Courtesy of The Post and Courier
Charleston is a big-time player in tourism, fine dining and epic history.
It’s just not a big-time sports town.
Not that’s there anything wrong with that.
Sure, Daniel Island has the Family Circle Cup, a high-profile event on the women’s pro tennis circuit. And Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course had the 2012 PGA Championship and the 1991 Ryder Cup. (More on our local athletic-mecca victories later in this column.)
But when the eyes of the nation’s sports fans turn to our state, it’s usually to watch telecasts of college football or basketball games in Clemson or Columbia.
At 2:30 p.m. Saturday, though, NBC Sports Network will carry a football game live from Johnson Hagood Stadium.
And if you’re already mourning the season’s looming end, why not get a final in-person dose of America’s most popular sport at the Medal of Honor Bowl?
After all, that second annual all-star spectacle will feature the best array of football talent at Johnson Hagood since Sept. 2, 1967.
That’s where and when I saw Miami linebacker Wahoo McDaniel kick a 27-yard field goal to lift the Dolphins to a 20-17 NFL exhibition victory over the New Orleans Saints. McDaniel also was a widely beloved pro wrestler who long and frequently graced Charleston’s County Hall with his devastating “Tomahawk Chop,”
No, there aren’t any likely high-round draft choices (or rasslers?) on Saturday’s American (under head coach Willie Jeffries of S.C. State fame) and National (under head coach Chan Gailey of Dallas Cowboys, Georgia Tech and Buffalo Bills fame) teams.
Yet the talent level significantly exceeds last year’s Medal of Honor Bowl. And that inaugural edition included three players who were drafted four months later – and 73 more who were invited to NFL camps as undrafted free agents.
Lest you underrate undrafted free agents and/or players from non-big-time football schools, consider that “America’s Team” (aka the Dallas Cowboys, aka Chris Christie’s Team) signed Tony Romo in 2003 as an undrafted free agent from Eastern Illinois.
Lest you underrate the in-state appeal of Saturday’s game, consider that while it will spotlight pro prospects from across the land, the rosters also include players from The Citadel, Charleston Southern, S.C. State, Furman, Coastal Carolina, Clemson and South Carolina.
And as a decorated (Bronze Star, Purple Heart) combat veteran, Clemson wide receiver Daniel Rodriguez is a particularly fitting participant.
More good reasons to attend the game: It benefits the Medal of Honor Museum and the Wounded Warriors of S.C. – and 15 recipients of our nation’s highest military honor are expected to attend.
But he wasn’t small
Back to Johnson Hagood:
Among the players who have competed there in my lifetime as Citadel Bulldogs before moving up to the NFL: John Small (Atlanta picked him as the school’s only first-round draft choice ever), Stump Mitchell, Travis Jervey (ex-Wando High star and one of the American team’s assistant coaches this week), Andre Roberts (now with the hapless Washington Redskins) and Cortez Allen (now with the playoff-ousted Pittsburgh Steelers).
Among the players who have competed there against The Citadel before moving up to the NFL: Terrell Owens of Chattanooga and the Dallas Cowboys; Dexter Coakley of Wando, Appalachian State and the Dallas Cowboys; Stanford Jennings of Summerville High and Furman; and J.J. Wilcox of Georgia Southern and now the Dallas Cowboys.
Among the high school seniors in the 2010 NUC (National Underclassman Combines) All-World Gridiron Classic at Johnson Hagood: 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel (aka “Johnny Football”) and 2014 Heisman winner Marcus Mariota.
Among the coaches who have trod the Johnson Hagood sidelines …
Frank Howard (Clemson); Tom Nugent (VMI before going to Florida State and Maryland); Billy Murphy (Memphis State); Marvin Bass (South Carolina); Red Parker (The Citadel before Clemson); Thad “Pie” Vann (Southern Mississippi); Jim Carlen (West Virginia before Texas Tech and South Carolina); Lou Holtz (William & Mary before N.C. State, the New York Jets, Arkansas, Minnesota, Notre Dame and South Carolina); Bobby Ross (The Citadel before Maryland, Georgia Tech, the San Diego Chargers and Army); and Dick Sheridan (Furman before N.C. State).
A man-to-man tradition
Beyond football, John Kresse’s triumphant 1979-2002 tenure at the College of Charleston rates a special spot in local sports lore. His Cougars won nearly 80 percent of their games, the 1983 NAIA title and reached four NCAA tournaments with consistently tenacious defense.
In baseball, The Citadel won 1990 College World Series game, and the College of Charleston almost made it to the 2014 College World Series.
And the Charleston RiverDogs (pro baseball), Charleston Battery (pro soccer) and South Carolina Stingrays (pro hockey) all make this a much livelier sports town.
So show TV viewers Saturday that folks around here will show up to see future NFL players, help worthy causes and honor true heroes.
So what if it’s supposed be a bit chilly (near 50) by our spoiled standards?
That’s a lot warmer than it will be in Green Bay on Sunday when Romo leads “America’s Team” to a playoff victory over the Packers.
And you can count on S.C. State’s “Marching 101″ band to heat up Johnson Hagood on Saturday.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.