Reese Fant, here, the one from Route 4 Piedmont. I guess I need to explain why I just cannot bring myself to go with any kind of old folks group to a Clemson football game.
Frank Howard and my daddy were buddies. If that pesky World War II hadn’t reared its ugly head, my dad had a scholarship in hand to play for the 1942 Tigers.
Instead, my dad spent a good bit of time swimming from one boat to another as some German U-boat captain obviously played as hard as he could play before a depth charge ruined his career.
When the war to end all wars was over, the old man came home and ran for the House of Representatives and was given free tickets to the games. So I went too.
Then the old man went to work for the State of South Carolina, and I started wearing my Boy Scout uniform. Walked right in.
But I want to explain how the old man got his promise of a football scholarship. The Fant family lived in LaFrance. The mill gave my grandfather a badge and a gun, and told him to keep the peace. He did.
When Pop graduated from Pendleton High, the only difference it made was he had one less place he could go every day. The mill wasn’t hiring and when they weren’t hiring, there just was not a job to be had. So, when the train came through every morning, Pop would swing on and ride up to Clemson to the pool room. He’d do the same thing, in reverse, when the train came through in the evening.
His day was set. But one day Pop noticed a lot more people in the pool room. He got to talking to them, and they were football players reporting early for fall practice. When they said it was time to go to practice Pop just went with them, probably for two reasons. First, he weighted 250 and people called him “Heavy”. Second, he loved playing football and went along just to watch.
Only he didn’t just watch. When the guys liked up to draw pads, Pop lined up with them, and drew his own pads.
And he was a force to be reckoned with. He had size, he had speed, he had heart, and he knew sooner or later the whole story was going to come out and he’d be catching that train back on LaFrance
It wasn’t his ability or lack of, that got him exposed. Like I said, he could play
It was the first day of school that got him caught. Back then Clemson students wore uniforms. Since the old man wasn’t a student, he didn’t have a uniform.
This was something Coach Howard and his staff noticed immediately. Coach Howard called him over and talked to him, asking for an explanation.
Dad gave him one. It was simple. He couldn’t find a job, and there was nothing else to do.
Coach Howard understood. He told Pop he didn’t have any way to get him on the team that year, but for daddy to work out regularly, and when school started the following year there were certainly be a place for him.
When the team started practice the following year, instead of collecting his scholarship and his uniforms, daddy was steering a ship in the North Atlantic.
There was a war going on, and daddy was right in the middle of it. So much for a college education.
The first time he saw me, he was on Survivors’ Leave, having had two ships shot out from beneath him in 24 hours.
So I went with him to Clemson games until I got old enough, and then the Boy Scout Uniform worked every time.
When I outgrew the uniform, I just quit going.
Then I got married, became a father (three times in three years) and we moved to Route 4, Piedmont.
That’s when I needed a football score to settle a bet, called the newspaper and started talking with a sports writer. The next thing I knew I was in my bosses’ office asking for the rest of the day off because,”I’m sick and need to go home.”
He told me I was not sick and I told him I wasn’t going home either.
I covered Carolina High playing Walhalla that night, took my story in at 6 the next morning, and before the editor had read three graphs, they offered me the job.
I took it.
I covered racing until the fall, and then I covered Clemson football. The first day I showed up, Coach Howard asked about my dad, and I asked about him.
Bob Bradley, the legendary Sports Information Director at Clemson had gone there directly from the desk I was then occupying at the Piedmont newspaper.
I couldn’t have been in better hands.
On game day, my parking spot was inside the stadium, one car length from the elevator to the press box. I had it made.
Things change. Coach Howard retired, due to illness. He always said the alumni got sick of him. I got a promotion out of sports and into writing a people column for the afternoon paper’s lifestyle section.
In other words, the newspaper quit paying me to go to Clemson football games.
Please understand that I had never, ever actually spent money to purchase a ticket to a Clemson football game, and now, at 74, I still haven’t.
It has become a source of pride for me.
So, no, I will not be a part of any group getting together to travel to Death Valley to watch football (or to Littlejohn to watch basketball, either).
I just won’t want anything to interfere with programs that are set in stone.