by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Because I work for a Detroit newspaper, I tend to focus this column on Detroit sports. And in the fall, that means football.

Only lately Detroit football has been depressing. Especially the Lions’ games on Sunday afternoons. Those can be hazardous to your health.

So I went looking for another football team, one that had it even worse. That way we could listen to its terrible misfortunes and how much its fans suffered, and soon we’d feel much better. Well, I found the team. In South Carolina. A high school team that lost a big game last Friday because of something even Darryl Rogers would have to blink at.

Tear gas.

Now there are lots of ways to lose in football. The Lions have mastered most of them. Fumbles. Interceptions. But even the Lions have never heard of defeat by tear gas. I hope.

Anyhow, I called the high school, Gaffney High, in Gaffney, S.C., to get more details. What I got was the football coach, whose accent was thick and whose name, according to the school operator, was A.L. Curtis.

What does the A.L. stand for, I asked.

“Just Al,” he said.


“Al would be fine.”

Not A.L., then? Just Al?

“Or A.L., if you want. Either way is fine.”

Wait. A.L. doesn’t stand for anything, then?

“Just Al.”

Off to a flying start.
‘He was just some nut’ What about this football game, Al?

“Well, sir, we had a real good game goin.’ The other team (Greenwood High) was winnin,’ 9-7, but we got a punt and drove down to their 15-yard line. We were fixin’ to run a play, when someone set off a tear gas bomb in the stands.

“At first I thought it was a smoke bomb. Then people started runnin’ out of the stands. A number of ’em went down. Then the smell came down to the field, and the players ran off, too.

“We all ran over to the practice field behind the stands. We waited about an hour for the air to clear. A couple of the players’ eyes were burning and a couple got sick, you know, in their stomach. But most of ’em were OK.”

How much time was left in the game?

“Fifty-seven seconds.”

So you eventually finished it?

“No. They called it off and we went home.”

With you losing, 9-7.


Has anything like this ever happened before?

“No, sir. Firecrackers, but never tear gas.”

Al — or A.L. — I never did get that straight — went on to explain that the police had caught the alleged gasser Monday. He was a 23-year-old Gaffney High School dropout who reportedly was in the army — thus explaining his access to tear gas. Nobody knows why he set the bomb off.

“He was just some nut,” said the coach. “He couldn’t have been interested in Gaffney football.”

Why do you say that?

“If he was, he wouldn’t have gassed us. Heck, we were about to score.” Too much effort for 57 seconds At first it looked as if Gaffney would just have to rub its eyes and swallow defeat. But Monday, the state high school board ruled that the two teams should play out the last 57 seconds next Monday at a neutral field. No spectators will be allowed. Just the two teams. For 57 seconds.

Al — or A.L. — admitted it was a lot of effort, considering the two schools are about 140 miles apart. But he said his team might throw a few passes, and the affair would actually take “more like six or eight minutes.”

I was going to ask him what difference that made, but, heck, why bother? I wished him luck and hung up.

A few minutes later, my phone rang. It was the principal of the other school, Greenwood High.

“We don’t wanna play that game,” he said.

Why not?

“It’s too much trouble to take two buses out there for just 57 seconds. We gotta be preparin’ for our next game. We should let that one be.”

But, wait. You were winning when it ended.

He laughed. “Well,” he said, “that’s right.”

So what will you do?

“I’m gonna appeal that decision.”

So that you don’t have to play?

“That’s right.”

And that’s where it stands. This Monday, in the great state of South Carolina, two football teams will dress, take buses to an empty field, play 57 seconds, and go home. Or else they won’t, and the team that probably should have won will lose.

Because of tear gas.

Now honestly, Detroit, what have we got to complain about?


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!