Friday night football reigns in small towns all across America. In places like Elizabethton, Johnson City and Kingsport, it is the king of sports. Nothing else rivals it. Football prowess begins before junior high, with pee wee and youth dub leagues, and reaches its local zenith at the high school level.
Football — both high school and college — is big business in Tennessee. It's a game, an extracurricular activity, a community bond, the biggest show in town every Friday night in the fall, a character builder, a revered symbol, an inspirational rallying point that offers a rare moment — more like 48 minutes — in which all races, religions and economic strata put aside their differences to get behind the home team, a traffic generator for the local McDonald's, Pizza Inn, and places like Fatz and Applebee's, and Bob's Dairyland.
The talk will spill over into Saturday when just down the road the Tennessee Volunteers will play their first game of the season under new football coach Derek Dooley.
High school and college football games usually command a large crowd, even in the heat of September. Football is an American cultural phenomenon, and reaches near madness in the Southeast, in places like Knoxville, Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Southerners are fiercely competitive in their own arenas. They excel, and they fight tooth and nail.
Football has provided some poorer high school students a chance to achieve something in high school, and go on to a college education. Many former football players have great stories to tell about how excellence in football allowed them to become successful businessmen and provide for their families.
Football has become woven into the cultural fabric of Tennessee. It is extricably entwined into the state's identity. Without doubt, many young men have had their lives changed on the football field because of a coach who cared about them and wanted them to excel in life, as well as on the gridiron. This is true across the board, in large schools and small.
Football gives a town identity, something we often take for granted. Jason Witten is a good example. He is loved by fans in Texas, where he plays professional football for the Dallas Cowboys. But, one would hardly know he is from Elizabethton. It wouldn't be a bad idea to show just how proud we are of Witten by placing a big sign at the entrance to the downtown to let passing motorists know that Elizabethton is Jason Witten's hometown.
Football—it's a big game for both players and fans.
At best, high school football in Elizabethton and Carter County is a beloved sport, one that brings back fond memories for many, many people. If you don't believe it, ask any old timer who attended Elizabethton High, and they can tell you about Coach Mule Brown and the 1938 team that won the state championship. Later teams will talk about big games with Science Hill and Kingsport.