December 04, 2006
Originally published July 31, 2004
If you lived in Georgia from anywhere between 1966 and 1976, you probably heard of Bubba Atwood. He built winning football teams wherever he went. He won championships. He had the ability to take a bunch of boys who barely had hair on their balls and turn them into football machines. He was a damn good coach.
Bubba played quarterback at some podunk college, but he graduated with a degree in psychology. I look back now and I realize that I was a rat in his Skinner Box. He KNEW how to motivate his players and to make you give 120% on every play. YOU couldn't cuss on his practice field, but HE could. If you got into a fight on the field, you settled it with boxing gloves in the gym the next day. And you fought until somebody gave up or neither you nor your opponent could raise arms above belt level anymore. Then, you ran penalty laps for losing your cool on the field.
Do you think Bubba Atwood gave a shit about your "self-esteem?" Fuck NO, he didn't. He gave a shit about whether or not you could play football. And you played it HIS WAY or you didn't play.
He preached discipline. We ran plays over and over again until we got them right. If a lineman jumped offsides in a game, he was doomed to a week of running until the sun went down. If a running back fumbled, he spent a long time playing "bull in the ring" and he had better not drop that ball again.
(Bull in the ring, for those who don't know, is an exercise where 30 players form a circle and count off by number. One poor sumbitch is put in the middle of the ring with a football in his hands. Then, the coach starts calling out numbers from 1 through 30 and if your number is called, you fire off from the ring and knock the shit out of the poor bastard in the middle. Sometimes, Atwood would call three numbers at a time if he was really pissed at somebody.) Bubba Atwood didn't tolerate fuck-ups.
Bill Boyd, my defensive coach, was just as mean. That walking cinder-block was frightening. He would be on the practice field, see somebody blow an assignment and yell "GIMME A HEADGEAR!!!" Twenty helmets came flying his way and he grabbed the first one he could reach. He didn't care whether it fit or not. He put it on, buckled his strap, and dressed in only shorts and shoes, proceeded to demonstrate HOW TO DO IT RIGHT. Pity on the poor person who encouraged his wrath. He got an ass-whuppin' in front of the entire team.
But I DO NOT believe that I was abused or mistreated as a football player. I knew the job was dangerous when I took it, and pussy coaches don't produce winning teams. I was proud to be a Jenkins Warrior and I'm still proud of that today. I am proud that I played for Bubba Atwood on teams that seldom lost games. I learned a lot about myself from that experience.
If I could do three-a-day practices in the August heat of a Georgia summer and run THREE FUCKING MILES at the end of last practice in full pads, I knew that I could do anything I set my mind to. Later in life, that toughness never failed me. Maybe that's why I'm kinda short in the modesty department. I KNOW what I am capable of doing.
I don't know whether I want Quinton to play football or not. I have a lot of injuries from that game that haunt me today, a lot worse now than when they first happened. But a young man needs to discover himself, to find out what he is able to do, to overcome fear, fatigue and pain and take one more step when he thinks he's about to drop.
Football, as coached by Bubba Atwood, taught me that.
All content © Rob Smith