Since November 2016, we’re living in a chronological pinball machine. The post-election political upheaval feels every bit as unsettling as the 1960s, while the impeachment drama beckons us to Nixon, Watergate, and the early 1970s. We’ve been slapped all the way back to 1918 to find a past health crisis on par with the current coronavirus pandemic, and the accompanying economic disruption has kicked us right past 2008, all the way back to 1929.
If we’ve learned nothing else in four years, replays are not our friend. And I will kill anyone who brandishes a token for another game.
Reading the news today, it appears President Trump is ready to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci – the only man is this whole sad drama who seems to have his wits about him.
And with that violent flip of flippers, my mind careens back to a cold November night in Snellville, Georgia, in 1976. Along with my Peachtree Patriots football teammates, I’m dressed for battle in enemy territory. As we file toward to the visitor’s locker room, a boisterous crowd greets us at the bus, and an unseen voice whispers in my ear: “#10 in the state, we’re gunning for you.”
Nine games into a magical season, this was to be our first game as top-10 team. Such lofty moments are routine for perennial powerhouses, but the Peachtree Patriots of 1976 – my senior year – were no powerhouse. At least not yet. Coming off a 2-7-1 season my junior year that saw our head coach and his assistants fired, we entered the 1976 campaign under a new staff who barely arrived on campus in time for summer workouts. We exceeded expectations just by tying a favored Tucker team in our season opener. And yet, somehow, we followed that with seven wins to lift us to 7-0-1 and a #10 ranking.
How that happened is quite a story. But, that’s for another day. The tale I want to tell now is about Bennett. Poor, Bennett.
As you might have guessed by now, our school had hired some gifted coaches who would take Peachtree to the heights of Georgia high school football. But, their first season – my last – was more a matter of magic than of might. More of cleverness than of brute force.
After every touchdown (which we scored a lot of that season), we lined up for the extra point in a trick formation known as the “swinging gate.” When the ball was placed for the attempt, six of us linemen would spread far to the left side of the line of scrimmage, with a receiver standing behind us. At the center of the field, we left a snapper, our backup quarterback, and a lone running back. To the right we deployed a single receiver. If our opponent lined up balanced to cover all options, we shifted back to the center of the field for the kick. But, if the defense lined up wrong, leaving any part of the defense undermanned, the center would snap the ball to the quarterback, who could throw to the receiver on the left, hand off to the back to run it up the middle, or throw it to the wide out on the right. As I said, clever.
We practiced the hell out of that formation and scored a lot of two-point plays that way, but the opposition usually figured it out after the first time.
Except poor Bennett’s teammates.
After our first score, when we lined up for the extra point, Bennett was the lonely figure coming out where my fellow linemen and I were set. I know his name because his teammates in the center of the field were shouting “Bennett… Bennett… They’s just foolin’.”
The center snapped the ball, the quarterback floated an easy pass to the closest receiver, and the line bowled poor Bennett over at the line of scrimmage. It seemed unfair, but our receiver laughed as he waltzed into the end zone.
All season, our coaches gave us a scouting report and a revised playbook each Monday afternoon with everything we needed to know about our opponent that week. And, we studied film every afternoon before taking the practice field. This was apparently not the routine for the Comets in 1976.
The Who’s 1970 album “Who’s Next” probably hadn’t reached Snellville then either (which was still more cow pastures than suburban sprawl in the mid 1970s.) But, if it had, no one on the Comets was singing “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” For, when we lined up on the next extra point, poor Bennett was again the only Comet lining up with us out wide. Someone over center yelled “Bennett, they won’t do it again.” I kid you not. Poor Bennett was steamrolled again. Those four points weren’t the total margin in our 29-10 win, however, they sure helped.
But I didn’t take that trip down memory lane to tell a story about my all-too-brief glory days on the gridiron.
I was thinking about poor Dr. Fauci. He’s 80. Bennett would be about 60 now. But, when I think of Bennett, I think of Dr. Fauci.
Like my teammates, I busted my ass and worked hard to achieve a 9-0-1 regular season record and a 42-7 annihilation of a highly favored Clark Central team in the first round of the state playoffs. Our season ended Thanksgiving weekend with a loss to the eventual state champions in Griffin.
But, football was just a game. This cornavirus pandemic is a life-and-death crisis of global proportions. And, yet, our national response under this President reveals a level of unpreparedness and failure to learn that makes the South Gwinnett coaching staff of 1976 look shrewd by comparison.
Like poor Bennett, Dr. Fauci lines up undaunted for another brutal day on the job, working for a clueless narcissist who seems poised to fire the good doctor.
President Trump spends his Easter weekend rage tweeting from the White House and shares the hashtag #FireFauci.
On the album cover, all four members of The Who are zipping their pants, the piss stains clearly visible on the concrete obelisk as they turn to walk away.
Like the album title asks: “Who’s Next?”