“Alred is an idiot.”
On an early October night on the Model High School sidelines, a white poster board with jet-black ink waved in the air that was just beginning to feel the tinge of fall. I didn’t see it until halftime, when one of the Model coaches pointed it out as the team went to the locker room.
I shook my head and laughed. When you cover sports there will be plenty of times when fans, coaches, players, readers and more take exception with what they read.
My stance at that point of that season was Model’s football team wasn’t as good as their undefeated record indicated. Turns out I was wrong. Crazily enough, it wasn’t the first time.
And while this fan took exception to my predictions and made it known on the way out of the stadium that I was too skinny and not athletic enough to ever play football and thus knew nothing about the sport, several coaches thanked me for the predictions. They used it as fodder to help get their charges fired up.
If you write sports long enough, you’ll collect far more criticisms than you count. But, what I also have found is that if you write or coach or participate in sports, you’ll also collect a list of less than noteworthy achievements.
I’m a firm believer that sportswriters need to get out of the press box and cover games from the sidelines. Partly because I don’t have the greatest eyesight and partly because a lot of important moments happen on the sidelines that press box denizens never see or hear.
The issue is that sometimes those sidelines can be less than forgiving.
Take the 1995 Outback Bowl between Auburn and Penn State. The game started in what is best described as a monsoon. Penn State crushed the Tigers that day, and I just managed to avoid disaster.
Auburn tailback Stephen Davis, all 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds of him, came crashing out of bounds early in the game. His left shoulder pad nicked me and almost sent me spilling into the water. I managed to stay upright. But the poor photographer to my left got trucked and had to be helped out of the stadium on a stretcher.
A few years later while covering a soccer match in similar conditions, an errant kick sent the ball out of bounds. I thought I’d be helpful and kick it back in. The water and accumulated mud didn’t help as I managed to kick the ball, but my plant slipped and I ended up on my back in a large puddle. Needless to say, the fans and players who saw it laughed quite hard.
For some reason, I tend to be a ball magnet at baseball and softball games. During an Auburn versus Tennessee baseball game, an up and coming pitcher named Tim Hudson had one of his pitches fouled off.
I was walking toward the third base side to get some photos and managed to jump over the ball as it flew toward me. Unfortunately, the ball hit the cement wall a few feet behind me, rebounded and smacked me in the right ankle. I had a nasty bruise for two weeks and walked the rest of the day with a noticeable limp.
While covering a softball game a few years later, a foul ball cleared the fence and came down near me on the bleachers. I stood up caught the ball, smiled and promptly fell off the back of the bleachers. The plate umpire stopped the proceedings walked over and told me I should stick to writing.
Running into Trouble
Having run cross country and track in high school and college I could relate many a tale of woe, but the ones that stick with me happened later when I began coaching. In Florida, I often had to demonstrate techniques to my middle school track team, including the high jump, discuss, shot put, long jump and more.
I also took it upon myself to run sprints against the athletes. One particular sprint saw me behind, so I tried to pick it up only to pull up lame with a right quad strain. I spent the rest of the practice with a large ice bag tied to it. You would think that injury would have taught me, but it didn’t.
One day while demonstrating the long jump, I nailed what I knew had to be a great jump, landed and felt my right knee give out. I hit the ground and found out two days later I had torn my meniscus. Needless to say, I stopped demonstrating events other than long distance running.
And while it doesn’t qualify as running, during my time as a triathlete I managed to have four bike crashes. One crash chipped out my two front teeth, but the worse came in a race. I came off a bridge, the lone hill in the flat course and slammed my bike tire into the median, flipped the bike and ended up laying on the grass with my bike on top of me.
I got up and finished the race but for some reason haven’t competed in another since.
But nothing can top two moments which now bring joy to anyone I tell. The first occurred as my wife, oldest daughter and myself were leaving an ice skating rink. A hockey team had taken to the ice and a couple of players were flipping hockey pucks over the glass surrounding the rink.
I began to shout a warning to my wife about the pucks now zipping past our heads. One puck hit the cinder block wall, ricocheted and nailed me in the groin. I hit the ground and couldn’t move for about 20 minutes.
And a couple of weeks ago, while working with my soccer players during an indoor game, I walked into goal to defend a few shots. Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have been. One of the players, who has a powerful kick, uncorked a shot at close range. I didn’t see it but felt it as it slammed into my groin.
I hit the floor and sat there for a few minutes. Most of my players doubled over in laughter, as did several of the parents. One coach asked if the shot hit my knee. I shook my head, causing him and a few others to grimace at my plight.
If there is a silver lining, it’s that a hockey puck to the groin is much worse than a soccer ball.
So, what’s the point to all of this?
Half of me is glad no one has video of these moments. Half of is mad, because I’m pretty sure either groin shot might have a chance to win on America’s Funniest Videos, if that show even exists anymore.
While I don’t believe I’m an idiot like the Model fan wrote several years ago, I do believe at times I’m a glutton for punishment. And for readers who have taken umbrage with my articles in the past, hopefully one of these stories can put a smile on your face.
*The views expressed in this column are those of the writer, and do not represent the opinions of V3 Magazine.