“Chuck, I need to see you in my office,” Coach Davidson said as he turned and headed toward his office.

          I was a Junior in college, and an equipment manager for the football team at Arkansas State University. As I recall, it was a Tuesday in a week before an out-of-town trip. Depending on the trip, we would more often than not fly in for the game, and fly back immediately afterwards. Sometimes we would fly in Friday, but this particular week was a same-day trip.

          I started following Coach D to his office, my mind racing, trying to keep from freaking out, wondering how I had messed up and how much trouble I was in.

          Finally I managed to speak: “Coach, what did I do?”

          “You haven’t done anything,” he said.

          I started to freak out a little bit more; “Coach, what did I not do?” I was envisioning being kicked off the team, my scholarship going away, and trying to figure out how to pay for school.

          “It’s nothing you have done, or not done, but it directly involves you,” he said.

          We got to his office, and he settled in behind his desk. I was relieved that I was not instructed to close the door.

          “We have a problem with the trip this weekend,” he said. “We do not have enough seats on the flight, and I know that you are supposed to travel with us this weekend, but we’re going to have to leave you behind.”

          On the one hand, I was incredibly relieved, because this clarified that I was in fact NOT in trouble, and that my position on the team, my scholarship, and everything else was intact. On the other hand, however, I knew this created some problems.

          “Coach, Johnny (Johnny Church, the head equipment manager) can’t do everything himself, It’s too much for one guy.”

          “Don’t you worry about Johnny,” he said. “We’ll help him out, everything will work out. I just needed you to know as soon as possible.”

          “Yessir,” I said, and headed back to continue getting ready for that day’s practice. Johnny and I must have talked about how he was going to handle things that weekend without help.

 

          Saturday rolled around, and it must have been a November game, or at least late October, because I remember it being a gray, nasty, spitty, misty, rainy day with a wind that was so cold it would cut you in two. I went to the airport with Johnny, and helped load all the equipment on the plane—player’s bags, coaches’ bags, equipment trunks, everything we needed for the trip. (As an aside, to this day I blame four years of loading that equipment on those jets, with no hearing protection, for the tinnitus I have. My ears ring 24 hours a day.)

          We got everything loaded, then closed the baggage compartment. The team filed onto the jet (Southern Airways charter), and I talked to the guys as they did so. The local ABC affiliate, KAIT-TV always flew with us, and one of their crew told me as he was boarding that a car was coming from the station brining a camera. He asked if I’d keep an eye out for it, and bring them the camera when it arrived.

          The flight was ready to take off, sitting on the tarmac waiting for the camera.  I stood there on the tarmac near the terminal, freezing to death. Hands shoved in the pockets of my jeans, my cotton-lined nylon team jacket snapped as high as I could snap it and still be “cool,” shoulders hunched to try and pull body heat in, I stood there, waiting for the camera.

          I heard a car approach, and looked to see that it was from the TV station. They pulled up, and I ran over as someone got out with the camera.

          “They need this on the plane,” he said.

          “I’ve got it,” I sad, as I grabbed it and started running toward the plane. I knew that we were behind schedule, and I knew how important schedule was to Coach D. He is the person who taught me—drilled into me—that “If you’re on time, you’re late; if you’re early, you’re on time.”

          I ran up the steps of the jet, and into the aisle, saying, “Here’s the camera—where do you need it?”

          Someone in the back of the plane signaled to me, so I hustled as best I could down the tight aisle, and shoved it in the overhead rack, then turned around to get off the jet.

          Only to see Coach D standing there, blocking my way.

          “Scuse me, Coach,” I said, trying to maneuver around him (He was a BIG guy.)

          “Chuck, sit down,” he said.

          “No sir, Coach, I’m not supposed to make the trip, remember?”

          “Sit down, Chuck.”

          “Coach, I’m not supposed to travel this weekend. I need to get off,” I said, still trying to juke my way to get around him and get off.

          “CHUCK,” he forcefully barked, “sit down right there, we need to take off and you’re holding us up.” He pointed at a seat.

          I looked and saw an empty seat, and dropped into it, as I said “yes sir.”

          The forward doors closed, and we started to taxi to the runway to take off. I sat there confused, trying to figure out what had just happened.

          It turns out that there was an empty seat on the flight, and the team had been looking out the windows seeing me standing there alone, head down, waiting on the camera. Someone yelled, “Coach, let Chuck on the plane!”

          Then someone else called out, “C’mon, Coach, let Chuck go with us!”

          Then others started chiming in, “Coach, let Chuck on the plane!” “Yeah, Coach, come on, let Chuck go with us!”

          I learned that it took over the flight, with everyone begging Coach D to let me travel that day; so when I came on with the camera, he sat me down (boy, did he ever!) and I made the trip.

          Looking back, I have no idea where we went, who we played that night, even whether we won or lost the game (I think we were 6-5 that year). But I do know this; when I realized the entire team was asking me to be allowed to travel with the team, I knew that I was the big winner.

Advertisements