Originally created 09/17/99

Postponing games the smart decision

The ominous 10-year anniversary of one of football's dreariest games occurs next week, a date that hopefully will never be repeated.

Hurricane Floyd missed much of the Augusta area, steering north and east of our streets. It's ironic to note that a decade ago Georgia Southern maintained a Thursday night television commitment to play Middle Tennessee State while destructive Hurricane Hugo pounded Statesboro.

Those attending will never forget the evening, the combination of wind and rain making movement of any form unbearable. The "Hugo Bowl" it was called, the hurricane's eye 180 miles away.

"That was also the first night game we've ever had, and we brought in these temporary light fixtures," recalled Tom McClellan, who spent that night in the Paulson Stadium press box.

"So we're playing this game with the eye of the hurricane coming our way, and you see the huge light stands swaying back and forth in the wind. Imagine if one of those things had tipped over."

In hindsight, it was probably too great a risk for Southern to play that game. No one was injured, and the Eagles' 26-0 win propelled them into a national championship.

Yet that image of swaying light fixtures in hurricane winds may be the clearest as to why football games from Charleston to Orangeburg to Savannah were canceled earlier this week as a knee-jerk reaction to Floyd's expansive threat.

The possible dangers for players and spectator safety outweigh whatever positives may stem from playing. With mandatory evacuations ordered this week, with schools closed, with the emotional scar of Hugo's affects still intact, football should be last among priorities.

You may see that tonight and Saturday prove to be docile, ideal conditions for football, maybe the best of the fall season. Still, that's no reason to doubt the decisions to postpone.

The moral from the Hugo Bowl is that lives were endangered for the sake of a television check and a football game.

"I'm not sure if we had another game like that, we would go through with it," said Georgia Southern athletic director Sam Baker, who was not at the game. "It just seems so risky nowadays."

The Citadel, scheduled to travel to Western Carolina this week, nixed the trip, concerned more about student and family safety. Games involving Charleston Southern and South Carolina State were also postponed.

"In the grand scheme, you have to ask yourself what's more important, safety or football?" Citadel athletic director Walt Nadzak told the Charleston Post & Courier.

"We've been through this once, so we tend to know the answer. Those who may not understand probably have never lived through this."

Living through three hurricanes, Andrew's destruction of Miami in 1992, Fran's and Bertha's winds turning the North Carolina night sky green in 1997, I can tell you that sports should take an immediate backseat.

Yet realize the return of football can act as community catharsis, presenting a chance for a return to normalcy, a chance to focus thoughts on issues less stressful than flooding and rebuilding.

Two days after Hugo pelted the Palmetto State, 70,018 came to Williams-Brice Stadium to see South Carolina and Georgia Tech play in the "Aftermath Bowl."

Before we kick off, let's make sure we're all secured. Floyd may be gone, but Hurricane Gert is on its way.

REACH Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219.


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