Fifty-five Augusts ago, the three of us were anything but socially distanced.
We were wedged into tight sleeping quarters and eating, elbow-to-elbow at rustic tables, at Parker’s Paradise. We weren’t concerned about spattering sweat, snot or blood. Football, especially in preseason camp, is all about contact—lots of it. Coaches are eager to select the starters.
If water was available in the 100-degree heat, it was in a galvanized bucket. In 1965 the way football players hydrated themselves was by sucking on a towel that had been soaking in the community bucket. We were teenagers, just doing what we did to be a Jesup Yellow Jacket, thinking nothing about the risks.
Ahhhh, the days of innocence.
We knew as much about those as we did about COVID-19. That would be zero knowledge.
But since mid-March, our lives have been turned upside down by the worldwide pandemic. Newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, the internet and cell phones are wall-to-wall with the latest information about COVID-19. A day doesn’t pass that you and I don’t hear of someone we know who has tested positive or been hospitalized or died from something we didn’t know anything about on New Year’s Day 2020.
It was back then—in January—when Larry Brannen contacted me about another teammate, Marcus Waters. Larry was diagramming a mini-reunion play on his mental chalkboard. The Georgia Bulldogs were opening their home season with the East Tennessee State Buccaneers coming to Sanford Stadium.
Quarterback Marcus Water, 19, scrambles for
yardage in the 1965 defeat of Dublin's Fighting
Irish, 12-0, in Jaycee Stadium.
Photo is from the 1966 yearbook, the JACKET.
Marcus, our 1965 quarterback, was a defensive back for East Tennessee. His position coach was Buddy Bennett, who quarterbacked the Jesup High Yellow Jackets to a 1954 state championship. Marcus and the Buccaneers set a national record for interceptions. At his next coaching stint, Buddy’s Tennessee Volunteer defensive backs repeated the distinction.
But back to Marcus.
Larry’s idea was to huddle some of our class, centered on the Bulldog-Buccaneer game. He wondered whether I could round up a block of tickets.
I liked Larry’s plan for our mutual friend. As our quarterback, Marcus made a big impact on me. Compared to today’s tall, pro-style signal callers, Marcus was different. But what Number 19 lacked in size and height, he more than compensated for in hardnosed play. He had the head and guts of a champion—a real field general.
I’m sure that’s why Buddy recruited Marcus to East Tennessee. The Buccaneers defeated Louisiana Tech, led by its future NFL Hall of Famer quarterback Terry Bradshaw. The Bucs also claimed the Ohio Valley Conference Championship. Marcus won’t ever forget that.
And we will never forget how our lifetime of friendships was formed at Jesup High School and Parker’s Paradise. Long wave our gold-and-white graduation tassels.
Ahhhh, the days of innocence.
So many memories—water-bucket towels and all.
That’s why the weekend of Sept. 12 was going to be a special time. Then came the news. The Georgia-East Tennessee game has been canceled.
This fumble can’t be recovered, but we will reunite, again, one day.
For right now, Marcus, Larry and friends, let’s stay safe and defeat COVID-19.