So, it ends. In Greensboro, North Carolina. Home of the Whirlies.
I sat in the stands dumbfounded Friday night, head in my hands, surrounded by friends. We all came for the same reason — see the G win. But at the game’s end, I looked at the scoreboard, watched the seconds tick off the clock and saw the very same score from two months before.
On a Friday night in October, the G got oh so close to beating a team that drubbed them year after year.
On this past Friday night, with the winner getting a trip to Chapel Hill for the state finals next Saturday, the G lost again.
To East Forsyth.
Same punch in the gut.
In October, at the game’s end, Grimsley lost because of a blocked field goal. This time, Grimsley lost because of a muffed exchange from center during a 2-point conversion for the win. If Grimsley scored, our guys would’ve beaten East Forsyth 22-21 with 1:40 left in the game.
Didn’t happen. No storybook ending to a storybook season.
The N&R’s Scott Hoffmann captured the game’s images, and Joe Sirera broke down the emotional side of the game. In his deadline piece, Joe wrote about tears. That was easy to see from what we saw from the stands.
Players took off their helmets, took a knee and wrestled with a loss they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. Above the headline, “The Year of the G,” that’s Grimsley’s Sincere Burnette and Amir Ross-Obare in an unforgettable photo framed by Scott minutes after the game.
It does say much about heartache and loss in one still image. But I gotta say, look how far the G has come. I’ve had a front-row seat for that.
My son, Will, played for Coach Darryl Brown during Brown’s first year at Grimsley. At the time, Brown was 37, a married father of three, and he came to the G from Southern Guilford where he coached football for 11 seasons.
Southern Guilford was his own high school alma mater. His grandfather coached there — school officials named the stadium after him — and he played quarterback and wore No. 10 there for three seasons.
In his 11 years at Southern Guilford, Brown coached his teams to four conference championships. Only once did his team not finish at least as conference runner-ups. His overall record: 94 – 44. His conference record: 45 – 13.
That’s what he brought to the G.
It was a Thursday night in August 2016 when we parents came to a pre-season picnic that Brown and his family threw beside the practice field.
Brown and his coaches mingled with all of us and created an event that felt as casual as a family reunion. They talked about the upcoming season and what they wanted to do. Then, Brown gave us a quick tour of the program’s new crown jewel — the school’s new weight room.
Stacks of free weights.
All in a windowed space longer than a bowling alley.
The month before, the Grimsley Athletic Boosters had raised $40,000 in a fundraiser to pay for the weight room. Brown called it the “best weight room in Guilford County.’’
After watching G lose more games than they won season after season, we parents were a bit skeptical. We had heard this kind of hyperbolic coach-speak before. But we couldn’t miss what we saw.
Everywhere we looked we saw the single letter “G.” But what really caught our attention were the words stenciled at each bench.
I asked Brown to explain. He said:
“We’ve used those words before. See, when you’re hot and tired, it’s easy to make excuses. But I always tell our guys, ‘Don’t tell my why you can’t. Tell me why you can.’ I tell them that because I don’t want them to have any regrets.
“When you’re 16 or 17, you don’t think about the special times in your life. But when they’re 27, 28, 29,30, I want our guys to look back on this season and remember this time as special.”
Like this season. Like Friday night.
Chris Faulkner, another football parent, and I chronicled Brown’s first season when we steered the newsletter. We both had done it the season before. Chris was the conductor, and I was the scribe.
Both our sons played for Grimsley all four years. Chris’ son, Bentley, punted and kicked; my son, Will, ran the ball. For two seasons, in 2015 and 2016, Chris and I talked every week about what to plug when in the weekly Grimsley Football newsletter.
It was fun, reminiscent of my days — and many nights — as the metro columnist at the N&R. Except now, I was writing about sports, not news — or guys and girls with guitars.
Every week, I interviewed players and caught up with the head coach to help us parents and fans of Grimsley understand the X’s and the O’s of an upcoming Friday night under the lights.
In 2015, the coach was Pat Neal. Then came Brown. In 2016, as weeks turned to months, I could sense something different, something new.
Brown had brought his contagious will to win. He injected it into a struggling program where boys we had known for years had played not to lose. They didn’t play to win.
We parents talked about it when we parked ourselves by the fence at practice, and we saw it from the stands during games season after season.
An opponent would score a touchdown — or two — and our guys would hang their heads. They didn’t give up, mind you. They simply didn’t believe they could win. Mistakes came. Discipline unraveled. And the G, well, would lose games where the final score sometimes was lopsided and looked like something from a basketball game.
Take Brown’s first season when we played East Forsyth. Final score: 46-6.
But the game I’ll always remember was Grimsley’s loss to Southeast Guilford that year. It came at the end of the season, the second-to-last game. The G was playing for a post-season spot in the playoffs.
Our guys played well. Then it happened once again. Everything went south in the fourth quarter. We lost 21-12.
I don’t remember how we lost. But I remember what happened afterward. Here’s what I wrote:
Minutes after the game ended, Coach Darryl Brown pulled both parents and players together beside the fence.
“Y’all come down here,’’ he said to fans filing out. “I want to say one thing.”
He walked in circles in front of his players and the crowd by the fence. He paused and tried to begin. He couldn’t. He teared up. Finally, with emotion in his voice, he started.
“I hurt for these guys. They’ve done everything we’ve asked of them, and they’ve played their tails off every Friday night. They’ve laid it out on the line for the community and the school, and I told them two weeks ago, this (these losses) is not their fault.
“I told the older guys that they’ve gotten cheated — cheated — out of their high school career. They’ve been more or a little behind in some areas. But they’re never been behind in heart, character and commitment.
“I don’t know what to say to them tonight that’ll make everything OK. I really don’t. But these 24 seniors have given so much to this program, and they’ve given so much to this community and this school.
“But I tell you, I am so proud of each and every one of them. And now, we have one more game. One more game. So, let’s give a round of applause for these guys.”
After he finished, a father of a senior player standing beside me whispered under his breath something I’ll always remember.
A few days later, following practice for G’s last game against Smith, I asked Coach Brown the why behind the speech. He said:
“I don’t know. When the game ended, and all of us were heartbroken, I didn’t want everyone to think that this was not just another loss for Grimsley.
“We did lose on the scoreboard. But we lost because we’ve been behind, not because we weren’t doing what we were supposed to be doing. Our guys have been giving it all they’ve got, and they’ve laid the foundation for the future of this program by what they’ve been doing.
“The other teams that follow them won’t be as far behind physically. But I wanted everyone to know that these guys are the ones who made the change, who laid the foundation for our future. They made the commitment. They came to play.”
Those were the seeds Coach Darryl Brown planted back in 2016.
Three years later, we in the stands all saw what Brown and his staff have sown. And from where I sat this year, it’s been a bountiful harvest.
They have not only led their players to a winning season, but they have created a winning program that should continue for years to come. Players, of course, will learn about football. But they also will learn about life. I imagine we’ve all been there — or will be.
It sounds like a bumper sticker, a well-worn cliche. But it’s true: Life is tough. It ain’t fair. And like life, football can bring heartache and hard lessons. You can be on the 2-yard line, 72 inches from a win, and you can get a bad snap that ends everything.
That happened Friday night.
A tough loss, yes. But look what has blossomed from all that hard work that first took root back in 2016.
Something to behold.
On Friday night, Grimsley’s players walked off Joe Franks Field and concluded the school’s best season since 2005.
Before 2005, the G hadn’t been anywhere close to the state championship since 1988 – the year Ethan Albright, Grimsley’s current athletic director, strapped on a helmet and played football under the lights at Jamieson Stadium.
And before that? It’s a history lesson.
According to Mike Courts, G’s Voice-of-God PA announcer, it was 1960 – the year Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, Chubby Checker taught us The Twist and four students from N.C. A&T decided to sit down at a lunch counter in downtown Greensboro to stand up for civil rights.
Back then, Grimsley was Greensboro Senior High. Yep, a long time ago. That means something with a school that started at the doorstep of the 20th century in 1899.
So, the 2019 season will be remembered for a long time.
Like Quan Nora’s 97-yard touchdown run Friday night. That put your heart in your throat.
Quan went on to lead area runners with 2,278 yards and scored 27 touchdowns on 298 carries and caught eight passes for 137 yards and a TD. He became the News & Record’s Player of the Year.
Or Christofer Zellous’ gutsy play against Page on a bone-cold night. Nora got ejected in the second quarter, and Zellous became a field general. He willed G to win.
And that will to win got noticed by more than us fans in the stands. On Wednesday, six days after that tough loss, Chris was named the Metro 4A Offensive Player of the Year.
Love the photo.
But love the season-long play even better.
And who could forget G’s whole slam-shut defense the entire season. Where did that come from?
G ended its season with a record of 12-2 after going 7-6 the year before. G beat Page, its arch-rival, for the first time in 13 years. And G came within 72 inches – two yards — of going to the state championship game next Saturday in Chapel Hill.
Can’t hang your head over that.
We in Greensboro can be proud of those guys, our guys, 14 of whom received All-Conference honors. They represent us. And they have done it well this season.
That, of course, includes Friday night.
At the tail end of 2016, with G sitting at a record of 3-7, I wrote:
So many moments. So much heart. And a few games like Southeast were oh so close.
It brings to mind two quotes from two coaches in two towns – one fiction, one fact.
The first comes from the make-believe town of Dillon, Texas, and the man in the ballcap, Eric Taylor.
“Every man at some point in his life is gonna lose a battle. He’s gonna fight, and he’s gonna lose. But what makes him a man, is that in the midst of that battle he does not lose himself.”
The second comes from Green Bay, Wisconsin.
“After the cheers have died and the stadium is empty, after the headlines have been written and after you are back in the quiet of your own room and the Super Bowl ring has been placed on the dress and all the pomp and fanfare has faded, the enduring things that are left: the dedication to excellence, the dedication to victory, and the dedication to doing with our lives the very best we can to make the world a better place in which to live.”
That’s from Coach Vince Lombardi.
Our guys, our Whirlies, did feel all that. And it sure wasn’t fiction. It’ll be something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.
That still seems appropriate after Friday night.
I mean, time does fly. But sometimes, it sure stands still so we can notice the moments we need to remember.
Like Friday night.
My son, Will, the former Grimsley RB, is now a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill. He listened to Friday night’s game online. We went back and forth all night in text messages updating scores and sharing thoughts. In his last text, with less than a minute to play, he wrote:
Shoot, bad luck.
True. But look what has been planted and what has been sown.
Yes, something to behold.
See you next year.
Go Whirlies. Go G.
From my FB blogpost after the Page win last month. Did love writing that.
Minutes after Friday night’s bone-cold game, two bundled-up entrepreneurs began hawking Grimsley blue T-shirts from the trunk of their car in the parking lot
“Get your T-shirts! The day the ship sank! Twenty dollars!”
The front of the T-shirt read: 11-08-19. The back? A sinking pirate ship.
Finally. After 13 years. Finally.
A minute or so after the game ended, the scoreboard went black at Kirby Stadium off Alma Pinnix. But we saw it. We knew. We’ll all relish that moment and remember years from now where we were when the “Aargh” got silenced on a cold night in November.
Grimsley hadn’t beaten Page since George Bush sat in the White House, James Bond nearly died and Justin Timberlake hit the radio with something called “SexyBack.”
But the G beat Page last night. The first time since ’06.
Now, the G is off to the playoffs with a 10-1 record.
How sweet it is.
Oh, it was an ugly, frustrating game Friday night. There were fumbles and questionable calls in a stadium that felt at times like an ice box.
Then there was the play. Or after the play.
From the other side of the stadium on the G side, all we saw were three Page defenders going all WWE wrestling and pushing running back Quan Nora after a blown whistle at the beginning of the second quarter. Quan pushes back. Probably says something. Then, he’s gone for … something. Out of the game. We don’t know why.
The G’s answer? QB Christofer Zellous. It became his game. He scored two TDs, ran for 215 yards and threw for 140 more as the G students began the recognizable chant, with fists raised, in the middle of the third quarter.
“Sink the ship! Sink the ship! Sink the ship!”
Students stormed the field. The score disappeared. And those sink-the-ship T-shirts were going as fast as Tex & Shirley’s pancakes in the parking lot.
The day the ship sank.
Love the sound of that. Yes, how sweet it is.