousand folks who’ve come to see you. They’ve spent their hard-earned money to root for you—to see you do your best. I know that’s what you’re planning to do.”
He paused to spit out some dip into a cup he was carrying.
“Seniors, you’ve never lost to these boys. And their seniors have never beaten you. That’s what they’re here to do. Tonight is their entire season. They’ve come to our house, to our back- yard, to beat us up and to beat us bad. They’re planning to use tonight in their bedtime stories they’ll tell their kids and their grandkids until the day they die.
“Men, tonight’s your legacy. This is your house. Don’t let these folks down. Don’t let your parents down. Don’t let the men along the fence down. But most of all, don’t let yourselves down! This is your house. Get out there and let’s defend it!”
In a rush of adrenaline and pent-up energy, the team erupted to its feet and moved toward the door, a surging, chanting masculine mass.
What a coach! I thought.
The players tore through the paper tunnel, fire extinguishers went off, the band played the fight song, and the stands erupted in noise. I thought for sure I could feel the ground trembling. The sound was deafening. Welcome to Swain County Football.
At the kickoff, at each home team score, and at the times the team left and then reentered the field at halftime, the stadium thundered. But the most notable and fascinating part of the evening for me was watching and listening to the men along the fence. Their intensity was well-nigh unto fanatical—both their approval and disapproval of every play and every decision. I had been on the sidelines at every SEC (Southeastern Conference) and ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) stadium and many others around the country during my college and residency days, but never had I seen this level of intensity, passion, and zeal.
At halftime the score was tied. The halftime sermon was intense and motivational. The third quarter was scoreless. The team and the crowd seemed to be waning in strength and energy. Sylva’s size and strength seemed to be wearing down our smaller guys. Tony Plemmons, our quarterback, was a small fellow but as tough as a bobcat. Unlike many quarterbacks, he liked to run, to hit, and to be hit.
As the fourth quarter began, we had the ball. Tony took off on a run and got hit hard on the play. After the Sylva players got up, Tony didn’t. He was writhing in pain. We had no experienced backup quarterback. After a collective groan, the stadium went deathly quiet.
By instinct I found myself sprinting toward him, followed closely by Coach Dietz. By the time we got to his side, Tony was sitting up and leaning forward. He was holding his right hand across his left shoulder—his left arm lying limply in his lap. He was moaning in pain.
As I knelt at his side I said, “Tony, it’s Dr. Larimore. What are you feeling?”
“Doc, I think my shoulder’s broken. I can’t move it.”
- The Murder (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Arrival (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Hemlock Inn (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Grand Tour (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Interview (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Settling In (Part 1); (Part 2)
- First-Day Jitters (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Emergency (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Delivery (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The “Expert” (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Trial (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Shiitake Sam (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Wet Behind the Ears (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Lessons in Daily Practice (Part 1) — Anal Angina; (Part 2); (Part 3); (Part 4)
- White Lies
- The Epiphany (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Becoming Part of the Team (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Monuments (Part 1); (Part 2)
- My First Home Victory (Part 1)
© Copyright Walter L. Larimore, M.D. 2017. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.