Last night my brother Andy called to remind me that the Russellville (AL) Golden Tigers play for the state 5A football championship at 3 PM today in Birmingham. They square off against the team from Homewood High School for the fourth time in five years. Homewood has won the three previous playoff matches--twice in the semifinals, and two years ago in the final game. In an ironic twist, Bob Newton, the Homewood coach, graduated from Russellville with Andy in 1968.
Coach Perry Swindall has revived Russellville's football program. He's done everything except win a state championship. And once again, Homewood stands in his way. During media interviews this week, he has been gracious in talking about the past defeats, and has resisted the urge to make today's game a do-or-die affair. It's only a football game. And outside of a rather limited circle, not too many people even know the game is taking place. I know this is true because I just read the Chicago Tribune, and they don't mention it.
In a big game, coaches face the problem of settling the players down. In recent years, the Golden Tigers have played very well until the final game and then have made some mistakes, probably because of nerves giving in to pressure, knowing how desperately the whole town wants the team to win. Coach Swindall offered his team some advice earlier this week: "If you win the game on Saturday, and that's the best thing that ever happens to you, you haven't had a very good life. And if you lose on Saturday, and that's the worst thing that ever happens to you, you've had a blessed and happy life."
So the advice is: Go out and play the game, enjoy it. Only two teams made it this far. Do you best, have fun. It will be over before you know it.
Of course, that's not the whole story. Russellville hasn't won a state championship in football since 1968. Thirty-six years is a long time to wait. I was a junior in high school the last time it happened. It may be just a football game, but one team walks off the field as the champions. And that can never be taken away from you.
The game starts in six hours, but I'm calling it for the Golden Tigers. This time they win it all.
Russellville 34, Homewood 24.
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