Whiling Away the Day with Wolford

Just when I thought my esteem for John Wolford could go no higher, the guy gives me something worth watching while whiling away another interminable pandemic-stricken Sunday afternoon.

More than that – much more than that, in fact – he gives me a reason to care.

Most folks, I’ve noticed, tend to get smaller with age. The older they get, the more cranky, judgmental and hard-bitten they become.

Which is why I’ve made my vow to at least endeavor to become bigger with each passing year, more enlightened, more understanding, more accepting of the fact that roughly half the people with whom I co-habit this planet are not going to see life the same way I do.

I’m not saying the effort is easy, nor is little worth accomplishing. And I recognize that, at 68 years old, I’m still a work in progress.

So if there are those who, say, want to play or coach football, basketball or baseball during a pandemic, and there are those who want to watch them do so, then to me that’s their business. All along I’ve considered said attempts akin to trying to drive a square peg into a round hole. No matter how hard you beat on that peg, it’s never going to fit in that hole.

That said, it at least give us something to do during a time we’re looking for something, anything, to get us through the long drawn-out days and empty hours.

So my problem is not that games are being played. My problem is how little any of it means. How much significance can I attach to any result from any endeavor, when so many of the participants are unable or unwilling (or both) to participate.

Alabama will play Ohio State a week from today in the college football championship. Alabama has played 12 games. Ohio State has played seven.

The conclusion is hard to escape that the powers that be in their selected sports are making this stuff up as they go along. And what they decide today might have so little bearing on what they do tomorrow.

Remember when the Big Ten canceled its fall football season, the same Big Ten that made damn sure Ohio State would get a crack at the title?

I rest my case.

So it did this old heart good to hear that Wolford was in line to start for Los Angeles yesterday in the Rams drive for a playoff spot. He’s one of my favorites to ever play football for Wake Forest, and would have remained so if he had never taken another snap after college.

As the beat reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal, I saw first-hand and personal the brutal pounding Wolford took as quarterback for the Deacons. When Dave Clawson became head coach in 2014, he was bequeathed a relatively solid ACC defense and an offensive cupboard left frightfully bare. Wolford, who Clawson was able to pry away from East Carolina, started as a freshman not because he was ready to play college football, but because there was no one else. And he started for an offense that Clawson had to not rebuild – but build – from scratch.

Wolford impressed me early on, for what he could do but much more so for who he was. Never in my career did I see any player pick himself up off the ground more often from the kind of punishment that would have convinced most people to give up the sport for their salvation, much less sanity.

But his most impressive performances, at least early on, came after the game, in the post-game sessions. Never once did I hear John Wolford complain of his plight. Never once did I hear him blame a teammate. Never once did he fail to take full responsibility – and then some – for his performances as the Deacons suffered through successive 1-7 ACC seasons.

So those of you who were watching along with me remember how heart-warming it was to see the quarterback John Wolford became by his junior and senior seasons, the bowl victories over Temple and Texas A&M, the five touchdown passes and 461 passing yards while out-dueling Lamar Jackson of Louisville, the 468 total yards against the Aggies in the Belk Bowl, his selection as second-team All-ACC.

And like me, you were probably watching yesterday afternoon when John Wolford got his NFL shot. We grimaced when Wolford’s first pass was picked off, and he looked so shaky at the controls of a pro team.

But I know John Wolford, and the steel in his spine so I didn’t despair. And before halftime my faith was well rewarded.

Even with the barest semblance of a running game – said to be a pro quarterback’s best friend — Wolford made the plays the Rams needed to win and advance to the playoffs. I loved every minute of it, and got the greatest kick to see him walk off the field a winner.

But John Wolford has never been anything other than a winner. So how can I be surprised?

Thanks John for giving me something to watch.

Thanks most of all for giving me a reason to care.