The Longest Ride Home

      As a teenager playing high school sports, I learned first hand about those dreaded long rides home after a bitter loss.  Nothing I ever learned could have prepared me for the one I experienced this past weekend.

     Having recently moved from Rock Hill, S.C. to Shawnee, Oklahoma, I experienced severe withdrawal pains from not being able to watch my beloved Bearcats and the Region 2 wars that have become part of my life for the last 20 plus years.  As soon as the brackets were finalized for the Big 16 semi-finals I began planning a trip back home.

     Wow...this was gonna be great!!!   Come home for Thanksgiving, see the family  ( one likes a tattletale), and get to see my Bearcats square off with the Vikings from Spartanburg.  An added attraction was thrown in when several members of arranged a pre game meal at the Beacon.

     We left Oklahoma Tuesday night and although it is a 20 hour drive, the time and miles passed quickly as I eagerly anticipated Fridays' festivities.  We arrived in Rock Hill Wednesday night,  tired but excited.

     Thanksgiving Day was great!  Dinner at my grandmothers, spending time with my family       (I actually convinced them I came to see them), and , of course, discussing all levels of football was a perfect prelude to the Big Showdown.

      I awoke Friday morning to a picture perfect autumn day in the Carolinas.  The hours passed quickly until it was time to depart for the Beacon.  A light rain began falling as we pulled into Spartanburg and quickly turned into a steady downpour.  After weeks with no rainfall at all,  Mother Nature decided to give us the whole months worth in a few hours.

     The pre game banter at the Beacon centered around the rain and the effects it may have on the nights big games.  I assured anyone who would problem .. it's an omen...the last time we won at Gibbs Stadium was in a similar downpour in '96.  As I sat down to eat my chili cheese a-plenty, I looked toward the TV screen....Colorado was running roughshod over the Huskers!!!!!  surely another omen....any good Sooner would think so!!!   The Colorado linemen were thrashing the famed "Black Shirt" defense of Nebraska.  If Nebraska was the "Black Shirts" then the Colorado offensive line was the "Black Plague"...devouring everything in their path!!  Quick mental note....Rose Bowl party plans just got a lot bigger!!!

     Arriving at the stadium,  it took the entire walk to the ticket booth to get "swimming pool" drenched. No problem..did I mention that I am a retired mail carrier.  Neither rain, now snow, nor gloom...well, you know the saying.  Time for kickoff...YEEHAW.....GO BEARCATS!!!

     Although the Vikings showed signs of moving the ball,  the Bearcats took advantage of two bad snaps and bolted to a 9-0 lead.  The Vikings countered with a long TD run by Sims and a fumble recovery to take the lead at 14-9 heading into halftime.  Hey..I never said it would be easy...this is Region 2 football you know.  But something was happening...and I had to find out what.

     As the second half began, I started watching the Viking offensive linemen very closely.  Hey...what's up with this...these guys were actually enjoying sloshing around in this quagmire. With every charge downfield they were frolicking in the mud,  grinning from ear to ear, slapping each other on the helmets, ... and slashing huge holes in the Bearcat defense.  They acted as if they  were kids playing around the schoolyard.   HEY...WAIT A MINUTE....didn't those Colorado linemen have on "sparkly gold helmets" too?   Could they have possibly just slipped on a dark blue jersey?  These guys on the field were certainly big enough to be Colorado linemen. Or maybe "Doc" just told them they couldn't have Thanksgiving dinner unless they won.  For all the yards Sims and Lewis piled up,  the real heroes of this game was the Viking offensive line.

      For the record, I stayed until the last seconds ticked off the stadium clock.  I have never been a fair weather fan  and I certainly wasn't leaving early after driving 1100 miles to see the game.

     We departed Rock Hill Saturday evening and just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, the big brother of Friday night's storm arrived to harass me throughout the Smokies of NC  and the whole state of Tennessee.  Add a few more hours to that 20 hour drive.

    The sun was coming up as I arrived in Little Rock, Arkansas and pulled into a Waffle House for a bite of breakfast.  I slid into my booth and picked the sports section out of my newspaper and.....MY SOONERS LOST!!!!!!!!!!!   The waitress ran to the phone and dialed 911.  She swears I had a heart attack!!

    The rest of the drive home I debated whether or not it was all worthwhile...just to see a high school football game.  I came to the conclusion that no SANE person would attempt such a feat. And I made myself a promise.

    Come next Thanksgiving,  if I am still living in Oklahoma,  and if my Bearcats are fortunate enough to be playing on that can find me.....squarely on the 50 yard line, decked out in my "Sunday Best"  Bearcat attire...and screaming as if I had good sense for my Bearcats.  NEITHER RAIN, NOR SNOW, NOR GLOOM OF THE LONGEST RIDE HOME.... will keep this BEARCAT from his appointed rounds.

      Oh,  by they way....Congratulations and Good Luck Vikings!!!!!!  especially the Viking offensive linemen....the "Black Plague"  ain't got nothing on you guys!!!!!   Same time next year????

Randy Grant

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