I must have been a young teenager when I discovered Rod McKuen. If you have not made the self same discovery, he was a writer of romantic verse with a raspy voice who recorded his poems on vinyl and eight track tapes. I collected Rod on what we called records and played them on the family stereo that resembled nothing so much as a coffin.
I haven’t thought about Rod McKuen in years but there was one poem that I still remember, not for its meaning, but for a line that I found very jarring. It was called Now I Have the Time. The poor man, who had lost his love, listed all the things that he had the time for now that she was gone. What shocked and amazed me was he that claimed, “Now, I have the time for football all fall long.”
What? Just now, he had the time for football? I did not understand at all. That was like saying he had the time to take a bath and eat grits for breakfast. Football was just a fact of life, not something you made time for. At my tender age, I did not know that the rest of the world—and surely Mr. McKuen’s world—did not operate like my family and, indeed, the majority of my homeland.
Welcome to the South, home of the Southeastern Conference. And home to high school football stadiums that whole towns come out to fill on Friday nights.
Yes, there are some pro teams. But they just don’t matter as much. I would bet my miniature replica of the 2013 BCS National Championship trophy that there are more rebroadcasts of college and high school games watched in southern households on Sunday afternoons than pro games.
It isn’t impossible to write a story set in a small southern down without mentioning football, but it may be unrealistic. So it was natural enough when the hero of the second book in the Gone South series, turned out to be a former high school and college star, turned high school coach.
Nathan Scott would have never been a coach if things had worked out like he’d planned. Everyone said the Heisman Trophy was his to lose and he was a surefire NFL first round draft pick. And that meant money—millions. But he lost everything on a football fall afternoon when he went on the field distracted only hours after catching the girl of his dreams in a terrible lie.
Tolly Lee was pearls, debutant balls, and everything Nathan was not. At sixteen, she was tired of being the eternal good girl and crashing a college fraternity party seemed very daring. Still, she never planned to lead Nathan to believe she was his age and she never dreamed that a dance and a kiss would turn into a long distance romance that would lead to his career destroying injury and her broken heart.
Now, it’s thirteen years later. Nathan is back in town and she’s still paying—but from a distance. Their unspoken agreement to steer clear of each other seems to working.
But a small town has a way of reviving the past and when common interest in an orphaned teenager forces Tolly and Nathan to agree to an uneasy truce, guilt and old resentments resurface.
If you’re not a football fan, don’t worry. Despite the backdrop this isn’t a story about football. It’s about redemption, forgiveness, and—most of all—a love that will not die.
Hope to see you in the end zone!