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Fall Follies

By Jim Moriarty

Are you ready for some football? The question is rhetorical, of course. Until February it will be our reality.

I spent roughly two decades working for the Sports Information Department of Clemson University photographing the home football games. It was a lovely change of pace for me every fall, going from the relatively docile game of golf to the kinetic violence of football.

One year I was given permission to bring my son down on the field with me. He was 11 or so at the time, and I promised I’d keep him behind the bench when the game started. It’s easy to get hurt down there if you don’t have your head on a swivel, and few 11-year-olds do.

When the Clemson team came out for warmups, it came in waves. First the kickers; then the speed guys and quarterbacks; then the linebackers. The last guys to leave the locker room were the big uglies, as Hall of Fame broadcaster Keith Jackson liked to call them. At the time Chester McGlockton, who went to four Pro Bowls during his NFL career and would pass away from an enlarged heart at the age of 42, was playing for the Tigers. I told my son to watch for No. 91, the biggest human being I’d ever seen, bigger even than William Perry — though Chester might only nip the Refrigerator by an inch and an ounce. My son and I stood together as the water buffalos plodded down the sideline into Death Valley. McGlockton’s playing weight was somewhere north of a Toyota Land Cruiser, and his thighs looked as big around as 55-gallon drums. My son’s eyes got as large as Moon Pies.

Clemson wasn’t my first experience with big-time football. In the early ’70s, recently graduated from a little hippie college in Ohio, I somehow acquired a job writing sports for the South Bend Tribune. To say that football at my alma mater was not a matter of great significance would be like saying Halloween is something of a lesser holiday in Outer Mongolia.

My sports editor saw fit to have my name added to the list of journalists allowed to watch Notre Dame football practices. Notre Dame had won the national championship the previous year, beating the University of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl 24-23, and I thought I should stick my head in and have a look at what everyone was raving about.

It would be Ara Parseghian’s last year as Notre Dame’s football coach. My boss, Joe Doyle, who I came to love like a father, had a particularly close relationship with Ara. They would have breakfast one-on-one every Monday morning in the fall. Joe liked to tease Ara that he shouldn’t count the four times he beat Notre Dame while he was the coach at Northwestern University among his career victories, to which Ara would respond, “Without those, I’m not here.”

Just as Clemson had a particular way they came out on the field, so did the Irish. Parseghian had a tall tower mounted on the back of an old jalopy pickup truck, and the team began each day by pushing Ara’s tower out to whatever far field they were practicing on.

The first day I cleared customs and was allowed inside the fenced and curtained practice area, the team was on the far field. To get there I had to cross the artificial turf field, obviously used for weeks when they’d be playing on that surface. Fresh from my hippie college, I’d never seen nor touched artificial turf. Any previous knowledge I might have had about it would have echoed Boston Red Sox pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee’s who, when asked whether he preferred grass or artificial turf, replied, “I don’t know. I never smoked artificial turf.”

Anyway, the feel of it under my feet was a new, and not entirely unpleasant, sensation. When I was about halfway across the plastic grass, the heavens screamed down on me. “Moriarty!!!! What the (profound expletive) are you doing????” It was Ara. And he was not amused. And his voice didn’t need artificial amplification. My first time on carpet and I was called on it. Blood drained from my face. I was trapped. Do I go forward? Do I go back? I elected to press on, getting off the artificial surface as if my feet were on fire.

Unbeknown to me, Notre Dame had a sixth or seventh or eighth string quarterback named Moriarty. It was this distant family member who had somehow invoked the ire of one of Notre Dame’s greatest coaches. I was off the hook that day, but that voice still scares the hell out of me.  PS

Jim Moriarty is the editor of PineStraw and can be reached at